Are You Comfortable Going to a Bar Alone?

looking for mr. goodbarI have a confession to make: I’ve never gone to a bar alone. I have no problem going to restaurants or movies alone. In fact, I love bringing a book to a restaurant and sitting by myself. But there’s something about going to a bar alone that feels different. Sure, I’ve sat alone at bars for a little while, waiting for a friend to show up, but I’ve never actually set out to spend an evening in a bar alone.

It takes a certain ballsiness to go to a bar alone if you’re a woman. Also, you’ve got to have a certain personality type, a one-of-the-guys openness to all types of people, like Rosie Schaap, the author of Drinking With Men.

Or maybe it’s because I read Looking for Mr. Goodbar when I was a teenager, about a teacher who goes to bars alone, meets a guy one night, and gets murdered. I remember my sister telling me about going to Atlantic City by herself after her divorce, and how she sat at a bar alone, and met a guy. They had a great time, talking for hours, and then he wanted to go back to her room with her. She wasn’t ready for that, and managed to leave the bar alone without any problems. I was incredulous: how could you do something so risky? What if he was a rapist? What if he followed you? She seemed pretty relaxed about the whole thing. She had a great time, and that was that. You can’t live your life looking for danger.

I’ve never felt comfortable going to a bar by myself, mostly because I’m an introvert and the thought of inviting conversation with strangers isn’t that appealing to me. When I’m with a friend, though, and I’ve had a few drinks, it’s a different story. Some of my best nights have been spent sitting at a bar with a friend or two, chatting with the bartender and meeting all the people around us.

Sitting at a bar alone seems like something you’d do when you’re down and out, like a friend of mine who became a regular at a bar after her mom died young and in reaction, she went through a reckless phase.

But that’s not so for everyone: see, again, Rosie Schaap. And there are many more unguarded souls who aren’t suspicious, or guarded, and have no problem inviting the world in.

In a recent article by M. Carrie Allan in The Washington Post, “When Women Drink Alone,” Ms. Allan laments a missed opportunity when she was traveling alone in Europe. Some Spanish guys asked her to join them for absinthe at a local bar in Seville, and she declined after she saw one of them wink at the other.

She interpreted the wink as a sign of possible danger. “That wink was all it took to transform my envisioned scenario from a chummy drink above the river to being dragged from it, possibly with some rare species of moth hidden in my throat. I headed back to the hostel alone.”

She writes of her worry about going to a bar alone as a single woman: “Although a man alone at a bar is not presumed to be looking for anything more than a drink, even now, a woman is often perceived as out for romantic company, possibly actual sex, possibly right there on the bar stool. It’s little wonder many women tipple in packs and stick to familiar venues, familiar drinks. Women don’t go to unfamiliar bars solo for the same reason baby wildebeests don’t go down to the river alone. We want a drink; we just don’t want the crocodile that might come with it.”

What’s your feeling about going to a bar alone? Have you done it or not? Why or why not?

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Drinking Diaries Readers Share Their Stories

story quoteYour stories matter—not only to us, but to all the women and men who read this blog. Your words might offer comfort, escape, information or entertainment for others. Or maybe your story is a cautionary or inspiring tale to someone out there who has similar issues.

Here are some excerpts from recent stories that have been written in the SHARE YOUR STORIES tab on the blog. We encourage you to tell your stories so others might benefit from your experience, good or bad, with drinking:

J-beau:

“I’m a successful professional and I’ve struggled with binge drinking since an entire bottle of rum touched my lips on my first night of drinking when I was 16 years old…I was recently posted to India and suffered through one too many hangovers. I found myself telling a trusted friend how much I wished I had an “off” button. Then somehow it occurred to me to get googling.

Thanks to the wonders of lax regulation of over-the-counter medicines (I am too embarrassed to talk to a doctor) is self-prescribed Naltrexone. It’s a drug that has a few uses: it’s an opioid blocker, so it stops the uptake of heroin and cocaine. It also suppresses the desire to drink, and has been found effective for gambling addiction and other compulsive behaviours. It has few side-effects. It’s often prescribed for chronic habitual alcoholics. By cutting the endorphin rush when one drinks, it also means that “just one drink” remains as just one drink. I can’t tell you how revolutionary this is for me.”

