I think we might need to talk about our alcohol consumption. My own alcohol consumption (more on that later) has not changed due to the COVID19 pandemic, but that is not the case for many others, from what I can see. And it does not absolve me at all (again, more later). Alcohol sales are up markedly. Stress drinking is up. At the liquor store, there are people leaving with lots of boxes; I never really used to see this very often before the pandemic.
My liquor store has the aisles closed off and the employees ask you what you want and they will fetch it for you while you stand behind a taped line on the floor. They are doing a LOT of fetching! What’s more, there are shopping carts near the cash registers packed to the gills with bottles of booze. I asked why and the employee told me they are the more popular items so it simplifies the fetching. Lots and lots and lots of Jack Daniels, various bourbons, some scotch. Middle to bottom shelf stuff. And Vodka. Oh, man, the vodka.
And of course, alcohol delivery is booming.
Alcohol: Let’s Call It What It Is. But What Is It?
Alcohol is the fourth macro-nutrient. Is alcohol good for you or bad for you? The answer is Yes. Yes is the answer. Or maybe No. Health and fitness circles give alcohol an undeservedly bad rap. Few people are brave enough to speak honestly about it while advocating health and fitness at the same time. In social circles the opposite is true. So, alcohol is synonymous with evil and also with coolness. We must conclude from this that clearly it’s not the substance itself that is bad or good, but rather how it is interpreted and how and why it’s used. Let’s take a look at those things.
Everybody Likes a Quitter
The preponderance of books and confessionals and testimonials and bleedingly honest videos about quitting follow a familiar and predictable line. Started at age 13, blackouts, fights, violence, stealing, property damage, poor judgment with vehicle, arrests, near death experiences, financial loss, unintended parenthood, malfeasance…. Then a wake up one day and never again sort of triumph. This makes great reading and listening. I also know it’s rare. The person who downed a fifth of Jack at age 13 and enjoyed it likely had it in the cards to be on the far end of the spectrum. This narrative is extreme, and I suppose that’s what sells books and attracts attention. But I think the majority of people who buy the books and listen to the podcasts aren’t quite so extreme. Evidence indicates that successful quitting can be a gradual and mindful process done by one’s own devices and can be a successive moderation in behavior rather than a hard stop. But that would be a boring book.
My favorite book on the subject is Drinking, A Love Story by Caroline Knapp. She was an high achiever and had a serious problem for many years which she was eventually able to solve with AA and much effort and turmoil. It was a very well written book that spoke to me. After I finished I was excited to read more about the author, but I found out that she died of lung cancer not long after the publication of her book. She was a smoker. As much as I loved the book I couldn’t help thinking that she picked the wrong vice to quit and if she’d quit smoking and kept drinking she might still be here today. A damaged person but still here, maybe. What does this say about alcohol, if anything? Confusing.
All Vices are Not Created Equal
My home base here is health and fitness. If you know nothing on the subject of drinking and tried to research whether alcohol and health and fitness can coexist, you would get an equal number of extreme yeses and extreme nos. Very few maybes. EVERYONE knows a glass or two of red wine with dinner is a ticket to perfect health and longevity. In fact, moderate drinkers live the longest, but even heavy drinkers live longer than abstainers! Yet chronic alcohol use ravages the body and WILL kill you. Two glasses of red wine a day is chronic alcohol use. Is it all in the amount? The poison is the dose? Is it OK as long as you track it? Can you be accountable? Does it even make sense to talk about calories in the context of drinking? Some can, but I think it’s very difficult.
Cheat days are common in the fitness world, even advocated. Epic cheat days involve Pop-Tarts, Donuts, Whipped Cream, candy and vats of soda. But seldom large quantities of alcohol. Why is that? Which is worse, really? Clearly no jacked bro in his right mind would advocate a cheat day filled with cases of beer and a few shots of Jim Beam. Not that it hasn’t been done. Yet if junk food were equivalent to alcohol, then most Americans would be at about 8+ drinks a day. They serve donuts at AA meetings for goodness sake! Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is a big deal. It’s possible that one in three or maybe up to even 46% of Americans have it. Even children have it. Is it somehow better than alcoholic fatty liver disease? Is it the less naughty version of this deadly disease?
So there is no clear message about alcohol and there is a lot of bias and prejudice. And a diet filled with junk can be just as bad for you as a diet filled with beer, but it is somehow given a much bigger pass. I’m trying to sort this out. So what’s my point in writing this? My point is to try and figure out what drinking alcohol is to me and what I should do about it, if anything. And maybe you can figure something out too. At the end of this writing I hope to have an idea.
What Does Drinking Really Look Like?
The commercials and movies make it look really cool of course. They not only make it seem possible to drink and still be jacked and ripped and beautiful, they almost suggest that you MUST drink and drink often to be cool and beautiful.
Some even suggest that drinking and fitness can go hand in hand.
What do you think?
I can tell you this, if you really look closely at the messages we receive from the media and advertising about alcohol, and then look clearly at what is really happening, a giant chasm will appear. I’ve done this. I’ve been at parties while not drinking (seldom) and have taken a look around me as the evening progresses. It’s not the prettiest of pictures. The point being that drinking might actually be the opposite of cool.
My alcohol consumption is quite consistent and that’s what I’m changing. The pandemic hasn’t made me drink more as it has apparently done to many people, but that really just speaks to how ingrained the little routine is for me. I don’t have any alcohol horror stories. There are no teen aged dalliances, crashed cars, arrests, incidents of violence, gutters, rock bottoms, unintended piercings, amnesic wake-ups, or epic anythings. But I do drink a little something every day and nearly always at the end of the day as a wind down. I like beer or Irish Whiskey. But that perfect little buzz has gotten harder and harder to find. Or maybe the seeker has gotten far less keen in the senses. Or maybe the buzz is harder to find because there’s actually no substance to it? Maybe the emperor has no clothes.
What To Do?
I know two things about what to do, or rather what NOT to do, during this lock-down: 1) don’t start something that is too extreme and 2) don’t (for HEAVEN SAKES) give up trying at all and let the chips fall where they may (because you know where they may fall). This can start the snowball rolling and before you know it, giving up on everything healthy becomes a whole lot easier and then you’re getting an endoscopy for acid reflux and increasing your blood pressure medication. So I say this: try something, but make it small yet meaningful and consistent. Understandable, logical and do-able.
Put a mind to the mindless and decide whether or not it’s worth doing. Here’s a plan: drink only on the weekends. This may be a no-brainer and perhaps obvious to most people, but maybe not to someone who has fallen into a routine. I’ve never been a day drinker or binge-er so I’m not worried about pushing the limits of quantities and what the weekend means. Call the weekend what you want but know that it does not include Thursday or Monday. Beyond that, use honesty and common sense to dictate what you do and don’t do. This seems like a good start at examining behaviors that are ingrained and might not be too healthy.
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