Dear Lily June,
My mother’s advice when it came to drinking was to “Stop at three–one for the father, one for the son, and one for the Holy Spirit.” That’s pretty ironic advice coming from the ex-wife of a Catholic alcoholic, one who learned his drinking habits among other altar boys all sampling sacramental wine in the basement of his childhood church. She needn’t have worried. Your mother’s practically a teetotaler, not necessarily because of any political or social statement, but because I never really got what all the fuss was all about. And having interstitial cystitis definitely threw a sobriety wrench into the mixer: Having small cuts in the lining of your bladder makes tossing back alcohol feel akin to sipping on the acid that oozes from old batteries.
That being said, I’ve sampled my fair share of “demon drink,” and I’ve learned to separate some facts from some fictions. For what little it might be worth, I’ll pour you a shots’ worth of the wisdom I’ve accumulated, in the hopes that it’ll help you navigate the world of inebriation someday (if ever you decide to vacation there. If you move in to that particular neighborhood, you better believe I’ll be dragging you from Margaritaville to Downtown Rehabview in no time.)
1) Baby, not in my house.
When I was in my teens, I dated a guy whose mother had the classic “I’d rather my son drink here then go out trashed on the roads to find more” logic. And that’s how I met the many Mike’s Hard Lemonades and Smirnoff Ices that would get me through the end of high school slightly tipsy but mostly just over-sugared.
That being said, I can’t imagine what might have happened if I’d tried that logic on my own mother. Her eyes might have shot not just daggers, but machetes. Her red hair might have spontaneously caught fire. My suitcases might have mysteriously been packed full of every item I ever owned and have migrated to the front door, awaiting me like faithful puppies. And Lily, like Grandma, like Mommy.
While I look forward to tossing back a cold one with you at the appropriate time (i.e. when I can card you and you come up legal), I’m your mother, not your bartender. For one thing, underage drinking’s only fun if you’re getting away with something. And being a parent’s only fun if I get to play frumpy housecoat detective, sniff your breath, and ground your butt back to the Stone Ages if I find out you’ve broken the law. Don’t take those precious moments away from us.
You can always call me for a ride home. I will get you there safely, and I would rather do that than find out you endangered yourself and innocent others by getting on the road. But I reserve the right, once I’ve fetched you to safety, to keep you there, probably until you’re thirty. Hey, even the “drunken sailor” gets thrown in the “brig until he’s sober.” I will save your butt then lock it up. It’s called being your mom, Lily. It’s called love.
2) Drunkie, know thy limits.
When the time does come, learn to listen to your body and discover your own limits. For my mother, this translated into the Rule of Three. But I’ve seen your dad plow through booze like it’s going out of style and still be able to walk without a stumble and talk without a slur. (Of course, I knew he was drunk once when, on a 3:00am Taco Bell run, he turned to me with a deadpan stare and uttered earnestly, “The dirt knows what it’s doing.” That made sense to him at the time; to me, it was a ripe mystery.)
Everyone reacts to alcohol differently, depending on your size and your tolerance level, so a good guideline is to stop when you start to feel “buzzed” or “tipsy.” If you wait until you feel like your head’s in a hula hoop, you’ve already gone too far. Seek shelter, and wait out the inevitable hangover.
3) Wino, don’t be too wine-y.
Here’s a tip: People who whine a little are human. People who whine all the time are obnoxious. The same goes for the drink. A glass here and there, so sayeth modern science, might improve your mood, slim your waist or even boost your memory. But if you’re brown bagging it just to get through your day, it’s a problem.
That’s true of any drink, and you have to be especially careful, since alcoholism runs in your family. Your Grandpa Edward used to drink vodka out of a coffee mug–instead of coffee. Let’s just say a balanced breakfast does not generally include hitting the sauce before noon. (That’s why Mimosas were invented for brunch.) Side note: Your grandpa’s now in recovery.
Also, if you’re one of “those girls” who spends most of your time talking about what bottle of fermented grape juice you plan on cracking open that evening in the bubble bath while pumpkin spice candles are burning, you run the risk of being accused of an identity far worse than that of a boozer: You could be called, gasp, basic. And there’s barely a fate worse than that.
