Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Chairman of the Bored (a.k.a. How I Stumbled Into a Big Decision)

I wish I had a better story for you. I really do....

If you want to challenge yourself with a tale about alcohol that is substantially more gut-wrenching, take Augusten Burroughs' Dry around the block for a spin. Or work your way through what is still the most spectacularly beautiful memoir I have ever had the pleasure of reading -- A Drinking Life by Pete Hamill.

On the other hand, if your attention span is more on the blog-post level (and far be it from me to imply any criticism over that; after all, it may have brought you here, blessyerheart) you could always check out any of a number of Sarah Hepola's pieces on her decision to quit drinking, like this or this. She's my latest blog obsession (smart! funny!) and can regale you with her own version of alcohol-addiction stories -- specifically ones that begin with lines like, "I woke up in a dog's bed in someone else's house." Or if you dig around (come on, I'm not doing all the work for you), you can find more of her work, containing phrases like "impressive boobs of questionable origin." Really, she's totally worth your while....

Anyway... my little spiel is less a tale of ever-increasing addiction and drunkenness than one that reaches its nadir in flat-out ennui -- mixed with a little philosophizing about maturity and the aging process, I suppose, and the re-examination of, oh, everything.

See, once I started making big changes in my lifestyle -- along the lines of food, exercise, sleep, stress management -- pretty much anything became fair game for a "Don't let the door hit you in the ass on your way out...." exit from my life.

And it seems like drinking has become the most significant victim of my inwardly-turned Socratic Method.

It just all seemed stupid one day.


I don't have a long-term horrendous past with booze, but it's not an altogether healthy one either. College and law school had a lot of very liquid weekends. But my heaviest drinking, in terms of sheer volume over the course of a given week (and by week, I mean year), was actually just after law school. It was 1987 into '88. I was in my first job as a lawyer and my two housemates were fresh out of college, also in their first forays into the employment world. We had an enormous amount of post-5-p.m. free time, and no homework.

"Wait a minute. You're buying Esslinger beer? In pint returnable bar bottles? Do you happen to live with...."

I finished the beer-store guy's sentence for him: "Those other two guys that have to be the only other people in town who buy this shit beer? Yeah. What can I say? It's at least as good as crap like Budweiser and, at $4.99 a case, the price is hard to beat. We drink a lot of beer."

"No shit, dude. You guys are awesome. The boss said you are the first people to buy that stuff in a long time and you buy so much that now we have to order more!"

We were done with school, and we were tired of bars. We were not, however, done with or tired of beer. Esslinger was our brand -- a decision based entirely on price, not flavor, believe you me -- and we bought a lot of it. So we invited friends into our house to drink. And they arrived in sizable numbers some nights, choosing on others to leave the triumvirate "alone" amidst a lot of punk rock, Neil Young and Metallica. The songs, and the identities of the people listening to them, would change, but beer was the constant. More than one person aptly referred to our house as Party Central.

Those returnable cases of 16-ounce bottles of Esslinger were like a little payroll savings plan for drunks. And we were nothing if not practical. And drunk. OK, and lazy too. So that finely calibrated blend of sloth and ingenuity meant that, no, we didn't bring back a case of empties every time we purchased a fresh case or two. Instead, we accumulated the returns. In the kitchen. No, not loose... in the cases that they came in -- for godsakes, we were weren't animals; we were human beings. (I'm heavily dating myself with
that reference, I realize).

Eventually, the collection of sturdy boxes full of empty pints was crowding out the kitchen table. So we did the sensible thing: we moved the table. Out of the kitchen into the "dining room" it went (never in that year did any actual "dining" occur in the "dining room," hence the quotation marks), and we put the tablecloth on the boxes. We hardly ever ate at the table in the kitchen anyway. The interior-decorating adjustment worked, uh, fine.

But every man has his limit, and ours apparently was 57 -- cases, that is. When we loaded the empties (that'd be 57 x 24, if you are keeping score) into the Jeep Wrangler and Chevy Blazer that we owned and returned them in their crusty glory to the beer store one weekend (rinsing becomes overrated after a while), we bought a keg with the return deposit money. We blew the collective minds of the beer-store employees with the sheer volume of our delivery (we got our own pallet to stack them on at the store... yes, really; see, 
now you're impressed). It was a hell of a party that followed.

And along we plugged that year,
averaging, per day, a six-pack of pints per man.

After that year, I moved away from those guys. We had fun, but that level of nonstop joy had to end, or we would have been dead.

But I think my brief time in the land called Holy Fuck We Drink a Lot of Beer twisted my view of moderation for quite a while when it came to alcohol. As long as I didn't lapse back into
that level of nonsense, I thought all was fine. And I didn't. And it sort of wasn't.

My late twenties and early thirties were spent as a daily "moderate" drinker. Nowhere near the old revelry, mind you, but I had a couple every day. Every fucking day, no matter what. And sometimes there was a third. And sometimes I got drunk with friends. It was always totally functional, mostly very controlled, but vaguely alcoholic as well -- particularly in retrospect.


My consumption tapered down from there to "rarely more than two, sometimes only one" per day in my early forties to finally (finally!) something somewhat less
reflexive (there's that word again). When I went paleo in 2010, radically changing my food intake, I also began to notice actual changes in mood, attitude, sleep, etc. based upon what I was, or wasn't, putting in my body.

So I would "play" with my food and drink in ways that even my mom would have approved of, varying this or that to see the effect on body comp, etc. Hell, most of this blog is dedicated to exploration of that sort. Me, as my own science experiment.

Sure enough, I realized that there was food, or drink, that I was reflexively consuming, instead of having it because I
really wanted to eat or drink that thing. Case in point: nuts -- Christ, I could eat a vat of them as a snack without giving it much thought. And, in any sort of significant quantity, they mess me up digestively. So I knocked them out of the food rotation. 

