The Thanksgiving Advent Calendar, Day One: Not Drinking Alcohol
When I was heading to Germany last month, people were very excited for me. “You’ll have a blast at Oktoberfest!” they said. “Germany has awesome beer!” That’s nice, I would say, except that a) Oktoberfest actually mostly happens in September, and b) I don’t drink alcohol in any event. People were stunned at the lexicographical betrayal involving the dates of Oktoberfest, but even more stunned at the idea that I don’t drink. If you don’t drink alcohol, and you’re an adult human, it’s usually because you’re either an addict in recovery or because you have some religious prohibition, and often it’s assumed you either can’t be around people who drink because of the temptation, or because you look down on those who imbibe.
But, really, no. I’m not a recovering alcoholic; I don’t avoid booze because God told me to. I just don’t drink — never have and at this late point in my life have no intention of doing so. I can count the number of times I’ve drunk alcohol on a single hand (they are: Half a beer when I named editor of my college newspaper, half a glass of champagne at my wedding, a shot of uzo the night before a friend’s wedding and a polite amount of wine at a dinner hosted by my French publisher). And to be clear, I don’t care if you drink, as long as doing so doesn’t make you an asshole. Everyone who’s ever seen me at a science fiction convention knows where I am almost all the time: I’m in the bar with friends. This is not the mark of someone who has a low tolerance for other people imbibing.
Be that as it may, I am thankful I don’t drink, and here is why.
Because I would be an alcoholic if I did. Oh, my, yes I would. And I know this because I come from a fine and illustrious line of people who are. Mind you, it’s not just alcohol, it’s pretty much everything that you might put into your body, to which your body responds with “Wow, whatever the hell that was, you just keep bringing it to me.” This is why, incidentally, in addition to not drinking I also have never smoked, taken a hit off a joint, dropped acid, snorted a line or have embarked on any other sort of pharmaceutical adventure. Because there’s very good odds that I really just wouldn’t want to stop. And I would kind of hate that. Not just for the obvious “d00d ur an addict” aspect of it, but because secretly, deep down inside I am a total control freak and it would just kill me to be in the thrall of a bunch of psychoactive molecules bouncing up and down on my dopamine receptors like a trampoline.
There’s also the fact that since I would inevitably become an alcoholic, I would equally inevitably have to process through the recovery culture that hovers around addiction. And while I wish to be clear that in my opinion this recovery culture is useful and necessary for those struggling with addiction issues, and I have nothing but admiration both for those who reach out for support and those who offer support to those in need, speaking as someone who attended Alateen meetings like other kids went to church, there’s very little that makes me want to stab myself through the eyeball more than sitting around talking about this stuff. I’d inevitably be the jerk in the support group who everyone else wants to put out their cigarettes on. If not drinking did nothing else for me than keep me from these meetings, and (more importantly) from being the turd in the punchbowl for other people genuinely trying to get clean and stay clean, then I would be thankful for that alone.
Because I would be a complete asshole drunk. There are happy drunks. There are silly drunks. There are moody drinks, and angry drunks, and philosophical drunks and horny drunks and sleepy drunks. Huggy drunks, talky drunks, quiet drunks. And then there’s the drunk I would be: The one who says, blurringly, “Now, I know I shouldn’t say this to you, BUT…” and then goes on to say that thing that everyone knows but doesn’t say, because saying it will only make the person it’s being said to completely miserable, and everyone else is annoyed because now that shit’s been said and everyone’s got to deal with it. And you know what that would make me? That’s right, a complete asshole.
I don’t want to be a complete asshole. Or at the very least, if I’m going to be a complete asshole, I want it to be because I made the affirmative and sober decision to be so. I don’t want to have the (bad) option of later trying to excuse my behavior by saying “Oh, Jesus, I was so drunk.” Because that’s a terrible excuse. One doesn’t spontaneously become drunk, after all. One generally makes an effort in that direction. And one generally has, by personal awareness or the reportage of others, some idea of what sort of drunk one becomes.
Now, it’s possible that I could be wrong, and I would be, say, a happy drunk. But, look. Historically speaking, I’ve have a hard enough time not getting punched in the head for saying That Which Need Not Be Said when I am entirely sober. The first thing to go when you’re drunk is your impulse control. I’m laying good odds that I’m not a happy drunk. I’m laying even better odds that the first time I were to get drunk, I’d end the evening flat on my back, trying to breathe through a nose that someone else just tried to punch through to the other side of my skull. Because I would have been a complete asshole, you see. And they would have been right to do so. Better to avoid that altogether.
Because I would get fat. I know this because I got fat in my late 20s when my metabolism slowed down and then suddenly all those Cokes I was sucking down turned into a jiggling tube around my abdomen. Fortunately for me I was able to switch to zero calorie sodas in order to continue my assiduous attempts to make my bones porous through excessive intake of phosphoric acid. However, there’s no such thing as Glenfiddich Zero. Alcohol is inherently caloric. Drink enough of it (and I would — see above) and you get fat. This is especially the case when you spend much of your time sitting at a desk, typing, as I do. I mean, hell. I got up to almost 190 pounds without the help of alcohol; throw in three or four of beers at the end of the day (and I would — see above) and suddenly 220 pounds would not be out of the question. I would have to jokingly suggest I was lovably cuddly. And then I would want to kill myself.
I don’t want to get into an argument about whether certain weights on people are inherently unhealthy, incidentally. I fully support the idea that there are different healthy body shapes, weights and that not everyone is meant to be Skinny McBeanpole. But I also know what I should weigh, and I gotta tell you, 200+ pounds ain’t it. If I drank, I would be unhealthy fat.
Because I’m cheap, and drinking isn’t. And considering how much time I spend in bars at conventions and with friends otherwise, I’m guessing that I’d end up spending a stupid amount on drinks every time I went out. As it is, I spend a few bucks a night on diet colas, and sometimes I don’t even get charged for those, on the idea that I’m the guy driving everyone home at the end of the night (which at a convention means pointing them in the direction of the elevator; even so). This comports swimmingly with my cheap nature.
Because I like giving myself permission to do what I like. Or, as I more usually put it, “I can get stupid on my own.” In my experience a fair amount of drinking happens because someone wants to do a thing they can’t do when sober because they’re terrified, or chicken, or worried about being embarrassed or whatever. So they have a couple of drinks, lower the inhibition shield and then they can enjoy themselves. Which is fine, and often an elegant solution for that person. But I personally think it’s better just to sack up, recognize that anything that drinking to give yourself permission would solve could probably also be achieved while sober, and then do it. Then you actually get to be totally present for that thing, which is even better.
And in the case of dancing, which I love to do, and which is often a thing people need a couple of drinks in them for, you’ll also be a lot more co-ordinated. Which is a much better state of affairs than the alternative, when it comes to the dance floor.
(Yes, people: I dance. And you know what? I dance well. Deal with it.)
Because I like being the designated driver. This is true. It’s a nice service I can offer and presents no imposition on me because, after all, I wasn’t going to drink anyway. Most of my friends, however, do drink and enjoy drinking. It makes me happy to let them do so, enjoy their company and get them back home in one piece. It’s nice to be useful.
And that’s why I’m thankful that I don’t drink alcohol. It’s good for me, and good for others. And it’s easy, since, really, it requires me to do nothing. And I’m already doing nothing already! I love it that it works out that way.