Drinking and me: a brief personal history

Happy New Year, everyone! And welcome to 2019!

As I begin typing these words, it is 5:57 a.m. in my part of the world. I’m fifty years old, and I’m feeling great.

Before I started this entry, I rode 40 minutes on my stationary bike, as I do almost every morning

If you spent last night celebrating New Year’s Eve in the traditional way, you almost certainly aren’t awake yet. In fact, you won’t be awake for hours.

And when you do wake up, you might not feel so good.

Been there, done that.



I was an early adopter of alcohol, age-wise. I started experimenting with alcohol when I was in the eighth grade.

Even in the early 1980s, it wasn’t that easy for a thirteen year-old to acquire alcoholic beverages. This inspired some creative solutions, which led to some embarrassing misadventures. On one occasion, my friend and I used a pilfered key to invade a neighbor’s liquor cabinet. The neighbors surprised us as we were in the act (they were supposed to be gone for the day), and all manner of bad things ensued. (The friend who collaborated with me on this petty crime became an officer in the Cincinnati Police Department, having learned about crime from the bottom up.)



I was never a heavy, habitual drinker, but I liked the idea of doing something that was forbidden. In the mid-1980s, the legal drinking age changed from 18 to 21. This was technically a state law, but the impetus was the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984, which withheld federal funding from all states that allowed alcohol sales to anyone under twenty-one years of age.

The law was implemented unevenly, according to when your birthday fell. The result was that among the cohort of kids who came of age during the mid-1980s, some were able to legally buy and consume alcohol at 18, whereas others (often only a few months younger) had to wait until the age of 21.

My birthday, August 9, 1968, fell after the cutoff date, so that I had to wait until I turned 21 in order to drink. Legally, that is.

I recall one outing, in November of 1985. I was a senior in high school. A friend of mine (he was nineteen, and legally able to purchase alcohol) and I went to a family-owned Italian restaurant/bar in an old Cincinnati neighborhood. He bought us two pitchers of beer, which we consumed on the spot with a large pizza.

During the trip home, he began driving erratically. Very erratically. A police officer in the Cincinnati enclave of Norwood stopped us. He made my friend exit the vehicle and attempt to walk a straight line. Suffice it to say that this didn’t go well.

Oh, this is it, I thought. From within the depths of my own inebriated state, I had images of the two of us being hauled to jail. My parents would be summoned to come and pick me up. Not a good scene.

To my surprise, however, my friend managed to talk his way out of it. His mother’s house was only a few blocks away, he assured the officer. And the officer let him off.

Such were the free and easy 1980s, that an underage youth could openly drink in a bar, and a police officer would let two obviously drunken teenagers continue on their way, in a rolling lethal weapon.

(I should note that I never drove while intoxicated myself. But I did ride with someone who was drunk that one time. It was a stupid, jackass, immature thing to do. I don’t excuse myself for that behavior. I am only grateful that no one was hurt.)



But even by that point, drinking was losing its fun appeal. I was a modestly impressive athlete (I went to the state championships in cross country that year), and I knew that heavy drinking and a high level of fitness were incompatible in the same body.

Moreover, I couldn’t take the hangovers. When I drank to excess, I felt really, really bad the next morning.

On New Year’s Eve, 1986, I attended a party at the home of the girl I’d gone to senior homecoming with in high school. I drank, and drank. And drank. Mostly wine, as I recall.

(Keep in mind: I was still unable to drink legally.)

The next morning, my head felt like a horse had just stomped on it. I went for a run on New Year’s Day, 1987, and that helped the headache and logy feeling a little. But my stomach was still in awful shape.

I was still living with my parents at the time. We went for a New Year’s breakfast, but I was having none of it. My mother, bless her, ordered a full platter of scrambled eggs, home fries, sausage, and gravy. The very smell of the food made me want to retch.

I sat there at the breakfast table, eighteen years old, and thought: Why am I putting myself through this?

I couldn’t think of a good reason. So I then made a decision: I am never going to do this again.  



Thirty-two years later, I still haven’t. Since December 31, 1986, I have rarely consumed alcoholic beverages at all.

I haven’t been a complete teetotaler; but you could easily fit all the alcoholic beverages I’ve consumed between 1/1/87 and the present in a trunk of a compact car. (To the best of my knowledge, the last time I drank an alcoholic beverage of any kind was in 2002. I was in Detroit on business, stuck waiting for my colleagues at a bar, and I decided to try a craft beer on a whim. I drank one bottle.)

I haven’t missed alcoholic beverages. And it wouldn’t surprise me if I’ve consumed my last one, ever.

There is an irony here, of course: I consumed far more alcohol before I could legally do so, than I ever have since I turned legal, on August 9, 1989.

For me it was never really about the alcohol, I guess. It was about not being told what to do.