The drinking thing

My dad’s a sober alcoholic. He has been, without one single relapse, since I was 12. Despite his iron resolve not to relapse, and his real success in dealing with some of the things that caused him to start drinking in the first place, I’ve always been cautious about my drinking, because I know that drinking runs in the family, so to speak. I was therefore interested to read an article published this week in the NYT that personal and cultural expectations can affect our decisions of how much alcohol to drink, and how to act in response to the amounts consumed.

I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve consumed so much that I was violently ill, drunk, obliterated, wasted. But the number of times I’ve drunk to just short of that, to feel that marvelous floaty feeling, to lose the feeling of being tethered to all my cares and woes? I couldn’t even begin to count– which is why I am trying to not drink much at all anymore.

Medical effects of excessive drinking aside, my concern is my psychological reasons for drinking. When I am having a glass of wine or two meant to complement my meal, I don’t worry. When I have a cocktail or two at a social gathering, no big deal. But it’s that third drink that’s the charm. I need to watch it– because not only am I a lightweight, and that fourth will leave me feeling all dried out in the morning, but because I’m clearly more stressed, more worried, more unhappy than I though I was when the evening began.

I’m convinced that some of it is pure sugar cravings, to which I am doubly prone as a bipolar and as someone with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). But the rest of it is more complicated. I’ve always felt that smart people do a “better” job overthinking, overinvesting emotionally, and criticizing unnecessarily– they do a better job at driving themselves nuts. So they need a drink, to stop that cycle. I am sure that much of this was behind my dad’s starting drinking. And I know that it’s behind mine, when I need a drink.

I try not to drink when I need a drink, but sometimes I am better at recognizing it than at other times. That’s why I have that third drink internal alarm. But now that I’m realizing that I could do a better job of calming the inner critic, I’m trying to not drink as much at all. Better to learn to deal with that nasty inner voice with some yoga or a favorite book or going to bed early, than with a drink. I’m sure as I do a better job of taking care of myself, the need for a drink will go away, but in the meantime, I’m going to try to learn to do without altogether, in the hopes that I can convince that need that what it really wants is a long, hot bath, not a bourbon.


23 thoughts on “The drinking thing

  1. dennis

    Definitely take the bath if you have the choice. And now if I could just take my own advice as easily as I give it, I wouldn’t have have had as many slips as I have. By the way, what you said about overthinkers being more prone to drinking is absolutely correct. I’m sure you know that lawyers and doctors have disproportionately high rates of alcoholism compared to the general public. So perhaps what they say IS true . . . ignorance is bliss.


  2. nyjlm

    When I stopped drinking, save for the occasional glass of wine with a nice dinner or a really good beer, for the sake of my weight, I noticed how much better I feel physically. I was surprised that there would be physical effects from just one or two glasses, but I definitely feel better not drinking. I do miss the floaty feeling, and yep, I’ve often lamented that alcohol is *not* a good remedy for anxiety even though in the moment it feels like it.

    I also worry about how drinking may interact with my medication.

    It is tiring “thinking” all the time- yet how many things have we learned about ourselves because of that trait? I’m trying to see on the bright side 🙂

  3. Michelle

    I think it is that “floaty slightly diconnected feeling” that is the spot that many of us Type A over thinkers enjoy which is why I find it so dangerous for myself. I, like you am a two drink or less gal and as another poster mentioned I feel better when I stick to that, for me I feel better both physically and emotionally/mentally.

  4. Cricket

    There have been so many alcoholics circling my life, I am very conscious of it. About alcohol myself, I am generally all or nothing, so I usually opt for nothing. I don’t see the purpose of injesting the calories of a glass of wine if a buzz isn’t attached, so I opt out. Not exactly the most healthy attitude, but I make it work.

  5. Janet

    “…smart people do a “better” job overthinking, overinvesting emotionally, and criticizing unnecessarily– they do a better job at driving themselves nuts.” – doesn’t sound too smart to me … but them I’m a laid back Type B 😉

    My cousin, who’s bipolar, had to give up drinking because it interfered so much with her meds…and I’m talking a glass of wine here and there.

    My brother, also a sober alcoholic, got the drinking gene in our family…it passed me right by.

    I’ve never had that floaty feeling with alcohol…

  6. Mrs. G.

    For the most part, I hold at two for many of the same reasons you mention. I always feel blah the next day. Dried out is a good description.

  7. The Planner

    “[T]hat marvelous floaty feeling” is a perfect description.

    I know that, at times, when I have a drink, I experience that floaty feeling and a disconnection from being so completely inside my own head.

    It does not happen all the time, but it’s lovely and scary enough that I rarely have more than one drink when I feel myself respond that way.

    To enhance my weight loss plan, I’ve actually stopped drinking completely since New Year’s and I have not missed it. Well, sometimes I miss having a glass of champagne or wine with dinner, and my friends are far less amusing …

  8. Angelina

    I am addressing the same issues. I’ve come a long way but I know that I’ve really only just begun. I refuse to give up drinking entirely, or even almost entirely, but I did realize that I needed to get a hell of a lot more disciplined about not including it in my night time rituals that are OCD. Beer should not be necessary to calm down and go to bed.

    My husband and I are learning to restrict our drinking to doing it with friends, or when we go out. I’ve been feeling a lot better both mentally and physically since cutting my drinking in half.

