Wine: A Wolf at the Door

Kenwod Vineyards 30 Anniversary Cabernet Sauvignon.

(After a long drawn out post about not blogging about “negative” things, the wonderful people in the blogging world set me straight. Writing here is about being honest, and I was not feeling particularly positive at the time this was written. I now realize that this is OK, and have reposted this blog entry.)

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It seems so innocent.

It’s just a food substance that has been fermented. Over long, long centuries, my ancestors and yours have been drinking it.

I’m thinking a lot these days about this fermented substance, and what it does to people, and every one around them. And I’m not so sure it’s safe for anyone.

Wine is described in ways that disguise what it really is. It’s poison, loaded with sugar to disguise the taste. It’s a bait and switch, selling you one thing, but giving you another. It’s a predatory loan from a brutal mobster — the slippery devil himself. And Lucifer, described in the Bible as “perfect in beauty,” is the ultimate salesman. A wolf in sheep’s clothing.

No one sees it coming. There’s no prettier packaging than a nice chilled bottle of wine at an expensive restaurant, with waiters and other patrons assuring you that all is well, that this fermented substance you are about to drink is a great thing. It’s a symbol of success and leisure and exotic locales and prestige and camaraderie and ease. Welcome to the club! You deserve this.

A toast! Somebody make a toast.

Suddenly, you are a mini-celebrity. People at other tables raise their glasses. “We’re all in this together,” they seem to be saying. And it feels like the truth.

Who doesn’t want this? Which of us, having stumbled through the day — sometimes well, sometimes in aching, lonely defeat — doesn’t want to join the table? To eat, drink, and be merry! To merge with humanity effortlessly. To feel less alone. To celebrate. To forget.

It’s communion. Communion of spirit. It’s everything holy about what we’re supposed to feel at the table of God himself.

Or so it seems.

Sometime later — could be years or just a few hours — in the early morning light of gray defeat, alcohol becomes something else entirely. Now it’s a disheveled thug that appears by your bed. A loan shark, expecting to be paid, with outrageous interest. And there are no boundaries to what he can do to exact payment.

Like the grim reaper himself, he has no scruple about who he takes or when, how unfair the circumstances, how blindsided those left behind.

You have to give the devil his due. It’s a masterful disguise, that pretty bottle.

Decades ago, I watched a New Year’s Eve episode of the Oprah show. It got my attention because it featured a high school girl about my age who had the same first name as me. From what I remember, this Shawna and a bunch of friends got their hands on some alcohol at a party. Some young men at the party convinced Shawna to drive them somewhere because they were too inebriated to drive themselves. They all piled into someone’s convertible, and Shawna, not used to heavy drinking and inebriated as well, ended up driving at a high rate of speed into a brick wall, killing two of the men, critically injuring everyone else.

I was amazed at the poise and calm with which this young woman, who had been a typical high school success story — beautiful, athletic, smart — spoke about the event and her later efforts to make peace with herself and the boys’ families. But underneath the poise, she had a haunted look, as if she had resigned herself to being forever guilty — a sacrifice made to a rapacious wolf, on behalf of the rest of us.

Though the story aired well before the rise of the internet, I’ve searched for it online, and haven’t found it. This girl’s story, however, has never left me. I was a casual drinker then, if that, but me and my group of friends were beginning to experiment with drinking, and then inevitably driving home. I remember thinking, with a slight chill, that could be me.

 

Drinking: A Scary Warning Blog

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Last night I posted a blog called “Wine: A Wolf in Disguise.” It was kind of a scary blog, ending with a tragic DUI story. I took it down an hour later.

But I’m done with that shit.

Writing and thinking along those lines made me ill the rest of the evening. I felt lost and disoriented, for no apparent reason, until my mind connected this discomfort to the words in that blog. Words have power, and it hurt me physically and psychically to put that story out there. I hope nobody read it.

Why did I feel so awful about it?

As I reread it, I thought it made some valid points. It contained a helpful, (I thought) not-so-subtle warning for those who might be drinking and driving to STOP THE INSANITY! My twisted logic: If this story makes one person stop and think about what could happen, if it saves one life … blah, blah, blah.

Total bullshit.

