A Wine Drinker’s Odyssey
Coming Into the Final Port of Call
I don’t remember what my first sip of wine tasted like. It was probably similar to my first taste of coffee. Pretty disgusting. I imagine it tasted like Welch’s Grape Juice gone bad. Just like my first cup of coffee tasted like a liquid ashtray. Eventually, given enough opportunities to prove my palate wrong due to the desirous nature of the altered state wine put me in, I did acquire the taste. Or, to be more accurate, it was the intoxicating effect I wanted more of. After a while, who cared about taste?
I must have bought my first bottle of wine at the supermarket once I moved out to live on my own in my early twenties. I didn’t think there was anything wrong with drinking alone in my apartment since I saw people doing it all the time in the movies. It didn’t make them look desperate. It made them look older and sophisticated.
Over time I morphed into a wife and mom and found myself imbibing more and more frequently. I became the quintessential suburban wine mom and excused my drinking as a much needed mini-vacation from my life. This was especially true in the effort to get as far away as I could from my husband at the time. He once said to me before we were married that my drinking scared him. It didn’t register very deeply but deep enough to make me remember that he said it. I probably thought he was overreacting. My drinking didn’t scare me. I liked my drinking. A lot.
Now that I am much older, I have become accustomed to the fact that upon reflection the prism through which I view my life changes. I realize now there is good in the bad and bad in the good. Yin and yang seems to be two sides of the same coin that we all have jangling in our pockets. There is light and also the shadow it casts. For instance, my marriage was a living nightmare. A horrific walk across a minefield every single day that I was married. Due to the constant pressure my body responded in kind and my blood pressure skyrocketed. I believe a small saving grace was given to me in the form of cooking and drinking wine in the evening. I am eternally grateful for that tiny bit of light. Those evenings were an escape from stress where I could quietly listen to music and decompress. The wine and my hands making a meal while thinking my own thoughts created a little oasis of harmony where everything was really okay, for now. Cooking brought its own gifts by involving the rest of the senses: smell, sight, touch, taste. I lived for thirteen years this way, and I do believe those moments of stillness and grace in some way saved my life.
On the flip side of that coin, this habit turned into several decades of wine drinking in the evening. It persisted even after I divorced the ex and was freed from the pressure cooker. The pull of intoxication was eventually accompanied by a nagging little voice in the back of my head that was waving caution signs and urging me to slow down. Or better yet come to a complete stop. It would insist that I wasn’t a casual drinker anymore. I was becoming increasingly formal about it. I had my designated nights for solo drinking. I was annoyed when the kids planned outings on those days because I couldn’t drink until after picking them up from wherever they went. I would also limit how much I ate during those days so once the wine began flowing it would hit my brain faster. (Express inebriation delivery please!) A trying day or a ragged drive home was always rewarded with intoxication. I was fully aware that my real preference would be to drink every single evening. But since I wasn’t doing that I could tell myself that I was not an alcoholic. Maybe just alcoholic adjacent. Was that so bad?
With all those warnings going off in my head I did think about drinking less, the pivotal word in this sentence being “think.” The fact that I couldn’t even entertain the notion of stopping completely should’ve thrown up more red flags to think about. But whatever it was I was thinking didn’t matter because I would invariably find myself in the wine aisle placing a bottle or two (more often two) into my cart. Good intentions existed but didn’t pan out into actual execution. Where real change occurs.
Change took awhile. It took me all the way to 65 years old. What started as an attempt to lose some weight and become fitter, accompanied by a lot of reading about liver functioning, ended with the decision to stop the drinking. Full stop. At 65. The biggest surprise was that it wasn’t that difficult.
This sea change was greatly aided by all the smaller choices I made along the way. In the attempt to get into a shape that wasn’t round I exercised in the afternoon on a daily basis. The afternoon workouts led to a good deal of sweat, so I followed that with a cold shower which according to some has its health benefits. My first meal of the day was after my shower because I had taken up intermittent fasting. By that time of the day I was hungry so I would fix myself a healthy pre-dinner snack like a salad or fresh fruit. I found that once I had eaten and my stomach was full, I no longer wanted to drink. This new regimen allowed four months to go by with only the occasional thought of how good it would feel to have a nice glass of something-something, but I was soon used to ignoring it.
I learned during this time that our needs seem to arrange themselves in a hierarchy. If we can come up with a different need and it resides higher up the chain than the one we want to eradicate or alter, the new need becomes dominant and can squelch the one below it. My desire to lose weight became more important to me than the desire to feel intoxicated, therefore, I stopped going down the wine aisle at the supermarket. Which meant there was no wine in the house. If there was the occasional hankering, I hate to drive so I knew I would not run out to the store to buy a bottle. The good habits and canny scheming against myself were effective in diminishing the siren call of wine.
I don’t take the relative ease I had of getting to a place of non-drinking lightly. Especially after living under its tyranny for so long. I was lucky that I never graduated to harder stuff that could have led to a full blown physical addiction only rehab could cure. Since that wasn’t the case, the habit I had operated under for decades had probably run its course and I was tiring of its residual effects.
Things changed a bit around the holidays. Since I was in celebratory mode I did have some wine or champagne. I rediscovered the wine aisle as the occasional bottle would show up in my cart. But this time there was a difference. Since I was working so hard at the fasting and exercise, I was really vigilant about any weight gain. If I saw the numbers on the scale increasing even a little bit I would immediately cut back on the wine. Suddenly, I was in charge and the desire to drink had to bow its head in submission. The tables had turned. Big shout out to vanity!
And so we come to what I believe is the final iteration of my relationship with wine. Soon after the resumption of the occasional, but highly regulated drinking I joined a wine club with a really great introductory discount. Sounds mad and counterintuitive, I know, but it has enabled me to discover what a real relationship with a good wine can be. Thanks to the reduced pricing of really amazing bottles of wine, I am able to experience the best that good weather, great soil, and crafty winemaking can create.
I was delighted to find that some wines have a smooth, velvety mouth feel, like pillows for your lips and tongue. I decant. Need I say more? I do not want to merely drink these newfound treasures. I want to sip them and groan with pleasure. And once I get to the point where I’m not savoring the wine but am merely drinking it, I stop.
Mainly due to the fact that I am cheap, I only allow myself to uncork one bottle a week. I do not take these finely made wines and what I pay for them lightly. I want to slowly and thoroughly get my money’s worth. That said, I am nowhere close to being a wine connoisseur. I do start by sniffing the wine but so far I can only detect two things: unidentifiable fruit and nail polish remover. But the taste! I have been transported light years beyond Two Buck Chuck.
Wine has accompanied me throughout my entire adult life. We began in innocence, but I allowed it, in my neediness and maybe some genetic predisposition, to veer us towards a more reckless and potentially dangerous place. Although it was once just a means to an end, now it is the end in itself. What a mighty long intoxication journey it’s been but somehow I managed to land where it’s best to be in regards to all things ingested or imbibed, in delightful moderation.