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A sobering light at the end of a tunnel
When I get stuck in the soup of my head (which is common) I tell myself to sit down with my gratitude journal and my gratitude jar and count my blessings. I don’t have either of those things. I have put it on my To Do List for at least a decade. I am well meaning but mostly its a post it or I just say the things out loud in the shower. That counts, but it makes it hard to reflect on progress or regression.
I know what I’m supposed to be grateful for. Most recently, walking away from a near fatal car crash. Finding my dogs the next day, also alive, in a foreign country where I was traveling alone. Finding an apartment that I can afford, the landlord accepting my mounting quantity of dogs at the rescue. When I complain about the oppressive heat I stop and say but at least I have AC. When my hip hurts I say thank you to my legs for walking me everywhere in this desolate town where I now have no car and on and on.
But further back, before Mexico and selling all my things to go on an epic traveling expedition I was asking favors of God. The Universe. My higher self. The Tree I used to talk to in the yard. It’s easy to forget what you once did but no longer do. But I’ve dropped a ton of baggage. Actual physical stuff and real estate and a ton of issues and really lousy habits.
Some of the things I asked my Tree:
PLEASE Release me from these regrettable, sort of secret addictive behaviors that I can ignore because I don’t need an intervention and I can keep my shit together. Please change my habit of setting the bar rather low for intimate partners. Set me free from opening the fridge when I’m having a meltdown to comfort myself. Let me drive by the fancy wine store without buying something “just in case” and let me ignore the call of fried chicken or stromboli even when I can smell the garlic and ricotta from six blocks away and the pizza man is cute.
Part of my business (in my previous life) as a chef and restaurant owner was knowing a lot about wines and pairing it with your meal just so and going to tastings and traveling to France and learning about the terroir and stainless vs oak fermentation barrels and dry irrigation. Oh, the pepper of a Rhone from a south facing hillside in France blahty blah. As my business grew and I got kitchen staff I could sit at the bar and chat with guests and drink out of fancy Riedel stems and it was all very satisfying. I spent all of my thirties doing this.
On nights off I’d go to other people’s restaurants and do the same. Looking at it now, it sure looks like gluttony. (And probably around $250,000 spent) At my own place pouring with others around it was social, but when I moved to the boonies in North Georgia on a farm I was mostly sitting alone with a two bottle a night drinking habit with chickens.
The town I moved to was in a dry county, but you could buy wine at the gas station the next town over. I went from the terroir and nuance of Rhone to a bait shop with liters of Sutter Home Merlot that had been sitting in a hot window for a year. The indignity. It was that or drive 75 miles to Atlanta and stock up, which I did. For years. Then the laws changed and you could get delivery by mail. Then they started selling it in shops nearby. Then it was just an expensive habit. My income had declined significantly and booze money was now spent on renovations so I rolled back my fancy palate when no one was looking. I mean it’s not for the restaurant, it’s just me on the porch with the dogs weeding the tomato plants. What’s wrong with a $10 1.5 liter California chardonnay? (besides that it’s full of sugar water and mouth feel chemicals and flavorings and not really wine at all) A couple of ice cubes and a splash of Perrier and it was refreshing. I’d finish the bottle and I’d skip dinner or make some melted brie on toast and head to bed or open the door for the gardener late night (aforementioned lowered bar for intimate partner) and practice my Spanish. Or something.
In my city restaurant life I made a good living being creative and burning tall pillar candles and hanging sheer curtains and playing sexy Euro lounge and retro 40s tunes in my tiny bistro and selling fancy wine with pretty servers and luscious food pairings. I’d stay up very very late with artsy, humorous patrons, smoking cigarettes, feeling French and being hip and clever (I thought) and as the years rolled on, sorta fat. But it was a blast. As the decade closed and I turned 40 I sold the dark and moody restaurants and moved to the mountains to raise chickens and that sexy wine and cheese habit alone in the woods with chicken poop in the coop was not quite as delicious.
As I rolled into 50 all the thrill was gone. Never a buzz, likely a hangover, sorta shameful. Enough. I stopped buying it. It wasn’t like turning off a tap, but when my mom died and I had to relocate to Florida and my life was full of grief and loneliness and humidity and depression that blossomed like a hot house orchid, I found myself checking the clock for Wine Time, all the time. Or rerouting my “errands” for the Better Wine Shop on the west side of town. Or acting like I needed to go to Publix for paper towels and grab some wine like I had company coming over. Which I didn’t.
