I went to a party last weekend. It was a big party — a post-wedding party — with lots of people, loud music, dancing and free-flowing booze. At one point in the evening, one of the young men who was there gestured toward my bottle of water and said, “I see you’re on the hard stuff tonight.”
I did find that funny and he didn’t require any response or explanation so that was a relief.
I don’t drink wine — or any alcohol — any more. For some people, that wouldn’t be a surprising statement but, for many years, I was an excellent wine drinker and for some people, the sight of me at a party without a glass of wine in hand would be unlikely. I always drank wine with dinner and in fact, poured a glass much earlier to sip on as I cooked. I had a glass of wine at lunch — if I were lunching out — and I was on a first-name basis with the people in my local provincial store.
In late May of 2007, I became ill, an illness that started with the loss of my voice and that continued with random symptoms that came and went over the next several weeks. June is a very busy month in the school year and our son was finishing elementary school and moving into junior high which meant a lot of things going on that I couldn’t participate in. I was never deathly ill — just sick enough that I could get up for an hour or so during the day but I would very quickly reach the point of saying, “I have to go lie down.” Altogether, I spent about seven weeks functioning at a very low level, treating a variety of cold symptoms, getting one under control only to have another pop up the next day.
In late July, my illness reached a bizarre climax. I was in the bathroom late one evening, preparing to go back to bed when I looked in the mirror and saw a most unusual sight. My nose was a brilliant scarlet. I had never seen anything like this before. I couldn’t think of anything else to do so I put some cream on it and went to bed.
By morning, the colour had crept over my cheeks, up to my forehead, and was beginning to move toward my chin. My skin was intensely red but had the texture of orange peel. It was raised and rough.
It was easily diagnosed as Erysipelas (pronounced air-a-sip-a-luss), also known by its more colourful and dramatic nickname, St. Anthony’s Fire. It’s caused by streptococcus and it responded readily to antibiotics.
As the facial mask faded, I gradually began to feel better. I had eaten very little while I’d been ill and had lost a lot of weight — which was good. My appetite returned and I began to enjoy food again but — and this is the point of my whole story — I never regained my taste for wine. The thought of it is not repulsive or anything specific. I simply feel indifferent to it and, in three years, it has never crossed my mind to pour a glass for myself. I still serve wine at my dinner table, I cook with wine and, even as I write this, there’s a lovely bottle of a prize-winning Nova Scotia white in the fridge and a Portuguese red on the kitchen counter. I still tremendously enjoy eating out at any of Halifax’s fine restaurants. I drink Perrier or San Pellegrino. Sometimes, I ask the bartender to make me something refreshing and tasty and not-too-sweet. At Jane’s, I always order the Rhubarb Cordial.
I’m often surprised by the things some people say: Oh come on, one glass won’t hurt you. Well, that’s true. But I don’t want it, thanks. Do you miss it? No, I don’t. If I missed it, I would have it. I guess it’s hard to grasp that no one is forcing me not to indulge and it isn’t deprivation of any sort. Some people say, Good for you, when I say I’m not having any. Then I have to explain that it isn’t as if I’ve made a “moral” decision or any kind of decision. It’s not virtuous. It’s just a preference, based on my own wants and needs.
Finally, I think a legitimate question is, Do you feel better? I don’t think I feel much different, to be honest. I like having lost the weight but in most other ways, I feel much the same as I’ve always felt.
I’ve saved a lot of money in the past three years though. It’s a good thing because I needed a new wardrobe.