This same logic is used on a grand scale to scare people into doing all kinds of stupid things. It strikes at our basest emotions and fear-mongering tendencies. It inspires negativity and guilt. It creates panic.

What a gift to bestow upon a few lucky readers. I am profoundly sorry.

It got me thinking about how I parent. I often throw out little warnings to my (grown) children, disguised as stories about someone else. “Look at this,” I might say to my son, while innocently perusing the newspaper. “This poor guy got a DUI practically in our driveway.” Message: Don’t drink and drive, even in our neighborhood. Even for short distances. You could pay a very heavy price. Don’t do it, even though I did. Especially because I did.

What I’m really thinking is I am afraid. I’m afraid for you out there in the world. Please don’t become a statistic. Please learn this lesson the easy way. Please avoid these pitfalls. I can’t stand to have you hurt.

But my son just rolls his eyes, as I did years ago with my own mother’s warning stories, and silently drinks his coffee, wondering when I became so afraid.

I resented my mother for worrying about me, even though she had good reason. But beyond a certain age, it never affected my behavior. I wasn’t listening to fear, not then.

Fear never stopped me anyway, at least not from drinking. Neither did well-meaning warnings from people I loved.

Love stopped me. Learning to love and forgive and respect myself stopped me. Regaining my power, and not giving into fear, stopped me.

Fear is paralyzing. Love is empowering.

I want that to be my message, as I see this same message in so many other people’s blogs and books — people I love and admire. My message should be love and hope and companionship and empathy and self-worth.

That’s what worked for me.

❤️

(After this long drawn out post about not blogging about “negative” things, the wonderful people in the blogging world set me straight. Writing here is about being honest, and I was not feeling particularly positive at the time this was written. I now realize that this is OK, and have reposted the original blog entry — Wine: A Wolf at the Door.)

 

The Heroes of Addiction

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What if, as I have been reading, life on earth is really just a classroom?

And what if only the hardiest souls choose to come to earth in the first place because of the turmoil and uncertainty they know they will face?

And what if, before you agreed to be born here, you got to choose what challenges you would face to guarantee the most dramatic advancement in your learning?

And what if, of the hardiest souls who come here at all, only the bravest choose to face the challenge of addiction?

And what if, having chosen to face this, all fell into place, as agreed upon, and you became addicted as planned, and not because you are weak and scattered and selfish?

And what if your addiction brought about the greatest possible learning experience for those around you because, like you, they chose to experience this time here, with you, and have learned immeasurably by watching you do battle with addiction?

And what if, just like in the movies, all the good guys in heaven and earth are put here to help the hero (you) overcome this addiction, and that all you have to do is reach out for help?

And what if, like in a good movie, you are guaranteed success? That you have already succeeded by accepting the challenge, because only the bravest of souls do?

And what if, as the hardiest of souls, agreeing to the hardiest of challenges, you are already a hero?

 

Here’s to you, my friend.

water toast cheers

 

Missing the Sober Universe

cheesecake

I am here and still alive, for those of you who have noticed my absence. I so miss this connection! I am traveling around with just an I-phone (although I know you all blog from your phones, I can’t) with an entourage of relatives, with no real place to check-in with my beloved blogging friends.

So far, I’ve gone to two weddings (sober) and had a blast, three days with the parents, a week of vacation at the beach, with another long weekend with countless in-laws coming up, and the idea of drinking has barely surfaced. It holds the same power now as my desire to have a giant piece of cheesecake — I glance at it, notice it might be appetizing, realize how sick it will make me, and then POOF! — the thought is gone immediately as I turn my attention elsewhere.

What they say is true, although I never believed it. The psychological desire for alcohol goes away. I thought I’d be salivating the rest of my life, watching the world have fun without me. I could care less about it now. Amazing!

Happy Wednesday all, and I will chat with you soon.

Step One: Are You Really Powerless?

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AA Step 1: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.

When I was ‘working the steps,’ I spent a lot of  time and energy questioning whether or not I was really powerless over alcohol. After all, there was that time at my sister’s wedding when I turned down a fourth drink. And that other time when I  was so hung over that I voluntarily turned down a glass of tepid wine (because I didn’t think I could hold it down).

