Jan 2nd, 2004

Rethinking Drinking

My parents drank. After work, before dinner, my parents would have a cocktail. When we dined out, they would have a cocktail. Maybe two, if things were really swinging.

I drink. After work, I have a glass of wine or two. I may have a martini or two instead. When I dine out, I'll have a cocktail, or two.

Growing up in the late 50s through the 60s, drinking was a sign of adulthood. A sophisticated adulthood. The Rat Pack, James Bond, Holly Golightly: they all drank.

I went away to college and learned how to hold my liquor. Much to my relief, I discovered that I am a jolly drunk. I do not get loud. I do not get sloppy. I do not cry, or fight, or pass out. I tell stories and jokes, and can keep them straight. I may have to speak more slowly than is usual for me, but I do not go out and get knee-crawling, commode-hugging, sloppy, shit-faced drunk. I am a respectable drinker, and I stop long before I have too much.

Drinking is now a sin, like smoking. But that's another topic for another day. It's drink I wish to address. I love alcohol. I love the taste of a single malt scotch. I enjoy the rituals of drink mixing. I love the olive at the bottom of the glass, after it has absorbed as much vodka as it can.

But I am slowly being forced to see that I am an exception among my friends, in that I can say no. I can choose not to drink, or not to drink another. I am dragging my mental heels, but I have to admit that a number of my friends are alcoholics. They drink because they must, not because they can.

I no longer want to be their enabler. I don't enjoy their company when they drink. I don't want to watch my one neighbor become disgustingly drunk after a single martini: channeling the snake gods and terrifying my other guests. I don't want to lie and tell her that I forgive her drunken, savage calls to me when she's had too many. I don't want to have those conversations with her husband, where he denies his own alcoholism. I don't want to hear about still a third neighbor, who is dying of cirrhosis of the liver, and had to be Baker acted just to dry him out enough to be put in a nursing home to die.

I don't want to go out with my friend and watch him pass out in his food, and beg to be let go to wait for the rest of us in the car. I don't want to be part of it when he embarrasses his wife or abuses the waitstaff.

I don't want to carry my other friend into my house to pour black coffee down his throat and wait for him to sober up enough to drive the two miles to his home.

What is wrong with us as a nation, that we cannot do anything without doing it to excess?

We eat to obesity, we drink to unconsciousness, we smoke to death, we drive too fast, we spend too much money and save too little. On the other side of that same coin, we refuse to allow others to make their own choices regarding birth control, or marriage partners. We terrorize people who smoke, wear fur, or eat meat. We insult, abuse, and attempt to discredit people whose political views are different from ours.

We are become a nation of intolerant extremists, and that terrifies me. Enough that I think I need to go home and have a drink.