Interview with writer Liz Beatty

by Caren on March 20, 2013

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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.

Toronto-based writer and branding consultant, Liz Beatty, is a frequent contributor to National Geographic Traveler, among others.  She’s currently working on a manuscript of essays about, among other things, how big ugly flaws make for brilliant parenting.

How old were you when you had your first drink and what was it? 

My “Mad Men” vintage parents drank two things that I remember:  Manhattans and Deinhard Green Label white wine. I recall pilfering sips of both at about age six or seven, but neither appealed to me, then or now.

Growing up, how did your family treat drinking? 

My dad, who died of cancer almost 20 years ago, didn’t drink until he was 33 for fear that he’d become like his alcoholic father.  This fact was deeply embedded in family lore from early on, although I didn’t know then how his experience with his dad would shape me.  By the time I came along, he and mom  began sharing a cocktail every evening.  Certainly the hard liquor flowed, the ashtrays filled and the voices grew boisterous when their good friends came over, often with kids mingling about — again, all very “Mad Men.”

How do you approach alcohol in your every day life?

It’s never been a conscious thing and it’s changed over time.  Nowadays, we almost never drink during the week. A glass or two over dinner or at a party on the weekend is the norm.

If you have kids, how is the subject of drinking handled? Do you drink in front of them? With them?  

It sounds more planned to say we’ve taken a European approach  —  never making a big deal about drinking or not drinking.  We drink occasionally in front of the kids.  If they were curious when they were younger, we gave them a sip.  As they got older,  we’d sometimes offer them a splash of something for a toast on a special occasion.  My eldest is just now of drinking age and essentially chooses to abstain, completely his decision. I am, however, point blank with my boys about this  — our extended family is a grab bag of non-addictive and totally addictive personalities, some tragically so. I tell them that you can’t know for sure which category you’ll fall into, so be mindful in your choices.

Have you ever had a phase in your life when you drank more or less? 

Absolutely. When the kids were young, I drank a lot more. My eldest struggled with learning disabilities and with the inimitable hypervigilence of a first-time mother, I channeled everything into helping him navigate the first and very difficult 12 or 13 years of his life.  Among other things, he was depressed at times and I drank often to stave off my own emotional burnout. He eventually turned a corner (now a happy solid university student) and my body began rejecting any level of regular drinking. Things might have gone differently if my constitution had been hardier.

Can you tell us about the best time you ever had drinking? 

The first week of first year university, I killed a bottle of cheap Chianti sitting in the residence hallway with my soon-to-be lifelong friend, Roadzy.  We were disentangling riddles of western philosophy.  We were young, unencumbered and with every sip, more brilliant, more fabulous.

What do you like most about drinking?

Funny, the less I drink, the more I enjoy it.  I’m no longer so unthinking about it, as I was binging in university or decompressing as a frazzled young mother.  Nowadays, I guess all my rituals are more considered — morning coffee, my 13-year-old’s Saturday hockey game,  an aperitif on friday night.  I’m more present to enjoy them and then, I guess, more satisfied when they’re over. In short, I’m getting old.

If you could be any drink, what would it be? Why? 

I’d be the first sip of a perfect gin and tonic swallowed on the dock of a cottage bay with the July sun setting, kids inside setting up Scrabble and nothing but two weeks of classic WWII spy novels ahead.  To my mind, all other drinks aspire to be this.

Such idyllic confluences of time, place and drug speak to my personal root of addiction. Like when I smoked.  One in 1,000 cigarettes was truly great — end of day, no kids around to corrupt, sitting with smart articulate fellow smokers, no judgement, libation in hand, the mood almost giddy as I take my first drag off that first cigarette in several hours.  The other 999 smokes in between were just chasing that moment.  I imagine if my body had allowed me to become addicted to alcohol, it would have been the same.

How has alcoholism affected your life? 

My dad always struggled to put in its place the uncertainty of growing up with an alcoholic father.  A brilliant, kind man, dad feared deeply uncontrollable outcomes.  Looking back, I saw this dread in his obsession with safety, in his timid financial decisions and even in his anxiety level with the normal chaos of our sibling conflicts.  It took some years to connect this to my own control issues and occasional amorphous angst.  Recently, I found an old photo of my dad at age 23 with academic robes hanging off his sinewy young frame.  He was graduating that day, top of his class, from one of Canada’s most revered law schools.  Only grandma stood beside him.  He’d told me this story many times and there it was — his father just hadn’t showed up.  In the end, dad found a way to triumph over all this — he always showed up for me.