Drinking has changed. In the late 1970s when I was in college, my friends and I drank cheap beer which we bought by the pitcher and shared. We rarely drank wine, other than an occasional bottle of sangria, which we repurposed as a candleholder when it was empty. Wine was for rich, old people who knew French. We ourselves would never be rich, or old, or pretentious.
These dynamics have reversed. Cheap, shared beer has given way to a world of microbrews which require a specialized vocabulary. Wine has gone the other direction, descending from the world of mystique into the clang and jostle of shopping carts.
Not only has drinking changed, but my drinking has changed. Wine was once a treat to accompany a special meal, maybe monthly. But as the price went down and availability went up, it became easier to pick up a bottle. And isn’t every weekend special?
Weekend drinking bled into weekday drinking, innocuously enough. Pastors live by an odd rhythm. Saturday night is a work night and the “weekend” — to the extent we have such a thing — begins on Sunday night. I resolved the mismatch by having a glass of wine both nights, Saturday evening to be social and Sunday evening to reward myself. Don’t look at me askance. Ministry is hard work, my friends, and there are plenty of scriptures about enjoying wine!
As my husband and I became older — and if not rich, at least no longer impoverished — we added mixed drinks to our repertoire. Martinis, to be exact. Let’s blame it on Mad Men. Martinis look so elegant in their shapely glasses. Plus I adore olives. The sound of the shaker became the cue that the day’s cares would soon be dissolving.
Last summer my husband and I realized that our vacation drinking hadn’t stopped. We were drinking every day. What’s more, stopping sounded painful. I told myself I didn’t have that many simple pleasures. I don’t smoke, don’t do drugs, don’t even shop recreationally. Why deprive myself of one guilty pleasure?
Besides, the timing seemed lousy. I had given up my coffee habit just six weeks earlier, and was still getting used to life without caffeine. I gave that up because I realized caffeine was giving me heart palpitations and I didn’t want to die of a heart attack. After a panic one day, I quit cold-turkey. (I don’t recommend this approach, it’s just that I’m better at abstaining than moderating. Which really sucks, but there it is.)
Then my husband quit drinking altogether, only mentioning it to me after the fact. He was having sleeping problems, which I was aware of. But I hadn’t known he associated his sleep issues with drinking.
His sudden sobriety irked me. For one thing, he was supposed to make the martinis. For another, drinking alone is not much fun. It feels different to open a bottle of wine and know you’re the only one who will drink it. How quickly will the contents disappear? The bottle silently commands: Drink me! I would tell the bottle: I know you. I know how you taste, and what you promise.
The very fact that stopping seemed difficult became the reason to stop. I decided to join my husband in a season of sobriety. My decision wasn’t driven by addiction, or by some overblown sense of morality, but by my husband’s need to sleep, and my need to support him. The truth was that I was having sleep troubles of my own, which I had chalked up to age. (It turns out that you can avoid becoming rich or learning French, but you can’t avoid aging.)
Abstinence seemed worth a try. Perhaps without caffeine and alcohol I would re-discover my body’s rhythms, and sleep better. And I did, very quickly. In fact, I sleep like a baby now — or perhaps a very old person — going to bed early and rising early, feeling rested.
Deprivation is a funny thing. Like it’s opposite, pleasure, it exists mainly in the mind. I am hardly deprived. In the morning my husband and I drink decaf coffee with our breakfast. After supper we share a pot of herbal tea and converse about the day. Some day we may open a bottle of wine. There are a few left in our cupboard and the choice is ours. But we know what wine tastes like, and how one glass leads to the next with decreasing pleasure. For us, right now, abstention is not the same thing as deprivation.