alcohol

Temperance, take 2 by Will Ringland

My views on Temperance haven't changed much with tis second round. It is obvious to me why Franklin listed it first in the line of virtues. All things flow from temperance; or, I suppose, all vice flows from intemperance.

The trend I see with my own virtues is that days where any other virtue receives a red dot, Temperance is often the first to fall. To wit, one loses composure, will power or organized thought when drinking and becomes so much more likely to laze about the rest of the evening doing very little of purpose.

Even a single drink, measured before consuming, throws me off my game. I suspect there's really two reasons for that:

  1. A drink signals to my mind that the night is over so I settle in to read or watch television.
  2. I don't eat directly when getting home and often exercise between work and home which enhances the effects.

No. 2 above is restating my previous edicts — don't drink on an empty stomach which I have been especially bad about following. The most formidable distortion of logic is that I can cook while I'm making dinner. That's like drinking on a full stomach, right (1)? Add a little inebriation to it and that logic seems like the foundation of a new way of life!

No. 1 is somewhat less insidious on any single day but a string of days becomes a momentum killer. There's much to do right now - Spring means the war with yard continues (2), I'm trying to research and write these entries, I've added (inadvertently?) a new section to this blog (3), and I'm trying to read more this year (4, 5), and maintain some relevance for my business (6) — and ending a day when there's good light too frequently means these other projects get delayed. It's both a bad association and a bad habit. I sort of worry that my habit is to have a drink nearly every night because that seems like a lot.

According to recent surveys (summarized above), 30% of all adults abstain completely while another 30% have a drink a week. About 30% have 1 drink a night while 20% of adults have 2 drinks a night (that's where I tend to fall). The top10% of adults drink 10 drinks a day which is terrifying (7). So, depending on how you slice the numbers, it puts me at above average for American adults, average for typical American Adult drinking patterns, and a light weight for all adult drinkers in America (8).

It's hard to find numbers for alcohol consumption in Franklin's America but it wasn't unheard of to consume a beer or cider, which were closer to 4-6% alcohol, at each meal. It wasn't until whiskey distillation became popular that Colonial American drinking started to be problematic — the rise on proof affecting American productivity.

So: a new day, same problems. What I'm getting at is the ease of which I fall into intemperate habits which affect all aspects of my life. Clearly, I have not mastered Temperance. I'm fighting against years of… I don't want to say bad drinking habits… but a lack of attention to them. I'm building awareness and seeing more connections to how intemperance affects everything else.

Habit is stronger than reason. - George Santayana

However, it will take yet more time to internalize this understanding. Habit is not rational, especially bad habits. To be able to short circuit that habitual takes habituating the inhabitation of your habit. You have to make a new habit to break the old habit. So, asking myself if the drink is "worth it", a damn tough mental calculus to begin with, it is going to take time for that question to become habit (9)





  1. Nope, nope it isn't.

  2. Years of neglect has it overrun but we've made really good progress to beat back some of the more invasive species in the last year.

  3. Is this how you turn vice into virtue, write about it? Maybe but I enjoy a good dram and drag now and again and making it an intellectual pursuit enriches the whole experience for me.

  4. Though I only track what I'm reading or have read, you can find me on Goodreads. I'd like to hit a book a week but I don't know how to account for the ridiculous amount of research I do for much of my writing. Or the internet articles I read most days (5).

  5. Using Goodreads has prompted me to realize how much I read on line. I average about 20-30 articles online a day from various blogs and news sites — places like Daring Fireball, The Pen Addict, Kottke, and other similar sources. Length varies but they tend to be 500 to 1500 words (2-6 pages). I… read a lot.

  6. The struggle with Bunny Rope right now is probably a meaningful post on its own....

  7. I read the summary at the Washington Post. which was a review of Paying the Tab: The Costs and Benefits of Alcohol Control (affiliate link), analysis of alcohol control since the 50s.

  8. I'm ok with that. Can you imaging drinking two bottles of wine *a day*? I think I did that once, as in two bottles in one night once, in my 20s and it was pretty awful. But, that is not how addiction works.

