Last call

About drinking and the time it took me to quit

The only time that I got drunk in high school, I wound up spending the rest of the day throwing up. Despite that omen, I stuck with the habit, figuring it was just the Country Club Malt Liquor. In college, I tried wine coolers, later moving on to bourbon and 7Up. I didn’t love the taste or the effects of any of it until I was in my late 20s and discovered dry white wine. For the next 30 years, chardonnay provided the perfect combination of taste and numbness I was seeking.

Since my parents had frequently argued about my father’s drinking, and I’d witnessed the sloppy, alcohol-induced escapades of both my brothers, my relationship with drinking was always a careful one. I knew I had it in me to consume too much, so I rarely imbibed without chiding myself to stop “after this glass.” I vowed to stick to two, and I usually did—at least for many years. And then, in the way things have of stretching and loosening as we age, two slowly became three.

It seemed the watcher at the gate of my potential alcoholism was dozing off a bit more than usual. By the time I was 50, I was contemplating quitting drinking completely, but it always seemed like too much work. Though that resistance and excuse should have been signs, I focused on moderation. “From now on, I will drink only two glasses of wine,” I would vow to myself in journal entries and silently as I squinted in the mirror on mornings following a more-than-two night. Resolve is easy at 6 a.m. My queasiness and self-loathing convinced me I could stick with whatever goal I set for myself.

But that evening, two glasses of wine was exactly what it took for me not to care how many I drank. And so it continued. I should note that my drinking wasn’t particularly problematic to anyone else. I’m sure my partner wished I was more wide awake at 8:30 in the evening, and my friends were no doubt tired of having to repeat what they had told me the night before, but I didn’t stand out as the girl who drank too much. At least not to anyone but myself. It seemed to me that I needed to make a change.

Last November, about two months after I turned 60, I decided to stop, to reacquaint myself with a nondrinking version of myself. I didn’t do it impulsively. I developed a plan, made sure I didn’t have anything crucial happening for the next few weeks, and then I drank my last glass of wine. It’s been close to a year now, and honestly, I don’t miss it. I still can’t remember every story people tell me, I still break wine glasses (filled now with Fresca) when I’m gesturing wildly over dinner and I still fall asleep before 9 p.m. But I sleep better, my head is clearer, and my promises to myself are about stuff that’s much more fun and important. Finally.