4 ) Boozie McGee, be who you want to be.
I tried beer for the first time as a pre-teen when a bunch of my friends were sipping it in a tent behind my at-the-time-bestie’s house. I hated it then, and I hate it now. I tried wine years later, but never really got past the sight of Dracula teeth or the scent of vinegar. So be it.
It took me years of my life to find the “adult beverages” I enjoy, and I’m glad I didn’t waste my youth plowing through every bottle by which to get plowed just to find them. My drinks of choice came to me organically, through the recommendations of friends or genuine curiosity. I now know the three cocktails (in honor of my mother’s rule) that tickle my fancy:
The Bloody Mary
A Bloody Mary is like a cocktail with an identity crisis. Is it an an alcoholic beverage, an NSFW V8, or “adult” gazpacho? With the figurative “everything but the kitchen sink” list of ingredients (sometimes including, but not limited to, vodka, tomato juice, Worcestershire, Tabasco, piri piri sauce, clam juice, olive brine, beef consommé or bouillon, horseradish, celery, olives, salt, black pepper, cayenne, brown sugar, molasses, bitters, lemon juice, and/or celery salt), it’s not likely you’ll have the same experience twice. It can be garnished with olives, celery, carrots, dill pickle spears, lemon wedges or even shrimp!
Don’t buy the hype, though, that it’s the perfect “hair of the dog” restorative to quaff. It’s just booze stew, Lily, and its only benefit is that it’s hard to get drunk off of because 1) it’s too complicated to DIY very often from home; and 2) you’re more likely to quit from indigestion before you do from inebriation. It’s a lot to make up and take in!
The White Russian
Re-popularized by the character of “The Dude” in The Big Lebowski (seen above in a dance scene clearly crafted while the choreographers had tossed back a few too many of their own), a White Russian (or “Caucasian”) is a sweet cocktail of vodka, coffee liqueur (usually Kahlua) and milk or cream served up in an Old Fashioned glass with ice. Your dad taught me my favorite variation–with raspberry vodka–and we used to drink these “top-shelfers” at Epiphany in Tuscaloosa, a local-foods high-end establishment where we once upon a time had the dinner before we got engaged to be married.
I essentially only like it because the taste of the booze is almost completely hidden by the taste of sweet. It’s sugary enough to disguise the (very light) punch it packs, but beware. Too many of these will most likely reward you with a night of belching–or at least an interesting “milk” mustache.
The Whiskey / Amaretto Sour
I only discovered this drink in the Deep South, while everyone else was coolly downing Kentucky’s mint juleps or N’awlins Hurricanes or just good old American beer (PBRs come to mind). The whiskey versus amaretto variations are essentially the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of the same drink: one for when you want bitter, the other when you’re hankering for sweet. Ultimately, though, despite the word “sour” and the use of lemon juice paired with the liquor of choice, both drinks are pretty much liquid candy and should only be downed with enough maraschino cherries to put to shame a sundae buffet.
These are the drinks of your mother, favorites I came to select for myself from some years of trial and error. Your grandma Raelyn prefers Sloe Gin Fizzes. Whatever your pleasure, keep the drinking to a minimum, and don’t forget to pair any poison with water.
5) Sicko, hydrate thyself!
The number one mistake new drinkers make is to dehydrate. I know this is shocking, but tossing back liquors and beers has all the nutritional value, generally, of gargling white out or window cleaner. Once you “break the seal” (i.e. go to the bathroom for the first time during drinking), you’ll likely find yourself peeing with all the force of a fire hose for the rest of the evening, and that means you’re losing things your body needs, not the least of which are water and electrolytes. Failure to hydrate could cause dry mouth (also known as “cotton mouth”) and dizziness, in addition to the classic hangover brain pound.
Because the presence of ethanol (which makes alcohol “ow-cohol”) in the stomach lining stimulates the production of hydrochloric acid in the tummy (sexy!), thinning this with water may help with nausea, too, at least according to some theories.
