On Drinking


My family has a fraught relationship with alcohol. Both of my parents grew up with alcoholism in the family, and as a result they've never been heavy drinkers, and they've always been pretty vigilant about reminding me and my brothers about the perils of excessive drinking.

I didn't have my first drink until I was 22, so thoroughly did I take my parents' warnings to heart. I was afraid of alcohol, afraid that if I started drinking, I wouldn't be able to stop.

I was afraid that alcohol would destroy my life.

In fact, I knew people who were alcoholics and who hadn't been able to conquer their addiction. People close to me, people with whom my interactions were always coloured by the fear of their unpredictability, their volatility.

I still feel a real sense of almost PTSD around those people, and around people I've known and loved later in my life whose addictions have gotten the better of them.

But that didn't stop me from drinking, myself.

The thing is, so much of our society revolves around the consumption of alcohol. I can say with near certainty that I wouldn't have landed my first full-time job had I not been willing to have a beer with the CEO of the company.

We go for drinks after work; we drink to be social. We spend summertimes on bar patios and sip fruity cocktails on awkward, first-time Tinder dates.

I started drinking because I didn't want to stand out. I was sick of explaining why I wasn't drinking.

And I started drinking because I thought that I'd be cooler if I did.

Understand that I lived my adolescence and early twenties in a state of repression. I thought I knew what made a decent person--no drinking, no swearing, no drugs, monogamous--and I thought that if I deviated one bit from that model, I'd be a BAD PERSON and RUINED FOREVER.

The conflict lay in the undeniable fact that people who drank appeared to be having more fun. Or at least more opportunities to have fun.

People who swore got more laughs when they talked.

People who smoked pot were just cooler, period.

And people who slept around got to have sex with more people.

Sooner or later I realized that it's not drinking, swearing, getting high or fucking that makes you a bad person, and that in fact there are a hell of a lot of people who do all four of those things who are kinder, more compassionate and generally more decent than a lot of people who don't.

So I gave myself license to loosen up a bit. And I think that was probably healthy.

What was not healthy was believing that I needed to drink or do drugs to be quote-unquote cool.

And at the risk of sounding like an after-school special, the most liberating thing I've come to learn as I've lived through my thirties is how cool it is to not need to get fucked up to have a good time.

It's how cool it is to not trade five hours of ecstatic bliss for two full weeks of serotonin-depleted misery.

It's how cool it is to not spend an entire night ignoring your friends because you're trying to find someone in the bathroom who'll sell you a gram.

My partner got sober after about two years of us being together. And I thought that was pretty damn cool. I went with her to AA meetings and sat in and listened, and I admired the people we met there a hell of a lot, for their honesty and their openness and their humour and their lack of judgement.

I cut out nearly all of my drinking too, while we were together. I didn't miss it at all.

But when we broke up, I started drinking again. Heavily. I got back into hard liquor. I got blackout drunk for the first time in my life. I drank so much I threw up at like eleven in the evening, and I kept drinking and kept going until four.

I did embarrassing, self-destructive things and I was rude and disrespectful to people I cared about, and who cared about me.

I'm a thirty-five year old man. I'm fortunate enough that I'm not an alcoholic. But that doesn't mean it's acceptable to just get shitfaced like a twenty-year-old every weekend.

I stopped drinking after my birthday, this year. I've had a few beers since; I love craft beer, and not even especially for the taste, though I do love the taste.

I love the passion and personality of a small brewery. I love that people are making beer because it's what they love to do, and I enjoy supporting that and experiencing a bunch of talented, creative people's different interpretations on a theme.

So, hell, I'll still try local beers. But I'm through drinking to get drunk for a night on the town. I'm through drinking because I feel like it's something I have to do to fit in or be social.

I'll drink in moderation. I'll still drink when I want to.

It's just these days, I don't really want to drink all that much.