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Body Worry : He Meets a Drink and Doesn't Blink

Tenth in a series

November 14, 1986|REMAR SUTTON

MARIETTA, Ga. — For 2 1/2 months, since I moved to Grand Bahama Island, my life has been controlled and sheltered. Gluttony and sloth, former friends, haven't seen much of me. Insecurity, an acquaintance, has been pretty much kept at bay, too. I've been safe, with others shoring me up and keeping me from temptation.

Leaving theisland without my trainer last night, in the company of strangers who cared only about their hangovers and sunburns, was therefore wonderfully tempting--and a little nerve-racking. Airplanes serve real food. Junk food. There was no one telling me to avoid butter or select baked chicken over greasy, tasty stew, and not a soul acted like the dessert was anything but healthy.

I decided moderation was as good as abstinence when it came to dessert and coffee. I consumed them without guilt. Small sins are so nice.

Rattling Liquor Bottles

A cart filled with rattling liquor bottles rolled by for the last time, and my eyes followed it for a moment--until I realized how much it tempted me.

I have quietly enjoyed wine and whiskey for years. I say "quietly" because no one has accused me of being a drunkard or a problem drinker, and even I didn't realize how much I depended on moderate amounts of alcohol to help me handle things.

Insecurities, worries, pressures, rapid changes in plans, great opportunities, exciting things and terrifying things, boredom, thinking too much, fatigue--I had an encyclopedia of reasons for a glass of wine or beer.

And though I never drank alone during the day all those years, I did like a drink at night to help me sleep. The before-bed drink became the one I really needed. Of course, it only put me to sleep for a few hours and then woke me up.

When I look at what I've just written, the words look a lot like those of an alcoholic, and they scare me as much as my memories of the times I needed that drink.

They also embarrass me in a way: I may not elicit swoons yet, but I'm quite proud of most of me. I don't really like to admit that alcohol was necessary for me to be more comfortable with myself.

"Was" is the operative word here, I hope. I stopped drinking the first night of my remake. Though I was nervous and didn't sleep well for a night or two, I now sleep like I used to back when my biggest worry was going out to feed my horse on a cold morning.

Outgoing, Relaxed

More important, I like myself better. People have always seen me as an outgoing, relaxed person with others, especially strangers.

Their perception has always been wrong. My heartbeat quickens when I'm alone in an unknown situation. I worry if people will like me and worry if my looks fit the situation and worry about my worry breaking through my well-tended facade.

I really thought booze helped me through those moments, too. It probably did loosen my tongue, but, on more objective reflection, it brought me a quiet dread of others rather than tranquillity.

I realized that at my first no-booze party two months ago. Though I was nervous at the thought of handling myself without my high-octane friend (still am at times), the gathering was enjoyable and surprisingly non-threatening. Not a goblin chased me.

A Nicer High

My mood swings don't have peaks and valleys these days. I have spent an awful lot of the past 20 years terrified of things that never happened--or happened with no great consequence--and excited about things that would elicit a yawn from most. I thought a drink or two would help me through those moments. When I realized they caused many of them and exacerbated all of them, I felt a nicer high than any drink can bring.

I also like to contemplate a quote from my first blood analysis since "The Reformation." In 2 1/2 months, my "triglycerides have dropped precipitously from 355 mg/dl to 174 and the GGT, a liver enzyme study (most commonly related to the abuse of alcohol), has dropped from 117 to 51. It is almost back to normal." A liver to elicit swoons.

Abstinence, however, did not mean I had arrived in heaven. I still worry about things (like my shoulder, which is better, but not well enough for serious lifting), am still nervous at times around others, still occasionally grumpy and depressed. Not a weakness or problem left me permanently, but they all lost ground to equanimity.

I thought about all this as the liquor cart continued down the airplane aisle. It didn't seem as filled with magic elixirs as it used to. And though I don't like the idea of facing a world of weight lifting, temptation and pleasure without some help, I am becoming very comfortable facing it without liquid support.

Drinking too much? Who, me?

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