A bottle of wine always and forever felt celebratory, so I’d get all the fixins. Lamb chops at this store, cheese over here, some better bread at the German bakery, Euro butter, organic arugula, fresh parmesan, “organic” cigarettes, sparkling water, flowers, it was like I was dating myself in Paris. How about a casual date night of a pizza from the best Italian in town, a great caesar I made myself and to start, a nice sparkling Prosecco and then a couple glasses of Sangiovese with the main course. Provecho!
It just started to not feel great, my relationship was built on Wine Time. Maybe it was a red wine habit in Florida that made me stop drinking. I wasn’t getting that dopamine buzzy feel, my decade’s long issue with migraine was definitely not forgiving alcohol, I could get an episode from a banana let alone wine. Sailing into menopause made it even easier to feel like shit. One glass, no buzz, feel sick, hard pass.
I know all the sneaky excuses. I didn’t drink that much right? I grew up in a tense alcoholic family, I’ve been to Alanon. It was definitely someone else’s problem. I rarely got drunk even. Just was always having a drinky. I owned a bar and worked in several. I’ve seen the ugly side. I’ve never been black out drunk, not even at college. I’ve never had DUI or any problems that were obvious on the outside.
The day drinking…a pitcher of margaritas at lunch for restaurant people is just an appetizer. How about 5. Mostly with a handful of advil because your body is so sore from what you’ve put it through during the week. I spent most of my days off conducting business from a corner booth of a dive called El Toro with a bottomless barrel of yellow elixir, baskets of chips and rivers of white queso dip, crispy fried pork carnitas and limey pico de gallo. Ugh. So great at the time, I cannot even fathom sitting at a table that long now. And I’m actually in Mexico. I haven’t seen tequila for over a year. Except when I drove through the town of TEQUILA. But I haven’t had anything to drink here. Who am I?
I tried medical marijuana while living briefly in Tulsa as the state of OK was legal and that was a big zero for me. I don’t trust that govt weed. Sorta gives me a headache, it’s not regulated and for sure I’m not interested in smoking something that was grown with a ton of fertilizer and chemicals to meet the demand of a very addicted culture. Pass. I also quit smoking cigarettes. Why smoke if you don’t drink? And it’s like what $9pack? Nope.
It wasn’t until years of therapy and looking into my lifelong sailing trip with depression that I realized the best I ever felt was from the dopamine I’d get in booze kicks or nicotine. I didn’t know I’d bottom out by quitting. I trust it will balance out later in life or I’ll have to start hang gliding.
So I have comedy podcasts (got rid of the TV long ago, turns out if you’re sober you don’t need something to sit and watch for hours), long walks, cajeta cookies, dog rescue, early sleep. I’m out of a lot of social events that I wasn’t interested in anyway. Nothing to take the edge off unless you count breathing techniques. It’s kind of a drag, I’ll be honest. But I wasn’t in a great place when I was trying to medicate with socially accepted pastimes either. I could just turn off each night. No growth? No problem.
It’s been 4 years or more and nothing has replaced it, I don’t date nor do I want to. The world is weirddddd right now and frankly I feel like it’s wise to keep one’s head. But I’m grateful. A lot of people struggle to get off the hooch. And the smokes. And the tokes and all kinds of shit I never tried but could have and been hooked on. But I know for sure I look better. I feel better. I weigh less. My liver is functioning better. I eat less and I spend less money. If I get a migraine episode now I know it’s just random dysregulation of my nervous system or barometric pressure or stress or skipped meals or the devil.
I had a terribly embarrassing night with some remote family at a restaurant party where I was nervous, didn’t eat much at a sushi bar, was poured about 50 gallons of sake that I wasn’t ordering (and was probably laced) and ended up flirting hard with guys I would normally never look at twice. The married Asian owner for example. The busboys who were for sure drug dealers. I made lewd and sexual remarks to a horrified and sensitive bartender not ready for my Mae West smut. I had to leave my car at the restaurant and an employee drove me home (before Uber) and I had a make out event like a drunk college girl in the car. So cringe, like watching Madonna show her butt implants on a late night show. Go to bed Madge, you’re drunk. That was ten years ago. So thank you me for answering that prayer. Worthy of that Gratitude Jar for sure.