Over the years alcohol and I have had a very on-again, off-again relationship. I donâ€™t often examine it but for the early years of my adolescence (by which I mean â€śuntil I was about 23â€ť) I was fairly prudish and had some very conventional ideas about how life should go. They were basically modeled on my parentsâ€™ 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 donâ€™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. Iâ€™d gone to school and faced challenges I wasnâ€™t sure how to deal with; Iâ€™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 (â€śSyzygyâ€ť) 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 â€ścloset alcoholismâ€ť 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 â€śRubleâ€ť vodka shared out between ten people was a much cheaper way to getting an eveningâ€™s drink on than going to a bar.
Eventually these thrifty ways caught up with me. Iâ€™d done my drinking. Iâ€™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 Iâ€™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 Iâ€™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 Iâ€™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. Iâ€™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. Thereâ€™s not a thing wrong with that but I have learned to admit that itâ€™s exhausting. A night out with a few friends and a couple of beers, where someone else can drive me home? Itâ€™s a tiny mental vacation. With proper hydration, and with sparing use (donâ€™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.