THE STORY WAS buried deep in the newspaper, but the headline stopped me dead as liver failure. “New Studies Link Red Wine to Women’s Breast Cancer Risk.” Just one drink a day increases a woman’s cancer risk, one study declared, with Seattle’s own Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center swooping in with the chaser: Two or more drinks a day ups a woman’s chance of breast cancer by 24 percent.
“Are you drinking red wine every day?” my husband Tom asked.
“Of course,” I snapped. “It’s heart medicine.”
“Not anymore,” he intoned, audibly wielding the medical degree he picked up from Grey’s Anatomy reruns.
Easy for him to say. Being a man, he gets a free pass on two drinks a day. But for some reason I sat up and took notice. Why not give it up for awhile? He gives up drinking every year for Lent, letting the DTs that don’t come prove one more year that he’s dodged alcoholism, a disease we both have splashing around in our gene pools.
But for me it was less about fear of abuse than a general desire, heightened by the day’s news, to cleanse. I am not a lush—to my friends who are reading this, election night was about kissing strangers and sobbing in public—but I have been a social drinker since I was approximately 21. I savor a glass or two of wine with dinner. Sparkly cocktails are glorious fun at parties or on sun-drenched summer patios. I relish a chilled Belgian ale after a day in the garden; a warming belt of a good aged single malt around a campfire under the stars. My intake registers somewhere between reasonable discretion and lie-when-the-doctor-asks-how-much.
I wasn’t worried; everyone I know lies to their doctor. I was just overindulgent. So then and there, before God and The Headline, I quit—and immediately craved a Manhattan.
The first week was awful. All I could think about was the little Oregon pinot I should be enjoying with my grilled rockfish. When I analyzed it, I realized it wasn’t just the culinary harmony of wine with food that was lacking; it was enjoying an evening out with a special drink. I tried to work up some enthusiasm for mocktails. “I’ll have a virgin margarita!” I chirped to my waiter at an upscale Belltown restaurant.
“Wow,” she blurted. “Okay, that won’t be very good.” She was right; it tasted like glycerin with a shot of Mountain Dew and some seriously pointless salt. Given how long it took me to cultivate a taste for alcohol I was startled to realize that I actually longed for its bracing bitterness.