 

Susan:

“I was praying this morning as I have many, many times for support from God and the strength to stop drinking. I honestly don’t know how, but I ended up at this site. I come from a family of alcoholics and morphed into one myself later in life. I am very functional and am a pm drinker. Chardonnay is my Satan. As I get older, I notice more cognitive impairment and have recently been diagnosed with high blood pressure. Drinking wine is a big part of our lifestyle. For me, it is also my escape…my pressure release. I’m not an annoying drinker, friends and family would be shocked to know I have a problem. I detest the idea of going to AA because my siblings were so obnoxious about their recovery and I just need a different, quieter path to sobriety. I have confided in no one about my concern. Thank you for being there.”

Mignon:

“Now pushing 50, I wonder how many secret drinkers lurk in groups of cafe writers. I say cafe writers because I am convinced there are two types of writers, those who dream of cafes in France and love to gossip, and we who long for the pubs of England where we’ll sit in the dim talking about writing. Most writers flock together to drink. ”

Jan:

“There’s always a good reason to drink, isn’t there? If you like to drink, there’s a reason–not that you need one but you can find one. Your asshole husband, your son is drugging himself to death (or already has), your business is incredibly stressful and you’re having issues financially with it, your daughter is out of a job and you have to help her financially, you hate your mother, your friends drink socially so you do too–you know, there’s a reason in there somewhere.”

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Drinking As a Way to Fill Time

In my twenties, I was the ultimate daydreamer and “loafer.” I did have a job (the night shift at a big-city newspaper), but during the day, I’d wander the city, stopping at a museum or a movie on a whim. Before work, I’d swim laps, slowly, more for the stretch and release of it than anything else. Sometimes, I’d write.  And there was drinking. Ah yes, drinking. Many nights, I’d go out drinking after work. It seemed to stretch time, and it became my go-to nighttime leisure activity.

Then I had kids, and life took on more of a structure again—the structure of the days, weeks and years determined by schedules—sports schedules, dinner schedules, vacation time. Suddenly, I barely had time to wander. Instead of having a drink at the end of a long day, I preferred sleep—a precious commodity after chasing around 3 kids.

Now, many years later, life is circling around to more leisure time, more time to wander. Or, depending how you look at it, more time to “fill.”

This got me wondering: with all that time to fill on the horizon—the horizon of the empty nest (which, admittedly, is quite a way off)—will I return to the habit I acquired in my twenties—the habit of passing my leisure time with drinks?

As the daughter of an alcoholic, I now know that drinking as a pastime makes me uncomfortable, so no—I don’t think I’ll return to that habit. (But it certainly was fun at the time…)

Just as I was having this internal debate, I read a fantastic wake-up call of a piece in The New York Times by Tim Kreider, called “The ‘Busy’ Trap.”

Here’s a quote:

“Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.”

Kreider writes that even though we, as a society, fear being lazy, or bored, downtime is vital to our well-being:

“Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.”

Reading this piece reaffirmed my belief that drinking should be a conscious act, rather than an unconscious way to “fill” time. I do not want to drink because I’m bored, or because I lack the creativity to find other ways to spend my evenings.

There are so many other great things to do, like going to the movies, meeting friends for dinner, taking a walk, reading, taking a bath, going for a run. Or doing nothing, and just being.

The revelation here is that I don’t need to fill time at all. That’s just making busywork of life. The way I’m looking at it is: how would I like to spend my downtime?  Not hoard it, but spend it. I’d like to spend my time like it’s worth something. However, I’d like to budget for it, to save sometimes and then splurge.

Maybe it’s healthier to reframe my relationship to time not in terms of “filling” it, but rather of letting time fill me, much like the ocean fills in the holes we dig in the sand, then retreats, then inevitably fills them again.

