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A Fish Who Swims in Wine

Almost two weeks ago I made the decision

That I’m done joining in on the cultural delusion

The lie, the mutual contract, that insists we must

Be cool, down mimosas at baby showers

Then welcome new life by trashing our livers

I remember well the first time I drank vodka

I felt instantly more alive

I was just a teen, in the car with my boyfriend

I giggled, felt giddy, immediately wanted more

He was annoyed, but I didn’t care

There were times I went to school

After morning pulls in the parking lot

To help me cope with my social anxiety

I walked around in a heady cloud

No longer worried about

All the things that plague an insecure teenager

But when I came down

I had to deal with the fact

That I’d made a fool of myself in class

Thinking no one could tell I was buzzed,

The realization hit me and my face burned red

But that didn’t stop me from doing it again

Because the allure of alcohol reels you in

Especially when you’re young

And you think you’re indestructible

And if I didn’t do it, I’d be the only one

I can’t tell you the number of times

That I blacked out, erased my mind

Couldn’t remember a damn detail of a night

High school to college to young adult life

I shudder thinking back on those times

As much as we want to say

Drinking is a choice, we decide to be this way

One body cannot hold all the blame

There are so many factors,

Drinking is a game we never asked to play

Every answer in this game is the same:

Sad, mad, bored, glad?

Here you go, just toss one back!

There are so few places you can go

Where it’s normal to refuse, to say no

In fact, those who abstain

Are treated with disdain

You’re a wet blanket, a buzzkill

Unwind, let loose, a little booze won’t hurt you

It’s normal, it’s just what we do

But in fact, it’s taking a big risk

It’s bad for your body, your mind,

It’s losing control, your sense of yourself

Life becomes more dangerous

When you set your inhibitions on a shelf

I’m not here to preach, I swear

When I got a DUI at the ripe age of twenty

I should have quit, said, that’s plenty

But I didn’t, I kept on the same path

For it was easier, I guess

I was scared of what it would mean

If I “got sober”, what that would say about me

It’s not funny, it’s sad

That I couldn’t even tell my therapist

About this little problem I had

What problem, you ask?

Deep breath, this is painful to admit

I numbed out, even around my kids

I got my priorities all out of line

Sometimes I’d even drink and drive

My heart is in my stomach telling you this

But I know… I know… keeping secrets keeps us complicit

By keeping it in I could keep on pretending

That my habits wouldn’t hurt me

But I became afraid of the direction I was hurtling

I’d ask myself, am I an alcoholic?

That would mean so many painful things

So I didn’t admit my fears

To anyone but me

Slowly turning things over in my mind

Let me be extremely clear

The label ‘alcoholic’

Is nothing but damaging, alienating

It says, you’re the problem, it’s you

It keeps you quiet, It keeps you ashamed

Protecting precious alcohol at all costs

Don’t blame the drug, blame us

But I’m rejecting that notion

Because I think we’re all just doing our best

And how can you expect a fish who swims in wine

To not be drunk all of the time?

It’s not hard to develop a problem

When the air we breathe is made of poison

Childhood trauma, anxiety,

Stress, or coping with having a baby

Drink, is the resounding answer, drink

So that’s what I did,

It’s what everyone does

And I told myself it was alright

Except when I just couldn’t,

Like after a particularly big night

The accumulation of those times

When I couldn’t convince myself I was fine

When I woke with the weight of shame

Weighing heavy on my heart and mind

Finally broke me, and I said alright

I made a list of pros and cons

And of course, the cons won by a lot

There on paper, laid clear for me to see

Was the truth, that it was bad for me

Alcohol was only hurting me

I’ve got too much to live for, too beautiful a life

To allow this noose to lie loose around my neck

To teeter on the edge of certain death

To play with fire, to have even one more glass of wine

To do this thing we tell ourselves is fine

Maybe it seems like it’s easy for me

And right now it is, because my why is top of mind

But let’s not forget the literal decade it took me

To get to this place, to put alcohol behind me

It’s not easy for everyone to get free

May these words serve as a reminder

That things are always more complex than they seem

There are so many factors at play

And when something like drinking is so normalized

It’s easy to put the problem at the back of your mind

Let’s be slower to judge, quicker to love

Recognize that alcohol is the problem, it’s an addictive drug

It’s everywhere we go, it takes a lot to escape

It’s what we turn to, it’s just what this culture does

So instead of condemnation, maybe offer a hug

If you realize for you it’s time to quit too

I just hope you know, you’re never alone

It can seem like you’re the odd one out in the room

And you probably are, but I’m here too

There are those who came before

And those to come after

And they’ll tell you life before

Doesn’t even touch life after


Listen to a reading of this poem at

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