It was that way for about five years. My ex-wife told me I was drinking too much. My girlfriend who has been with me two years now said the same. I knew they were right, but it felt really good.
Some definitions might have put me in the category of “alcoholic.” Even now I’m not sure of that, but it was certainly the most I have ever experienced physical and mental addiction. Physical in that it sent my mind and body into a mellow place after a long day of work. Mental in that it gave me something to do while I watched TV or ate dinner. In both senses, it was very comforting.
Nonetheless, about six months ago I decided it was time to cut back. Not quit, mind you, just drink less. I’m not a quitter.
The best way to change my ways was to simply not have my beloved bourbon in the house. Since most of my time is spent at home or the office and there is no alcohol at the office (I’m no Lou Grant), I figured I’d be safe. I satisfied my sweet tooth and need to have a beverage in my hand by drinking flavored beer, and now I am down to one or two each night, sometimes none at all. Like I said, I’m not a quitter but it’s an improvement.
All this effort was also a show of support for my girlfriend, who is working really hard to quit smoking. She has been at it for three weeks and is doing a great job. She has been using some cheap cigars to get over the habit of the motions, and the other day when she had her first cigarette in two weeks she said it tasted disgusting. I’m sure in no time she will get over smoking entirely.
These things put addiction in my mind to begin with, but on Friday I heard a man talk who paid a hefty price for his addiction. If you missed Saturday’s issue of the Tribune, I’m talking about Gruen Von Behrens. He is 32, one year younger than myself, and had his jaw and part of his tongue removed at age 17 because of chewing tobacco. Today, after 15 years and 33 surgeries that left him alive but with a disfigured face, Von Behrens said he still craves tobacco every day.
While I considered my skirmish with alcohol to be minor, this comment shed some new light for me on how addictive some substances can be. For me it was simply a matter of changing some habits. Real addiction will make a person want something that will kill them. They say tobacco is more addictive than heroin or cocaine. The Washoe County Health Department’s web page www.gethealthywashoe.com says the average smoker takes eight times to kick the habit for good. My girlfriend is on number six or seven. The site also says just considering quitting causes major stress. For the quitter and the boyfriend, as I’ve learned. Many people are unable to quit the first time, the site continues, but if they keep trying they always succeed. Let’s hope so.
My approach with anything — alcohol, tobacco, food, reality TV — is moderation. We all have to die of something and it makes life more fun to enjoy a few vices, but there’s no point in letting our vices kill us prematurely or painfully. No doubt if I had been through what Von Behrens has, my approach would be one of total abstinence, which is the only sure prevention for a problem. If one has to pick an extreme, abstinence is certainly preferable to the alternative.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need a beer. Just one.
Nathan Orme is the editor of the Sparks Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.