Why you may want to drink up
Nobody ever talks about the negative effects from quitting drinking alcohol. Ex-drinkers go on endlessly about the wins of abstaining, but just as important to acknowledge, are the many downsides of rejecting alcohol. Pros & cons: why do the cons always get swept under the rug? Well, I’m not afraid to talk about them.
As a hockey-loving Canadian, who always strives for perfection in my craft, I’d say I was a prime candidate for turning to alcohol to both unwind and cope with challenges in life & art. Four years ago, I just stopped, knowing I had a problem, but with little sense where it would all take me.
The straw-man tactic in reflecting on ‘sobriety’ is familiar to drinkers and non-drinkers alike. But I’d rather take the ‘steel-man’ angle, because as a critical thinker, it’s the things you don’t have that can acutely consume one’s thoughts & desires. Here’s a small list of SNAFUs, ironies, and downright rip-offs I’ve gone through since quitting drinking alcohol.
I’ve lived in major metropolises for most of my life, and nothing disappears faster after stopping drinking in these big cities than one’s so-called friends. I’m sure this can be doubly true for those living in tight-knit small towns, but I’ll just point to the situation with which I’m familiar. It’s been said that true friends will stick it out with you, through the thick of it, but as soon as you start mucking around with the social chemistry that made such friends such, it’s unlikely you won’t queer relationships in doing so. If you stop imbibing, you’re bound to knock down a few of the pillars in your life that you’ve always relied on.
It’s no secret, that if you’re in the ‘high arts,’ rare is the bird called money. However, for me, when I was drinking, I was never a starving artist — I always had a decent flow of income. The drinking man needs money, so when you take alcohol out of the equation, don’t be surprised that the incentive to make money can disappear a lot like those friends forementioned. Remarkably, I’ve never been more ‘broke,’ despite all the general sentiment ex-drinkers tout about how much money they now have. In my case, it’s not a simple cause and effect, but when I reflect on why I have less money now, largely, it’s because I don’t have a ritual that necessitates financing. This is one of those ironies that I find little humor in.
Although this hasn’t been my experience, I’ve heard that a sudden quiting of alcohol can break apart families. Sometimes a lifestyle change can be so profound that it creates waves among the family unit, breaking bonds, even when we’re told that few things can break the bonds of family. So, along with loosing friends, you may loose family members that were once close to you, or cause wholesale breakups of the family unit, if you’re a parent. This notion that family bonds are unbreakable is an appealing one, but an even stronger force majeure looms: one’s needs. Families are composed of human-beings. And as humans, we tend to look after our own interests as best we know how, despite any sacred bonds like the one we label ‘family.’
I listened to an earlier recording of myself when I was a heavy drinker, and it was a much finer performance (largely artistically speaking). When one drinks, the drama in one’s life is geometrically greater than when one abstains. It’s no wonder when I listened, I heard a greater range of woes and jubilee than what I am now capable of. It reminds me of that fictional novelist character in the film ‘Barton Fink,’ William P. Mayhew (a Faulkner caricature). His best work and drinking go hand-in-hand. Of course, for anyone who knows the film, this logic is built around an irony that negates it all, but there’s enough ‘sauced-up’ artists that make my point all the same; like many of the great Russian novelists, the dipsomaniacal composer Mussorgsky, Erik Satie, etc., ad infinitum.
Let’s face it, once in a blue moon, something lands in our laps and our amygdala hops into the driver’s seat. As time away from the sauce ticks by, my usual tactic of flight has subsided, and instead, I’ve noticed that I want to stick around and have a fight. I don’t mean fight in the violent sense. I mean, instead of being a pacifist and choosing to say ‘whatever’ and leave the situation, as a non-drinker, I tend to feel the need to defend my values, in a word-war, and stand my ground. I hate when conflict comes knocking, but we are animals, and stuff can and will come up that throws us back into the jungle. For me, tending to want to fight now that I don’t drink could put me in some choppy waters I may not be able to safely negotiate.
I saved the doozy for last: in my experience, the day-to-day got a lot worse compared to the days where alcohol came to the rescue. Alcohol couldn’t be as popular as it is unless life itself didn’t beg one to escape from some of its ugliness. I say ugliness, because it covers a lot territory. From the mundane (like being bored or always feeling behind the eight-ball), to actually dealing with hell-on-earth (like living in communist Russia in the mid-80s when mass-drinking hit such a high pitch, that Gorbachev attempted a state-wide quasi-prohibition), life can be an unfair, brutal experience — it’s no wonder that alcohol has become a partner for many of us as we trudge along.
In the end, a lot of the ills of not drinking are duly noted, but aren’t enough for me to return to drinking. Even not playing violin as well, isn’t reason enough. For me, being someone who has a propensity to be pathological made enjoying an addictive substance quite tricky. However it’s not appropriate to laud sobriety, considering all the downsides that can come with it. Rather, it’s good to take measure of the few areas that improved, while being cognizant about the number of areas where sobriety made trouble.
Update May. 2020
Practice sprints seem never ending. So to celebrate not drinking, for two weeks after the first Sunday in May, I keep my fiddle in its case to rest and reflect on life and things outside of my musical life.