The Hard Days

I had my last drink almost eleven months ago; I quit somewhere in the middle of last January. But I’m not sure exactly when. And yes, it’s ridiculous that I don’t know the date. I thought I did, but two or three weeks after I quit, I couldn’t remember if it was two or three weeks. I know it was a Sunday night, so it’s either January 10 or January 17… or maybe the 24th. It really doesn’t matter, except every other person who quit has an anniversary date. I don’t. It’s like not knowing your birth date. I was too rattled to keep track.

After the first few months, there have been only a handful of times when I really missed drinking. I’m not talking about that bummed out “I really miss drinking” feeling, which is all the time. I’m referring to those times when “I REALLY MISS DRINKING!” and I go to bed because I can’t think of anything else to do. I felt it when the weather got warm and I started grilling. And on our family vacation, after the daily hikes were done, before we headed out for dinner. And on my birthday. On Halloween night, while passing out candy (passing out candy is only properly done with a glass of wine in hand). But this weekend was the worst. This is Thanksgiving weekend.

I once read that the Wednesday before Thanksgiving is the biggest drinking night in America. I would have guessed New Year’s Eve. Or if I was in a daring mood, maybe Super Bowl Sunday. But now that I’ve been through it, Thanksgiving Eve is a good choice. Or Thanksgiving Day. Or Black Friday. Or even today, plain old Thanksgiving Saturday.

In my list—grilling, Halloween, and vacationing with my wife and kids—these are hardly party events. These aren’t times that would necessarily jump to mind as rough patches for sobriety. But for me, they’re steeped in a tradition of alcohol. I’m not sure I’ve ever grilled without a drink in my hand before this year. Without a drink: I’m positive I’ve never passed out Halloween candy. Or kicked back on vacation. Or celebrated my birthday. And Thanksgiving weekend? This has always been more about wine than food.

Susan’s brother, Al, is a connoisseur. He studies wines. He reads about them, he samples them in wine stores and restaurants. And when he finds a wine he likes, he buys a case. Susan and I love(d) wine too, just in a less organized fashion. We bought just about any red that was on sale for ten or eleven dollars. This almost always yielded an above average collection of wines. But when we liked one of those, we could never remember its name to rebuy it the next time we went to the store. Or the price went back up to an unreasonable, unbuyable $15.99. We always drank decent wine, but it was always a new experience.

Sharing the holidays with Al is similar to our shopping strategy. His selections rarely disappoint, and we go through so much wine, there are always plenty of happy surprises. But this year I watched from the sidelines. I watched as he opened a new bottle and said a few words to describe it. And actually, this year, there was less to watch than normal. With Susan and me out of the mix, far fewer bottles were opened.

Wait, why isn’t Susan drinking? She isn’t the one with the problem!

I can’t answer that until she does. When I quit, she all but quit as well. I’d be surprised if she had more than eight drinks all year. And during the three days her brother was in town, I think Susan had one small glass of wine. I’m sure this is frustrating for Al, he likes to share his wine.

wineI entered the extended weekend rather upbeat. I was excited to see my in-laws. Looking forward to spending a few days talking with them about politics and books and child rearing. I was excited to watch my kids enjoy playing with their cousins. I was excited about having a couple of days off work. But thirty minutes into Wednesday evening, I began to see what the weekend would entail. Which was not drinking Al’s wine.

As I plowed through Seltzer water with lime over ice—glass after glass, through one lime and into the next, as the ice supply dwindled dangerously low—I learned something important. Thanksgiving weekend isn’t the same without wine. Drinking takes the edge off the stress of visiting with relatives you only see a few times per year. I’m never comfortable socializing in a group, and family gatherings are no different. Wine was the magic ingredient that made Thanksgiving taste just right. And unsurprisingly, no matter how much water I drink to keep myself occupied, it isn’t the same as a glass of wine… or four.

On Saturday morning, my in-laws went home. They drove back to Amherst, and we were left with the whole weekend to ourselves. Sophie and Eli were thinking Christmas tree. Living in rural Pennsylvania makes Christmas tree shopping a joy. A decent sized tree is about sixty dollars cheaper than when we lived in DC; And here, we get to cut it down ourselves.

As a family, we’re maturing, wising-up. For the first time ever, we preceded our tree hunting trip with a long discussion deciding what we were looking for in a tree. We even came up with the optimum height and diameter. And this year we did this in the warmth of our home. Usually, we head out to the tree-farm and then spend forty-five minutes in the cold, damp, wind arguing over whether we want a fat tree or a skinny tree.

Back at home, everyone shared the duties, Sophie and I strung the lights, Eli vacuumed up the dead-fall. Susan watered the tree. And then we all hung ornaments. A whole afternoon with no bickering, no positioning for the best or easiest jobs. And when I said “We should watch Elf tonight,” everyone said “Great!” My kids are eleven and fourteen, they never agree on anything, but here was a whole day where they went with the flow. They didn’t argue a single time.

treeAfter the tree was up, watered, decorated, and most of the boxes and bins were stacked out of sight behind the couch, I sat in a swively easy-chair and enjoyed the view of a well decorated tree. And here was one more instance, one more reminder that I’m doing this without wine. I sat back with my legs crossed, my elbow propped up on the arm-rest and realized that every year I can remember, so many years that it’s become habit, there was a glass of wine in my hand when I did this.

I swirled my imaginary glass and Susan said she was sorry but proud. Sophie jumped into the conversation as well. And in her teenage fashion she said something along the lines of “if you want a glass of wine, go get one. If not, then quit bellyaching.”

Quit bellyaching is going to be my New Year’s resolution.

9 thoughts on “The Hard Days

  1. We have rain in southern Wisconsin; no snow. A few people have decorations up, but not many. A couple of radio stations are playing Xmas songs 24/7, which seems excessive to me.

    It’s hard to tell from the photo, but that tree looks tall and wide and covered with a lifetime collection of ornaments.


    • Sophie launched into xmas music about 2 weeks ago and hasn’t looked back. I’m worried that by December 10th she’s going to burn out on it. Actually, I’m a bit worried that our tree will be ready for the trash by mid December as well. We’ve never gotten a tree this early before,

      Liked by 1 person

  2. That’s a very thoughtful piece, Jeff.

    The amount of alcohol I drink in a year you could put in a bottle and still have room for more. I’m cheap, burdened with acid reflux, and influenced by a lifetime in evangelicalism. I drink a paltry amount of red wine because my doctor muttered something about its heart benefits, and Captain Morgan’s is tasty, but only with Coke, which I almost never drink anymore, either. So, what you described in your article, I can only relate to in regards to holiday eating, which has a significant psychological and nostalgic hold on me.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Beautiful tree and you described a loving family decorating it. A suggestion for consideration: Cran/raspberry juice–no sugar added–just to sip in a wine glass. It doesn’t replace wine and the things you love about it, but might make you feel more comfortable drinking along with others–they’ll never know. Just a thought. . .

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Another great post, Jeff. This deserves to be re-posted annually. It’s that damn “edge” that becomes palpable without the comfort and ease of wine/carbs/pick-your-poison. That edge makes gatherings uncomfortable (and sometimes unbearable) but it’s where all the power and information lies. Looking forward to more of what you write about this!


  5. Pingback: *Not* my Nobel Prize | The Other Stuff

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