On Booze

Sometimes I drink too much.

I say that not to gloat about my fast paced party lifestyle (I don’t have one), nor to make you worried about a potentially life threatening addiction (I don’t have one) – I’m just making an observation. The “why” question is complicated. I’m not really a “drowning my sorrows” type, alcohol doesn’t make me forget my troubles, it just increases the time between saying something and feeling guilty about it, which massively increases my troubles. It’s also not because I particularly enjoy the sensation. The moment of realization when things have gone too far is not a good feeling. It’s like… well, it’s like an awkward innuendo that I’m not really comfortable typing. I realize nothing which happens repeatedly can be an accident (a comfort to people with 4 or 5 older siblings), so there must be some reason for it.

Beer makes us all the same.

My friend Kim said that. I’m not sure if she was quoting someone (the internet suggests she is not), or trying to be profound (the internet also suggests she is not, but the internet has a spotty record on Kim’s intentions), but that thought has stuck with me. Beer has a strange power to break down social barriers. I am not a sociable person at all, it sounds less scary trying to staple my tongue to the side of an angry horse than trying to make conversation with someone I don’t know extremely well, but for some reason beer changes all of that. Not the alcohol, by the way – the whole scenario stops being intimidating from the first sip.

So what is it? Why does this one thing suddenly stop me caring about being incapable with people? There are probably a couple of reasons. In Fort Collins, we’re blessed with a bonus reason, as well, which is that it’s an acceptable topic of conversation. In most places I imagine “what are you drinking?” doesn’t generate fifteen minutes of genuinely interesting banter, and I’m grateful that it does here. But there are slightly more mainstream reasons I think beer makes social functioning possible. In the first place, for whatever reason, it actually counts as something to do. It’s an activity.

“What are you doing tonight?” “Drinking a beer.”

“What should we do tonight?” “Go drink a beer?”

Those exchanges seem perfectly normal, but if you replace “beer” with “Pepsi”, or “glass of water,” it sounds ludicrous. You might be thinking you can get away with “coffee” in the same way, but with coffee, you only ever want one, so it’s not nearly as helpful. Beer (and other alcohol too I imagine) counts as a way to spend time – lots of time. It even counts as something to do between sentences – if the conversation is flagging while you’re out, sipping a beer and staring into the distance is completely acceptable. There’s no pressure.

In the second place, it’s impossible to be bad at. I’m bad at just about anything normal to do with a group of people (playing sports, watching sports, watching movies, playing video games, watching movies about people who play sporting video games), but the feeling of “I will just be in the way” isn’t there at all if the plan is to go and do some drinking. I’m completely capable of that, and so is almost everyone I’ve ever met. Kim is right, beer makes us all the same.

Over against the social advantages, there’s a lot to hate about drinking. I hate that I usually have to spend the next day alone in a dark room, and I hate the fact that I say things I know I should be ashamed of thinking, let alone acting upon. I’m under no illusion that it’s good to lose my inhibitions and let everything out sometimes – people need to be inhibited, myself very much included. If I were presented with a list of the pros and cons, and asked to make a rational choice, the cons outnumber the pros significantly, but “being able to be with other people like a normal person” is a massive pro. Beer makes us all the same. And I want to be the same sometimes.