Monday, April 6, 2015

Mini-beers, donuts, and trust

I was raised Southern Baptist. Unlike some Southern Baptists, my parents were never strict teetotalers, by which I mean that you could occasionally catch them at a dinner party self-consciously holding a glass of wine. There was rarely any alcohol in our house, though, and I don't ever remember them serving it to guests.

Ha—that reminds me of a story. One of the moments when I was most embarrassed by my parents, in the way only a snotty recent college grad can be, was the weekend of our wedding back in 1984. My parents had invited the wedding party and various family friends over for a barbecue.

I gingerly approached them about serving beer at the barbecue. I wouldn’t have been too upset if they had said no—because what a great story to tell to the amusement of the groomsmen, none of whom were raised in the Bible Belt—but to my surprise, they said they were OK with it, and my dad even drove twenty miles or so out of our dry county to a liquor store to buy some beer.

He came back with mini-beers.
8 oz cans of beer--do they even make these anymore?
I think they were called ponies. Now, a pony is a half-keg, but back then a pony was a half-size can of beer, probably eight ounces. They looked like little toy beers. Dean and the groomsmen--like most college students--had plenty of experience with beer. They were so bemused by those little cans they hardly drank any of it, and my parents were left with a couple dozen mini-beers that they probably eventually threw out or gave to the neighbors. Who knows, I never asked.

Anyway. The point is, my parents never drank much alcohol. Behind that was a deeply, deeply embedded suspicion of the addictive properties of alcohol. Sure, it was OK to have a couple of drinks a year, but more than that and you would inevitably find yourself sliding down the slippery slope into alcoholism, unable to hold a job, stay married, or take care of your children, etc etc etc. And that exact sequence of events occurs often enough that their opinion was never really challenged.

Once I grew up and left home, I quickly got over that when I discovered the joy of an ice cold beer after a hot, sticky company softball game. Then I discovered the value of a pitcher of margaritas shared with girlfriends, or a slowly sipped shot of Grey Goose, or a microbrew with pizza, or any of a number of other harmless occasional uses of alcohol.

But that said, I’ve never been much of a drinker. I could count on one hand the number of times that I’ve finished two drinks in one night. And I rarely have more than half a dozen drinks in a month. I just don’t think about it. So I’ve never really challenged my own inherited fear that if I let myself break my own loose rules—only drink at night, only have one—I will inevitably turn into an alcoholic.

This is turning into a long story. Sorry about that.

About a month ago, I came home from the second or third meeting of my noontime Ulysses reading group, and I was so stressed (for many reasons, but if I explain I'll get way off track) that I couldn't figure out how to de-stress. Suddenly it occurred to me: I am 53. I am a fully functioning adult. I can have a drink to relax.

Oh, boy, another part of me thought. Here I am at the top of the slippery slope. If I do this, I’m on my way to being one of those housewives that is drunk and disheveled in the middle of the day. But I did it anyway. I fixed myself a drink, and sat down in front of the window and watched it snow while I drank it.

And you know what happened? Well, that day, it made me sleepy and I took a nap. But long term, you know what happened? Nothing. In fact, about two weeks later, I suddenly remembered that I had done that and hadn’t given it a thought since.

Huh, I thought. Well, that’s interesting. I guess I don’t have an addictive personality. Which may seem like no big deal if you grew up in a family where drinking was no big deal, but to me, it was like this cascade of calcified assumptions dissolved away in a matter of minutes—assumptions about alcohol, about people who drink, about what would happen to me if I cut loose in the middle of the day like a crazy person.

I had a similar experience during Lent when I let myself eat whatever I wanted for a few weeks. A couple of times I decided I wanted old-fashioned donuts, so I’d go out and buy half a dozen. Then I’d get them home, and I’d eat three of them. Three donuts is still plenty decadent, but you know--I didn’t eat all six. I wasn’t even tempted to.

What I discovered is that if I trust myself, I can trust myself. The old-fashioned donuts were totally awesome—especially if I drive all the way down to the grocery store south of town where they make them from scratch—but they’re not something I want every day. In fact, after letting myself “gorge” on donuts twice during Lent, I may not eat another one for months.

Which is making me question some deeply held fears I have about myself and food. For years now, I’ve approached food as an enemy. If I give in, if I let myself eat what I want, I will blimp out. I will never stop eating. I will eat until I’m sick. But what I discovered was the opposite. If I give myself permission to eat what I want to eat, I usually make pretty good choices. Once I ate my way through the inevitable overblown reaction to deprivation (which took about three weeks), I discovered that I can pretty much trust myself when it comes to choosing foods. And that's a good thing to know.


Julie said...

It is, it absolutely is.

Also, kinda validates how extremely fucked up our culture of constant deprivation and asinine guilt is, too.

Debbie said...

Well spoken truth. For my teenage years, my college years and the first few years of adulthood I allowed food, or my denial of it to myself, to dictate how I felt about myself. If I gained any weight at all my day was ruined. About the time I reached my fortieth year I said, "Fuck it! I am never dieting again. I am never using the word diet. I embrace my overly fleshy parts. If the world doesn't like that then....." You can fill in the rest. I find that I don't over eat, in fact I eat in a fairly healthy manner. We go out to dinner and I cut my meal in half immediately and take that half home. I occasionally have a donut but not every day. I occasionally have a full sugar soda (NEVER diet) but not very often. I drink beer several times a week but NEVER anything less than a microbrew IPA that is not short on calories. I am happy. I raise my hand in Scarlett O'Hara like defiance and say, "I will not bow to the Hollywood gods definition of health and beauty."

Getting off soap box now.