My Dysfunctional Relationship with Wine
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My Dysfunctional Relationship with Wine


This post was originally published on November 5, 2014.

My chin was resting on the front lip of my toilet seat and my arms were dangling off either side of the bowl like fleshy strips of Christmas ribbon. The rest of my body—my chest, hips, knees and ankles—were folded around the base of the toilet in a drunken, highly modified version of child’s pose.

Suddenly there was a frantic knock at the bathroom door; it was my boyfriend, who just a few short hours before had become my fiancé.

“Are you okay?” he asked. His voice had the most concerned and loving lilt to it and at the same time it was triggering my gag reflex. The base of my jaw started to tingle and saliva started to seep out from the spaces between my teeth.

I returned my chin to the front lip of the toilet in preparation and screamed, “Oh God! Shut up, please. You’re making it worse!”

He jiggled the handle of the locked door. “Let me in,” he pleaded firmly as the contents of my stomach moved up towards the back of my tongue.

I slashed through the air above my head and before my stomach exploded into the toilet bowl for a third time, I got out one more garbled, “Shut up! Please, just go away.”

Earlier that night, seemingly out of nowhere, my boyfriend had dimmed the living room lights, dropped down on one knee and asked me to marry him. And the first thought that came to mind when he popped that coveted question was, “Oh shit!”

The truth is, unlike many of the other women I knew, I’d always been frightened by the idea of marriage. My parents were practically forced into it when Dad, at the age of 18, knocked up my 16-year-old mom. After 15 years of a very dysfunctional marriage rife with addiction, not to mention three kids, two affairs and an abortion, they divorced.

But even though I was scared to death, I looked down at my boyfriend and said yes. And that’s precisely when I practically lunged for my favorite emotional elixir, the bottle of celebratory Beaujolais he’d set up on our coffee table.

Back on the floor of the bathroom, after I flushed the toilet, I crumbled into a hot mess on the floor and exhaled as the right side of my face melted through the cold tiles. And before I passed out, I opened my eyes wide and declared out loud to the bathroom ceiling a phrase that I’d mumbled at least 100 times before: “I’m never drinking wine, ever fucking again.”

I woke up the next morning in my bed, still wearing the jeans and black sweater I had on the night before. How I made it into the bed and under the covers, I had no idea. I could barely pick my head up and off of my pillow; it felt heavier than a pound of bricks on my shoulders. The thoughts in my head dissolved before I had a chance to engage them. I had no idea what I was thinking; everything between my ears and above my neck had turned to mush. But I really had to go to the bathroom. So I swallowed, a dry and dehydrated swallow, and inched my body towards the end of the bed, rolled off the edge and crawled like a baby towards the bathroom door. Every organ on my underside felt heavy and dragged between my knees in aching protest.

I flicked the light on in the bathroom; my eyes burned and squealed. I made the mistake of looking at my face in the mirror and started to cry: I looked like a hung-over Gollum from Lord of The Rings. The foundation I’d put on the night before had seeped deep into the cracks of my skin, drying it out. My mascara had slid off my eyelashes and pooled underneath my eyes and leaked across the bridge of my nose. On my cheeks there were still faint traces of color, MAC mineral blush in Lovejoy. The skin around my jaw looked like it was sagging off the bone. I caught a few glittery flecks on my face and that’s when I remembered the ring. Jesus, I though. I just got engaged last night and this realization made me cry even harder. I covered my puffy, hung-over face with the palms of my hands. I could feel the platinum, diamond covered band from my engagement ring pressing into my right cheekbone and I thought, between sobs, “That’s it asshole, you fucked up for the last time. No more wine, ever!”

The first time I ever had wine was back in college when I got a job one summer waiting tables at the Mecca of all suburban restaurants, The Olive Garden. For training purposes, I had to sample every wine on the menu and then record in my training packet what I thought each one tasted like. The other eager trainees in my group wrote down that they tasted things like cinnamon, grapefruit and vanilla while the only three adjectives that kept showing up in my packet were sweet, sour and shit. Clearly, I didn’t get wine and right from the start I wasn’t interested in it but why then for the love of God did I pick up the habit of drinking it? Why did I keep consuming something that almost always made me physically sick?

Thanks to wine, over the years, I’d thrown up on the side of the New Jersey Turnpike, in the back seat of friends’ cars, strangers’ cabs, on subway platforms, inside subway cars and in plastic grocery bags and purses. Given that throwing up is possibly one of the most painful bodily functions on the planet, aside from passing kidney stones, why did I keep going back to it without hesitation? Why was I willing to give up an entire day—sometimes several days in a row—feeling hung-over, depressed and miserable? And more importantly, why did I keep imbibing even though I knew that wine turned me into the out of control, sloppy person that I swore I would never allow myself to be? My greatest fear has always been that I would destroy my life and become an alcoholic just like my mom, dad and older brothers did. And even though I had proof that wine, more than any other alcoholic beverage I’d ever consumed, had the power to do just that, why then did I keep going back to it?

Over the years, I’ve come to determine something pretty simple: wine is just my favorite social lubricant. It’s there at every wedding reception, summer BBQ, holiday dinner, graduation party and plenty of funerals. I may not like the way it tastes but I love the way it makes small talk less painful and suddenly interesting. I may not like the way it stains my teeth and turns my breath sour but I adore the way it washes over the anxiety I feel when I walk into a room full of strangers.

While I certainly don’t ever look forward to throwing up or being hung-over, I like feeling confident in social situations. And I love not caring about whether or not I sound stupid in a crowd or if people think my breath stinks or if someone thinks my ass looks fat in my jeans. Wine temporarily washes away my insecurities, my self centered self-loathing and the anxiety that inevitably shows up in most social situations and even in private moments like the night that I got engaged. But in the end, is feeling comfortable for a few hours worth the high price of a banging hangover the next day? Is drinking wine and losing control worth living with the fear and shame over the thought that I may be just one glass away from becoming an alcoholic and following in my family’s footsteps? I don’t think so.

Even after I basically ruined the night we got engaged, my fiancé did become my husband less than a year later. And our three-year anniversary is right around the corner. We haven’t discussed yet how we will be celebrating but I imagine that the night will include dinner, maybe a movie and definitely a few cupcakes. This year, we’re going to hold the wine.

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About Author

Dawn Clancy is the creator of Growing Up Chaotic, a blog and radio program for those determined to survive and thrive despite growing up in toxicity. Her goal is to create a community hell bent on breaking, cracking and demolishing the cycle of dysfunction.