The wagon

22 04 2011

I have quite a few teetotal friends. Granted, they’re not exactly in the majority amongst the circles I drift in and out of, but they’re there. Some have abstained upon doctor’s orders, some wish to disassociate themselves from a family history of alcohol abuse, some choose to live a straightedge lifestyle, others have set some strict health and fitness goals for themselves. All perfectly legitimate and respectable reasons.

"Moe, I've come here to make amends for my disgraceful behavior over the last twenty years... I broke barstools, befouled your broom closet, and made sweet love to your pool table, which I then befouled."

None of these friends harangue me over my regular raising of the wrist, nor do I bother with convincing them to hit the sauce. In his enthralling and entertaining memoir, Hitch-22, Christopher Hitchens writes: “Alcohol makes other people less tedious, and food less bland, and can help provide what the Greeks called entheos, or the slight buzz of inspiration when reading or writing.” I know all this to be true (especially the first part…) although I certainly don’t attempt to stuff a booze-laden funnel past the oesophagus of my abstinent friends when they’re lackadaisically slumped in the corner of a humdrum nightclub complaining of boredom. The short of it is, nobody likes being preached to.

So, imagine how thrilled I was to open a Sunday newspaper the other week and come across an article spanning a broadsheet page-and-a-third about how a formerly habitually-shitfaced journo has seen the light, and now desires to share the wonders of “the illuminating glow of sobriety” with any sod (or sot, perhaps) willing to surrender their eyeballs for a few moments. The article can be read online: High Sobriety by Jill Stark. The Sunday Age isn’t the first outlet I’d typically turn to for thought-provoking social commentary, but even by their standards this is contemptible, obnoxious, sanctimonious tripe. Here are some samples of the absurdity being peddled to us:

I’d been a regular drinker since my teens and struggled to imagine how life could be anything short of dull and two-dimensional without it. Didn’t the best nights out usually happen after a skinful?

But I was about to turn 35. I had a grown-up job, a ridiculous mortgage and knees that now made a cracking noise every time I stood up. I could no longer afford to drink like I was a teenager.

That rush you get when a favourite singer hits a note that wraps round your heart and leaves you breathless is just as real when you’re drinking water.

But there was a bigger epiphany to come. That night I busted my long-held belief that alcohol is an essential element in any romantic connection.

Alcohol gives us a convenient safety net should the recipient of our truth-telling not react in the way we might like.

What’s harder, is finding a more constructive way to express your emotions.

Removing alcohol leaves you with no excuses.

One out of two ain't bad. I'd say it's just about right, really.

I was going to provide a little commentary for each of these extracted sentences, but I’ll allow you to draw your own conclusions.

As I see it, the article is a portrait of someone lacking in self-control, someone unable to take responsibility for their own actions, and someone who appears to be barely able to acknowledge, if not completely unable to find, the middle ground. The comments section is equally depressing, full of people who seem to have known only total sobriety and full-throttle dipsomania and nothing in between.

I drink most nights. I’m not drunk most nights. A whisky, or a beer, or a glass of wine of liqueur. To the best of my recollection, not since 2006 have I rocked up to work with a hangover. Some people appear to be astonished by the notion that alcohol can be consumed for its taste. As far as I’m aware, alcohol – or rather, alcohol as a product of fermentation and the subsequent potation in which it is present – is the only recreational drug that can still be enjoyed without its effects being necessarily felt. (A similar case could be made for tobacco in the form of cigars, but that’s a somewhat grey area).

On some weekends I’m no stranger to imbibing more liberal amounts; I’ve found that it can make an otherwise insufferable venue or crowd verge on tolerable, and often turn a decent night into a livelier one. I’m not some dewy-eyed cry-on-a-stranger’s-shoulder pisshead. I know my limits, I know when I’m exceeding them, and I’m rather proud of my capacity to stay vertical even whilst thoroughly slaughtered. Yet unlike the author above, never do I use the drink as a catalyst for barfing out a rainbow of emotions or effectuating romantic situations, nor do I use it as any excuse for acts of gross stupidity committed whilst under its influence (hey, it’s all me, baby). Alcohol may be a reason, but it’s never a justification.

The quintessential Japanese salaryman after a night out with the colleagues. Absolutely textbook example here.

When the author writes, “Moderation has always been a harder proposition than abstinence“, is this really true? Are people honestly incapable of driving out to a gig or a club, drinking one beer – or two, if they stick around long enough to space them out – and then sticking to non-alcoholic drinks for the rest of the night? (Bundaberg Ginger Beer is fucking delicious, by the way. Highly recommended as a substitute if you’re planning to get back home without wrapping your car around a pole). I don’t feel that I’m at all qualified to comment definitively on Australia’s drinking culture, but the article and the ensuing comments seem to be indicative of a substantial problem in this country. Er, one of many.

Perhaps the observation on moderation versus abstinence is true. Season 9 of South Park featured a savagely brilliant yet controversial episode entitled Bloody Mary, dealing with Randy Marsh’s worsening alcoholism. The final scene is a conversation between Randy and his son, Stan, in which the following exchange takes place (which can also be watched online here):

Stan: “Dad, you like to drink. So have a drink once in a while. Have two. If you devote your whole life to completely avoiding something you like, then that thing still controls your life and, ‘n you’ve never learned any discipline at all.

Randy: “But, maybe… I’m just the kind of person who needs to have it all or nothing.

Stan: “Naw. All or nothing is easy. But learning to drink a little bit, responsibly, that’sa disciprine. Disciprine… come from within.

Australia... what we need is a little disciprine.

I’m actually tempted to give up the grog for perhaps a fortnight or a month to see how I go – at least for some blog fodder, if for no other reason. But given the fact that I actually can moderate my intake of alcohol, along with the reasonably substantial amount of single malt whisky in my cupboard, I can’t ever picture myself in Jill Stark’s corner. Much like the classic Winston Churchill quote, “Always remember that I have taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me.

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