Over the years alcohol and I have had a very on-again, off-again relationship. I don’t often examine it but for the early years of my adolescence (by which I mean “until I was about 23”) I was fairly prudish and had some very conventional ideas about how life should go. They were basically modeled on my parents’ life: I would get decent grades in school, go to college, meet a nice man and get married after college, settle down and have kids. There may have been something in there about a white picket fence, too, but don’t quote me on that. My parents both rejected using alcohol in great quantities for varying reasons, though neither was a teetotaler. Therefore that never appealed to me either. My 21st birthday was not a drunken binge; a few friends and I went to a nice restaurant and I got an Irish coffee for dessert. Fun. Tasteful. Tasty!
Fast forward to 23, remember? The later years of my adolescence arrived, well, later. And with a vengeance. I had tried the route my parents went and it had let me down. I’d gone to school and faced challenges I wasn’t sure how to deal with; I’d met a man but it had not worked out; what NOW?
The answer can be summed up with a single word: VODKA. Oh, we drank vodka. Cheap, crappy, plastic-bottled-in-Dundalk vodka. I have the very distinct memory of watching that one X-Files episode (“Syzygy”) where Mulder makes a screwdriver by carefully, deliberately spooning dribbles of orange juice concentrate into a pint bottle of vodka and honestly believing that this was a brilliant idea. My friends and I were once accused of “closet alcoholism” because we never went out to bars, we just got enormous bottles of turpentine-grade vodka and sat around making up drinking games. (An example: Watch the movie Dune. Drink whenever you see sand.) On the contrary, we were merely being thrifty: a liter or two of “Ruble” vodka shared out between ten people was a much cheaper way to getting an evening’s drink on than going to a bar.
Eventually these thrifty ways caught up with me. I’d done my drinking. I’d done my (admittedly somewhat later in life) rebelling. It was time to put aside childish things. Suddenly, drinking did seem childish. Wanting desperately to be – or at least seem – more together, I veered almost completely into teetotaling myself for a few years, mainly in my early 30s. I might have a beer or a glass of wine, but more often than not I’d volunteer to be a sober driver and not fuss about it. Two years ago, when I was 35, I was diagnosed with Type II diabetes. The slow changes I had been making to my health and habits turned into Big Fast Changes. Alcohol was an unknown quantity and so I just stayed away at first.
Now I like to think I’m at a happy medium. Between no longer consuming truly stunning amounts of vodka and losing 90 pounds, my tolerance is back down to laughably cheap-date levels. And do you know what? I love it! I love that a beer or two is all it takes to set me giggling. What I see now about alcohol is that it does have an acceptable place for me socially, now that I’ve finally figured out what I use it for.
I use alcohol to stop thinking. But unlike when I was young and thought I had to obliterate all thought, what I know now is that my brain is a busy place. I’m an over-analyzer, a studier of things, sometimes maybe an overenthusiastic looker-for-signs. I write and I talk and I ponder and I try to create and also I gesticulate a lot. There’s not a thing wrong with that but I have learned to admit that it’s exhausting. A night out with a few friends and a couple of beers, where someone else can drive me home? It’s a tiny mental vacation. With proper hydration, and with sparing use (don’t want to build that tolerance again!), good friends raising a glass together can be one of the most rewarding ways possible to spend an evening.