All kidding aside, I could sometimes sustain periods of controlled drinking. And I started out as a normal drinker. But in hindsight, none of this mattered. All it did was send me into endless rounds of deciding if I was really an alcoholic, and if there was any doubt, I could continue to drink. I used this doubt to undermine every attempt I made to quit.

But there was no denying that my life had become unmanageable.

Look what Joss over at She-Who-Hears says in her blog:

“Unmanageability manifests itself in different ways and different degrees, but this part of the step furthers the admission of internal chaos with a direct admission of its manifestation into all elements our lives. We are not in control of ourselves, and our lives are now controlled by raw, insatiable need.”

Unmanageability was manifesting in every area of my life. I should have concentrated on this part of the statement instead of allowing my ego to convince me that I didn’t really qualify as a true alcoholic, and therefore none of what followed applied to me. I could have saved myself many more years of drinking.

Joss’s post is well worth the read: Step One.

Sobriety is Like Middle School

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After giving up the drink, you will soon find out that facing the world newly sober is like going back to middle school.

You will suddenly morph into your 14-year-old self, and struggle to fit in. You are tongue-tied, awkward, overeager, and shy, all at the same time. Your clothes are weird and don’t fit right.

And you have to learn the basics of socializing all over again.

It doesn’t matter what personality you had in your drinking life, because with liquid courage, we were all super confident, talkative, funny, … charming even. (Until we had a little too much, but I don’t have to tell you that.)

Alcohol, being the great equalizer, has brought us all to this new playing field: middle school.

Your sober community (if you have one) is a great place to start honing your skills, but often they are as stunted socially as you are. And thriving in this community involves learning to speak in monologues and emote on cue, which are NOT assets in middle school. Still, try to hang out with some of the older kids in this group who know their way around the schoolyard. (And AVOID the ones selling pot on the playground, even though your lizard brain thinks they’re cool. Tell yourself you don’t want to be cool. Cool is for fools! Write this on your notebook where no one else can see it.)

Sooner or later, you will be forced out of your sober safety zone, like an eagle out of the nest. A gangly, awkward eagle who spits when he talks.

You might then begin venturing out with your old drinking buddies because that’s all you know. This doesn’t count. You can’t practice having a sober conversation with people who are drinking. They want to do all the talking, for one thing, and they aren’t listening to a word you say anyway. (You do this too.) They are performing. They need an audience. All you have to do is nod your head and laugh at their stories. Even little kids can do that.

Instead, after a few months of sobriety (a year, in my case), you must seek out some normal people and attempt to hang out with them.

I did this recently. My husband and I met another couple for dinner at a restaurant. I was pretty sure that no drinking would be involved because the other couple looked so respectable. We did our best to look respectable too. Drinking never even came up. (Did you even know people like this existed? People whose lives don’t revolve around whether or not they are going to order a drink?)

After I ordered my decaf coffee, right on cue, I morphed into a kid sitting at the grown-up’s table — tongue-tied, awkward, overeager, and shy, all at the same time.

I had to consciously think things like, Now it’s my turn to say something. Say something! I no longer even recognized the simple give and take of conversation.

The inner angsting continued. Don’t talk with your mouth full. Shift eye contact to the guy who’s talking. Don’t stare. Don’t say ‘shit.’ Don’t mention Trump. Wait, he just said ‘fuck.’ Does that mean I can say ‘shit’? No! It will seem like I’m trying to be cool. Be cool. Be cool. There’s a lull in the conversation … say something! Anything!

This from a girl who once smugly described herself as a social butterfly.

Mercifully, these middle school years don’t take as long as the first time around. They’re in dog years! Even faster. Right there at the table, I advanced to tenth grade.

I became that eager to please high school girl I once was. I jumped in to the conversation now and then, testing out my growing confidence. And the evening continued on pleasantly. It was fun even. We’re going to do it again soon.

What I remember now is that before I learned to drink, I learned to talk.

I learned to express myself. I watched what other people did to learn social cues. I risked talking to people, and then built on that experience to talk to someone else. I risked telling a joke. I failed, but didn’t let it destroy me. I tried again. I learned to be myself in a group. I found out that I have something to say.

Now, I get to learn who I am all over again. To relearn what I forgot mattered. To begin again with a clean slate.

And this time, I can do it right.