Christ, I feel like shit.
My teeth hurt. They feel rattled, loose. Like I’ve been punched in the jaw – more than once. I’m grinding so hard, my tooth-alignment is actually changing. My bite is crooked. My head aches; My neck is stiff; I’m so agitated, it’s hard to take a deep breath.
A few weeks ago, I gave up the rest of my alcohol. I’ve been on this path for twenty-some years. Chipping away, bit by bit. Scaling back. Giving up frequent drunkenness. Then giving up infrequent drunkenness, and then rare drunkenness. I was hoping to find a sweet-spot where I felt comfortable with my alcohol intake, comfortable with my desire to drink.
I never found it. Or I suppose I did. My sweet-spot is zero. None at all. But there’s nothing sweet about it. It’s a bitter, fucking pill. So I grind my teeth.
If alcohol is in my life, I spend my life anticipating alcohol. Anticipating my next drink. Obsessed. Counting down the days and hours. For the past year, this was all week until Friday night – pretty much the minute I walked in the door. And then Saturday night, too. And then another count-down until Friday. A huge change from my past, when I was drinking every night. Twice over the past fifteen years I took a night off to prep for a colonoscopy. And on two weekends I went to Scout camp with Eli. I didn’t drink anything there. Umm, that might be all. So literally, every night.
My weekend-only rule was a last year’s resolution. And my resolve was falling apart. Similar to when I was a college student, the weekends kept getting longer. Thursday night was close enough. Sunday night, still technically the weekend. Tuesday was a tough day at work. Et cetera. So I quit all together. My new resolution. Instead, I grind my teeth.
I caught on after only a few days. The tooth grinding isn’t new. My dentist has long scolded me to get a night-guard. But I always explained to him that the grinding happens during the day. I want to stop, but I can’t. This is different though. I’m grinding so hard I’m expecting my molars to shatter.
My alcohol scale-back first started when I got serious with Susan. By the time we were married and homeowners, my drinking was under control. Eighteen years of sobriety. A drinker, but never drunk. That’s when my Tourette’s symptoms returned. I had tics as a child, but they disappeared by high school. Tics are uncontrollable, involuntary movements and vocalizations. That description might be slightly misleading. I can control my tics, for a while, and individually, but I can’t control them all. Not for more than a minute or so.
It never occurred to me that tooth-grinding is a tic until I quit drinking. It got so serious, so quickly, I had to give it attention. A quick internet search told me what I should have already known. I called my dentist and badgered my way into an emergency appointment. I decided to get that night-guard. I’m planning to wear it all day.
I don’t think the dentist believes me, he seems skeptical of my Tourette’s theory. After I told my story, he still insisted that I do my grinding in my sleep. But I doubt he really cares. He made his sale. He’s done his part. And I’m satisfied too. I’ll get my guard in two weeks. Hopefully it will be soon enough to save that crown on my upper canine. I’m pulling at it with my lower teeth, and it’s getting wobbly at the root. I’m worried I’m going to break the crown right off. Or possibly rip the whole tooth out of my gums.
My kids call it the ugly tooth. When they were making the crown, the dental assistant forgot to add dye. Now I have one pale, enamel-colored tooth stuck in a mouthful of teeth browned by forty years of coffee and red wine. It’s clearly fake, my Frankentooth. The assistant disappeared shortly after she screwed up my tooth. I hope I wasn’t her final straw.
Last weekend, I led a winter hike for a community health organization. About fifty people showed up. Some were friends, but most were people who read about the hike in the newspaper or in promotional emails. After the hike, when all the cars drove away, Susan and I remained in the vacant parking lot talking with one other couple. They pulled a six pack out of a snowbank and offered me a beer. We met them a few years ago, but we’ve just recently started making plans to do things together. We all like craft beers and flavorful red wine – wine that gets your attention, wine that kicks you in the head.
“No thanks, I quit.” It was the first time I said it to anyone but Susan. I’m certain they were surprised. No one sees me as having a drinking problem. The problem isn’t even the drinking, but my obsession with drinking. My friends had no reaction at all. No questions, no admonishments, no congratulations. It’s exactly what I would do if someone said that to me. And then I’d write them off. No longer worth the effort of friendship. Cancel my investment, find a replacement friend.
I wonder how many times I’ll imagine this over the coming months. I wonder how many times it will really happen. Alcohol plays a large part in my relationships. I’ve used it to take the edge off of social situations. When I was a heavy drinker, I was engaging and charismatic. Able to captivate a crowd with a funny story – usually about something stupid I did when I was trashed. It’s been years since I’ve been able to do this. The same amount of years since I’ve been drunk. But I still feel more comfortable with a drink in my hand.
Socializing is difficult for me. I do well in one on one situations and in small groups of three or four people. But once the group reaches five, I become overwhelmed. I’m too self-conscious to offer much in a discussion. When I think about going to parties, the only motivation I see is the wine. Maybe I’ll have a good time, more likely I’ll have a bad time, but I’ll certainly have wine.
Well, now I only have water. So I grind my teeth.