I haven’t had a drop of alcohol in over six months. I miss it.
I’m not an alcoholic, and I wasn’t afraid of becoming one. My intake has been pretty moderate for the past decade. Maybe too moderate. A beer a day is supposed to be good for the kidneys. By that standard, I wasn’t drinking enough.
I gave it up because of a large project I’ve been working on, not related to the money I earn. That’s how I spend my free time these days. I noticed that I would go to bed wondering about some small aspect of the project, a problem that needed to be addressed... and when I woke up, the solution would be there.
When we sleep, the brain goes on working to answer questions, unimpeded by the clicking-gear mechanisms of the conscious mind. This is a real phenomenon. Psychologists have studied it. I read about it. Alcohol inhibits it. This project is important to me. So, no more booze.
I first got acquainted with alcohol in middle school. Every once in a while, my friends and I would indulge. There wasn’t much purpose to this, except the noble and necessary one of disobeying parents as often as possible. Drinking wasn’t nearly as interesting or important as the challenge of acquiring alcohol and sneaking off to try something forbidden. If adults had wanted to keep us away from celery, we would have pursued that with the same zeal.
Our attitude toward alcohol changed in high school. We discovered that it served an actual purpose. What that purpose was, I cannot now imagine. I’m middle-aged, unable to stand in the shoes of my 16-year-old self. I don’t know what it was like back then, and I can’t pretend that I do. I remember that my classmates and I spent a lot of time trying to acquire alcohol, and finding places where we could drink alcohol, and talking about things that had happened because of alcohol. If I had to guess at the reason, I would say we all felt like we ought to be having more fun than we were. There was a lot of shame in that back then, not having the proper amount of fun. Alcohol seemed like a plausible remedy. We tried again and again. We talked about how great it would be with no parental interference.
In college, we got our wish. We could drink as much as we wanted, as often as we wanted, and hardly anyone cared. A lot of us, in one way or another, pushed our high school philosophy of alcohol to its limits. For most, the results were merely embarrassing. For a few, they were devastating. As time went on, we began to discover what we really liked and valued. Our alcohol use dropped off naturally as this happened.
Grad school brought an unexpected development. I discovered microbrews. I learned the difference between ale and lager, began to appreciate the variations in technique and ingredients that might produce a porter, or rauchbier, or pilsner. Not only what I drank, but the setting in which I drank, changed. Drunkenness was no longer the goal. Alcohol became an ancillary of serious thought. There were the class discussions, of course, but in addition to these were the informal ones, where alcohol was always present, and in some strange way essential. Then the usual academic formality could be dispensed with. Large issues could be debated, and the question, “But why do you think that?” considered carefully. It was a wonderful, broadening time. My grad school years were, without a doubt, the high point in my relationship with alcohol.
It’s always been essentially the same substance: water and yeast excrement, with a few additions thrown in for flavor. And it’s always given us the same thing: whatever we bring to it. Laughter, camaraderie, thoughtfulness, recklessness, tastelessness, criminality, despair, violence, inspiration, artistry. Any or all of those, and so many others, in any imaginable combination.
I’m quite certain that I haven’t had my last drink. Years or decades from now, I’ll decide that the benefits of abstaining are outweighed by what alcohol has to offer. I still check out the beverage section when I buy groceries. I still read beer reviews. I like to know what’s out there. When I do have that next drink – a doppelbock, perhaps, or maybe a Trappist ale – I’ll look on it as the next stage in a long relationship with a generous but sometimes treacherous friend. I’ll try to drink in the right manner, for the right reasons, in the hope that this will be reciprocated.