On Not Drinking Alcohol


Beverages are a big deal in my life. If a bottle of water is not at hand, I have a panic attack. If I don’t procure a nice cup of mild coffee in the morning, death feels imminent. Without a Red Bull at lunch I will snap at whomever comes near. Juices, teas, mineral water (see above) and sometimes Dr. Pepper also factor into my beverage equation.

Alcohol, though, has never tickled my fancy.

I’ve sipped all manner of beers and ordered sangria on my 21st birthday, but eventually the question of what exactly it’s doing for me comes into play and I have to stop. It’s never seemed rational to me to drink alcohol when the end result of drinking it is stupidity. Whenever people around me are drinking they get… annoying. Some get downright nasty and belligerent. No one around me drinks in a connoisseur-like fashion, caring about the perfect pairing of flavors — it’s about getting drunk, or at least tipsy. It’s about forcing comfort and self-confidence. Adults (I am not one.) in my life will drink socially and respectably, which also begs the question of, “What’s the point?”. Whenever I inquire, the answer is usually that it “feels nice” or that it’s simply “what people do.”

Does it pain me to not be “people”? Sometimes. Last week I was in a bar for maybe 15 minutes before I couldn’t take any more of the middle-aged karaoke (I hate Billy Joel!) and not being able to carry on a conversation above the noise. Deciding that scenes like this aren’t my cup of tea can at times make me feel like I’m missing out on a huge aspect of what socialization and friendship are, but if I had been drinking would it have been fun? I have no idea, but it obviously doesn’t bother me enough to find out.

One could argue that I need caffeine in order to enjoy life, period, so why wouldn’t it be OK to drink in order to more enjoy a social situation, which is a somewhat apt comparison. There is, though, the fact that caffeine awakens the senses whereas alcohol dulls them, and I have no need for dull. It’s quite enough that I’m half brain-dead for 40 hours a week at my job. This point is made in an essay on coffee from At Large and At Small: Confessions of a Literary Hedonist by Anne Fadiman:

The conclusion was clear: Why would anyone want to feel like this? Although I never became a teetotaler, I knew – especially when I woke up the next morning with a hangover – that I would cast my lot with caffeine, not with alcohol. Why would I wish my senses to be dulled when they could be sharpened? Why would I wish to forget when I could remember? Why would I wish to mumble when I could scintillate?

At my college graduation the president of the university said that if the school had done its job, we’d all feel restless for the rest of our lives, as though we were never doing enough. This had already been true for me while in school because balancing school, work, and sociability never left any time for writing and reading of my own. With all of that going on, why would I want to sacrifice my awareness at any time? Slavoj Zizek said in The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema that “anxiety is the only real emotion.” That’s pretty much my reality now. It’s why I read three books at a time. It’s why alcohol is a total waste of time.

Do I judge negatively those who do indulge? I’ll admit that yes, I do. It comes with the territory of thinking something is stupid and pointless. I also judge people negatively for being devout Catholics, so let he/she who doesn’t cast stones cast the first stone!

I wonder if I’ll ever change my mind, if perhaps one day wine will join the rest of my pretentious interests and I’ll have to rescind my youthful doubting of alcohol. But for now you can rest assured that the only bottle I’ll be handling in Facebook pictures is one of Pellegrino.


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