My Alcoholic Mind.
I had dinner last night at a relatively new tapas restaurant and wine bar in Webster Groves. It’s one of those vague pretentious but very good places that serves a lot of cheese plates and charcuterie. They also have a rather extensive wine list, as you might expect from a place like that. Including what must be some very fine wines.
There was a time when I knew my wines somewhat well. I really liked Chablis (I had a case of the 1996 Chablis Valmur Grand Cru. Magnificent.), and I was very fond of the Australian reds, like the Dead Arm Shiraz. I could tell you about what wines went with which meals, and I had strong opinions about things like chalk, acidity, and tannins. I didn’t actually have anything like a comprehensive knowledge, but I drank a lot, and I spent a lot of money, and I was really good at making up bullshit wine-speak which is, let’s face it, mostly bullshit. This story from the New Yorker reveals that many very experienced wine drinkers, including professionals, cannot tell red from white.
So, I was having dinner with a friend, and as we sat down, of course the waiter goes into his long spiel about the wine list and flights and various other libationary excesses and I pay attention and nod politely. Listening doesn’t bother me. I don’t mind going to bars and that sort of thing. I don’t mind when people drink around me. Even if I felt uncomfortable being around alcohol, it would be inappropriate for me to impose that discomfort on others by requesting they not drink. The solution would be for me not to attend outings with alcohol.
Towards the end of his monologue, the waiter came to a description of the wines “off the menu”. His final pitch was for a “light, crisp, summer wine” (it was 106 in St. Louis yesterday) – perhaps a lambrusco? – which had “lower alcohol content; only about 10%”. And my mind did a somersault.
Something about that phrase, “only about 10% alcohol”, which, like “Play it again, Sam”, had never actually appeared intact in his delivery, inverted my senses for a moment. It was a peculiar and disorienting sensation and I immediately thought: “Well, I could have that then!” Of course, that sensation, which I’ve had before and will have again, lasted only the briefest of moments, perhaps a half of a second. It was accompanied by a shockingly vivid memory of a lambrusco I’d had some 10-12 years ago, on the deck of my apartment, mildly carbonated and light and crisp. I used to get tipsy on late summer’s mornings, early on, before it got too bad, and then write poetry or play piano.
My point is that it never ends. Something in my mind will always be trying to lead me back to a drink. I have a disease that is constantly plotting to fulfill its need for more alcohol. In the book Alcoholics Anonymous, it says that sometimes we find ourselves with no practical defense against the first drink. That’s crucial for me to remember. I never have any defense against the second drink. Once I’ve had one, I’m totally doomed. What I need to remember is that from time to time, despite everything I know, the first drink will still look good.
Because I’m an alcoholic. Drinking is what I do. I need to remember that carefully, and be vigilant. These little experiences pass quickly, and are rare. It wasn’t even a craving. Alcohol cravings, thankfully in my past, are serious and horrible and feel as though I have an army of worms burrowing through my muscles, all writhing in death-agony. It was simply the fulgurating sensation that it would be a lovely and wonderful and permissible thing to have that glass of wine.
And that’s why I go to my meetings. And why I call my sponsor. And why I write here. Because I am so grateful that I don’t live the way I lived, feel the way I felt. I don’t teeter on any precipice. I am soundly rooted in the center of this place of sobriety. I was never at any risk, last night, of making the fateful choice. This is what the center looks like. This is what being grounded in sobriety means for me: recognizing those occasional impulses for what they are, meeting them honestly, and accepting what I am. I am an alcoholic. But I don’t drink anymore.