Saturday, January 28, 2012

Farewell, Old Friend

It's a beautiful morning in the mountains. Sunny, no wind, 35 degrees at 9:30 this morning. The tree branches are white and sparkling with ice, the lake is partially frozen and stunning. My family is out skiing, enjoying the day. I'm sitting here alone in the rental house, waiting for my Imitrex to kick in so I can crawl back into bed in a dark room, slip into a drug-induced sleep, and hope my migraine goes away. Lousy.

The good news is that I think I have, after more than a year of frequent migraines, finally self-diagnosed the problem and that it is easily remedied. The bad news:  I think the culprit is my much-beloved red wine.

Over the last year and a half, I developed quite a red wine habit. It all began when I complained to my dad that I couldn't (or at least shouldn't) drink an entire bottle of wine by myself before it went bad. He turned me on to the drinkability and long shelf life of boxed wine. A brilliant invention. Over time, however, the box o' wine just became an excuse to have wine nearly every evening while I read my book or worked at the computer. After all, it's on tap! Not to worry. I did not drink to excess nor ever felt that I couldn't live without it. It was just convenient, and nice, and relaxing. Not to mention social, when with my friends.

In September, I had a check-up, and the evil nurse bitch made me stand on a scale. I was aghast when I saw the number that popped up. I knew I'd put on some weight, but...yikes. I knew the nightly stemware full of empty calories was the main culprit, and I stopped the casual evening wine habit that day, still allowing myself a glass during the occasional dinner out or a couple during monthly book club. Without changing my eating or exercise habits, I lost ten pounds. Now that felt good.

Just this week, I was marveling at how great I felt. I've been full of energy, never needing a nap, mostly headache-free, and probably not coincidentally more patient with my kids.

Somewhere around mid-December, I first noticed that I hadn't had a migraine in quite a while. I chalked it up to good luck and the wonders of my massage therapist. I got slammed with a migraine on Christmas, and considered it random. I woke up after book club two weeks ago with a familiar headache and queasiness and attributed it to hormones. Then, on Thursday, we celebrated a friend's 40th birthday at a fancy restaurant, where we shared good red wine with our fine meal. I woke up the next day groggy, queasy, and with a headache.

Mind you, this was not a raucous night out. It was a Thursday night dinner from which we all rushed home to get our high school babysitters home. And I didn't overdo it. It's been a long time since I can recall being drunk. But yesterday it dawned on me, perhaps I'm just too old to drink anything at all. My body just can't handle it. Here I am, two days later, missing time with my family from a headache presumably caused by a couple glasses of wine over dinner.

I mentioned this all to a friend yesterday, and she told me I probably have developed a tannin allergy. It sounded made up to me, so I Googled it. It seems that "red wine headache" (RWH) is a real thing. Articles indicate that no one knows definitively what the cause is, but that RWH most likely is caused by the tannins in red wine, which cause serotonin release, which in excess can cause headaches and migraines. 

It was an aha moment.

I now feel like red wine is my bad relationship. I love it, I think it's doing good things for me, but really it's just causing me pain. Like many bad relationships, it's going to be hard to let this one go. I'm sure I'll have the occasional single glass with friends, since that hasn't (yet) caused a problem for me. Sometime, I'll probably make the "just one more" mistake, which will probably prove my hypothesis by sticking me in bed with a migraine. Hopefully, that will be enough to sever the relationship for good.

In the meantime, I'll need to see if I choose to be substantially alcohol-free or find a suitable occasional substitute. Mixing cocktails by myself at home seems like a cry for help, and I never drink multiple mixed drinks because I'm unable to keep track of how much I've consumed. White wine is ok, but not very interesting. It might be time for beer to make a minor comeback in my life. I've always liked the good stuff, it's filling so you don't drink too much, and at a party it is easy to keep track of what you've had.

Whatever comes next, I'm going to miss red wine. It's a wonderful companion to a good book or a good friend, and it seems to be the drink of choice among my friends. Whatever its benefits, they are not worth feeling lousy and missing out on life by lying in bed in the dark.

Farewell, old friend.


  1. I feel your pain & share your wisdom. Turns out my neurology team kinda knew what they were talking about when they issued their initial "booze ban" -- especially given that I had told them that red wine was my pre-wreck drink of choice. Although I've successfully reentered the occasional-social-drink world, I now enjoy vodka-based beverages and forsake my once beloved vino rosso. My head (and other bio systems) are much happier, though I still need to figure out what to do with my 50+ bottle cellar! If you send me your address and I send you a bottle of skull vodka

  2. Cynthia, good that perhaps you've sorted out the cause. I have heard of others being allergic to the sulfites in red wine. There are wines out there that are preservative free and those might be fine for you. I sure do hope so!

  3. I think some organic wines are sulfite free.