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.
Stephanie Dolgoff is the author of My Formerly Hot Life: Dispatches From Just the Other Side of Young, a New York Times national bestseller. Stephanie is a contributing editor at Fitness. Before that, she was a contributing editor at Parenting, Real Simple, health director and features director at Self, and prior to that, executive editor and senior contributing editor at Glamour. She’s written for many publications, including “O” The Oprah Magazine, Fitness, Health, Seventeen and Prevention. Stephanie was born and raised in New York City, where she still lives with her twin girls. She attended Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT.
Stephanie Dolgoff: I was 14 and it was Pink Champale with my friend Cathy on New Year’s, 1981. I remember sitting on the carpet in my bedroom feeling very sneaky and pretending to be drunk, even though I don’t think either of us were even buzzed. It felt like being drunk was what was expected of me, so I acted as if, and I suspect Cathy did as well. It was liquid cotton candy and it made my throat close from the sweetness.
That was the last drink I had, until my late 20s. Shortly thereafter, I became absurdly preoccupied by calories and my weight, and within six months of that drink developed a full-blown eating disorder. I barely ate anything for a few months, and when the anorexia devolved into binge eating and bulimia (and a decade worth of attempts to stop) drinking simply wasn’t worth the calories. There was a rumor in the bulimia world that alcohol calories somehow metabolized immediately, so even if you threw up, you’d still absorb those calories. I didn’t like drinking enough to risk it. And if I wasn’t going to throw up, I’d rather have a Snickers. Gross, I know.
How did/does your family treat drinking?
Neither of my parents drink or drank, but not because they decided not to. They just never picked up the habit.
My paternal grandfather was an alcoholic who went cold turkey when my dad was a boy, but I don’t think that had much to do with anything. We just didn’t keep much alcohol in the house except for guests, but not on purpose. It was never a big deal. We’re Jewish, and while of course there are plenty of Jewish drunks, it’s not as embedded in the daily routine as, say, for a stereotypical WASP.
How do you approach alcohol in your every day life?
Now I will sometimes have a glass of wine with my boyfriend when I get home from work, or when I meet him at a bar. He’s not a huge drinker, but Happy Hour is certainly part of his routine. When I’m with him, I enjoy it, but other than that wouldn’t think of it.
Unfortunately, I still occasionally use food to relax and am way more likely to turn to Ben & Jerry than Bartles & Jaymes. I am consciously trying to get that same relief and release out of an evening glass of wine. Fewer calories and if you can believe anything “scientific research shows,” healthy to boot.
I dated an AA alcoholic in my early 30s, and I remember one time saying that I could use a drink. He got all prickly, saying that “needing” a drink is a sign of alcoholism. That stuck with me, but I think it’s more that all alcoholics need to drink, not that everyone who needs a drink is an alcoholic.
Sometimes one of my daughters will ask what I’m drinking and if she can have a sip. If it’s wine, I just say it’s a grownup drink and that she wouldn’t like it. I’ve joked about “Mommy juice” but that’s really not how I think of it.
I’ve let them taste wine and they crinkle up their noses. If it were something more like a margarita, though, I probably wouldn’t let them try it. It tastes too much like soda.
Have you ever had a phase in your life when you drank more or less?
See above. Dry until my early 30s, when my eating normalized and I started drinking when I went out sometimes. Usually two drinks max. I am a cheap date and a total lightweight.
What’s your drink of choice? Why?
I know nothing about wine except that I usually like Shiraz and Malbec. Lately I’ve been ordering Dark & Stormies when I drink a “real” drink. It’s Gosling’s rum and ginger ale. My boyfriend has a boat, and that feels boaty.
I like sweet drinks, such as frozen margaritas and the like, and I don’t mind Manischewitz. It’s not cool to like Manischewitz, even on Passover, but it makes the endless seder easier to get through. Apparently Manischewitz does big business in poor neighborhoods because it’s something like $3.99 for two liters.
Can you tell us about the worst time you ever had drinking?
I have never gotten sick or anything like that…I can tell you that being sober all through college and watching drunk people taught me a lot about what people feel they need to be drunk to allow themselves to do. Dancing, sex, saying what’s really on their minds…all of that was just beneath the surface. A couple of plastic tumblers full of nasty keg beer and there it all was.
I, of course, did many of the same stupid, uninhibited things sober, which meant I had no excuse! People assumed I was drunk, which was just as well. I never bothered to correct them in the post-mortems.
Has culture or religion influenced your drinking?
See Manischewitz, above.
What do you like most about drinking?
It really does take the edge off of life. The ritual of sitting down and wrapping yourself around the glass is sensual and peaceful, although I suppose one could do that around something else. I actually am trying to have a glass of wine rather than turning to food at the end of the day, when I’m most stressed. It’s not natural to me, though.
How has alcoholism affected your life?
I have a close friend in AA, and I really admire how she uses the program to take good care of herself. Her drinking never affected me, but I have learned a lot about how to better take care of myself by watching her handle her own relationship to alcohol. Compulsive eating isn’t the same as alcoholism, but some of the same principles–staying in touch with why you’re abusing the substance and addressing the underlying issues rather than turning to the substance–hold true for both.
If you could be any drink, what would it be? Why?
Probably a Dark & Stormy. It’s sweet and a little spicy. Ugh. That sounds like a dating profile question.