Drinking to Fit In

Day 5 was… okay. I was very tired and grumpy and sorry for myself after a work marathon last night, and hungry. Passed the wine shop with a twinge of longing, and thought about how irrational it is to connect happiness to drinking. For all the nights I have gone to the liquor store and sat down and had my drinks, I can’t recall very many nights where I was genuinely satisfied. What would that look like? Belting back the second pint and thinking “There. I feel better?” This doesn’t happen. The whole process is pretty mindless after the first couple of sips so the idea that I’m “fixing” my crap day makes no sense.

But then nothing about drinking is logical. Yesterday I called bullshit on Jason Vale’s claim that alcohol tastes awful, but the big idea of the book generally — that you can bring some objectivity to drinking and learn some stuff about your assumptions, deceptions and habits — that’s stuff well worth considering.

One exercise in objectivity is to start to unpack your ingrained assumptions about the wonders of alcohol. So I started thinking about all this booze marketing thing (Dowsett-Johnston again), and how we use alcohol in part to communicate something about our identity. This notion cropped up on the heels of my “what to drink instead of wine” musings. And then: If I’m not a beer snob, what am I? If I wax poetry on the virtues of kombucha instead, am I somebody else? And why do I still give a shit “who I am?” I’m middle-aged. Jesus. I’m too old for this right?

Most of us will pretty freely admit that our early careers with alcohol were fueled, more or less, by a desire to fit in and be cool. It’s safe to confess this because we’re all wretchedly insecure as teens, and we’ve all now grown out of that thank you very much.

But the thing is, if we’re really honest with ourselves, junior high never really goes away completely. We still care what others think. We engage in impression management, and try to put ourselves forward as certain “kinds” of people among friends, neighbours, co-workers. Often, we are still playing to imagined audiences just as we did as teens. It’s just less angsty, and more subtle, and we’re better at it. This makes it easy to delude ourselves with the notion that we are “individual” and “authentic,” and calling our own shots. It’s actually not true. Our understanding of “who we are” is hooked in to where we situate ourselves relative to others.  We’re intensely social creatures. We’re wired this way.

So I think where I’m going with this is that most of us drink or don’t drink in a community. It can be a real community — like an AA group or Drinkers with a Running Problem. It can be an imagined community of Bon Appetit readers who are doubtless somewhere in the world engaging in sophisticated banner while shaking martinis and serving chèvre noir something-something hors d’oeuvres. It can be the imagined community of “hard cases” hanging around the liquor store at 10 am, and you are surely not part of that community, so you must be okay, right?

Part of admitting that you’re not in control of your boozyness is admitting that you’re not in control of your very human need for acceptance and community. I know that some lone wolves quit drinking without support, but most of us — I’d say the vast majority of us — can and must turn the vulnerability of our need for acceptance and identity in to something that helps instead of hurts.

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