And so it is with drinking: If I drink to “fill” time, to be busy doing something and avoid dealing with my existential angst, then I probably shouldn’t be drinking. On the other hand, if I decide to have a drink as a way to celebrate my time, to spend it freely, to accept life as it is, surf the time and let it fill me up rather than trying to fill a void, then I say, “Cheers!”

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It’s Barbeque Season: Should Parents Skip the Booze?

With barbeque season in full swing, normally I wouldn’t think twice about having a few drinks with friends on my porch while the kids run around on the yard, but a recent piece in the Washington Post got me wondering.

David Cameron, British prime minister, and his wife, accidentally left their 8-year-old daughter in a pub after having a traditional Sunday lunch with some other families. Their daughter went to the bathroom, and they drove all the way home before they realized they’d forgotten her at the pub. Most harried parents can relate to the “oh-my-God” moment of sheer forgetfulness, but in this case, some are pointing the finger not at beleaguered parents, but at booze.

Did the fact that the Camerons had some drinks at the pub impair their ability to care for their daughter, or was it an honest mistake that any parent could make, sober or buzzed?

This incident sparked the age-old debate: do parenting and drinking mix? (Surprisingly, even the normally drinking-friendly Brits were stirred up).

In the Post, the reporter raised the question: “Does good parenting, along the lines that a skills class might teach, involve abstaining from alcohol during family events? Does the age of the child or the situation make a difference?”

I think the answers to those questions are “no,” good parenting does not require abstaining from alcohol and yes, the age of the child and the situation make a world of difference.

Here are parenting situations where I’d watch my drinking, or abstain:

A)  If I had to drive afterwards. I’d stick to one glass of wine, and switch to seltzer, or ask my husband or a friend to be the designated driver.

B)  If I were caring for an infant or toddler, or any kid under the age of 6. Why? Because they are unpredictable and have limited coordination—just like a drunk person—and two drunk people can’t really be of much help to each other. They’ll just pull each other down, while hanging on for balance.

Luckily, tomorrow night, I won’t be in any of those situations. I’m hosting a barbeque, and the people who are coming over live within walking distance. All our kids are of the age where they have a modicum of sense and coordination, and don’t have to be watched every second. So I say, break out the booze. In moderation, of course, because I’m still a role model for my kids.

I see nothing wrong with modeling responsible use of alcohol, for adults only. As they put it on Slate’s XX factor blog, when discussing the whole British prime minister scenario: “Tone matters. If parents are modeling an approach to alcohol that foregrounds the pleasures of inebriation—in other words, that drinking is merely a means to an altered state of mind (whether mildly buzzed or trashed) reserved especially for adults—they’re doing it wrong. Instead, the message should be focused on appreciation of the drink itself.”

Here’s to a nice glass (or two) of rose, guilt-free.

Do you think light or moderate drinking impairs a parent’s ability to be a parent? Enhances it? Or has no effect whatsoever, and we should all relax about this issue?

 

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9 Lessons I’ve Learned About Drinking

I’ve been co-editing the Drinking Diaries blog for almost 3 years now, since 2009, with Caren Osten Gerszberg. Our mission: To get women to share their drinking stories—without judgment. Hearing so many women’s stories has helped me put my own drinking in perspective and develop a healthier relationship with alcohol. In sifting through all the stories, all the years of interviews, excerpts, news clips and quotes, here are some things I’ve learned about drinking:

1) WHEN IT COMES TO DRINKING, LIFE’S NOT FAIR. Practice acceptance of this fact rather than defensiveness, and you’ll go a long way toward gaining a clear picture of your own relationship to alcohol. Some women are indifferent to alcohol, and some can take a few sips and leave it at that, while others have a seemingly insatiable appetite for the stuff. Some drink a ton and get addicted, and some don’t. The phrase, “But she drinks just as much as I do!” is meaningless. We’re all different, and that’s just the way it is.

