By: Peter Flax
There will be no broken coffee tables in this story. No blackouts, shots of Jager, thumping hangovers or epic sleepover tales. I’m not the guy who makes a scene or curls up asleep on a dog bed. This story is not about a booze blowout. It’s about a slow leak that could have left me empty and alone.
There’s a decent chance that you drink like I do. I enjoy a cold one when I get home from work – maybe a glass of pinot with a plate of pasta later. I drink liquor only a few times a year. I can’t think of more than 10 times, all big nights out, in the past few years when I might have thrown down five or more drinks in two hours, which is how the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines binge drinking.
But, still, I can recall the precise moment I realised I had a drinking problem. It was April 2005. I remember this clearly because our 3-month-old son was at the hospital undergoing a biopsy. Late in the afternoon, facing a second straight sleep-deprived night in a room where tiny IVs hung off my infant son’s arm, an urgent thought surfaced: I need some wine.
I told my wife I wanted to clear my head, drove to a liquor store and bought a four-pack of airline-issue wine bottles. Later, back at the hospital, I chugged two little bottles of the shitty cabernet in a bathroom stall. It helped me relax on a stressful night, but I suddenly saw a craving and preoccupation standing out in the open.
Two drinks. Maybe three. Only with dinner or friends. I love to cook and have learned a lot about beer and wine. I experimented with full-bodied Italian reds and flinty French whites. I discovered the rich complexity of Trappist ales. It all felt pretty civilised. And yet I couldn’t remember the last time a day had gone by when I didn’t have a drink. It had been years, that much was certain. And over those years, as my two boys grew up and my career advanced, and the stresses of work and family and suburban ennui intensified, I found myself in the kitchen many evenings pouring a final glass of Barbera that I really didn’t want or need. I was reading The Cat in the Hat with a drink in hand. I was falling asleep early and waking up sluggish. Even though I exercised all the time, I put on a few kilos. I felt an emotional weight too: regret.
Statistics indicate that the incidence of mild drinking issues is on the rise. Scientists and doctors avoid the term “alcoholism,” feeling it’s inaccurate and stigmatising. Right now, people with serious drinking problems are pushed towards rehab rather than medical treatment, and almost everyone else just falls through the cracks. But change is coming. Some researchers contend that alcohol treatment is at a transformational moment, with care based on science and tilted more towards moderation than abstinence. And the people who stand to gain the most may be guys like me who aren’t close to a severe alcohol problem.
Of course you can’t tackle a problem until you admit you have one. It’s not like I was stumbling around drunk, missing deadlines, or keeping a pint of Jack stashed in my desk drawer. My social circle was full of people who drank more than I did, who likewise seemed to be highly functioning human beings. It was easy to reassure myself that everything was fine.
So that’s what I did. But deep down, I knew I was in trouble.