Except very rarely, as in once a year.
The Acceptable Poison
I could probably count on one hand how many alcoholic drinks I’ve had in the past six years. Drinking is like my Halley’s Comet.
I remain steadfastly unswayed by the festive environments of Christmas, New Year’s, St. Patrick’s Day, and my birthday.
Even watching my beloved Eagles win the Super Bowl four years ago was a dry affair. I only had one beer — the East Coast favorite Yuengling — the next day, during lunch, and only because a family member paid for it.
This is apparently “bizarre” and “abnormal” behavior, even for someone middle-aged like myself. Commercials (especially during NFL season) constantly tell me how freaking AWESOME it is to drink, and how good-looking drinkers are, and how it’s maybe even actually healthy. Every once in a while some article pops up touting the benefits of drinking a glass of wine a day. No doubt paid for by Big Grape.
Maybe drinking alcohol in moderation is healthy. It’s no doubt a good social lubricant. You see all those happy couples out there strolling down the sidewalk and holding hands? I bet half of them are only together because of alcohol. According to Jerry Seinfeld, it’s the only way ugly people can date.
Guess that means there’s no hope for me.
::sad slide whistle::
The “Twilight Zone Realization”
It wasn’t always like this. Seven years ago, I used to drink strongly and regularly. Brandy was my drink of choice. I liked it because it’s heavy and warm. I find beer too fizzy, stimulative, and inconsequential. Beer is like the fast food of drinks. Mixed drinks like rum or vodka are too “party mode” for my liking.
But brandy. VSOP. Middle shelf quality. The honey-brown bottle with the blue label felt like a little trophy in my hand on my twice-weekly trips to the liquor store. Occasionally I’d sample the top-shelf cognac buys when I felt my liver needed something higher class.
Brandy was perfect for me. It felt right. Classy. Aristrocratic, even.
Said Benjamin Guggenheim on the Titanic: “We are dressed in our best and prepared to go down like gentlemen. But we would like a brandy.”
One of my favorite movie quotes. Though soon it would prove a sad metaphor for my life. Guy, sitting there alone, enjoying a drink, while everything around him sinks.
Unlike beer, which intoxicates you incrementally. Or party drinks, that bomb you into submission. Brandy’s effect is subtle, cumulative, and compounding. Almost tranquil. It sneaks up on you.
You can sip brandy and gently coast away into oblivion.
But after a while I came to one of those “Twilight Zone realizations.” You know, where the main character finally figures out what’s really going on, and their whole world gets upended.
I realized I was using alcohol as a crutch. As an escape hatch from reality. And that rather than it enhancing my life in any way, it was actually causing me to atrophy and isolate.
In low moderation, alcohol can be a fun spice. But for the most part, it’s like a garrote slowly squeezing the life out of you.
Alcohol deadens the senses. It distracts you from improving and adapting your situation.
So, I quit. Not gradually. Immediately.
I’m a good quitter. I had quit smoking cigarettes almost ten years before, cold turkey. Believe me, it wasn’t easy giving up my Lucky Strikes.
At the time, I couldn’t exactly articulate why I needed to quit. I just knew I had to. I don’t think I was technically an alcoholic. I would sometimes go on “purges” for days or even weeks, before eventually returning to Inebriation Island. And once I started back up, it never stopped at just one drink.
But I could have “quit anytime I wanted.” I mean, sort of.
Alcohol no doubt was exerting far too much gravity in my life. But not all the reasons I quit were noble or life affirming. Some were just practical. Some were even vain. But here they are:
Seven and a Half Reasons Why I Don’t Drink (except very rarely)
1.) I’m cheap as hell.
I don’t like spending money on frivilous things. And for me, alcohol is about as frivilous as you can get. You’re blowing wads of cash on bitter-tasting flavored water that will just give you a headache. I think my brandy used to cost me $16–$18 a bottle. At twice weekly, that was almost $40. $160 a month. Not big money, sure. Some people spend that on porn subscriptions. But it’s money for which you get nothing of value back in return. At least if you throw money away on lottery tickets there’s a microscopic chance you jump a few tax brackets. But booze? It’s guaranteed waste.
And that’s even if you’re a budget-conscious drinker, like I was, and you imbibe at home. If you go out to bars and clubs, the costs can balloon ridiculously.
2.) I don’t like feeling like shit.
Maybe alcohol doesn’t agree with me on a genetic level. Some people mix with it, others don’t. Alcohol doesn’t make me want to party or hang out with people. It generally just makes me tired, and when drank to excess, it is guaranteed to make me feel like terrible the next day. Who wants to feel like they got run over by a steamroller when they wake up in the morning?
In addition to the physical side effects, there are the mental ones, too. Drying out during the day always made me feel anxious and volatile. Because drinking dehydrates you, the whole next day you’re playing the hydration catch-up game to get yourself back to equilibrium. And since you’re technically in chemical withdrawal, you tend to rush through things so you can get back to the bottle. It’s a cruel cycle. Even though you know it’s wrecking you, you have to keep it going in order to feel “normal.”
3.) I like to (try) get a good night’s rest.
