January 27, 2013

Why Don't You Drink?

Have you ever not done something that most people do? Have you ever made a choice that was contradictory to most cultural customs? Have you ever felt the need to explain your choices to  everyone with whom you eat and drink ? Have your choices become the center of attention at nearly every meal? Well let me tell you; it sucks.

I get it. People are interested:

What? You don't drink? Anything? Wow! I couldn't live without wine.
What? You don't eat meat? Not even fish? Wow! I couldn't live without bacon.
What? You don't eat dairy? Not even cheese? Wow! I couldn't live without cheese.

No. Nope. I don't. I don't drink alcohol of any kind. I have been vegetarian for some time now, nearly ten years and I recently, after reading Eating Animals, chose to become vegan. 

Once the shock abides and their pity wanes, most people want to know why? Why would anyone choose such an austere life choice, one devoid of such comfortable habitual safety blankest as food and booze.

How do you live?
What is the point?

I can see it in their eyes, as they nervously take a sip of their drink and gnaw on a chicken wing or some other flesh. I often try and cobble together some kind of philosophical clap-trap, but the truth is that they are not looking for reasons; explanations are not what they want to hear. They do not really want to know why I do not drink or eat meat or dairy. They just want to be assured that their choices are still okay. That somehow, what I am choosing to do, does not in anyway affect what they choose to do.

I often feel that my choices are made to seem so abnormal, borderline hysterical really, that any defense of them will only make me feel like a pompous douche-bag. I mean who wants to hear the real reason why someone would give up alcohol after a lifetime of drinking when they are having a good time at a bar? Who wants to consider the torture and murder of billions of sentient beings when they are sitting down to eat them?

Yet, they ask. Perhaps their morbid curiosity wants to watch me stumble and fail in my reasoning, so as to prove that their choices are the right ones and mine the bizarre. If I could really answer their questions, it would sound something like this:

My childhood wasn't a sad one. There were moments of joy. I am sure. Many of them. My parents loved me. I loved them. I had enough food. Money. Toys. Food. Attention. I was happy. I am sure.

And so but when I look back why does it feel so grey? Why does it feel alone and empty and wanting? Yearning? Addictive? Perhaps it was the fact that I was from a far away land. An immigrant in a land of wealth. Wearing the wrong shoes. Donning the wrong style. Perhaps cuz I usually felt wrong. Maybe it was the divorce. Or the car accident? Or the business. Or the darkness that is seldom mentioned in public.

Whatever the case, this emptiness was replaced with a low-grade rage as early as I can remember. Stewing. Rumbling. Boiling. I can remember feeling the manifestation of this anger from when I was eight. Third grade. From that time, I carried this anger and emptiness with quiet servitude, like a feral animal that I could control but feared. It morphed into various forms:  disdain for teachers, pity for peers, and a disgust with much of what I saw. Carrying this wrath gave me comfort until I leashed it with alcohol when I was fifteen.

By the way, wouldn't this be a great chat to have with someone at a bar, when they are drunk, teetering in place?  

Junior year two things changed. I found friends and we drank together. We got lost together. We escaped together. We found each other.  Friendship, indignation and alcohol were the perfect elements for a new compound that would fuel me for most of my life. I didn't have to carry the wild animal  anymore. I could unleash it on society. And he could do anything he pleased. He was invincible. He had no fear and no expectations.

He took the anger and the lonelinesses and the angst and mixed it with booze to create: passion and personality and charm and attitude. He scoffed at authority. He pierced his flesh and inked his skin. He devoured books and music and women and life. His appetite was insatiable. His outrage morphed and changed into the pleasure and joy and bliss found only from a drunken escape into oblivion.

I have no regrets about my life in my twenties in the nineties. I needed alcohol and it helped me. It helped me break myself down and rebuild new possibilities. My life was not all like the shower scene from Leaving Las Vegas. There were moments of indescribable perfection. There was love. There was work and writing and a degree and travel. There was learning, so much learning. There was growth and building and evolving. The anger dissipated, but the booze remained.

This new world and the identity who inhabited it was no longer escaping, he had moved into a life dominated by blurry lines and comfortable drunkenness. The fuel that had ignited my re-birth had become an embalming fluid. I had navigated through a lonely angry tunnel, but found myself in a boring drunken light. What next?

I searched in the only place I knew. Moved to Africa and looked at the bottom of bottles. Met Mairin, but kept looking in New York and Malaysia. Alone in rooms with wine and Leonard Cohen. I was becoming him. My dad. I had learned of clarity, of mediation, of life and focus, but the wine was all I had ever know and so but that is where I went. I had dressed my identity in being that guy. The alcohol, as far as I was concerned had saved me from myself. It had created me. Who could I be without it?

Then, just like that, the choice was easy. We were having a baby. I saw my dad. Drunk. Happy. Drunk. Angry. Drunk. Present. Drunk. Loving. Drunk. Distant. Drunk. Whatever he was for me, and he was many things, he was/is a loving and devoted father. He inspired me. Taught me to be a man. Taught me to be myself and to question and to be kind and to be creative and to be myself but he did it all through a haze of drunkenness.

The most important lesson he taught me, was that I would not be drunk around my kids. Whatever baggage I carried as a father, would not be further weighed down by the weight of alcohol. That's it. I quit. That was seven years ago. Not a sip. Not a drop.

My journey brought me here. There is much to be said about sobriety, but who knows if you are even reading, or if I have any energy left. Maybe, the next time someone at a bar asks me why I don't drink, I can pull this post up on my phone and have them read it.  Or maybe I will just let them roam in their own drunken head and contemplate their own journey. 

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