“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it’s time to pause and reflect.”
— Mark Twain
This modern, first-world that I live in here on the West Coast of the US does a lot to reinforce me for quitting smoking. Everyone also loves it if I exercise more, or eat more whole foods. There’s a lot of societal support for healthy choices. Everyone’s doing it.
But drinking alcohol is so intricately woven into the fabric of acceptable-healthy-joyful human behavior that drinking any amount of it (particularly the more benign-seeming wine) is normal. Desirable. Cool. Fun. It’s the legal and normal way to alter our brain chemistry, change our personalities, relax and have fun. And if you can’t do that – drink, I mean – without getting addicted to the addictive cancer-causing substance – then YOU are the failure. YOU have a sad, pathetic problem. YOU are an Alcoholic. Success = drinking without (apparent) consequences. Failure = not drinking at all.
When I quit drinking, people were genuinely sad for me. They wondered what terrible thing must have happened for me to drop the Most. Fun. Thing. Ever.
I’m sure they wondered if I had a serious problem. Are you an (oh god) Alcoholic? I don’t think most people knew how shitty my nightly wine was getting for me, so they would say things like “you’re a heavy drinker, not an alcoholic! Just cut back for a while.”
But even though I refused to identify as a capital A Alcoholic (still don’t), I decided to stop completely, because stopping partially (moderating) felt worse than quitting. I kept not succeeding at moderating, and not succeeding felt eerily similar to failing. Constant failing, even if it’s to stick to two glasses of wine instead of three, made me even more miserable than just forgetting about it altogether.
But the majority of the world, that same majority that Mark Twain tells me to question, is still drinking to do everything: celebrate a baby’s birthday, toast the new year, finishing a 5k Fun Run, going to an evening yoga class and so on. As time passes, and my choice to not-drink becomes normal for me, the rest of my life has started to shift away from the mainstream too.
Sometimes living outside norms is really fucking hard. I’m already overweight, a woman, and 40-something without children. Why do I have to add “sober weirdo” to the list?
Sometimes I feel really sorry for myself and I wonder if I should go back to drinking (and a cigarette once a month or something). Why can’t I just have a glass here and there? I’ve worked through so many issues, I feel so much more grown up. I can do things moderately now. I know I can.
But then I remember one simple thing that keeps me sober: succeeding at being like other people, like becoming a successful moderate drinker… it’s no longer my goal. I think even Mark Twain would raise his glass to that.