Sunday, December 4, 2011

Alcohol, Part 4: ...And I Have A Drinking Problem

  • "I got 'em, no worries," I say. 'Em are forty-five pounds of dirty dishes, and I'm on my feet before any of the other dinner guests can try to one-up my irritating helpfulness.  With my empty, butter-streaked wineglass in hand, I slink to the scullery and begin filling the sink with water and detergent. While the mess submerges I find the cheap white wine that was opened for deglazing and pour myself an amount beyond any pretense of appreciation.  I have been planning this moment since the wine on the table ran out just before the spitefully cognac-less dessert.  It is warm and oxidized and tastes like victory.
  • At a DIY cocktail table at some reception, I prepare a gin and tonic for myself:  Five large ice cubes, a jigger of Hendrick's, Schweppes to the top.  Almost to the top.  I glance to to nine, twelve and three o'clock, then add more gin until the meniscus wobbles.  A little spills when I lift the glass but I don't care about that.  
  • My friends and I are going to be late for that thing we're going to.  One guy sits oblivious on the deck with his headphones too deep in his ears, another remains installed at his desk reloading Facebook, I'm on the couch swirling the dregs of beer three and ready to leave. From the bathroom, the girl practicing cartography on her face says she needs five, i.e. fifteen, more minutes. I smell opportunity, kill my last two gulps, and get another bottle.  Of the same, just in case anyone else is counting.  I check to be sure all my empties are in the recycling, buried, in case anyone else is counting.  I drink fast.  The volume of liquid I'm carrying will be a problem on the 40-minute drive (maybe it's a subway ride) but I don't care about that yet.
  • On a viscous summer night in New York City, maybe July, probably 2AM, I stumble purposefully down the street where I grew up.  I'm returning from some bar during a mostly aimless summer that partitions totally aimless middle years of college. Twenty paces to the door, I find my keys among the receipts and pennies in my cargo pocket.  I will soar up the twelve front steps, unlock, close, and lock the door in a single graceful pivot.  The motion is beautiful in my mind, and it is too in reality until the key makes a grinding noise as it gets stuck in the lock.  I jiggle it a bit too hard trying to free it, and the head snaps off in my hand.  Now what?  I sit down.
  • "How much did you have to drink tonight?" my girlfriend asks me.  "Just a couple of beers," I lie through red teeth.

These moments were real, there were others like them, there are still.  Out of consideration for the lives that have truly been run aground by drinking I will not say I'm an alcoholic--the same way I will not clap a Purple Heart winner on the shoulder, show him the ACE bandage on my tennis-weary wrist and say "I feel your pain, brother."

And yet, my wrist still hurts.  Which is to say alcohol exists for me in that navel-gazing Sartre-misreading way that it doesn't for people who can enjoy a drink, or a drunk, as often as they care to and then just get on with things.  It is a presence, there of course when I'm drinking, but also there when I'm not drinking: Reading Google News over my shoulder as I sleepwalk through cyberspace, leering at me from the far end of the pizza place, reeling me into the wine shop out of the upstream flow of pedestrians.  

I can talk to it and it talks back, though it says the same thing every time.  It goads me and motivates me  and is the only thing besides gravity that can insult me anytime and be guaranteed forgiveness.  It is the main structural unit for the second half of my day, the same way coffee is for the first.*

Once noon passes, the burden is on me to justify not drinking.  I have to drive to work in an hour.  I want to exercise today.  I still feel sick from last night.  These work often enough, but they don't work every time.  Or they work once, maybe twice, but not three times.  The 750ml of Westmalle in my fridge and the forever young bag-in-a-box of (quality!) Malbec in the pantry demand that I resubmit my proof every twenty minutes under cross-examination.  

You know how if you repeat anything over and over again it starts to sound meaningless?

If I've held my ground until ~6PM, a stark feeling of mental and physical unease sets in--the photo-negative image of my 6AM caffeine craving.*  A first drink doesn't buzz me at this point, it returns me to "Normal".  If this isn't a dependency, is anything?

So it's a dependency, it's an alcohol dependency, it's my alcohol dependency.  Not one worth an ABC after-school special, but still a surrender of control, even if it's over something that doesn't seem to matter much.  It's a lesser demon, the red-headed stepchild of the Legion family--those Volvo-driving Rotarians who live in the loud mauve McMansion between the Molochs and the Pazuzus on Tartarus Lane.  

Point being, I know many happy and functional, even successful, people who drink as much as I do or more.  Looking around me, it's just one of several cluttered life-areas where it would behoove me to get my s**t together.  

And yet.  If this modest habit is distending my gut, scuttling my evening productivity, planting bombs in my organs, seeding concern in my loved ones, and lacerating my memory with moments of indelible shame (ask me about some of the things that didn't make the bullet list), confronting it would seem to be a do-it-now-or-pay-with-compound-interest later proposition.

Not to mention my excuses--avoid most spirits, eat blood-fortifying vegetables, jog 3x/week--fit a profile of deflection and delusion that probably applies to the real alcoholics.  The iron fact is that it's not healthy.  "Drinking", in all its intransitive vainglory, is not healthy. Letting it get Park Place and Boardwalk in my brain like I have is not healthy.  So this all bottlenecks at: what price health?

I don't think you can make a strong case for not wanting to die if it means ignoring the way you want to live.


Dan Diffendale said...

"His state is like that of men who are addicted to drinking and wine-bibbing, who after long and steady drinking of unmixed wine, often lose their taste for it and create an artificial thirst by the stimulus of sweatings, salted foods, and condiments."

This is the closing line of Dio Chrysostom's 7th Oration, which I just happened to be reading; and now I've gone and caught up with your writing since July.

There's no particular message in my posting it, other than that it seemed relevant.

JBH said...

Stimulus of sweatings! Love the Romans. Good to hear from you Dan, holler when you head back east.

JBH said...

Greeks! :p

Dan Diffendale said...

Well, a Roman Greek, or a Greek Roman...