"Why don't you drink?"
Updated: Feb 11, 2020
I don’t drink alcohol. In 36 years I have had one drink on purpose. The other, non-intentional drink, happened when I was six. My neighbor down the street said it was apple juice. I remember thinking it was gross and that apple juice doesn’t have bubbles like that. He found it all high-larious. A year later, out of nowhere, that kid pointed a gun at me and told me to run. It was a revolver, silver, but small—not like Dirty Harry on TV, a .38, probably. I ran towards home, and he walked calmly into the middle of the street, aiming at me and pretended to shoot, bending at the elbow as if recoiling from the blast.
Sixteen years later, I was visiting home, and a young man knocked on the door. My father answered in his normal way, with a Beretta in hand behind the door. It was the kid, older, skinny with long curly hair under a backwards baseball hat, and he wanted to apologize. He was on Step 8 or 9 and was making amends with all the people he had hurt. He apologized. “Okay,” I said.
My second drink, fully on purpose, was champagne, at my wedding. I thought I should, because it mattered. So I did. I don’t recall feeling anything different whatsoever. It tasted okay.
My father cannot get over the idea that I have been to Germany twice now and never drank a beer. Or that I went to raves in high school and never took any X or E or other letters. But I’m scared of it. Scared of not being in control, at some level. But also scared of what drugs did to my parents. Scared of my assumed genetic tendency toward addiction and the lived How to be an Addict Internship of my childhood. I watched as addiction truncated my father’s potential and privilege and ravaged my mother’s health, sat in bizarre home school lessons about using a physician’s desk reference to check for unexpected interactions between drugs you take to avoid overdose. Learned the difference between downers and uppers and was the first kid with my hand up when we talked about drugs in health class. I learned of my grandfather’s overdose and my uncle’s alcoholism on my mom’s side along with the substance abuse of both my father’s grandfathers.
And I walk around convinced I am at a high risk for that flavour of disaster. Both nature and nurture, so I must be screwed. It’s often in the back of my mind, connecting my habits and desires to addiction—In college, I regularly went on video game benders that lasted weekends or more, often forgetting to eat or piss or go to class or even pay my rent. That’s my addictive personality, for sure. Or maybe it’s just a college kid with more freedom than sense. Still, if there are twelve Resse’s Cups on the table, I am eating twelve Resse’s Cups. So, you see why we can’t have cocaine in the house.
My wife says, “I would love to do drugs,” but explains that it isn’t worth the risk to her career. I do not want to do drugs. I feel terrified of what it would do. Terrified that I would like it. I sometimes wonder if I shouldn’t drink a glass of red wine each night, what with the health benefits, etc. Not to mention being able to avoid the social inconvenience of explaining to people why I am not drinking at a party. Root beer in a bottle goes a long way towards dodging that one, though. Still, maybe.
I don’t believe in gateway drugs. I watched my mother smoke weed everyday of my youth, and though she admitted that she would honestly take any drug that was in front of her, she only smoked weed and took clinically prescribed methadone. Watching her anxiety when she was driving with weed in the car and seeing her buy drugs from the guy who was once a pee-wee baseball coach led me to support legalization long before it was popular. And I’m adamant that alcoholics are more dangerous than stoners. I don’t think drugs are bad, exactly. The line between medicine and drug is always just a physician’s signature. The criminalization of mental health crises is more of a crime than the drugs getting banned. And I’m weirdly excited about psilocybin and its potential for long term, treatment resistant depression, even though I know I would be chicken to take it.
And so anyway, if addiction is a mental health issue, closely comorbid with this depression I swim beneath, then simple abstinence isn’t the solution. I am still depressed when I am happy, odd as that may sound. It isn’t a reprieve, they both happen at once. My wife tells me that the stories we tell about ourselves matter and that I should not think of myself as a depressed person, but I honestly do. At some point, thinking otherwise would just be ignoring facts. I have heard soundbites on buzzfeedy, ted talkish videos say that the opposite of depression isn’t happiness, it’s connection. And I get it. Say yes to the invitation. Go to the party you’re dreading. Be honest and vulnerable and hope that your buffer can absorb the risk should it go poorly. Do these things, because finding your people, even at a superficial level, is what will bring you out of the spiral. I believe that.
And I’ve read studies about mice and cocaine that suggest that mentally challenging activities inncoulates you against addiction. So if the opposite of depression is connection, perhaps the opposite of addiction is engagement. I’m not sure I believe that.
Because I still can’t stop drinking Dr. Pepper, even when I know it’s bad for me. I cannot stop eating gas station food, despite it being, you know, gas station food. I choose to play video games when I should be interacting with my child or my wife. And if I allow myself to walk down the frozen food aisle, I buy some Haagen Daz and eat it in a sitting. And I rarely feel unchallenged or disengaged. Parenting is kicking my ass. Marriage is just starting to feel like success and sustainability is a real possibility. My job is not always engaging after 15 years, but the challenge is simply infinite. My life, at least the one observed from outside of my head, is really lovely. But I live in here. And even when I exhibit the self-control of a teetotaler, I think like an addict. I have an addict’s fear if not their humility. I stand on the rain slick precipice, one mistake from ruin. So, no, we can’t have cocaine in the house.