We just got back from our yearly mini-vacay in Ogunquit.
There’s something about a beach town that brings out attitudes and behaviors that are contrary to everything I stand for. First of all – there’s the very idea of being on a beach. Ask any of my friends and loved ones to make a list of everything that describes me, “outdoorsy” would fall somewhere between “conservative” and “HUGE John Mayer fan,” which is to say – nowhere.
But I do like the beach. I like the beach at dusk, I like the beach when it’s raining, and I generally just like the IDEA of the beach, so long as it’s relatively EMPTY. Because that’s another thing about me: despite the great many people who are identified as “friends” on my Facebook page, if you put me in a room with all of them at once, I’d completely break down. One of the reasons I drank was to deal with the intense anxiety of having to be “on” in a room full of people. Nowadays, I have to do a check-in with myself before I go to a party or a show: Can I make it for a few hours without feeling overwhelmed? Do I have a plan in place if I need to bail early? Should I just stay home? These are things that I am only just starting to learn, and to implement.
Anyway. This was not going to be an entry about my anxiety issues. This is, in part, about how going to Ogunquit every year makes me do things that I don’t ordinarily do. Like go to gift shops. I can’t help myself; even though I know what’s inside of each and every one of them, I have to go in.
Ogunquit is LOADED with gift shops. And, but for the names and the locations, they are more or less the exact same gift shop inside. One or two of them may go the extra mile and sell one or two things that the others don’t, but by and large you can expect every gift shop to have:
- Vera Bradley bags. Science may one day explain why everyone wants to go around with purses and totes that look like they were salvaged from “bed in a bag” kits on the clearance table at Homegoods, but it has yet to do so. Count on at least 10 square feet devoted to all things quilted and flowery.
- Bits of crockery and metal imprinted with inspirational words like “dream,” “believe,” “love,” “despair,” “dysentery” (okay, I made those last two up). These are typically kept in little glass bowls at the point-of-purchase, so you can load up your pockets with inspiration for roughly $2.99/word.
- Soap. Soap that smells like blueberries, pine needles, and “beach” – which smells like no beach on which I’ve ever set foot. Apparently “beach” is supposed to smell vaguely floral. “Beach” really smells like hot asphalt, melted ice cream, Coppertone, and just a hint of decaying marine life. A not entirely unpleasant smell, but I guess that’s not what people want their SOAP to smell like.
- Ceramic trivets celebrating the joys of dog ownership.
- Charm bracelets. Particularly those Alex & Ani numbers that you apparently need to have 50 of – 25 for each arm. Remember when everyone had to have a Tiffany bracelet? Now you have to have an Alex & Ani bangle, only you have to have a million of them.
The remaining floor space of these gift shops is dedicated to objects that celebrate what I can only describe as “wine humor.” Refrigerator magnets, plaques that have been sanded down and dragged across a 4-lane highway to look “weathered,” bottle stoppers, towels, pajamas, t-shirts…basically anything that will trumpet the owner’s lust for the grape. “Wine glasses” the size of slow cookers. Overpriced crap with zippy one-liners (“Wine improves with age…I improve with wine!”), like, hahaha – I sure couldn’t function without my WINE!
It’s really only been in the last couple of years that I’ve noticed this whole “wine humor” thing really take over the internet and, now, gift shops. And maybe it’s because I’m sober, but I find the whole thing…irritating. Almost like a nudging, winking acknowledgment that ALCOHOLISM IS FUNNY! I’m not reeeeealllllly an alcoholic, but it’s sure fun and whimsical to wear a crystal-studded t-shirt suggesting that I might have a tiny problem with WINE! Hee hee hee!
Listen – I’m not some strident, mirthless neo-prohibitionist. I’m not anti-alcohol. I’m the first one to poke fun at myself and my disease. Humor is one of the many ways I keep it in check. But there’s something about “wine humor” that I find really off-putting, and…kind of scary. It feeds into the still-prevalent idea that alcoholism is something to be laughed at, except when it gets ugly or otherwise inconvenient, and then it becomes something to point fingers at. Where’s your self-control? Why don’t you just stop at one or two? What’s the matter with you? Ohhhh, look at that doormat! It says, “You can’t buy happiness….but you can buy WINE!” That’s so cute!
But the main issue I have with “wine humor” is that it seems to particularly target women. It pushes wine as a harmless, and humorous, antidote to stress and anxiety. A recent Wall Street Journal article about women and alcohol cited some rather disturbing statistics:
In the nine years between 1998 and 2007, the number of women arrested for drunken driving rose 30%…between 1999 and 2008, the number of…women who showed up in emergency rooms for being dangerously intoxicated rose by 52%.
In addition, women who abuse alcohol are more susceptible to alcohol-related heart disease and cirrhosis.
And yet cutesy gifts effectively giving women the A-OK to drink lots of wine are apparently really popular. Wine, you see, is respectable. It’s classy. There is a ritual to wine. Wine is something you pair with cheese, something you select based on your dinner menu. Even if you’re drinking maybe a little more than you really should at night, it’s not something you’re abusing. That’s vodka.
A sober friend of mine ONLY drank wine when she was still an active alcoholic. And not Two Buck Chuck. And always out of very nice stemware. But it was always too much, it was always to drown out the voices in her head – the voices that nearly every woman alcoholic I know hears – telling her she wasn’t enough. It was always to quiet the virtually nonstop thrum of panic.
11 years after my last drink (a plastic cup of Chardonnay, by the by), I am still learning how to deal with a stressful day/painful situation/room full of people without the aid of alcohol. I don’t get to have a glass of wine to smooth the rough edges, and I suspect some people who are reading this believe I’m spoiling the “wine humor” fun for everybody else out of (pun intended) sour grapes.
As I said earlier, I’m not anti-drinking. What I’m saying is this: most humor is not without its basis in some kind of pain. It’s why I can laugh at myself, and at the absurdity of my situation. But “wine humor,” to me, just isn’t particularly funny.