I am not an alcoholic. I don’t get sick, fall down or start my day with tots of whiskey. But I do love wine. I am entranced by the socio-historical and chemical properties of the vine. It is, for me, an intellectual pursuit–albeit one that is also literally intoxicating.
The threshold of addiction is a foggy place. You more or less know when you’re dependent, and you know when you’re independent. But most of us stumble around somewhere in between: we’ll just have one more; we don’t need it, we just like it; we could stop anytime. My social life runs on alcohol like a bicycle on its tyres: it could keep moving without it, but the ride would be bumpy and uncomfortable and I would worry about looking foolish.
So I decided to give up drinking for a month. How hard could it be? Not that I thought it would be easy: not only do I enjoy drinking, but also I am good at it. I merrily buy fine wine and hold it well. Yet given my lack of discipline, going completely without seemed easier than moderation. I believe La Rochefoucauld had it right when he said, “Moderation is the feebleness and sloth of the soul, whereas ambition is the warmth and activity of it.”
Supportive friend: “Seriously? For a whole month? Wow. You should write about it. People love to read about the misery of others.”
Less supportive friend: “In January? Are you mad? What other joys are there at this time of year?”
Even less supportive friend: “I’m just off out for a lovely evening of dinner, chat and lots of red wine. Oh, and martinis. Envious?”
So I did it. It’s not difficult. Just dull. I felt unsociable. I missed the glow of self-satisfaction that alcohol brings, and the clear division it offers between work and recreation.
So what else did I learn after a month of stone-cold sobriety? That it’s over-rated. There is a reason why people drink proportionally more the less they like themselves: alcohol takes you, as so much slang for drunkenness has it, out of your head. I’m no self-loathing Hemingway or Parker, but a month is a long time in your own uninterrupted company. Nobody wants to spend that much time with me–not even me. This is despite the fact that I found abstinence to be good for my self-esteem, not the other way round. People keep asking me if I feel healthier. I don’t, particularly. But I do feel smug.
Wow. What a great job explaining the difficulty of quitting drinking for someone who simply likes drinking–for someone whose brain hasn’t even been hijacking to seeking alcohol as a survival need.
It also does a great job of explaining some of the ways in which a tribe within mainstream culture can offer many of the same barriers that are face by people who identify with a tribe the culture of addiction.