How Moderate Drinking is Saving My Life

By now you’ve all read the article that enumerates the health benefits of light-to-moderate alcohol consumption among people 60 and older. Not only do I fit the low end of the age demographic, I’ve been an occasional scotch drinker to boot. But two months ago, I started drinking daily. As soon as the clock strikes 9 p.m. I pour a Dewar’s on the rocks with a splash of water. One month ago I added a second Dewar’s at 10 p.m. Over time, the size of the shot increased from one to two with each drink, so I now consume four shots every evening. Naturally I have a perverse interest in studies that claim my moderate scotch drinking has a positive health outcome by lowering blood pressure, warding off heart disease and stroke, and preserving my memory better than if I were a senior teetotaler.

Why I continue to drink scotch

But a preserved memory is not why I continue to drink scotch. Don’t get me wrong, maintaining memory certainly has its upside. Memory can be very useful in every day functioning, considering how often I misplace my keys. It’s just that for me memory also inflicts endless suffering as I described in an earlier essay called Scream Queen: Why I Vent Out Loud When I’m Alone. I need a rest from the endless rant looping inside my head, and drinking 80 proof blended scotch does the deed. I’ve tried meditation, exercise, and talk therapy. Nothing works but scotch. The mind is a complex and fascinating organ that can be rewired in myriad ways. But I just want to anesthetize it. Our culture looks down on that sort of thing, though. I used to be quite the arrogant sober person myself. Now I want to know more ways to get numb. Often it feels as if I have a thousand very upset little kids tugging at my synapses. I cherish them all, but mommy’s brain needs a vacation.

Why now?

Why now? I’m older, therefore I’ve lived through more crap. You might say it’s ironic that my MS has remained fairly stable during the past 8 or 9 years. But you and I both know that that is kind of meaningless. Multiple sclerosis doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s protruding from my hip like a parasitic twin in the shape of a cane, always present while I argue with medical billers over the phone, calling AAA to come charge my dead car battery, following up with my 63.5-year-old brother on the phone every other day to make sure he’s still okay after suffering a mild stroke. We have some new things in common now. His stroke symptoms are quite similar to my MS symptoms. I recall that the first differential diagnosis ruled out during my first MS attack was, in fact, stroke. More ironies abound.

Living at "that age"

My sister Dana and I discuss what is happening to us all. We are at “that age” now, when a health crisis can come on suddenly, sometimes fatally. We know what things are genetic and are now catching up with us. Hypertension, stroke, cancer and heart disease took our parents. I employ some magical thinking that because I drink alcohol every day, I’m protected from these things. My arrogance further surfaces when I think of my latest blood tests that showed blood glucose of 87 and a normal A1C, a cholesterol level of 152, normal thyroid numbers, and with blood pressure consistently under 120/80.  Why, even my primary care doc told me that I’m getting healthier as I get older. I’m freaking immortal at the age of nearly-60. Multiple sclerosis and degenerative spine disease limit my activities. Yet another irony. I’m too sedentary and I’m overweight (not hard to achieve at 5’ 2”), but my doctors never tell me I need to lose weight. They are fatter than I am. My arrogance only grows.

My MS is stable but taking its toll

I’m declining like everybody else. Multiple sclerosis is stable but taking its toll nevertheless. Even if my MS is at the same level when I’m 80, I’ll be more vulnerable and fragile because I’m 80. The ironies quickly accumulate with each test and every passing year. I’m getting healthier as I near death. Multiple sclerosis symptoms are an aggravation, but the continuous impact of being postmenopausal has brought on new problems, such as persistent dermatitis, and that is ten times more aggravating than MS just because it's new. My moisturizer is now cortisone cream and petroleum jelly. Now I just laugh at infomercials hawking anti-wrinkle creams and cool sculpting. Those things are for the forty-somethings that are still youngish and fighting the march of time. I used to be one of them. Now I use the much cheaper alternative of not looking at myself in the mirror anymore.

It’s enough to make you start drinking.

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