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One Small Change

Are We Drinking Too Much?

Jakob Montrasio / flickr

I learned two major lessons from my old man. The first was delivered at dawn more than 15 years ago when the phone rang and my mother cried, “I think Daddy died.” His alarm went off, but he never got up. Dead of a heart attack at 62. Not long after that I started exercising and eating smarter, eventually losing 35 pounds. I even started doing triathlons. Like most kids, I had ignored the bulk of my parent’s advice, but not this time. That alarm clock is still keeping me awake.

The other unspoken lesson my dad delivered involved booze. Like many hard-working men of his generation, he was an alcoholic. Every day on his way home, he’d stop at the Roosevelt Democratic Club for a few 10-cent beers and 25-cent shots. He was never late for dinner, but he’d always had his appetizer. After he retired, he drank beer practically the entire day. One time, when my son was a toddler, I had to chastise my dad about drinking and driving with him in the car. I never saw an ex-Marine look so sheepish, and it was the first time I ever felt truly sorry for him. I swore then that I never wanted to let alcohol get that kind of grip on me—where the buzz it provided was more enjoyable than the hum of life itself.

But this second lesson is proving tougher to heed than the first. Although I continue to exercise daily and keep my heart strong, I’ve also fallen into the routine of drinking daily, and I worry that things could start to go wrong. It’s not like I’m drinking before lunch, falling down, or blacking out. No, my drinking consists mainly of a happy hour with my wife or friends (or myself) after a long day of work. I always stop after one or two (or three), and I continue to be a productive and upstanding member of the community…. But I fear I’m making excuses now, and isn’t denial the first sign of a developing problem?

It’s so insidious this drinking thing. The older and more successful you become, the more you feel entitled to reward yourself, and alcohol is by far the most convenient of bonuses. It makes you feel happy about being older and successful, even if you’re not. And there’s always the subtle pressure to join buddies, family and friends for dinners or parties at which the proverbial whisky sour fountain is always center-stage, if only metaphorically. Plus, I can finally afford the good stuff now—Chimay, Grey Goose, French Bordeaux—so why deny myself? Ironically, alcohol has even become my reward for a particularly hard workout.

Two things happened recently, though, that dampened these justifications and brought my worries to a head. One was a four-day stretch of social drinking during which I was buzzed every night. I felt so crappy at the end of that I started questioning whether it was really fun. The other was when my daughter turned 21, and my son and I visited her at college. I took them to a sports bar called Hamm’s to watch the Phillies in the NLCS. We were there for three hours, and it was honestly one of my proudest moments as a father. Sitting in a bar drinking beer with my kids, actually celebrating the fact that my baby girl could now legally buy it. And that’s when it hit me: Maybe I’m not that different from my old man….

And that’s when I decided to make one small change in my life. I’m going to try to give up this ubiquitous liquid. But hey, wait, look, the holiday parties are coming and so is the big Lehigh-Lafayette tailgate and then there’s dinner at Bob’s with his spectacular wine cellar…. So maybe I won’t give it up entirely. Maybe I won’t go cold turkey. Perhaps it’s better to just give up drinking during the week. Yeah, that’s more realistic. My editor even thought this watered-down approach would connect better with you, the reader. After all, the name of this blog is One Small Change, not One Giant Leap. And so far this one-step-at-a-time strategy has led to more effective sleep, hydration, clean eating, physical activity, and flexibility. But wait a minute. Does the weekend start on Friday night or Saturday morning?

If you’ve ever wondered about the strength of the alcoholic genes in your family, or if you’re starting to tip from social to problem drinker, or how much more fit and healthy you could be if you didn’t drink so frequently, then join me for this month’s One Small Change experiment. We’ll be teetotalers together: No booze from Sunday at 5 p.m. to Friday at 5 p.m. every week, all month. That sounds reasonable, no? Think you can do it? At the very least, we’ll see how strong we really are and maybe even learn a few things about our bodies and our minds in the process. And when it’s all done and midnight on November 30 rolls around, we can hold our glasses high and toast our accomplishments—or not.

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About The Author

Joe Kita – Joe Kita is a noted writer, editor, motivational speaker and teacher. He authors the blog "One Small Change" for CorePerformance.com.

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Tags: Beverages, Health, Leisure Time, Weekend, Disease