May 10, 2000
No Whine with Dinner


"Our waiter is probably disappointed," said David, at dinner last night.

We were sitting on the sunlit terrace at Scott's Seafood Restaurant in Jack London Square, overlooking the estuary between Oakland and Alameda. We'd just placed our drink orders: an iced tea for the Birthday Boy, a cola with lemon for yours truly. Our young server took our order with a minimum of facial expression.

Clearly there would be no pricey bottle of wine ordered with dinner at this table.

I looked around me. The giggly couple at the table behind us a certain allure were on their second round of cocktails already. The two guys at the table next to us -- a business dinner, from the looks of it -- were nursing tall glasses of amber ale. I could hear the standard *bar sounds* emanating from inside the restaurant: tinkly piano music, clinking glasses, laughter, snatches of noisy conversation.

"Well,  I'll give him a nice fat tip when we leave," I said. "That'll cheer him up."

It used to be difficult for me to sit in a public place and watch other people drink ... especially during those early days of recovery.  The first weekend I visited David in California, we had lunch at a nice restaurant in Sausalito. Our pal Barb -- "Smrtflmkr," from the old Boom Room -- ordered a cocktail with her meal, while David and I stuck to soft drinks and iced tea. That didn't bother me. Barb was very careful to ask us both ahead of time if it would be a problem, and we assured her that no, it was no problem at all.

And it wasn't.

What did get to me, though, was the couple sitting at the table next to us: they were drinking carafe after carafe of (what looked to be) very expensive, very cold, very nice chablis. They were sitting no more than four or five feet away from me, and I swear I could not only smell the wine, I could actually taste it. I imagined that there were little *chablis molecules* floating back and forth, from their table to the tip of my tongue.  I'd only been sober for six weeks at that point. By the end of the meal I was nearly faint with longing, and with the exertion of not-looking/not-smelling/not-caring.

That was rough.

Another time  --  maybe two or three months down the recovery road: I was living in California by then  --  David and I had a late-afternoon lunch at a Chinese restaurant in the Richmond District. There was a woman sitting two tables away, sipping a martini out of an elegant, long-stemmed glass. Martinis were something I'd discovered near the end of my *drinking career,* so I'd never had a chance to grow thoroughly sick of them, the way I'd grown thoroughly sick of wine and beer. Martinis still held a certain allure. (Truth is: they still do.)  Plus David and I had been tromping around the Richmond District all afternoon, shopping for computer chairs, and I was tired  and thirsty and stressed, and all I could do was sit there and watch this woman sipping her martini  --  I couldn't take my eyes off her  -- and whinily think to myself, "I waaaaant one of those."

Watching other people drink, especially in public places, like restaurants, was really tough for a while. But over the past year and a half I've begun to acquire a thicker skin about the whole thing.

For one thing, I've come to understand that not everybody who drinks has a drinking problem. That may seem fairly obvious to some, but when you've spent the last twenty-five years looking for a place to hide your empties, you tend to view ALL drinkers with suspicion. It makes you feel less singled-out. Letting go of some of that judgemental, "If I can't drink, YOU shouldn't drink" attitude helped.

And for another thing  --  and this is probably the crux of it  --  sobriety just plain feels so good, I've lost a lot of that sad awful sense of "deprivation." In other words: I would rather be sitting in a beautiful restaurant with the person I love, on his birthday ... enjoying the view, buying him an expensive dinner (and not even flinching over the bill, which I can afford now that I'm not blowing $280 a month on ALCOHOL), feeling wonderful and hopeful and in love and filled with possibilities ... I would rather be doing these things than NOT be doing these things.

And I would definitely NOT be doing any of these things if I were still drinking.

So let the people sitting at the next table order their carafes of wine and their Amber Ales and their pitchers of martinis with dinner.  I'm fine with that. I hope they enjoy it. Maybe in another year or two I will have become so comfortable with the whole thing that I won't even notice anymore.  And let the waiter make Sad Boo-Boo Eyes at us, just because we're not ordering that $48.50 bottle of Sonoma Chardonnay to go with our Ahi Tuna and our Chicken Provencal.  I'm fine with that, too.

And maybe in another year or two I'll even quit tipping the guy 65%, trying to "make it up to him."

throw a rock