Today BA50 begins a dialogue on women and addiction at midlife. We encourage you to post comments below and to email this article to your friends to increase awareness about this growing issue.
I do not have a drinking problem. There have been mornings where my head is explosive, barely holding itself. And there have been nights that I barely remember. But there have also been afternoons that were incandescent. Dinner parties that were magical. I’ve seen groups of people who could not be in the same room join together in song (although I have also seen people who completed each other shatter into a million pieces after a drunken battle.)
After a couple of drinks I am as witty as Dorothy Parker and as beautiful as Sofia Loren. When I open my mouth to sing, I wonder why I am undiscovered. And when I type out a message on Facebook, I am a sage who deserves a book deal.
So why am I putting my wine glass down? Because like so many women my age – an age of second chances and encore performances – my problem isn’t so much with drinking, it’s with the reasons I drink.
We are a social lot. We gather for book clubs and dinner parties, both themed around food and drinks. Our volunteer meetings end with plans to reconnoiter at the wine bar, if the meeting wasn’t originally held at a wine bar. We drink at fund-raisers and we drink at funerals. We meet our girlfriends for lunch and conspiratorially order drinks, like we never ever drink at lunch. Ever. Just one glass. OK, two.
Vacations include wine-tastings. Trips to vineyards. We read the Wall Street Journal for Lettie Teague’s wine articles, showing off what we’ve gleaned that evening at a friend’s dinner.
There aren’t kids to get out of bed in the morning, so OK, I’ll have another drink. There’s nothing big on my calendar tomorrow. Pour me another glass, please. And there it begins. I have nothing to do, nowhere to be. I’ve become no one, so I’ll drink to fill that hole and that hole becomes bigger because that’s what alcohol does, it makes you needy and sad and covetous. It was fun in the beginning, but soon enough you’re not looking in the mirror because you don’t like that bloaty face staring back.
A recent study shows about 10 percent of us – us being women over 50 – binge drink during any given month. That’s 5 drinks at one sitting, although I question those numbers because who keeps counting after the first two? Besides a spouse, I mean. Your BFF is right up there with you, matching you wine glass for wine glass. Medical Study, I question your accuracy.
But I can’t question the aftermath. Several studies, ones I believe because I’ve witnessed the same results, say our metabolism slows as we age. So that one glass of wine hangs around in our liver for-freakin’-ever. Hangovers linger on and on and on, the refrain to a song that you loved the first time but now switch stations when it’s on. (I’m looking at you, Phillip Phillips.) One glass of wine hits me like two. Two hit me like six.
I could drink like that in my 20s. Even in my 30s. But by my 40s I was slowing down. It took more than another decade to wake up, look in the mirror and wonder who was looking back.
Women and Alcoholism at Midlife: Part 2 to appear later this month- stay tuned and check back.