What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
I’ve never really been a big drinker.
When I was a kid, I drank at the table with everyone else, but we’re talking like half a glass of wine, hardly anything extravagant. One night in high school I decided I should see what all the fuss was about so I acquired a bottle of Skyy by dubious means, solemnly mixed it with cranberry juice, and proceeded to get utterly sauced on the couch while watching bad movies.
My father must have noticed I was roaring drunk when he got home, but he never said anything about it, and I never did either. I decided after that experiment that I wasn’t really so into getting drunk, as a thing, and with the exception of one rather spectacular misstep at a high school party, I didn’t try it again. I stuck to wine with dinner and left it at that.
In college, where everyone was drinking like fish and smoking like a chimney, I kind of stood out for my utter lack of interest in both those activities1. And then, I had a perfect excuse; some medications I was on were shredding my liver, and I wasn’t allowed to drink at all, period.
Several years went by and I found myself not really missing alcohol at all, and eventually I went off the medication, and then had other liver problems, so basically thought I’d never be able to drink again. I can’t say I was too sad about it. Sure, I enjoyed wine, but not that much, and I enjoyed having a liver even more2.
And so I was kind of surprised two years ago when my doctor told me I could probably start drinking again, in small amounts. A beer now and then, or a glass of wine if I felt like it. Nothing outlandish, but it wouldn’t be that damaging.
That was when I acquired my taste for beer, a beverage that had previously utterly mystified me. I suddenly got this whole beer thing.
People, beer is delicious! Sweet foamy delicious BEER! Tangy and bitter and hoppy and, well, just lovely. Oh, beer. I love you.
I turned into a bit of a beer snob, which was convenient because all my friends already were, so they could hook me up with the goods. My all-time favorite activity became taking a nice cold one into the shower after a long day and slowly drinking it while letting the water beat down on me. I became the sort of person who drank beer now and then, especially after a hard day of work, who had beer in my fridge. I was a beer person.
When I started my new medications this year, I was advised that because they’re hard on my liver and I have a history of liver problems, drinking at all probably wouldn’t be such a hot idea3. And a strange feeling went through me at this news; a sort of pang that took a moment to identify. I realized I was sad. I was sad that I couldn’t drink beer anymore.
It seemed so unfair that just as I had acquired an actual taste in alcohol, an interest in it as a thing I could have, I was forced to abandon it. I gave away the remains of the six pack in my fridge to my landlords so I wouldn’t be tempted, and resigned myself to returning to politely refusing alcohol at parties, to drinking sparkling water when I was out to dinner, to rarely, if ever, taking a sip of someone else’s just to remember that taste, the mouthfeel.
I really like my new medications, don’t get me wrong, and I think beer is probably a fair price to pay, all things considered, but I’m still a little mournful, and I didn’t realize how mournful I would be until everything was settled and that was that and I couldn’t go back. So far, my liver is holding stable, and part of the reason for that, given my history, is that I’m very, very careful about what I ingest.
Luckily I have experience with navigating social situations as a nondrinker, which as anyone in that position knows is an uphill battle. If you say you don’t want a drink, one will be pressed on you and if you say “No really I’m fine” everyone demands to know why you don’t want a drink. There tends to be an assumption that you’re probably in recovery if you’re never seen drinking and staunchly refuse drinks, so you get intrusive questions about that. People can’t fathom the idea that someone might not want to drink, or might not be able to for medical reasons.
My sadness about being parted from my new but fast friend, beer, is deepening right now because of course I’m attending numerous social situations where there is alcohol. And beer is one of those alcohols, and I look wistfully at it, like a Labrador who just wants someone to throw the fetchy stick one more time, and then turn firmly away. No fetchy stick for me.
Protip for those of you having parties with alcohol this year: Line up some good nonalcoholic alternatives. And make sure some of them look enough like booze that us nonboozers can blend in inconspicuously.
1. Since the dining commons, mysteriously, didn’t have wine in the array of options at the beverage table.
2. Seriously y’all, livers are cool! Be nice to yours.
3. As it is, I need regular liver panels to check on my enzyme levels.