Friday, September 29, 2017

And Now For A Very "Special" Tucson Homeskillet

I woke up one morning particularly hazy. 

The night before I imbibed in a new found obsession, mesquite smoked whiskey. Dear lord it is so good. Imagine drinking bacon wrapped in a campfire, one that hits all senses making for a heady discourse of whimsy once the coal rapture gullet burn subsides a bit. 

On top of that, I was also drinking my usual, a vodka soda, a cocktail the wife and I began to embrace when we realized that we enjoyed booze but hated the weight it keeps on our aging bodies. "What do skinny people drink?" Clear alcohol and sugar free mixers. Done. 

I was about two cocktails in when I ordered a sipper glass of the whiskey. To say the least I was feeling very good. Luckily I had the next day off so sleeping in was an option. It always was. Even with my day job, showing up bleary does not prevent me from getting work done. It's a a pretty easy job. It's county work. Being slightly hungover actually makes for a more enjoyable work day. That sounded a bit sad didn't it?

Anyway, as we were getting ready to leave some friends showed up at the bar. We decided to stay a little bit longer. Actually we stayed longer than usual. Us old married folk are normally in our jammers by 9pm, deep into some movie or show we are currently obsessed with and either cooking or eating dinner. One more drink, one more shot. I was at that stage where I was nervous to drive home. Fortunately it is a quick straight shot from our hangout and on very familiar territory so I knew how to juggle the current stage of wobble. 

When we finally got home we had a few more drinks. A show we really love (okay, it's goddam 'Game of Thrones', jeesh) was premiering that night and we were in full celebratory mode. The wife didn't have to get up till 10am so if we were asleep by 2am that's a full 8 hours. Thing is she likes to sleep a minimum of 10 hours so when midnight rolled around and we were well over our limit she went straight to bed. 

Me? I was amped up. After taking a shower, with a drink to boot, I got out, fit in some earbuds and started listening to some music. This went on for another hour or so. Another drink. I was okay, pretty drunk, but cognizant. Time to put on a familiar movie. I opted for "Meatballs", this late '70s summer camp comedy starring a very young Bill Murray. Another drink. I was halfway through the movie and still going. Another drink. I was wasted. I finally finished the movie around 3am, slammed a big glass of water and passed out. 

The alarm went off at 10am, apparently, but I was so fuzzy and still drunk that I thought it was all part of some strained dream my liquored brain was attempting. The wife kissed me goodbye, which shook me awake, said I smelled like booze and wished me a fine day of sleeping it off. Then darkness. I awoke again way past noon and remembered that I had an appointment for an upcoming article I had scheduled for the publication I write for. I was so knackered and nauseous that I emailed my contact with some bullshit excuse saying my camera was on the fritz and we'd have to reschedule. The response was part annoyance, part understanding and I told them I'd visit in a few days. 

Eventually I got up, drank some water - a lot of water - choked down some leftover Indian food and decided to go out to the garden and check in on some herbs that were starting to sprout. The late spring sun was out in full force and the current condition my 46 year old body was going through made it feel as if I was in a surreal sweat lodge and I realized that I wasn't feeling too great. Not at all. 

Deciding to power through it, telling myself over and over that "Well, you did this to yourself", I carried on with my amateur gardening duties. As I leaned down to remove some leaves from a bed of up and coming arugula I began to throw up. The Indian food was one factor in taste and texture of the bile but I also got hints of smoked whiskey as well. The yellowish brown belly spew splashed down on a dirt space between the arugula and a succulent plant my wife plucked from a recent visit to San Diego. It just kept coming out. Towards the end I began to retch, enough where I hoped that a neighbor could not hear me. Or perhaps the opposite: If they heard my strained anguish of booze purge perhaps they would come over and help me and by help I mean hit me with a shovel and take me out for good. Once it was all out I started to feel 'better' but I also felt worse than I have in a long time. 

I lay there on the couch, head spinning and body shaking. I then realized that this isn't even that uncommon of a day for me. I did not want to label myself as an alcoholic. But that is what I have somehow spun into. Which began to scare me. 

It was right then and there that I knew something had to be done. 

The chug king in full action

Growing up in the 70s and 80s when a popular TV show, especially comedies, advertised that next week's episode is going to be a 'very special' one, it usually meant that the subject was going to be heavy - like one of the main characters smokes weed or is touched inappropriately by a bicycle shop owner or the kid next door is abused...stuff like that. The Homeskillet is notoriously not heavy, except for the Metal, which is why I decided to call this post 'special'.

Because its a little heavy.

Me admitting to an alcohol dependency, or at least regular habit, is not easy for me. But it has to be said. I need to type this out and get it out there, even if it only hits a few readers...I don't care. This is for me and helping me halt my drinking to at least a manageable level. I don't want to quit, not right now, because my food writing job keeps me tasting beer, wine and spirits on a fairly regular basis. Heck, I just got tagged to judge an upcoming margarita competition. But I do want it to get down to a very dull roar.

If you know me and the history of this blog, I restarted and refurbished the Homeskillet after a very sad and very trying year to help me cope. In 2014 my step dad (my dad's husband) died from complications of Alzheimer's, then a month later my real dad died, literally from a broken heart, soon after She-Ra's grandmother passed a month or so before we had to put our dog down which was almost immediately followed by our cat getting eaten by coyotes.


2014 sucked.

* * *

The first time I got drunk I was almost 22. I started pretty late, comparatively, because of my self professed 'straight edge' lifestyle I embraced in my teens. Doing drugs, getting wasted and smoking cigarettes just seemed dumb to me. A lot of straight edge kids even abstain from sex but...screw that. All I ever wanted to do was hook up with girls and when I lost my virginity at 16 my straight edge-ness only referred to chemical use.