  9. mike golch

    I agree with Jenn,we children of )i’m not putting as nicely as she did.) drunks,with appoligies to your Dad.Have got to watch it.there are alcoholics on both sides of my family and the risk of becomming one was quite high and lo and behold I became on my did not start out that way when I first got to my tech school base while in the USAF,i was a slow drinker as things progressed i was not the socil drinker for long. Than as my Dad used to say one was too many and a vat was not enough. I was mixing the drinks between beer and the hard stuff and wine as well. after several times of starting and starting.I finally achieved soberity in 1990.

  10. Krishanna

    As someone who is an alcoholic who has been sober for 20+ years, I have to say that I still don’t get how people drink only 2 or 3 drinks and then stop. I never drank like that- not from the very first drink. The very first time I had a drink I got wasted. I used alcohol and drugs mostly for psychological reasons to escape my life. So for me, no drinking at for me. And I’ve never met anyone who uses heroin “recreationally”. 😉

  11. andrea

    I agree with enjoying that “floaty feeling”. As an uptight, tightly wound, overly anxious individual (that sounds like a lovely personality, eh?), I enjoy that feeling a little too much at times. I only drink once or twice a week and limit myself to a few drinks.

  12. Molly

    I agree with you on the smart people might drink more. That is what my father does. He is a functioning alcoholic and brilliant. He drinks to escape himself.
    Alcohol is something I have struggled with. I have definitely had times in my life where I abused alcohol and suffered some major repercutions in my life. Nowadays, I do drink, but I try very hard to control it and if I feel it is slipping into danger territory, I stop. It is something I am always aware of. It is not a problem for me anymore, but I am always aware that it could be. It’s a fine line.

  13. Watchdogs

    I am one of those who can stop after two or three drinks. I know if I go on to four, it’s a hangover the next day. It’s not worth it. A friend’s father was an alcoholic, big time. He couldn’t stop after two or three drinks. He had to drink the whole bottle.

    Good movies: Iron Weed, The Days of Wine and Roses.

  14. Deidre

    I’ve been wrestling with the drinking thing since i was in college. It was a way to help me lose my East Coast shyness and stuffiness in the beginning. It was as if there was a whole other personality underneath the surface, flamboyant, funny, greedy and destructive.

    Since then over time and two coasts I’ve gone back and forth with the amount of drinking I’ve done. I would get drunk, feel absolutely terrible about it for a while, drink moderately for months and then it would all sort of unravel.

    I’ve nearly completely given it up because I’ve taken up running road races and I can’t risk the massive dehydration. It gives me a reason to say no.

    If you haven’t read Drinking, A Love Story by Caroline Knapp, you might want to check it out. She was a lovely and smart writer and it is simply the best memoir of female drinking I’ve ever read.

  15. jess

    i always balance my drinking with a glass of water. (well except on the open house night…i made a giant punchbowl of mojitos and gulped them down..)

    i’m also the daughter of a dry drunk…and i can relate to your tale.

    i rarely feel like i “need” a drink. but i do feel that way about cigarettes. (and i’m getting ready to quit, btw…)


  16. Linda

    Wow, that was a great post! So true… sadly, for me as well. Trouble is, I’m NOT a lightweight (in the drinking sense) I’ve worked long and hard to build up my tolerance… again, sadly. And it does no good. I think you’re right, maybe a bath, or a glass of milk, or a massage would work just as well – AND not leave me feeling so worn out the next day – bonus!

  17. Minnesota Matron

    I think about this nearly every day, as I decide whether or not to have a glass of wine with dinner. In front of the children. Daily? And, I usually do.

    My father was an alcoholic. My mother’s parents were both alcoholics — in fact, my grandmother died of DT’s. Yup. She was hospitalized for pneumonia and died because of the withdrawal — at 69. Her last few years were spent with two buckets in her living room. One to throw up in and one to pee in.

    The floaty feeling? Would do it every day. Feel, often, like I need it.

    Because I’m recovering from addictions of a different sort, ingestion in general has always been an issue. At this point, feeling like I need that one drink to sleep or glass with dinner doesn’t bother me too much, as long as that’s it.

    But I’m well aware that I’m hard-wired. The scales could tip. So I’ll continue to ingest — everything — with reflection and care.

  18. Shalet

    Interesting that I should happen by this post today. I was straightening my living room today (which hadn’t been done in several days) and I moved a half drunk bottle of red wine to the kitchen. I had the momentary thought – how bad would it be to polish this off at 3:00 in the afternoon. But I left it at that, a thought. I still have miles to go before I sleep …

  19. Red

    Must put in a plug for meditation, here. That ‘floaty slightly disconnected feeling’ can be had for the mere price of sitting still for 30 minutes. It won’t work right away but practice pays off. It’s addictive.

    I used to drink a lot. I mean, a lot. In college and after. I can’t say exactly why I slowed down – I remember, years ago, asking myself whether I should. And the slowing process has taken years. Now I hardly ever have a drink – maybe once a month.

    Maybe I slowed down because other, more interesting things came along to take its place. I lost 60 pounds. I went to law school. I fell in love with a man who rarely drinks. But maybe also because over the years I developed a more well-rounded set of tools for mental health. Meditation is a big one.

    Ironically, I think type-A people have a better chance to learn to meditate because they’ve already practiced a significant amount of mental control. I urge you to give it a try.


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