2) DRINKER, KNOW THYSELF. It’s taken me years to find my own drinking “comfort zone”–that space where I can enjoy drinking as one of life’s pleasures, rather than worry about it as a potential source of anguish. I have friends who can drink a glass of wine every night while they’re cooking dinner, no problem. If I did that, I’d be tortured, worrying that my kids would think I was an alcoholic, worrying about wanting a second glass and a third, because for me, if one feels good, two feels twice as good. That’s just how I roll. I choose not to drink wine at home, alone. I choose not to drink every night, because it makes me feel fogged and sluggish. Drinking on special occasions and when I go out works for me.

3) DRINKING DOESN’T HAVE TO BE ALL OR NOTHING. And yet the word “moderation” can be annoying, because my lifestyle and my idea of moderation may be entirely different than yours. The key is to find your own “comfort zone,” and then, when you find it (and that may end up being no alcoholic beverages at all), you can break the cycle of bingeing and then depriving yourself. Set your limit before you go out, and stick to it. If it’s two glasses, then savor those glasses. Plan ahead of time what you’ll order when you’ve reached your quota: seltzer? Gingerale?

4) NOT EVERYONE WHO HAS A DRINKING PROBLEM IS AN ALCOHOLIC. Some women simply drink too much and need to practice “portion control.” For these women, quitting drinking is not always necessary, and can cause a bingeing/abstaining seesaw. There are other programs out there besides AA. Rebecca Johnson detailed her experiences with Moderate Drinking for Vogue in a piece called “The Sipping Point.”

5) FOR ALCOHOLICS, AA ISN’T THE ONLY ANSWER. If you’re an alcoholic and AA doesn’t work for you, don’t give up or bag the whole concept of sobriety. There are other ways of getting and staying sober, as Amy Lee Coy details in her book, From Death Do I Part: How I Freed Myself From Addiction. Maybe the God part of AA doesn’t work for you. Maybe the idea of descending into a basement depresses you. Keep looking till you find what works.

6) DRINKERS AND NON-DRINKERS NEED TO PEACEFULLY CO-EXIST. Republicans and Democrats, vegetarians and carnivores, Muslims and Christians have to share the same breathing space, and so do drinkers and non-drinkers. If you’ve stopped drinking, sooner or later, you’re going to find yourself among people who drink. For your own sanity, it’s probably best to try to get comfortable in these situations. And drinkers—sometimes, you’re going to find yourself in a situation where it’s better that you abstain. My mother is a recovered alcoholic, and while sometimes I’ll order a glass of wine when we go out to dinner together, most often I don’t. My husband’s family barely drinks, so I drink very little when I’m with them. Why? Because in life, it’s easiest if you’re flexible.

7) WORK HARD TO MAKE DRINKING A CHOICE, RATHER THAN A HABIT.  Once you get in a habit loop, it’s damn hard to break, as Charles Duhigg explains in his book, The Power of Habit. And things that become routine, become boring and unconscious. Drinking is too fun to become just another thing you do.

8) SHARE YOUR STORIES & READ OTHER PEOPLE’S STORIES—IT’S GOOD FOR YOU! When people find out I have a blog called Drinking Diaries, they assume I’m a huge boozer, obsessed with alcohol. Actually, the opposite is true. The more I share my own stories and read other women’s stories about their relationship with alcohol, the more I learn, and the more I’ve been able to develop a conscious and healthy relationship with alcohol. I actually drink less, but I enjoy it more. (Which reminds me of how waitresses I’ve known tell me that by the time they get off their shift, they’re kind of sick of food, so they eat less.)

9) FIND YOUR DRINKING MENTORS. So many great women are writing fiction and nonfiction and blogging about all things drinking related, from teens to women of a certain age, wine lovers to people in recovery and everyone in between—various writers on the site, “The Fix,” Alice Feiring, Mary Karr, Sacha Scoblic, Caroline Knapp, Koren Zailckas, Brenda Wilhelmson, Michelle Huneven, Amy Hatvany, Stefanie Wilder Taylor—and the list goes on. Read their stories and learn from them.

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