It was a girl, funny enough, that drove me to try booze for the first time and a close friend that had been dabbling in weekly drunk fests with other small town derelicts. When she broke up with me, seemingly out of the blue, I was seriously bummed. My friend suggested getting a bunch of beer and cheap champagne to try to cheer me up and get her off my mind. It sort of worked. As the night progressed other people joined in and before long it turned into a party. A few hours into it most of the visitors either passed out or just left. Not me. I was wide awake. I stayed up all night finishing the beer and champagne listening to hardcore records and punk EPs. I felt great and was having way too much fun. The sun came up and I drove home but not before grabbing some breakfast. I was wasted but I was young and could handle it.

A little more than 20 years later and my body can not handle that kind of abuse.

In 2014 my casual drinking increased ten fold. I couldn't deal with the sadness; it seemed that every other month a family member was dying. I was barely at work that year and when I was I was distant, not including being totally hungover. My booze fog could always be blamed on the fact that someone else had just passed but in 2015 I had had enough and needed a new outlet.

I contacted a popular food website asking if they needed a writer. They said sure. I turned in 3 articles before realizing our styles just didn't match up and we parted amicably. That same week I turned the old funky Homeskillet blog into the website you see today...which is still a blog but, man, the old style was pretty hokey and amateurish. My goal was to post a full article each week; minimum of 1,000 words and at least 10 pictures. This helped me a lot. And when I got hired in 2016 by a big weekly newspaper my food blogging career really took off.

But the drinking? It remained.

I would try things such as 'one drink per hour' or 'no shots on a school night' but that would fall to crap if I had to cover some culinary event or be at a restaurant opening. And if you're drunk one night and feel like poo the next day well, heck, the only way to feel better is to have some more drinks! Sure I felt like garbage most days, my gut had become this bulbous extremity and I was getting absolutely no personal work done but, hey!, that's just how it goes right?

How many mornings did I say to myself in the bathroom "Someday I'll feel good"? Too many. So when the day came and losing donuts in your garden on a beautiful spring afternoon I knew that I had reached my limit.

So to speak.

Just can't get enough, so good when it hits your lips

So far the cutting back in the drinking has proved totally awesome.

We drink enough, like 2-3 cocktails (if that), to relax and get a buzz but then if we start to feel a bit woozy we stop, take a big drink of water and read until we fall sleep. Sounds boring but when you reach a certain age and you've been doing it for a while, and quite furiously, it's nice to just be an old dullard.

Because of my full time day job, part time food writing and having a wife and life I realized that I haven't actually finished a book in over a year. That's dumb for a guy that prides himself on being a bit of a bookworm and, well, a writer, but my new found 'sobriety' has cured that.

My sleep state dreams have gotten back to being full on epic again now that I am not passing out at night. Which I love. If there is anything that I am really addicted to it'd be dreaming. Some mornings I would find myself sleeping way past my normal 8 hours because the more I sleep the crazier my dreams become. And speaking of sleeping, when I wake up now I am not nauseous or murky and when I go check on the garden I do not have the inclination to vomit in it. Which is always a plus.

And this is a big one for me: my morning appetite is back! I haven't made myself a proper breakfast before work in, like...forever. We're talking eggs, toast, maybe a heaping bowl of good oatmeal, a bagel with veggies and cream cheese. It has been a red hot minute since that has happened. And I like breakfast. Nope, scratch that: I fxxking love breakfast!

I find myself to be in a better mood throughout the day and, you know, I always prided myself on being a fairly pleasant person. I'm more focused on my writing and articles and projects get done with clarity and aplomb. Which is great. Plus another positive factor is that I am a cheaper date these days. It doesn't take a flagon of hooch to get me where I need to be. Just a couple here and there and, boom, I'm done. It's honestly not that hard. I just have to keep reminding myself on the days I would wake up and wish that I were dead because I was still drunk or the hangover was seriously settling in. It's just not fun anymore.

All of my friends that I used to get tanked with are all grown up, moved on, married with kids. I'm pretty sure they have quelled the alcohol beast because they have more important things to tend to. Like raising a frikkin' human. The only difference between us and them is that the wife and I do not want kids...and that is probably a factor for our debauchery; its just us. Just us and a cat. The cat doesn't care if we get faced as long as her bowl is full and her litter box is clean. After that she's just "Whatever whatever you want. Idiots."

On top of feeling generally better my stomach feels decidedly less bloated. Sure its still there and firmly middle aged firm but I can at least suck in the gut when I need to and sort of see my rib cage.

Sort of.

Now that the weather is getting less surface of the sun hot I plan on using my trainers to go on nightly walk/runs and even found an online workout program for guys my age and condition. I'm starting to feel good again. All I had to do was just tone it down a bit, show some restraint and grow up just a little more.

It's been too long and I just want to get back to the fairly sane and sober person that I have always been. Sane meaning not blitzed out of his head most nights - it takes a certain self obsessed maniac to want to type furiously about your life and how you feel about food - so I got that going for me. I just like feeling like the old Mark again and this is something I can really get used to.

Although I do crave that mesquite smoked whiskey now and then. But I'll have to save that for a special occasion. And definitely not on a school night. For sure.

Thanks for reading...

This happy kid, many years before taking his first drink

Telling it like it is
"Metal" Mark Whittaker
First Week of Autumn, 2017

Metal Influence:


  1. I know its difficult to get rid of certain habit but you did it very well and I know you will know continue your this promise to yourself that you won't drink now except any special occasion!

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