Having a good time without drinking?
I could do that.
"No thank you, I'm driving."
"No, really, I'm good."
"It's fine, I am okay with not drinking."
"I'm telling you that it's cool, I don't have to drink to enjoy myself."
"This is really good coffee."
These are things I have said when I do not drink at a function. The very fact that I wasn't drinking was sometimes enough to set people off. I think that was supposed to be one of those "light bulb" moments when you realise some big truth and sort of wake up to your reality. I took a little longer to figure this out.
It started at a wedding two years ago. I know my own weakness for over consuming and had made a conscious decision not to drink. It was a bit of a drive and we were borrowing my mothers car, as neither of ours were in the best of shape. I was uneasy not returning it that evening or leaving it in a strange city. Kind of a weak thing, I know. The other reason was more practical. We didn't have the money for the hotel that every one else was staying at. I was still a long way from coming to grips with our financial situation and its eventual repair, so the thought of scrambling to afford something as impractical as a stay in a city under an hour away was something I struggled with. I hated to miss out on any sort of drunken shenanigans, but for once, my common sense won out over my drinking habits.
It was an entirely enjoyable evening and it should have shown me the light that I didn't need booze to have a good time, but of course real life doesn't work like a half hour sitcom. People seemed unnerved by my decision not to drink and as I think back, given my previous behaviour, it must have looked odd. It was a surreal experience to be sober in a room full of drunken frivolities in my favourite big city, but I was pretty happy that I could pull it off.
This wasn't the big moment when my eyes widened and I understood there was just a man behind the curtain in Oz, I still drank to excess and blacked out on a regular basis. Slowly though, things were percolating below the surface. Initially, not drinking at an event was an act of passive-aggressive defiance, to prove I wasn't an alcoholic or that I could have fun without the drink. Difficult to be sure and a real pain in the ass to deflect anyone who questioned it. My past of always cramming as many beers down my throat in the least amount of time was coming back to haunt me.
I was always the guy who pressed other people to join me in my ways. I didn't want to be the only one drinking, although that never stopped me. Who doesn't want company when you are on a path of pure inebriation. Looking back, I shudder at the sheer stupidity of what I did sometimes.
There were other, small moments of clarity. A party here, a night out at a restaurant there and finally this year at my cousins wedding. My brother and his wife were coming down for the festivities and it wasn't often we got to spend time together outside of the usual Christmas or Thanksgiving functions. Initially we were going to split a cab, but the reality of spending $100 plus to get to and from an event was a little too much for my now budget conscious ways. My brother is a hard working, seven day a week kind of guy who rarely cuts loose. I realised that if I drove, he could enjoy a few drinks and enjoy the evening. The idea that my not drinking could let someone else have fun and save me money was something I had rarely considered. Off we went after multiple reassurances that I was fine with not drinking and what great time we had. No one got sloppy drunk, but I know all of us had fun. I didn't dance as much as I do when I have many brews, I am a middle aged man with some idea of how badly I move when the music gets to me. When we got home, I had a beer or two to celebrate and went to bed. I felt pretty good. I could do this.
Over the course of the next month I slipped up once or twice. Temptation is always lurking for me and my social anxiety can push me to overindulge to cover up my fear at a function. But the more times I woke up in the morning with a full idea of what happened the night before and no hangover, the more I liked it. I didn't want to give up my pursuit of the perfect beer completely, but neither did I want to drink like Nicholas Cage in Leaving Las Vegas either.
Two plus months of small victories had shown me what I could do if I tried and I made the hard call. No more going over the top and drinking without thinking. I addressed how this came about with my use of social media to connect with others who enjoy quality beer and eschew the macro binge drinking I used to love so much in the post A Brief History of Me.
I have discovered that the process of writing about each beer makes me slow down and consider what I am putting in my glass. I want to experience all that the brewer put into each one and drinking less meant drinking better.
The reality of what I am doing doesn't escape me. I walk a thin line every night when I open a beer. I am very aware of the real dangers alcoholism poses to those who cannot control the disease. For years I was that person. But, and again, in my case, I want to believe I can do this. Because the alternative, if this proves to be something I cannot do, is to give it up all together. I don't want to have to do that, but I know I will if I cannot continue to be responsible.
For the last two months, I have avoided any social setting where alcohol is served. I needed to shut down that part of my life to show myself that I can enjoy 1 or 2 beers and make the conscious decision to not have a 3rd. It isn't easy, but I am doing it. But I cannot hide in my work and my home forever. I have to go out and experience life. I want to go to birthday parties and visit breweries. As corny as it sounds, I want a handshake that turns into an "I miss you" hug. I need to spend time with those I love and celebrate the moments big and small we all share. I want to do these things and not be who I was when there was no limits to what I consumed.
So as Christmas approaches, I vow to venture forth and hopefully rejoin those I love. I am sure it will take time to repair the damage 20 plus years of not giving a shit about myself and generally being a giant ass have caused, but as they say "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."
Breaking the habits built up over a lifetime of self medicating is not easy. But I don't think I can do it alone. I hope to see you all when I am out and about this holiday season and we can maybe share a brew or two. But please know that if we are just going to hang out, grab a coffee and shoot the shit for a while, that is great as well. I need the people I love to be a part of my life again. Let's get to know each other, all over again.