I apologise for this stupid essay, but here goes…
I just got back from a night out which was really intense for me, and completely outside my comfort zone. I’m glad I went, but I think that the whole idea of being the sober one amongst drinkers is completely contrary to my nature. I basically found myself enclosed in a small area with a mixture of people I knew, and didn’t know, people with whom I may not feel entirely comfortable around.
I don’t even know when it happened, but the intensity of my job has recently ramped up to absurd levels, and everyone seems to be on edge about everything, on edge with each other over the tiniest stupid little things.
Yes, I wish I knew how to express myself more openly to others – my lack of such an ability is a trait I appear to have inherited from my father. However, alcohol is not the answer for me. At least, I don’t think it is.
I’m frightened by the type of person I might be if I was drinking. I’m frightened by the potential contrast between that and who I am sober. I’m frightened by the idea of losing who and what I am to baser instincts, to bad decision-making. I am frightened by these things because I see them in others. I see the way people are when they are drunk, and I don’t want to be like that.
I have heard it said that alcohol brings out your true personality, but I do not hold to that notion at all. People may feel more relaxed by drinking it, but every time in my life I have been around people drinking, they are almost always more intense, more full-on, more hyper-exaggerated versions of themselves. The idea that the face we present every day, without chemicals, is some kind of a filter that obscures the true essence of a person’s humanity, just seems like bullshit to me. Stripping away a person’s self-control to me is not an indication of truth, because to me the truth of a person is not in the extremes of their behaviour, it’s in the average, the sum.
Somewhere under my well-meaning exterior, is there some vile monster that I am frightened to reveal? I hope not. But there are things that I feel that I don’t think I should tell other people. Not that I simply act nice to people in order to be well-liked. It’s rather that I was raised to be polite, to live and let live. If there’s something someone says that I don’t like, I’m not going to forget that, but I’m not going to throw it in their face for no reason.
The other part of it is my inability to express myself. There are things I want to say to people, but I don’t know how to say them. How to make my meaning clear. That is something I could be more relaxed about I think.
Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with alcohol itself, or with drinking, but I simply don’t want to surrender control of my mind and body to a volatile substance like that. Others enjoy it, and their lives are not out of control, and it’s overall a positive experience for them. But for me, I don’t think it would be. Because when I am sober, I look at people who are drunk, and it’s kind of terrifying to me how people can be without their self-control.
It’s a personal choice that I can’t really explain to people when they ask me in a bar why I’m the only one not drinking. Yet I kind of have to.
I think a lot of people think I’m kind of an on-edge person, always stressed out and panicked. I think the reason they see that is because they’re not seeming me in my natural environment, my down time. It’s always been hard for me to engage with large groups of people, and the longer I spend in an environment like that, the more I find myself getting stressed and losing control. I don’t think alcohol fixes that. I don’t think seeing the drunk me tells you anything more about me, at least not anything I want to share.
What makes me happy in life are small things, little perfect moments that stick with me, and I don’t want to lose those moments of happiness in favour of what drinking to excess offers. A squirrel sits on a wall eating an acorn, before noticing I am there. Dylan Carlson plays that one final note on the guitar that resolves all of the musical tension. A good meal with family or friends. Or somebody smiling in a certain particular way, that for a fraction of a second appears the most beautiful expression of joy in the known universe. Those are the moments I treasure in life, not the memory of a friend getting up on a table and spilling drinks on people.
I’m not telling anyone how to live their lives, that’s their personal choice. That said, I wish desperately that I did not live in a culture where alcohol is deemed necessary for enjoyment of an experience, where drinking to excess is celebrated as the highest achievement of one’s week. Unfortunately I do not live in that world, and I am learning fast that in order to survive and make a life for myself, I have to make a compromise, to let go of my inhibitions even slightly, otherwise I will never be able to connect with people.
Anyway, I hope the tone of this is not sanctimonious or preachy, because I don’t intend it to be that way at all. I just thought it was a perspective worth sharing, because it seems alarmingly uncommon to people.