  9. And this doesn't even begin to touch the effect *mood* has on the desire to drink. Had a good day? Have some whiskey! Had a bad day? Have some whiskey! Reward systems and how we apply them is also a whole other thing....

My first week Wrestling with Franklin by Will Ringland

My first week Wrestling with Franklin.

The Drunken Bunny man

I'm focusing on temperance as that was the idea - focus on one a week for 13 weeks. I clearly have issues with Frugality and Industry but there will be time enough for that later.

Alyska likes to say that I pour from the top. I eyeball from above the glass rather than using anything that might disspell my self-perceived preternatural liquid measuring capabilities. It’s a terrible habit born of alcohol tolerance - though smaller now, I used to be a pretty big dude who could hold his liquor. I would pour generously to account for generous proportions and the desire to hit the fuzzy state of inebriation more effectively.

Amidst my 30s and having lost much weight since college, old habits soften my resolve much faster than I think (and who signed me up for that?). Which, of course, is impaired with all that booze in my brain. I know I do it, and admitting to it generates a little shame.

So, unmeasured consumption is my kryptonite, both expressed by using hard to measure serving procedures. Cocktails poured from the top, food served in bowls, both lead me to excess. The major failures this week indicated in the dark marks in the grid above stem from this.

My favorite cocktail, the Manhattan (named for Dr. Manhattan who mixes them one atom at a time), contains about 40% alcohol the way I mix it. 2fl oz whiskey, .75fl oz vermouth, liberal dashes of bitters, many cherries. It is easily two “drinks” worth of booze. Delicious booze.

But there in lies the issue: waaaaay too much alcohol even for one drink and I was ignoring it. Does anyone person need that much?

It depends on your goals, I guess, and mine are rarely “drink this tasty thing for it is tasty”. It’s always “relax” after a long day and that is nonspecific at best, at worst a moving target leading well past relaxed to hangover.

Heading into the week, I laid out a few specific goals to keep in mind as I focus on building temperance. And htey were specifically geared towards this failing.

  1. no alcohol on an empty stomach
  2. and no more than one, measured drink (4oz wine or 1oz whisky or 3oz port)
  3. stop eating before feeling full

I adhered to #1 perfectly - no booze right after getting home from work or gym when I’d not eaten in half a day. So, that’s good. Two of the dark mark days are failures in #2 - cocktails. Minus New Year’s Eve, partially - I willfully had a second drink but this was after I already ate much more than I should have in Thai food. So, that was probably a doubleplusungood day.

On Food and Cooking

This week has illuminated more completely my problems with over-eating. As with pouring from the top, I over-eat when I order food (which I suspect is partially the restaurant modus operandi) and when I serve myself from small-looking dishes. I have no idea how much food my bowls hold but I sure as hell fill them up anyway.

Nor do I eat slowly. This is somewhat exacerbated in my exercise routine which I have been more aggressive with lately and thus make myself hungrier in the evenings. Being ravenous when you sit down does not lead to temperate eating, just bloated stomach and aching later that night.

I have been, though, much better proportioned in most of my meals. I eat two meals a day at work because it is subsidized and ultra-convenient - my office is literally down the hall from an on-site coffee shop that sells bacon and eggs in the morning. Breakfast is two hard boiled eggs and 4 slices of bacon, occasionally six or a piece of fruit if the previous night was a weight training night. This is about 400 calories at most and plenty of good protein and fat.

Lunch, I have been eating much more salad or bread-less sandwiches in much more reasonable size. I try to limit myself to about 5oz meat for the latter with plenty of pickled goods on the side. Salads I don’t really take care aside from not going crazy with oil and vinegar. But “going nuts” on salad greens is a silly concept (if you’re counting calories).

Dinner is really my problem. I don’t cook bad food, bad here defined as loaded with carbohydrates (I try to eat very low carb, less than 80g a day). I just don’t portion it well. I buy gargantuan steaks or pressure cook 3 pounds of chili at a time which leads to regular over-eating as described above.

