Each week, we post short interviews with interesting people about their thoughts and feelings on women and drinking. There is such a wide array of perspectives about this topic, and we are excited to gain insight into as many as possible and to share them with you.
Ann Bauer is the author of The Forever Marriage, a novel out now from Overlook Press. She has published essays in The New York Times, The Sun, Salon and Elle. Please visit her website, theforevermarriage.com, or follow her on twitter @annbauerwriter.
Drinking Diaries: How old were you when you had your first drink and what was it?
Ann Bauer: I had my first drink when I was 15: a Cutty Sark on the rocks with a twist of lemon around midnight in October at the Blue Horse bar in St. Paul. I know that sounds weirdly vivid, but it was more a lesson in strategy than in drinking. I’d dropped out of high school, moved into a squalid inner-city apartment, lied about my age and taken a job as a waitress at a Ramada Inn. Everyone on the floor that night wanted to go to the bar after work. When the waiters found out I was underage (I didn’t tell them how far under age…) one of them told me to order Scotch because that way I’d never get carded. I did. I loved it. Cutty was my drink throughout my late teens.
How do you approach alcohol in your every day life?
I drink daily, two glasses of red wine, the first while I’m making dinner and the second with my husband, John, as we eat. This is a conscious decision on my part. I didn’t drink at all from the time I was 21 until I was 32, partly because I was pregnant or nursing most of those years and partly because I was married to an alcoholic (my first husband) who was struggling to stay sober. After we divorced—and I decided childbearing was definitely done—I settled into a routine of drinking wine at night. And I really like it. But as I was writing The Forever Marriage, I did a lot of research into breast cancer and I found very believable evidence that there’s a link between even moderate drinking and the disease. I calculated pretty honestly and ultimately decided that at 46, with no other known risk factors, it’s a gamble I’m willing to make. But I’m very aware that I’m making it.
If you have kids, how is the subject of drinking handled?
Do you drink in front of them? With them? I do drink in front of my children (now 24, 22 and nearly 18) and this was a conscious choice, as well. Because their father was an alcoholic, I wanted them to see someone drink moderately as part of a whole, functioning life. I don’t know if this was the right decision or not. Two of my children, the oldest and the youngest, have zero interest in alcohol. But the middle one—an intensely bright, emotional “wild child”—will do anything for a rush and I suspect he’s gone through periods of drinking too heavily. The question is whether that’s something I can control.
Have you ever had a phase in your life when you drank more or less?
Yes. There was the period I mentioned, from 21 to 32, where I didn’t drink at all. There was also a period later, when I was 42, that I drank to excess nearly every night. It was a horrible, dark time in my life: My oldest son was in the hospital undergoing electroshock therapy for catatonia and I was terrified that he would die. But I was watching him suffer so terribly, I sometimes, fleetingly, would wish he could die and the pain would stop. The guilt and fear was overwhelming. So every night, after we would visit my son, John and I would go home and I would start drinking so I could forget—just for a couple hours. John would sit next to me with a bottle of water and coax me to stay hydrated and when I passed out he would take care of me and put me to bed. After my son recovered, I went back to drinking moderately. I was never tempted to get drunk again.
What’s your drink of choice? Why?
I particularly love a good Bordeaux or an Oregon Pinot Noir. These are complex, textured wines that have a lot of clay and earth. They taste to me the way wonderful, old, leatherbound books smell and feel. There’s a heft and a history there.
What do you like most about drinking?
I think it’s the ritual. It’s something my husband do together, not in a raucous way but in a quiet, thoughtful way. We’ll sit with a bottle of wine and talk or read on the couch. I spent a very solitary year in 2010, writing my novel on a remote, rainy island in the Pacific Northwest and sometimes the days would get long. But around 5:30, I’d open a bottle and turn on the news and soon John would walk in the door and it was like sinking into something comforting and familiar. Brian Williams’ voice was coming from the TV and good smells would start rising from the stove and all would be right with my world.
Why do, or don’t you, choose to drink?
I drink in large part because it makes me feel good, and not just the tipsy, heady, forget-about-your-problems good. I believe that regular, moderate wine drinking makes my body work better. It encourages me to relax and reflect; it stops that whirling brain thing that’s afflicted me all my life. And I hate to say it because the science is so iffy, but I swear it makes me more fit. When I quit drinking wine for a month (to see if it was causing my insomnia), I gained five pounds.
How has alcoholism affected your life?
Profoundly. My first husband was an alcoholic, and it killed our marriage. He tried valiantly to quit drinking, and he actually made it for one seven-year stretch. But the moment he had his first taste, it was over. The bills started pouring in; the lies piled upon lies. Alcoholism bankrupted us and devastated our children. Ultimately, I felt there was no choice but to end our marriage. It was very sad. I’ve never really known if alcoholism is a disease or a choice—or both. But I do know that it ruins everything.