grapes for Personal Alcohol Blog 240509My journey with alcohol was short but tumultuous. My parents drank socially but not to excess. It was their daily ritual to enjoy a drink together when my father returned home from work. It was their way of quietly sharing the trials and tribulations of their respective days, each lubricated by a single drink of rye and water, on the rocks. I vaguely recall my father drinking beer previously but that had to stop after having surgery twice (in his late 30s and early 40s) to ease his hiatus hernia. From that time on he was unable to properly digest steak, most fruit and beer. These items tended to return forcefully to their point of entry.

I began drinking at sixteen or seventeen. My parents were aware of my explorations with alcohol and openly condoned them. They never instituted a list of dos and don’ts. I suppose they adhered to the parenting adage that counts on the behavior of adolescents being established in early childhood through the examples of the parents. Now that I was a young adult they allowed me to explore the world in ways of my choosing, not theirs. I respected this approach of my parents greatly, and still do. It must have taken a dollop of faith and a bucketful of patience for my father and mother to sit back and silently observe my faltering steps into adulthood.

If a drink served as a relaxing balm for my parents, several drinks served as a courage booster for my early forays into the world of dancing with girls. Until I took my first drink I was far too shy to attend a school dance, as much as part of me wanted to. But now I would join a few friends nestled behind a remote hummock of our local airport to sample from a range of alcoholic beverages before walking as a group to a school dance. Pleasantly fortified with the drink of choice and breath disguised with cough drops (I’m not convinced now that the teachers at the entrance were totally naïve as to what we were up to) we would descend en masse into the darkened school gymnasium for a night of dancing. Magically, I had the confidence to ask girls to dance, and they usually accepted. Unfortunately the beer or wine or liquor did little for my coordination or dancing skills.

Within two years I found that I not only had the confidence to attend a dance without the aid of alcohol, but enjoyed the dancing much more when I was sober and in complete control of my dancing appendages. Drinking had served as a crutch to bolster my broken confidence; once that confidence was restored I was ready to throw away the crutch.

At one high school party I blacked out after consuming what must have been an excessive quantity of alcohol. It was embarrassing to have friends describe my adventures of that night to me the following day, adventures that I had absolutely no memory of.

This experience of blacking out was to be twice repeated. In the winter break of my first year at university I was one of four young men and four young women who, under the auspices of the university ‘Explorer Club’, rented a van and drove virtually non-stop for forty hours to New Mexico and Arizona. In Albuquerque, three of us purchased a bottle of tequila, a powerful liquor that had originated in the desert country. That night we set up tents in a roadside high desert area. After dinner, while the others slept, the three of us passed around the tequila bottle, customarily preceding each drink with a lick of salt and following up with a squeeze of lemon. I remember drinking twice from that bottle. That is all I recall until being vigorously woken by my friend Duncan early the next morning. On the way back to his tent after a pee he decided to look in on the three drinkers that shared a tent near his. He found me dead-to-the-world on top of my sleeping bag while my tent mates slumbered cozily inside their bags. I was lying in my underwear with frost coating my bare legs. The outside temperature was 13 degrees Fahrenheit (-8 degrees Celsius). I thought I was going to become a human popsicle.

That morning we walked around the Painted Desert, a stunning crimson landscape sprinkled with an icing of snow. We then drove to our ultimate destination, the Grand Canyon. The others exclaimed in ever more glowing terms over the awesome landscape, while I lay in agony with a horrendous hangover on the floor of the van.

Back at the university in Ontario I saw photos of an actively engaged and drinking John taken on that less than memorable excursion into tequila heaven. There must be something terribly wrong when one continues to function and converse but has no later recollection of the events transpiring.

My third time unlucky occurred in Spain, during a bus camping trip around Europe I was taking with my friend Chris and thirty‑three other young people from New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and South Africa. In addition to being a cultural eye opener this trip proved to be an almost non-stop five week party. One night in Barcelona, I recall sharing a bottle of Sangria with Chris and some other friends. That is all that I remember until waking the next morning sharing a single sleeping bag with a girl from my tour group, a girl I considered to be like a sister to me. I was profoundly embarrassed. This instance proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back.

When I returned to Canada I began working for the telephone company. I would occasionally enjoy a meal after work with colleagues. On one such occasion, a few months after my return from Europe, I enjoyed a single beer with my meal. The next morning I woke with a whopping hangover. I quit drinking immediately. I was twenty two years of age.

People sometimes ask me why I don’t drink alcohol.

I have no regrets that I did drink for a few years. I enjoyed that time and, as I explained, the alcohol temporarily helped me to overcome shyness. But I have so much fun now, and feel uninhibited without so much as a sniff of alcohol. And I never have a hangover. People speak of using a substance such as alcohol in moderation. This may be fine for some, but I proved through direct experience that alcohol was a poison in my body. A little bit of a poison is still a poison. So why have it?

Have you ever seen a young child reach for a drink in order to relax or to be happy and playful? What unseen boundary do we pass when we begin to justify the use of toxic substances?

It was a great pleasure growing up in Niagara Falls, Ontario and stopping at roadside stalls in the country to purchase delicious local fruits such as cherries, plums and peaches in season. In the last couple of decades much of the highly fertile land of the Niagara Peninsula has been converted to the growing of grapes for wine production. A way of life I remember so fondly is in danger of disappearing. Canada’s other great fruit growing locale, the picturesque Okanagan Valley of British Columbia, has undergone a similar transformation. Many of its productive orchards have been converted to wine or expensive residential development, a playground for the nouveau riche of the west.

Here is New Zealand there has been a huge conversion of productive orchard land to wine grapes. In Marlborough, at the top of the South Island, there is evidence that this recent change to huge plantings of grapes is causing the water table to drop, putting pressure on stretched water resources.

Once again our consumption habits impact the world in which we live. The lowly grape. Is it the elixir of the gods or an environmental nemesis?

Radio host, inspirational speaker and health educator John Haines is the author of In Search of Simplicity: A True Story that Changes Lives and the recently released Beyond the Search, books to lift the spirit and touch the heart. See

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