You’ll hear of a number of hangover cures in your life (carbo-loading before drinking, hydrating while drinking, mass pancake consumption after drinking), but really, the main prevention for the headache and sickness accompanying a night of indulgence is just to watch how much you’re drinking. I know I’ve told you this, but what goes in must come out. And if you’re tossing back poison all night, you can expect that you’ll be bringing that poison back up the next day.
6) Lily, to thy sober self stay true.
Lily, just as I mentioned that you should choose the booze (if so you drink at all–you certainly don’t have to and I never did much!) that fits you, so, too, should you know your arch nemesis of the alcohol world. It seems there’s at least one drink for everyone that will make its drinker sickest or, worse, act weirdest. For your mother, that “frenemy” is Sambuca.
Flavored like the lovechild of paint thinner and black licorice, it’s thick enough that you can’t do it by the shot, you have to ingest it (if so you do), by the sip. And for some reason, it affects the part of my brain that acts like a reasonable human being. On Sambuca’s influence, I’ve drunk dialed exes, passed out in the laps of strangers, gotten down to my skivvies and crawled around (complaining of a terrible draft) until I could reach a comforter to hide my birthday suit (then complaining of a terrible heat), etcetera, etcetera. Clearly, this is not the version of your mother I want you to see, but I admit it to say this:
Called liquid courage, a dose of cocktails often causes one to do things he/she wouldn’t otherwise do. I’m a firm believer that no matter how low down the limbo stick your inhibitions might be willing to sink, you’re still responsible for your behavior the next morning. The bottom line is to never do or say something “under the influence” that you wouldn’t otherwise do or say sober. While my ridiculous Sambuca acts still bring a flush to my cheeks in memory, they embarrass only me. Some claim that booze will out the truth, will cause a woman to expose her “class” or will cause a man, for instance, to lose control of his gentlemanly instinct. But booze does nothing the boozer doesn’t allow, secretly, at least in my belief. So don’t drink to get over someone, and likewise, don’t drink to fall in love.
And on that note, do be safe. Don’t ever leave your drinks unattended, even if the person you’re with is someone you think is a “total hottie” (or whatever the lingo might be for nice butt / good hair). Always have a back up plan, even if it’s just to call your Mommy to serve as DD. When you’re legal, that’s legit. When you’re younger, see #1, paragraphs four and three.
If you drink, let it be because you want the drink itself. And have the strength of will, the next day or month or year to leave the drink be. Genetic predispositions aside, anyone has the power to drown their sensitivity and vulnerability, but those sides–the sober ones–are more valuable than can be purchased at any pub. Any real conversation or memory can be improved, in my humble opinion, with sober sincerity, so consider the moments you choose to douse that wisely, my darling Lily. And beware: if you ever drink to drown your sorrows, you may just find those sorrows come to crave the drink, and then you’ve only added more waves to an already tumultuous sea.
- “Portrait de Suzanne Valadon par Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec” by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – . Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Portrait_de_Suzanne_Valadon_par_Henri_de_Toulouse-Lautrec.jpg#/media/File:Portrait_de_Suzanne_Valadon_par_Henri_de_Toulouse-Lautrec.jpg
- “Mikes Hard Lemonade Bottle. 330ml Canada Old7 and new 5percent alc Liquor3620” by Myke2020 – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mikes_Hard_Lemonade_Bottle._330ml_Canada_Old7_and_new_5percent_alc_Liquor3620.jpg#/media/File:Mikes_Hard_Lemonade_Bottle._330ml_Canada_Old7_and_new_5percent_alc_Liquor3620.jpg
- “Bloody Mary” by William Clifford (williac) – FlickrThis photograph was submitted to Wikimedia Commons by “Will Murray (Willscrlt)”.. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bloody_Mary.jpg#/media/File:Bloody_Mary.jpg
- “Whiskey Sour” by Jgilgamesh – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Whiskey_Sour.jpg#/media/File:Whiskey_Sour.jpg
- “Vomiting Erbrechen drunk” by Usien – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Vomiting_Erbrechen_drunk.jpg#/media/File:Vomiting_Erbrechen_drunk.jpg
- “Sambuca-001” by NJR ZA – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sambuca-001.jpg#/media/File:Sambuca-001.jpg