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Jane Fonda and I Happily Agree About Drinking After 60

By Kathleen M. Rehl June 08, 2022 Lifestyle

We’ve said goodbye to Jane Fonda’s long-running series, Grace and Frankie. In character, she often held an ice-cold martini. However, in a recent interview with CBS News about the show’s last season, Fonda said she stopped drinking in real life at age 84.

“And here’s why: It’s because even with one drink, like if I had a martini tonight, I would be at half-mast tomorrow. Now that wasn’t true when I was younger. But as you get older, I think alcohol affects you differently. And I only have so many tomorrows left. I don’t want to be at half-mast for any of them!”

I reached that same conclusion in late 2021, deciding that my life could be better without drinking. For me, this is the right decision. Here’s my personal story about why and how I gave up alcohol.

Before I Became an Abstainer

My earliest wine experience was Mom’s sweet Mogen David red wine when she let us kids have a tiny sip on Christmas Day. During my college years, I worked part-time at an Italian dining restaurant with a bar. Although I recommended and served many mixed drinks and cocktails, I didn’t like their flavors.

One or two glasses of wine became my adult beverage of choice. I first favored inexpensive Boone’s Farm sweet pop wine with its artificial fruit flavorings. I soon progressed to red wine and eventually dry white varieties.

I drank socially at parties, during holidays, celebrations, and special events – along with my husband, extended family, girlfriends, and colleagues. On hot summer barbecue afternoons, I enjoyed an icy beer. This pattern continued for decades, well into my 50s.

For three years before my prior husband’s death from liver cancer, he and I stopped drinking alcohol. However, a couple of years after his passing, a fellow I dated insisted we share a toast on New Year’s Eve. I agreed. That started my return to drinking wine occasionally with friends.

But Covid Came

Like most everyone else, I was isolated, home-bound, and only Zoom connected to family and friends. My new husband and I remained cloistered in our condo. During the pre-vaccination phase, in-person socialization with others was taboo. Rising hospitalization and death rates, especially for mature folks like me, were stressful. I started drinking Pino Grigio with dinner.

First, I drank only on weekends, but soon that changed to every night. Seemed good to relax that way before the negative national news aired. I told myself this was acceptable since I met the low-risk guidelines for women of 10 drinks or fewer per week. Indeed, many other ladies also stepped up their alcohol consumption during the pandemic.

Covid Continued into a Second Year

I coped by drinking another glass of wine while preparing dinner… followed by my regular glass during the meal. That lessened my pandemic anxieties. However, I didn’t like the side effects experienced after two generous glasses of wine, most of which weren’t there when I was a younger woman. These included:

  • feeling drowsy during the evening hours, not accomplishing much
  • sleeping restlessly at night, often with bad dreams
  • awaking the next day with a mild headache
  • seeing my tired, puffy face in the morning mirror.

Although wine didn’t make me dysfunctional, I worried about the negative impact of alcohol on my septuagenarian body and brain.

Alcohol as We Age

Reading more, I learned that alcohol doesn’t affect people the same as we age. That’s because our biochemistry changes over our lifetime. What my body tolerated years ago was not appropriate in my mid-70s.

As a healthy pescatarian who exercises daily, I couldn’t ignore scientific research. For example, a global study published in The Lancet says no level of alcohol consumption improves our health. Digging deeper, I understood that from a cancer-prevention standpoint, drinking the least amount of alcohol possible is the best strategy.

Another study emphasized that women who drink have a higher incidence of heart disease and breast cancer. The death rate increases for those who drink more alcohol, and there’s a risk for heart disease. Dementia and Alzheimer’s can be problematic, too.

My Grandson’s Question Became the Pivotal Point

What truly changed my drinking behavior happened during a visit with my six-year-old grandson. He sat beside me, eating pancakes the morning after I drank two large glasses of wine with his parents the previous evening.

“Grandma,” he said. “Why are your eyes so red?”

I responded, saying that I hadn’t slept well the night before. I also knew that the wine probably caused my bloodshot eyes and the restless night. That brief conversation, plus everything else I knew, made me stop drinking wine. I wanted to be there, healthy, for many tomorrows with my grandson.

The day after returning from that trip I quit drinking alcohol. I told myself it was for one day at first. I did the same thing the next day and the next. Soon I said I would stop for a week. Then two weeks. After that for a month, followed by two months, and suddenly three. I quickly passed the half-year point. Now I’m going for a full year, which will be in early December. Yes, I’m on a happy roll!

My brother decided to stop drinking wine more than a year ago. It was simply a habit he wanted to end. Since that choice, he’s felt better physically and mentally. He said, “For years, I could not imagine NOT having at least a glass every evening.” That’s all changed now. His actions served as a great model for me. My current husband is also helpful since he rarely drinks – just an occasional lite beer after working all day in the yard.

A helpful aid in this process included finding a replacement drink, which I sip from a pretty wine glass most days. My new drink of choice is a half glass of kombucha, topped off with a half glass of sparkling water. I’ve tried non-alcoholic wine and beer, but I prefer the taste of my healthy alternative. As a pleasant surprise, I even lost a few pounds on this low-calorie substitute.

I Want Many More Tomorrows

I made a deliberate decision to stop drinking. Eliminating alcohol is the right choice for me at this age and stage of life. Yes, I want many more healthy tomorrows with my family and friends.

Likewise, I respect everyone’s decision to imbibe the beverage that’s best for them. One friend of mine swears she will live to 100 because she drinks wine daily! What works for you?

Have you made a decision to stop drinking after 60 or 70? What prompted this decision? What other habits have you decided to change to live a more healthy life?

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The Author

Kathleen M. Rehl, Ph.D., CFP®, CeFT® Emeritus wrote the award-winning book, Moving Forward on Your Own: A Financial Guidebook for Widows. She owned Rehl Financial Advisors for 18 years before retiring to a six-year encore career empowering widows. Now happily “reFired,” Rehl writes legacy prose and poetry plus assists nonprofits. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Kiplinger’s, CNBC, USA Today, other publications, and online. Check out her website at http://kathleenrehl.com.

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