I'm finding it harder and harder to think of a good retort for people when they ask me why I don't drink anymore. Telling them that I've left Plato's cave of debauchery doesn't do me any favors. Recently I've started simply saying that it's for of the same reason I gave up the smokes; I just don't need it anymore. I can have just as much fun on a night out without booze. The only difference is that I understand when the crescendo has been reached. It's usually about 11:30 to 12pm or four or five drinks in when the substance of discussion starts to fade rapidly and those with the responsibility of relieving a baby sitter, or, with work in the morning will leave, but those who associate fun and alcohol will stay."Keep her lit", they'll say, desperately clinging on but never realizing that it only goes down from there.
The fact that I don't drink was never an issue in America, but, as the old stereotypes will tell you, it has been one in Ireland. My true feelings are that alcohol is a social tool for the average Irish person. We're known across the world for being uber-friendly but I think it's a surface reality only. Growing up, if I had a problem that I needed to discuss with somebody, it would be done over pints. We can't really open up and feel comfortable until we've a few on board, and this is dangerous because we ultimately associate the two. I think the high level of alcoholism in Ireland is because we can't really feel like ourselves unless we've pacified that reproachful monster in our brains.
If I'm organizing a social gathering with some new friends and I ask them out for pints, somewhere along the way I'll tell them that I don't drink. That's when the awkwardness sets in. They wonder what I'm going to do for two or three hours sitting in front of a sparkling water as if the alcohol was the company and not them. And I think that it runs deeper than that. I think that really, they are worried that they'll be letting their guard down and I'll have mine up and that they may be exposed. Alcohol depresses the central nervous system making people feel more at ease with themselves but when you take alcohol out of the equation you learn to get over that wall all by yourself. I remember feeling not quite relaxed at certain social gatherings until I'd had two or three drinks now that feeling lasts only seconds.
Hangovers are something I'll never miss. Not just the physical effects but the psychological ones two. The fear and anxiety caused by a dip in neurochemicals the next day might be outweighed by the benefit of a super fun night, but, when you find yourself shouting at your phone three or four days later that's when you see the real downside of alcohol. We tend to think the effects are confined to the proceeding day but the reality is they run far into the next week. This short tempered impatience and general mind fog are detrimental to a persons happiness especially if they're not too fond of their job and would find it difficult to get through a week with pure equanimity. And unfortunately this turns into a cycle of self destruction because, as we all know, the only way to get over a hard week is to spend the weekend drinking!
My family, I suppose, are like any big family; full of deep seated resentments and conflicts with each other and when we get together and sail through the pleasantry's and first few drinks that's when the true feelings start to surface. These Ill feelings which should've been addressed directly long before over coffee have a habit of popping up with great surprise and seemingly out of the blue. This then causes the accused the become defensive immediately and a row almost always ensues. It's not like it's directly responsible for my family's wounds but rubbing alcohol into them certainly doesn't help.
Another reason I might be terrified at the thought of jumping off the wagon is that I may then loose interest in meditating. The shift in my state of mind when meditating is far less than that of a few drinks but the long term benefits between the two practices are not even comparable. And really who's going to sit down for ten minutes with the intention of listening to their body when they're doing their best to ignore their complaining liver?
I made a promise to myself that I wouldn't become one of those 'holier than thou' assheads who preach about how life is better without alcohol,but, when I consistently see my closest friends promise themselves, whilst hungover, that they'll never touch the drink again and then the quick glimpse of shame when I see them a day or two later, drink in hand, I know that I've made the right decision. The thing about the cave analogy is that when the remainers hear what the leaver has supposedly learned, they think he's nuts, so I guess I'll just have to grin and bear the bewildered faces each time I'm asked "What''ll ya have?"
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