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Sunday, June 25, 2023

The S Word

This is not the word you may be thinking of when you read the title.  Instead, today's word is "sobriety".  

Here's a useful definition:
Sobriety refers to the physiological and psychological state of being unaffected by the presence of an intoxicant. For people who are in recovery from substance or alcohol use, the definition of sobriety is similar to the definition of abstinence. It means living a life free of drug or alcohol use.

As a practical matter, I have practiced sobriety since about 1999 or so, with the exception of the rare glass of champagne (such as at a wedding) or a sip of wine.  Even prior to that I was not a substantial drinker.  Since 1999, I have gone literally years at a time without drinking any alcohol.  When you consider the social and cultural aspects of alcohol consumption in this country, I'm definitely the odd person out.

I don't, by the way, advertise this fact (well, this posting is an exception), as I am definitely not the person who wants to draw attention to himself...unless I am getting paid to do it.  The drinking thing mostly comes up during family, work, or social gatherings.  The reactions I get range from...


(an astonished) "What? How is that even possible?"

"What kind of freak are you?  Come on, have a beer!"

"Oh, you poor soul, you must be a recovering alcoholic."

I've definitely felt the second and third comments a few times in social and family gatherings, and I will be honest, it has made me uncomfortable.  Mind you, am not always comfortable to begin with in these situations, so the sobriety thing just compounds the matter.  The final comment seems to more occur when I am dealing with co-workers; in fact, I am reasonably sure that I have not been invited to certain functions mostly because I don't drink (the perception likely being that I am "Mr. Buzz Killington").

So then, why is this important?  Why don't I just go with the flow and have a beer or three?

Since we are dealing with me here, the answers will of course not be all that simple.  But I will try.

First, I genuinely don't like the taste of alcohol.  And yes, alcohol has a taste.  Outside of maybe some red wine, I've never felt that drinks with alcohol actually tasted all that good.  I have a theory:  I don't think most people like the taste of alcoholic beverages, but instead, they learn to like it because they actually like how it makes them feel.

Second, I don't like how alcohol makes me feel.  Now more than one person reading this is going to be thinking to themselves something like "But I like how it makes ME feel" or "It doesn't affect me much at all".  Alcohol definitely impacts humans in both physiological and psychological ways.  One of the more interesting concepts out there is that of alcohol tolerance (read more from the NIH HERE), which I summarize as simply this:  Over time, the more you drink the more you have to drink in order to get the same buzz.  The practice apparently makes the perfect.  Anyway, none of the feelings I've gotten from drinking over my lifetime have been positive.  In excess?  Well, let's just say that I see nothing all that great about vomiting booze into a toilet (or gutter, or hotel wastebasket...I've done all of those, and more).  

Related to the above, I discovered that I would drink at (work-related) events because it was so hard for me to engage in all the related social stuff after hours.  It wasn't long before I realized, in addition to how drinking in excess made me physically feel like warmed-over dog crap, that I was using alcohol as a kind of crutch.  Looking over my lifetime prior to 1999, this has been a repeating pattern.  In the end, let's just say that this is a big enough red flag to cover my Silverado, with room to spare.

Third, alcoholism runs in my family.  I'm not smart enough to know truly whether this kind of thing is inherited (my sense is that the answer is complicated, but you can read for yourself HERE).  For example, one of the few memories I have of being with my father was when I was very young and sitting in a bar on Adams Avenue in Scranton.  Just typing this brings back the smell of cigarettes, beer, and pee.  It's pretty sad that for some reason I've held onto this memory.  I will also note that my brother Chris had significant issues dealing with alcohol, and towards the end the front-row seat I had only reinforced my feelings about consumption.

All told, there's no real compelling reason for me to drink, and I am perfectly fine being in that place.  As alluded to above, the more interesting (and sometimes very frustrating part) is how this plays out with others.  In some respects, I think there are folks who genuinely don't know how to react to someone who does not drink.  Given the value society places on this particular practice, I kind of understand that point.  

Speaking of "points", now is when I'll break down my reactions to what's noted above:
  1. The [Nothing] reaction, "How is that even possible" & those that assume I am in recovery camp.
  2. The "What kind of freak are you" and "Come on, have a beer" crowd.
I am good with #1, even if the sentiment is somewhat misplaced.

#2?  One of the few things that can make me angry (and I am not an angry guy) is when someone who knows that I don't drink insists on my trying an alcoholic beverage.  As if I am this little kid who can be goaded into doing something I don't want to do.  More than once I've had a kind of Walter Mitty movie play in my head where someone insists that I have a can of beer, so I take the can, dump it out in front of them and then crush the can against their forehead.  NOTE THAT I WOULD NEVER ACTUALLY DO THIS...but I will admit that, at times, the thought of it has been a bit satisfying.      

Well now, this post has gotten a bit exciting, which means that I should probably finish things and call it a night.  To end on a positive note, I'll state for the record that I am glad some people find pleasure in drinking alcohol.  I really and truly am.  If it makes someone happy and it isn't an addiction, then it truly is a good thing.  My hope though is that maybe some of these same folks will afford the same positive affirmation to those who do not drink, regardless of the reason(s).

A Final Word
In case it isn't really clear from what I wrote, above, I have absolutely no problem with the consumption of alcohol by others.  It's just not for me.  If you ("you" being anyone reading this) enjoy a beer, wine, or a mixed drink, then I am glad that is a positive thing in your life.  As it stands, life really is kind of short, so it's important to have things to enjoy.  It's equally important though to realize there is a line between "positive thing" and "harmful thing".  With that noted...

(SAMSHA - Confidential free help, from public health agencies, to find substance use treatment and information.)

The Really, Truly, Honest-to-Goodness Final Word
Writer Anne Lamott is, to me, an inspiration for many reasons.  I've read several of her books, and I actually have another one on the way.  Every year she posts about her sobriety anniversary.  The posting below (from her public Facebook Account) is worth taking the time to read, and it is as good an ending to this posting as I think is possible.


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