This episode brought you by: A Measuring Cup

My best solution, aside from eating more mindfully, is as mundane as serving myself from measuring cups. It’s hard to admit that - it feels like I have to treat myself like an uncontrollable child. But, in truth, these are bad habits I’ve been carrying with me for years. Given that I am better than not in most situations, giving myself quantifiable good/too much line can only help.

It mostly helped with my drinking problems and stands to reason it will help elsewhere. Numbers give you power, especially when you can learn that 6oz of stew is filling but 8oz is filling to discomfort. Which is the important distinction - both get you to satisfaction but only one of them will let you stay mobile for the remainder of the evening. (Hint, it’s the second one.)

So. Lessons from the week:

  1. Measure your intake, and that means food too.
  2. Eat more mindfully and, when in doubt, leave food on the plate.
  3. Cocktails cock it all up so stop pouring from the top.

In conclusion, drinking is still awesome

Temperance is not about abstaining from anything. Identifying things that encouraged intemperate behavior will help. Like knowing the sheer amount of booze in my typical cocktail will encourage me to just mix the dang thing smaller, not stop drinking them.

Otherwise, continuing with previously stated intentions will help.

Uncovering flaws is ultimately a joyous thing because we can acknowledge them and work to reduce them. At that’s the whole point of this enterprise.

Drinking is Awesome by Will Ringland

I offer this as proof that drinking is amazing.

Moral and Physicial Thermometer

The Moral and Physical Thermometer concept was first published in the early 1800s - specific dates are conflicting but it was closer to 1812 - as part of the first catalog for the characteristics of alcoholism. It had a few other incarnations, namely tis one (which is far better illustrated than [the original]), that purported to indicate the various goodness of Enlightenment Era drink. The idea being that one would be better served keeping their consumption of alcoholic beverages towards the top of the thermometer.

Why water hits a temperature of 70, I can’t really fathom why the numbers are what they are.

The original version appeared in a treatise entitled An Inquiry Into the Effects of Ardent Spirits Upon the Human Body and Mind (Ardent Spirits would be a great band name), written Benjamin Rush (another Benjamin!). Rush is a pretty fascinating person. He, like my man Franklin, was a signatory of the Declaration of Independence, published both the first book of Chemistry and Psychiatry, and he is considered to be the founder of American Psychiatry.

Ardent Spirits, though, is attributed to the start of the entire temperance movement in America. The whole pamphlet is pretty fascinating. Rush, at length, identifies traits and phenomena of extreme alcohol inebriation in order to allow for better diagnosis and treatment. But Rush never intended the diagnosis of addiction to become a banner booklet in the quest to prohibition.

In fact, Rush pretty clearly states that his is not against alcohol in its entirety in the first paragraph on the first page of the document.

”Fermented liquors contain so little spirit, and that so intimately combined with other matters, that they can seldom be drunken in sufficient quantities to produce intoxication…. They are, moreover,… generally innocent, and often have a friendly influence upon health and life."

  • Benjamin Rush, An Inquiry Into the Effects of Ardent Spirits Upon the Human Body and Mind, page 1

Rather, like the image above, indicates that there are “good” drinks to be had. Like water. Or cider. Or wine and beer. At the time, alcoholic beverages were genreally safer to drink than water and was the primary liquid consumed on the Mayflower. Rush goes so far to suggest that you can help and addict through the detoxification process by switching them to beer, wine, or cider.

”By the temporary use of these substitutes for spirits, I have never known the transition to sober habits, to be attended with any bad effects, but often with permanent health of body, and peace of mind."

  • Benjamin Rush, An Inquiry Into the Effects of Ardent Spirits Upon the Human Body and Mind, page 20

Of his suggested remedies, this is the most human. The others? They include, but are no limited to,

  • Christ
  • Guilt
  • Plunging the body into tanks of water
  • Severe whipping (none of that half-assed whipping)
  • Bleeding
  • Terror

I… sort of wonder what terror would include but I actually expect it’s an antecedent to aversion therapy, which is another useful thing used for nefarious means. And I’m pretty sure many of the other treatments will lead to bleeding. And, as an interesting aside and final note, Benjamin’s Franklin death is attributed to Rush’s vocal proponence of blood-letting.