My father was an alcoholic. He was capable of drinking a case of beer in one evening, and if his thirst was not yet quenched, he popped open a bottle of Crown Royal to top it all off. His alcohol tolerance seemed to know no bounds, and I, unfortunately, inherited his ability to drink large quantities. I never reached his case-a-night status, and unlike my father, I have always been able to take or leave booze. Chilled white wine in the fridge? Sure! Pour me a glass! Or two. Or three. No wine available? No problem! I’ll just drink water and be happy with that. I sincerely thought that my fickle on-and-off desire for alcohol was some sort of indicator that I did not have a problem.
As a married mother of two, I didn’t think that I was binge drinking. I thought I was just experiencing one of my “on” phases with alcohol. I wasn’t a frat boy; I wasn’t a teen experimenting with alcohol for the first time. Those days were far in the rearview mirror of my middle-aged life. I did more than my share of drinking during my teenage years as I explored various spirits. I hated some, and I liked others a little too much. More than 20 years ago, Southern Comfort gave me the worst hangover of my life, and I haven’t touched a drop of it since. My 20s introduced me to wine, and I immediately took to that drink, especially cool, fruity blends that made me feel mellow after a few glasses. My mid-40s did not make me immune to indulging at a sometimes staggering level. Rather, the self-awareness that can come with this stage of life was sometimes tempered by the hazy veil alcohol can cause. At times I knew I was drinking too much, but by the time I entertained that thought, the “on” switch had been flipped, and I wasn’t going to stop, at least not for the night.
To add to my prolific drinking talents, my current tastes in adult beverages are quite eclectic, allowing for even more chances to imbibe. My palate ranges from beer, to wine, to the delicious mixed drinks my husband creates from time to time, including a blackberry whiskey/lemonade hybrid and a concoction of green apple Crown Royal and cranberry juice. These, along with my beloved Moscato, are delicious and go down far too easily. It got to the point that I could drink a sizable bottle of the sweet, crisp white wine in one evening and not even feel buzzed. As someone who has more than one alcoholic in her family tree, this should have been a warning sign to me to slow down, but that alone did not cause me to scale back my drinking. Rather, it was a visit to the doctor for routine bloodwork that finally caught my attention and made me ask myself some very difficult questions. Was I an alcoholic? Was I more like my father than I initially thought? I have his blue eyes, his smile, and his temperament. Did he pass down this part of himself, too? Finally, could I indeed quit drinking and, if I did, how badly would I miss it?
The bloodwork showed that I have enlarged red blood cells, a condition that is commonly associated with drinking to excess. The technical name for this condition is macrocytosis, and it is not caused by alcohol abuse only. Other factors can contribute, including vitamin B-12 deficiency, hypothyroidism, and folate deficiency. I learned about these other things when doing research after I received the call from the doctor, because he never mentioned them as a possible cause for my condition. He immediately mentioned alcohol abuse. I guess I filled out the short questionnaire the nurse handed me a little too honestly during my visit. It asked about my alcohol consumption, and I indicated that I had a few drinks on most days. The doctor made the obvious connection between my habit and those large red blood cells.
I already knew that cutting back on my drinking would help me in my current quest to lose weight. After all, I could go days, even weeks without as much as drinking one drop. I quickly discovered that was not good enough, as I started to pay attention to other signs I previously ignored during my “on” phases with alcohol. When I drink, my face becomes very hot and flushed. I do not sleep very well after a heavy night of drinking. I am also turning into one of those women I used to not-so-jokingly mock, as I get a headache after one or two glasses of wine. Clear warnings of alcohol-related issues, but ones I chose to ignore until a physician gave me a concrete reason to pay attention.
So, at least for right now, my relationship with alcohol is in its “off” phase. I can’t promise that I will never have another drink, even though I see the benefits of weight loss and improved overall health when I abstain. I will admit that I feel a great sense of relief that I do not miss having glasses of wine at night, because that means I am not a slave to the spell alcohol cast over many of my family members. And that relief will most likely keep me from drinking in the future, at least to excess, as I continue to once again find balance in yet another area of my life.
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