One of the interesting things about not drinking is when you aren’t drinking, you know you aren’t. For example, you say to yourself, I’ll go out tonight and I won’t drink – as if “not drinking” is one of the activities you are intentionally engaging in. And, well, it is. You are consciously choosing not to drink. You aren’t just going to a party and only realizing later, oh, I didn’t even have a beer. You aren’t going to dinner and forgetting to look at the wine list. You aren’t going home at the end of an event and simply not thinking about mixing a nightcap. You are deliberately and actively not doing these things.
But before all of this not-doing, you are going to a party. And you’ve decided that tonight you won’t drink. Maybe someone’s made a comment about your drinking. Maybe your boyfriend has said, I hope you don’t get plastered tonight—you become so argumentative with everyone. Maybe you, just you, have been wondering if things are as in control as they should be, if your drinking is as healthy and normal as you’d like it to be, if there isn’t maybe just a wee bit of a problem. Either way, you’ve come to the decision: I am not going to drink tonight and by the time you pull up to the house or apartment and turn off the engine you are already regretting this decision. You are putting on a good face, but in fact you are already trying to rationalize your choice to drink, if necessary; your right to drink, if necessary; your good judgment in choosing to drink, if indeed you do. It’s a fucking party for God’s sake!
You walk up the driveway or through the lobby and you think about your pre-determined commitment to “not drink” tonight. You think about how this is going to work exactly. How are you going to enjoy yourself without drinking, without the option of drinking? You knock on the door or ring the bell and enter the party. The room has people in it; they are holding cups and bottles and the easy smiles and warmth of the drink. You immediately feel ill at ease. Unfamiliar. Agitated. Soon, you feel angry. I mean, everyone else is carrying on with the glow of the drink and the ease of amusing conversation that the drink provides. And you are supposed to stand here, chatting idly? Sipping…seltzer? You are supposed to engage in conversations with strangers and pretend to give a fuck about the most mundane bullshit? You are supposed to suffer the pontifications of the latest trick to publish a chapbook? You are supposed to watch some lecherous fuck tool around the room? You are supposed to hold court in a circle of women, women who’ve made it clear they think you’re a flake? You are supposed to feel alone and weird and depressed and anxious? And all without a drink?
Fuck that. Walk to the kitchen. Crack a beer or open a bottle of wine like the pro you are or pour yourself a glass of whiskey if it’s all that’s left on the counter. Drink it like a champ. Rejoin the party and feel yourself engage. Feel the tension slide off you like a suit of armor clattering to the floor. Feel the disappointment with this/that/the other thing dissipate into bad or unfortunate memories. Feel your resentment at the arrogant prick across the room or the self-righteous bitch casting a lowered, then raised eye at you wash away into a general feeling of whatever. You have a drink in your hand. You are fine. You’re even enjoying the conversation you’re having with the kid who published a long poem in a journal you’ve admittedly never heard of. You are laughing and debating jocularly; teasing and winking; opining and conceding. You have achieved the sensation that everything that’s happening right now is important, magical. Fun.
It’s important though to mention that you believe your relating to others in this way was made possible by the drink. That without it, such connections would not be possible or, simply less meaningful. You think of the secret special intimacy drinking creates. You observe the quantifiable amelioration it lends to these situations, these conversations, these relations. Here you are lighting her cigarette, sharing a joke. Here you are trading notes and observations with a former classmate. Here you are on the balcony, clinking glasses with the young poet, now with an ex, now the air. You realize the common denominator for a great many of these intimate moments has been the bottle.
And the truth is, this bothers you. But not enough--not yet--to take the realization further, into the uncharted territory of change. Into the waters of oblivion, as D.H. Lawrence put it. In a way, the realization validates your opinion that drinking is very important—nay, crucial. It is, in fact, your best and surest link to the thing that you are trying to run from and trying to pin down or maybe actually embrace; it has become your well-known bond and well-worn bridge to the thing you call and recognize as yourself.