Sobering thoughts about pandemic drinking

“I’m allergic to red wine,” a good friend once told me when I offered her a glass. “I once drank two litres of homemade red and became violently ill.”

By this logic, I’m allergic to Smirnoff Ice, my high school boyfriend was horrifically allergic to boilermakers, and my best friend is allergic to banana flavoured paralyzers.

Like many others, I’ve washed Smirnoff Ice-flavoured vomit out of my hair following a party held inside a faux spaceship in a small Alberta town, but that was a long, long time ago, and I honestly can’t remember the last time I had an “allergic” reaction to booze.

These days, a single glass of wine leaves me pleasantly warm and snoozy. My clothes fit better, snacks are more delicious, and Netflix comedy specials are funnier. More than a glass or two and I risk bed spins, so it’s a delicate and delightful balance.

sobering thoughts

I’m not a big drinker, but I think about drinking often, and this gleeful anticipation has caused me some consternation.

Let’s face it, the pandemic has changed all of our habits, and our alcohol consumption is only one. Last fall, researchers at York University discovered that parents of children under 18 are using alcohol to cope with pandemic-related stress. In December, Canada’s top public health officer warned Canadians to sober up, noting that by and large, we have increased our alcohol consumption over the past 10 months.

what even is a weekend?

During the pandemic I stopped going out, yet every night felt like Friday and my alcohol consumption reflected this. My uncommitted relationship with booze became monogamous. This spring, a glass of wine became the reward for getting through days filled with uncertainty and feelings of inadequacy.

I was signing into Google classrooms, checking homework, monitoring screens and ensuring tablets were charging as required, all while managing my own full-time job and struggling to complete graduate school, which I did in a corner of my children’s playroom while they were sleeping. I was hanging onto my sanity with the lightest of grips, and for the first time in my life I was underperforming in every single subject.

There was comfort in knowing that I wasn’t alone. Friends, colleagues, strangers — we were all drowning, but most of us were too busy to notice the water rushing up past our ears. And all the memes that normalize how moms drink to cope gave me encouragement. See all those wine memes? Everyone does it!

Booze played an integral supporting role in this drama. Nightly wine (or sometimes blueberry gin mixed with elderflower tonic because I’m fancy like that) became a bright light; it became the raft I was swimming toward. When the screens blinked off for the day, when the kitchen was tidied and the house had settled into a blissful quiet, I’d shuffle into the kitchen, reach for my favourite glass and fill it up. I’d carry it with me to the coziest chair and cup that chalice with both hands, breathing deeply for the first time all day. As that first delicious sip wound its way into my belly I’d heave a great sigh. I made it through another day. Cheers!

Meditating or medicating?

A few months of this and I probably wouldn’t have noticed, but the pandemic didn’t stop, and what began as a treat ended up feeling more like a prescription.

When the BC Cancer Foundation launched its Loose the Booze fundraising campaign, I opted to challenge myself and I begged a few friends to join. It’s been two weeks, and I’m fine. As I suspected, tea is delicious and much less expensive, and there are a billion flavours of carbonated water, which is nice. I’m also snacking less — it turns out I make much better food choices when I’m not a tiny bit tipsy.

There’s relief in knowing that I can stop, and that I’m not a problem drinker. Yet. But if you try and can’t, you’re not alone, and there are services available.

And by all means, support our Lose the Booze team by donating to cancer research. Already, I’m feeling great about my decision, but with your support I’ll feel even better.

Pick your poison

[The first of what I expect to be a series of super unhelpful product reviews]

This post is designed to act as a reference guide to get you through the worst of all seasons.

Tylenol, of the dye-free berry variety, is a classic. This particular vintage, made in Markham, ON, goes down smoothly with only a hint of sharpness on the tail end. Grape-flavoured Advil, on the other hand, has a memorable tang, and will make you think back to all those times you used to dip your fingers into packs of Jello when you were a child of the 90s. Great legs on the Advil, which is also a plus.

In a pinch you can serve up both and drink back to back shots for a delicious hit of medicated fruit punch, and a solid six-to-eight hours of sleep.

Both the Advil and Tylenol pair well with popsicles, ginger ale, and endless episodes of Teen Titans GO!

Handstanding Elmo. Always an excellent choice.

The pink product on the left, amoxicillin, is hard to come by. Dealers of this elusive elixir can only be found after waiting on the sidewalk for hours in the cold. Strawberry with a hint of banana, creamy and bubbly when shaken, amoxicillin is best served cold in handstanding Elmo (right).

On the far right, this Cabernet Sauvignon from Argentina is a Goddamned blessing. The, “intense ruby colour with the tile edges,” is nothing compared to the fact that it was close at hand, and free, having been left behind following a New Year’s party. While pairing suggestions include “roast beef, spicy & roast chicken, and hard cheeses,” it also goes well with avocado toast eaten over the sink at 10 p.m., because that’s when you get to have dinner after tending to the needs of everybody else in your household.