Monday, 27 January 2014

Confessions From a Non-Alcoholic

Drinking is normal. Expected. Respected, it often seems. 

I work in an industry where alcohol abuse is rampant; guests, staff, managers. No one knows when the line is crossed from “I have fun” to “I have a problem.” It appears admissions of alcoholism is often meant as nothing more than a funny joke; the truth of it being the only punch line. People brag (not complain or shamefully confess) about how “Fucked Up” they were the night before. Until there is a fight, or someone is fired or gets hurt, we assume we are fine. A happy drunk - who manages a job, doesn’t cheat on his/her spouse, and stays coherent enough to not drive or fall down the stairs - is fine. 

But are we really “fine”? In considering the emotionally numbing properties of any drug, it is the concept of escapism that conducts my concerns. Whether or not intentional, are we growing and learning emotionally if we are constantly avoiding our feelings? And since we are all well aware we need to face our issues in order to deal with them, why is it we condone the over-consumption of alcohol so willingly and refuse to acknowledge it for what it actually is? Escapism. 

Recently, I was explaining to a guest why I’d spent 6 weeks not drinking last summer and that I’d loved the experience of it. His response was self-focused regarding his inability to ever do such a thing, and furthermore, his tone seemed to be making fun of me for even considering the idea of extended sobriety in positive light. 

I’ve heard people make comments such as, “I don’t trust people who don’t drink. It’s weird” and “I don’t understand how someone can only have one drink. That doesn’t even make sense.” I’ve even listened to an entire table of 10 guests criticize and pressure their one very strong willed and confident friend to have a beer who had committed to being sober because he was “just happier that way.” (He didn’t give in.) 

The topic of not drinking makes people uncomfortable, and often, defensive. I’m starting to sense individuals’ concerns when I have conversations with them about alcoholism; the awareness and path to admission by talking about it frightens them which produces interesting reactions. The first and most obvious would be making jokes about it. The second and more brainwashing would be the creation of the culture of normalcy (i.e., everyone binge drinks, so it must be OK). The third, a child-like and immature tactic, is attempting to make the “odd one out” feel insecure for not participating as an attempt to cover up and down-play one’s own insecurities. 

I know this well because at a time when I really enjoyed going out to parties I used to question my own condition; in knowing how I felt then, and now observing other people in the same position, it’s much easier to call myself out on my own bullshit. No, I’m not an alcoholic – my drinking habits have greatly decreased as I’ve gotten older as it does with most people. Binge drinking is a rarity where the consequences outweigh all satisfaction, and that innocent, cheeky glass of wine to relax after work is not the boon I once I hypothesized it to be. 

Why not innocent, you ask? Booze blues. Shame-overs. Anxiety. Depression. Drinking affects my mental health when I’m sober (and yours, too, even if you aren’t aware of it.) Consistent alcohol consumption, even if not taking it too far, contributes to a constant, mild depression, depreciated motivation and negative thought patterns. Although I had been aware of alcohol’s depressant qualities from a biochemical standpoint (thanks, University!), it was not until I spent those six weeks sober this past summer that I came to realize those ups and downs were not normal nor hormonal. The mental clarity, optimism and motivation that I develop even after just 4 days alcohol-free is a polar opposite from a day after even just one glass of wine. 

As I summarize all these thoughts to myself or to friends and digest the feedback and occasional agreeance, I’ve found myself contemplating a much larger challenge: I want to go the rest of this year sober. Why not? I’m obviously much happier sober; choice made, right? Wrong. 

I can imagine people reading this blog who don’t drink, enjoy the occasional joint or participate in other night time excitement might say I’m being a bit melodramatic, and I agree. I truly believe there is nothing that exciting or wonderful about drinking and partying, and yet, I have a list of excuses and fears that keep me from convincing myself to take this on: 

My current social circle: all my friends do it. It’s normal to us. I don’t actually have a single person who is a solid part of my life right now who does not drink as a social activity on regular basis. 

My work expects it of me. I sell beer and wine to pay my bills and have a vast knowledge base that I’m expected to continue growing. On top of it, it’s quite normal for our guests and managers to buy us a beer or shot for when we finish our shift as a thank you or more personal gratuity. I feel like I would have to keep my sobriety a secret from my tables to avoid making them feel uncomfortable. 

The big one: I love the sweet, smooth, strength of a solid scotch. That first sip of pinot noir as it dances on your taste buds. The hoppy bite and bitter kick of an India pale ale. The hot sensation and abrasive scent of quality tequila. I swear Hendricks and cucumber stirred on the rocks was designed just for me (with a dash of cracked pepper, of course.) I always say everything and anything goes nicely with a well made whiskey sour. These appreciations have proven to be a gift and a curse. 

I don’t want to miss out on an apr├Ęs ski baileys and hot chocolate. I want to enjoy a cold beer after a long hike with good friends. Pinot Gris on a patio with my best friend or well written book is the epitome of relaxation in my opinion. Decorating a Christmas tree without Rum N’ Eggnog would not be the same. How is a nice, handsome man supposed to wine and dine me if I’m not drinking wine? 

Perhaps this admission of seemingly navigable excuses should be telling me it IS in fact time to take a break from the boozing altogether. I feel a bit cowardly for not just taking on this challenge without reservations or doubts. I see no harm in just trying. Failure can only make me stronger, right? There will be some loopholes that allow me those special occasion drinks and tastes (no one wants to be a fuddy-duddy after all), but keeps with the mission of sober living. I don’t actually know what this year is going to look like, but I’m definitely going to challenge myself with a redevelopment in the way I view alcohol, my relationship with it, and how it affects relationships with those around me. 

I’ll cheers to that! Wait, I need a drink for that, too… Shit.