Alcohol interrupts your brain’s ability to get deep sleep. The brain needs that serious downtime in order to “wash” itself. No joke. The brain emits cerebrospinal fluid like a car wash all over your cranial lobes while you sleep. Think of it as cleaning out the gunk between the gears of your mind. But even small amounts of alcohol can blow up that cycle, and make it impossible for your brain to scrub itself clean. What happens when you don’t change your car’s oil filters regularly? Your engine eventually locks up. It’s the same idea with your brain. When it’s never given the chance to clean itself, it malfunctions. This is why alcoholics are often so irritable and can’t think straight. They’re literally working with a busted machine inside their head.
Good sleep is hard enough to come by, for me. I’m lucky if I can get a solid 6 hours of quality shut-eye. I don’t need booze wrecking what little sleep I might be able to get. Plus, I like a well-scrubbed brain.
4.) I don’t like being dependent on chemicals or drugs for anything.
That goes for medications, also. I don’t even like taking aspirin or cold medicine unless I really need to. It’s not a macho thing. It’s a control thing. I like to remain sovereign over my mental faculties at all times. I think it’s why even when I did drink heavily, I had a knack for toeing up to the line, but rarely ever going full-blown Chernobyl. Even as a habitual drinker then, I stayed in the driver’s seat as much as possible.
5.) I just don’t have the time for it.
Looking back, I don’t know how I ever made time to drink. It’s funny. When you’ve got a good buzz on, time just melts away, and before you know it, it’s 2 AM, and you’re realizing you have to get up that morning for work. As in like four hours.
Alcohol is like a black hole. It sucks up everything in your life, and suddenly, everything revolves around the bottle. You plan your whole day by it. Work is just something you do before you can drink. Eating is just something to be gotten out of the way so you can drink. You ignore healthy, productive activities and hobbies and even people in order to reserve time for drinking.
It’s a pure time suck. And a life suck. It’s a true vampire. Life is short enough not to spend 20% of every day (or more) half-conscious. When I think back to how much of my life I wasted avoiding reality behind a bottle, it honestly hurts.
6.) Alcohol withdrawal is a motherfucker.
It can actually kill you. While I never got to the point where not drinking was a threat to my life, I had some uncomfortable experiences during my occasional cessation periods. A burning sensation in my chest. Heart palpitations. Sweating. Inability to sleep. Anxiety. Cold symptoms. Even hallucinations. I remember one night tossing and turning in bed, and seeing an owl, or some kind of bird, perched near the ceiling, partially hidden in shadow.
None of that shit is appealing whatsoever, obviously.
It’s crazy the heavy toll alcohol extracts, even when you’re not drinking and making the effort to clean up. It’s like trying to get out of the mob. Better be ready to take a beating. It’s no wonder so many get sucked back in after sobering up for a short spell.
7.) I value my health, and…
Alcohol is basically all sugar. And when you drink, you usually eat like shit on top of it. Or you lose your appetite the next morning because of the hangover. You’re throwing your body’s chemistry and digestive rhythm out of whack. You’re packing on excess calories. It’s why so many guys (and gals) get that gross fanny pack gut the more they sling those six packs around.
And if there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s the sad sack potbelly look that frankly too many fucking middle-aged dudes are bizarrely okay with having these days.
Can’t be me, man.
7.5.) …drinking ages you
I don’t get it. Aging already degrades your appearance no matter how well you take care of yourself, or how evolved your genes. But alcohol puts rocket thrusters on the whole crypt-keeper look-a-like deal.
It dries out your skin.
It can give you diabetes.
It ruins your internal organs.
It eats your brain.
It chews up your heart.
And it ravages your biochemistry, until your body thinks it actually needs alcohol to function.
Life is short enough. You’ll lose your youthful bloom and looks fast enough already. Why the hell would you hasten the process?
Life is better now without alcohol. I don’t miss the sickness that drinking ultimately became. I value the ability to think clearly and cleanly. When you’re younger there’s a tendency to want to run and hide from life. To cope somehow with raw reality. I think this is why binge drinking, drugs, bad relationships, or sex, can become such pitfalls. They’re escape portals from the scary real world.
But as you get older, and the patterns of life become more familiar, you start to lose that hopeless lost at sea feeling that oftentimes plagues you when you’re just starting out. You start to appreciate things as they are. You care less about what others think. You learn to value what actually matters. And you start to lose that fear and anxiety and angst that powers a lot of bad decisions.
Sometimes, you even look forward to dealing with problems, rather than running saway from them. You start to see them more as puzzles or opportunities rather than evil afflictions.
This doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process.
I’m not an anti-alcohol born-again evangelist, or something. There’s nothing morally wrong with drinking. I still enjoy an occasional beer, usually with family, or for special occassions. It’s just alcohol is something that doesn’t jive with my programming. I realized that for me, it’ll always be a net negative.
Plus, and this was hard to accept, but it’s too much of an addictive temptation. When I drank regularly, I could never just have one glass of brandy. It was at least three to four, until it knocked me out. It’s not easy to recognize a weakness in yourself, but eventually I had to admit the truth. But fortunately, one of my strengths is being able to pivot strongly once I’ve (finally) realized I’ve taken a wrong turn, and then learning from the mistake.
I’m glad alcohol is out of my life. Lucidity really is an underappreciated state of mind.