We had a big night a few Saturday’s ago. Just us and two couples. Not ‘blank spaces in the morning’ big. But beer and white wine and red wine big. Big enough that I didn’t want a glass when other friends came for lunch on Sunday.
My partner did. In fact, through my (slightly bloodshot) sober eyes, I watched him drink a couple of beers and three glasses of wine over about three hours.
And I wondered to myself: is he an alcoholic?
Booze has been a mainstay of our relationship. We met over a bottle of red, and in the early days alcohol certainly eased the way as we felt our way around what we liked, what we didn't and what was non-negotiable. Even now, a fair portion of our conversation is devoted to food and what to drink with it. We love eating out - and there's ALWAYS booze involved (caveat: not before lunch). Uber has become our favourite app, and we belong to a couple of wine sites.
But I've never really thought of it as the third party in our relationship.
The thought it might be is confronting, because even though I talk to friends A LOT about how much we (me and him, me and them, them, their partners and buddies) drink, how I'm getting fat, how sluggish I sometimes feel on a Saturday morning, and how, especially around Christmas and into January, we can go weeks without a dry day, none of us think we have a problem.
And even if we have nagging suspicions ('do I drink too much?', 'I don't drink as much as X ...' 'Could I do lunch without booze?') we laugh them off, sometimes because the positions we take are genuinely funny, sometimes because it's better than admitting we might have a teensy weensy problem. We reassure ourselves about our drinking, and as we do it all the evidence adds up to the almightly assertion that We Are Just Fine: It's not like we don't show up to work, although we might skip the gym. We don't vomit in gutters or spill food down our fronts.
My partner doesn't think he has a problem either. He doesn't go to every boys lunch he's invited to. It's not like he swigs alcohol the moment his feet hit the floor each morning - or, on most days, any time before 5pm. He doesn't turn mean or slur, or stumble around the house or wet himself (these all war stories from other people I know).
In fact, if I had to choose a type of drinker for him to be, I'd want him to stay as he is - happy, interested, full of great stories.
As he poured himself a second glass of wine on Sunday, and I sipped my juice, I found myself getting purse-lipped and highly judgmental. He's drinking too much, my righteous self harped. I'm not drinking because my body needs a rest. But look at him - headache this morning and on it again now.
As Paul Harrison, senior lecturer at Deakin University's Graduate School of Business wrote on The Conversation recently: "It's simply easier to say others are flawed than admit you might be the one who is flawed".
My reaction to my partner's drinking suggests he's right. And it's acked up by statistics from the same piece:
In this year’s annual alcohol poll, 34% of Australians said they drink to get drunk, 43% said they had vomited as a result of drinking and 75% said Australia has a problem with excess drinking or alcohol abuse.
But in the same Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education poll, 92% of Australians identified themselves as responsible drinkers.
So there it is: Most Australians agree we have a problem with alcohol. But almost all of us say it’s not us that has the problem – it’s everyone else.
I know what the experts say - no more than two standard drinks a day, no more than four on any given occasion, and a couple of days off a week. I can handle the first and the last. My partner? Well, he could tick the first. Sometimes the last. Neither of us would contemplate at stopping four at a lunch that might rollick through dinner time.
I could be seeing this through the filter of my family - immediate members practically tee-total, wider circle with a smattering of people who, to my eyes, are probably highly-functioning alcoholics, and a few (me included) that I'd put somewhere in the middle. We condemn the drinkers as we sip a chardonnay. There are stories some of us laugh about.Mum and dad once had to come home from holiday after leaving me with an old aunt who'd given the booze away. She promptly hit the bottle, said I didn't have to go to school, and let me flounce around the house in makeup and mum's heels. I remember it as the best time ever. My parents took a very different view.
We haven't reached that point. And we're a long way from some of the grandfathers, older uncles and fathers I was told about when researching this piece who sips whiskey from 11am, are red-faced and voluble by 3pm, and snoring or staggering two hours later . But at some stage, I suspect both me and my partner are going to have to admit there's too much alcohol in our systems. And it's there much too often.
I consulted Dr Google to find out if my partner (note, still no mention of me here) was an alcoholic. This from Medical News Today.
... an alcoholic is a person, while alcoholism is the illness. An alcoholic suffers from alcoholism. Alcoholism is a long-term (chronic) disease.
Alcoholics are obsessed with alcohol and cannot control how much they consume, even if it is causing serious problems at home, work, and financially.
Alcohol abuse generally refers to people who do not display the characteristics of alcoholism, but still have a problem with it - they are not as dependent on alcohol as an alcoholic is; they have not yet completely lost their control over its consumption.
Moderate alcohol consumption will not generally cause any psychological or physical harm. However, for some individuals, social drinking eventually leads to heavier and heavier alcohol consumption, which does cause serious health and psychological problems.
We're off the hook for the moment. But after our Sunday lunch, I told my partner I was worried he was drinking too much. He replied: "I've always enjoyed a drink." It wasn't the most comforting answer I've ever received.
And, as he rightly pointed out, the only reason I wasn't drinking was that I'd had too much the night before.
But I ploughed on, and asked if he'd stop for a week. I'd go on the wagon too.
And we did. Off the grog, we've slept better, eaten healthier and found it easier to get up in the mornings.
I can't promise we won't have a drink this week.
But at least we've proved we can.
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