More often than I’d like to admit, the stress from teaching nudged me to drink. Not get drunk, but at least capture a mild buzz. To get home, take care of a few things, maybe workout, then enjoy a few beers on my front porch. To think–while driving home after a particularly stressful 5th period classes full of squirrely and disinterested students, in which maybe a quarter of my students demonstrated an inkling of learning–damn, that sucked but at least I have some craft beer in my fridge.
On top of job stress that might spur opening a cold one, Rebecca and I are definitely social drinkers. If friends want to meet up at a favorite watering hole, we usually give the idea a green light. If a family member wants to try a new bourbon, of course! If a new brewpub opens up and hosts a quiz night, count me in! And to think that my more recent behaviors are nothing compared to those during college: Freshman fall, we immediately began smuggling cases of Busch Light into our dorm rooms; rounds of flip cup, quarters, beer pong, and other drinking games rapidly diminished our supplies. We quickly restocked.
The past two months, however, I’ve consumed alcoholic drinks as infrequently as I did before I went to college.
We’ve spent almost two months in the United Arab Emirates and Oman, two Muslim countries where alcohol is heavily regulated. You can buy alcohol in bars or restaurants, but they have to be attached to hotels. And it’s really expensive–10-12 bucks for a Heineken draft. There are special liquor stores that sell to residents who have licenses, but as a visitor here, you can’t just pop down to the corner store and buy a six-pack. This inconvenience has been a good thing, making me reflect on about my relationship to booze, stress/mental health, and to habit.
We started our journey in Georgia, where wine and chacha (which can be higher than 150 proof!) flow abundantly and cheaply. There’s an ancient culture of toasting and hospitality in Georgia, and they also apparently invented wine 8,000 years ago–this is something the neighboring Armenians like to contest. Given this tradition, how could I not imbibe at a precocious pace when in Georgia? We were invited to a few supras (traditional feasts) and I kept pace with the tabatas, or toastmasters. This seemed like the best choice at the time as to not offend my hosts. My body paid the price, but it was joyful and raucous cultural immersion. Over seven weeks, we tasted dozens of delicious traditional wines, which ferment underground in large clay pots called kveris.
Upon first arriving in the UAE, I was thinking I’d miss the easy access to a cold beer or glass of wine. But I’m finding that I generally don’t. Instead of a beer and wine list, menus here usually have a fresh juice list, and it’s not that pricey compared to hip brunch spots in the US where a modest glass of freshly squeezed OJ will set you back eight dollars. Both Rebecca and I have really enjoyed this shift from alcohol to juice–you keep the tab down when a few glasses of Chardonnay or draft beers are replaced by a single lemon mint or pomegranate juice.
I’m also wondering whether we are feeling pretty good due to drinking less or due to our greatly diminished stress levels. Probably both. We currently have no obligations and only one regular bill–our mortgage, which is covered by renters back in Louisville–and very part time work. We are blessed in this regard. And I’m so relaxed not having to worry about students’ emotional outbursts, lesson plans, data collection, staff meetings, and the countless other duties teaching requires.
“Forty-six percent of teachers say they feel high daily stress. That’s on par with nurses and physicians. And roughly half of teachers agree with this statement: “The stress and disappointments involved in teaching at this school aren’t really worth it,”’ NPR reports. I’m not surprised. For thirteen years in a row, it was all I knew, and that idea of feeling like it wasn’t worth it recently began to creep into my mind.
The last three years in the classroom–during which I only taught a half day–had plenty of wins and positive relationships with the vast majority of students and colleagues. But there were also far too many times when I thought this isn’t fucking worth it. One time, a mother berated me over the phone, accused me of racism, and I did all I could not to return the favor by screaming right back at her. I had to hang up on her.
Teaching can drive you bonkers if you take things personally; fortunately, I developed the ability to separate external chaos from my position intentions and actions, at least for the most part. But I’m still human and things got to me, and most teachers will tell you it’s incredibly hard to sleep well after especially trying classroom and hallway episodes.
Writing this also made me think about a poignant narrative essay by Kristi Coulter. It’s a rumination about being a modern woman with wine as an ever-present vehicle for escape, a constant crutch to dull the trappings of domestic duties and career demands. Coulter notices how ubiquitous wine is at women-centric events, like baby showers and vinyasa and vino (wine and yoga sessions combined), in addition to comments about wine (or the absence of) on social media:
“Toward the end of summer I take a trip to Sedona and post a photo to Facebook that captures the red rocks, a stack of books, a giant cocoa smoothie, and my glossy azure toenails in one frame. It is scientifically the most vacation-y photo ever taken.
“Uh, where’s the wine?” someone wants to know.
“Yeah, this vacation seems to be missing wine,” someone else chimes in.
While I obviously have never been a “do it all” mother who may crave the escape wine represents, modern living–managing multiple social media accounts, full-time work, children, chores, consuming and dealing with material things–is a lot. There no doubt millions of Americans seek a reprieve from harried modern living through various levels of substance (ab)use.
When I’ve coped with bouts of depression over the years, when my head was foggy and the smallest of tasks seemed to be far more difficult than they should–think grocery shopping, writing lesson plans (which I can usually do in my sleep) or simply trying to focus on reading a novel–it was far too easy to reach for a bottle. I’m not ashamed of this, it just was. Between folks dealing with short mental health bouts or extended struggles, I suspect a majority succumb to seeking a little jolt or buzz that gives clarity or energy or a boost to feel better, at least temporarily.
It has been reassuring to realize that I don’t need to drink–that it was mostly due to habit, choices, and stress. Although I generally don’t really care about New Year’s Resolutions, but I do believe in the power of continual reflection, and these current adventures has allowed for plenty of that. So I’m moving into 2018 especially cognizant of the conditions we’ll eventually inhabit and create with our lives–having some drinks with friends for companionship, joy, and laughter is great. But when day-to-day demands or other stressors become an accomplice in ramping up consumption, it’s time to evaluate the reasons we seek a drink and perhaps make some changes.