And quickly I realized that blood-sugar management, sleep, digestion, acid-reflux, etc. were all a lot better on the days when I didn't drink alcohol.

I started having more of those no-booze days, and then more. And somewhere in the midst of all that science-y goodness, I recalled the words my friend Pete said to me a few years ago when he quit drinking: "I just find that I am far less likely to think about killing myself since I quit booze."

I wasn't ever suicidal, but fuck me if I didn't see a clear difference in my mood without ethanol regularly coursing through my system, even in small amounts. 

Let's be clear: on any given day I could think apocalyptic thoughts about a tube of toothpaste. Alcohol seems to increase the possibility of igniting that sort of doom/gloom cognition by what scientists would call "a metric shit ton." And, really, unless you were my wife, you'd never know it -- and even if you were, you wouldn't really know it (as I said to her recently, "Do you think I share even ten percent of my negative thoughts with you? No. You'd think I was a fucking nut." She thanked me for my considerate nature, and told me she loved me. She's the best. Really).

Anyway, I got to this point recently where the predictable nature of my body's reaction to booze was, um, predictable... and dull as dirt. It just wasn't enhancing my existence in any sense. And I am all about enhanced existence. I noticed that, in addition to coating everything with a "sometimes here, but, no, not always"/barely-perceptible dim haze of gloom, and increasing my already fairly well-tuned ability to see the downside of
anything, there was also some direct physical consequence to consuming alcohol for me. For example, if I drank the night before hitting the gym, my lifting was utter shit the next day. Or my drumming would wander a bit if the Lagavulin distillery had filled my glass the night before. Or, if the hard-cider gods had come to visit, I would get hungrier more often the next day between meals. 

Somewhere around the first weekend in August, after a few too many summer parties in a few too many days, I just stopped drinking out of a combination of sheer boredom and a "bigger" thought as well: that if growing the fuck up had meant ditching a whole host of bad food choices, then there appeared to be one glaringly bad choice that I kept making. Stopping at that moment wasn't intended to be anything as dramatic as "QUITTING DRINKING" at all. I just wanted to take a breather. But a week turned into a month, and now it's been three months, and I have been in numerous social situations since then and, really, it's just no big deal.


You notice a few things when you pull a stunt like this, and those things become even clearer when the stunt turns into a pattern, and then the pattern turns into a habit and then it just becomes "what you do," or, more precisely, "what you don't do anymore."

First of all, no one gives a shit if you're drinking or not. Not that I really care anyway. But if you are in a bar and order a seltzer with lime, only a complete asshole would say anything negative in the first place, and, you know what? Apparently either the complete assholes of the world are steering clear of me, or no one is that big of a tool. Either way, not a soul has uttered a derogatory word.

Secondly, your friends -- even your very clever, super-smart and funny friends -- are not very funny at all when they are drunk, or, in most cases, even when they have just a little buzz on. In fact, they can go from wildly captivating/charming/witty to "Really dude, go bother someone else" in the course of few hundreths of a percentage-point increase in blood-alcohol content. That line is bold, stark and easily-crossed. I just never knew it when I was drinking too. And if this sounds like I am judging you in a superiority sort of way, no. I've been That Guy a zillion times -- too many to judge you for it. But, still, my friend, that thing you're doing that you would never do sober? Yeah, not actually funny.

Thirdly, beer pong is idiotic. I like to think that you already knew this one. I certainly did. But it's possible that you have even played this stupid game (or, really, any drinking game). If you are one of those people, take this from a current non-drinker who still appreciates the inner beauty of ethanol, even while not partaking of it: if you can't figure out a better reason to take a sip of something as delicious as an alcoholic beverage than the fact that a potentially fungally-infected/bacteria-encrusted table-tennis ball (that JUST FELL ON THE FUCKING FLOOR, FOR GODSAKES) has (or has not) landed in a red plastic cup with that beautiful, delicious alcoholic beverage inside of it, you need to get a life, immediately. And yes, your participation in this episode of Stupid Alcohol Games has completely made me question why that beautiful person you appear to be headed home with would even talk to you, let alone slap nasties with you at the conclusion of the evening. (Joe Jackson, if you are listening, and need a career boost, there's a new verse of "Is She Really Going Out With Him?" screaming to be written).

Fourth, body fat disappears when you quit drinking. I sort of realized this anyway, but drying out should be the cover story on How to Not Be Fat Magazine under the title that they always use: "Try this one weight-loss trick!"

Fifth, gym performance goes through the roof. No explanation needed, right?

Sixth, if you happen to be a negative bastard, your negativity may take a turn to the positive when you stop drinking. And, unless you are Louis C.K. and making a lot of money off your downer persona, that has to be a net plus in your life, right? That tube of toothpaste? Currently brimming over with unremitting joy, I tell you.

Finally, that whole "feel like I am finally growing up" thing? It's pretty cool. There's a taking-charge-of-things-and-getting-shit-done aspect of this episode of my life that has the most basic, primal (Henry)Rollins-esque appeal to it that I find it hard to describe adequately the sheer amount of fun I am having as a result. I am more productive in every way. I sleep better, feel better and just am better. Moreover, I am not bold enough to say that I will never (ever!) drink alcohol again. I don't eat donuts, ever(!), but if I were in the Donut Capital of the World (what is that? Kankakee?) I might just eat a fucking donut. So, maybe if I am ever in Edinburgh I'll still have a dram of Lagavulin, or a pint of Guinness in Dublin. Or if I ever get back to Oktoberfest I'll have one of those megabeers that made Munich famous, or, yeah, a glass of Italian red when in Italy might still happen (and if it seems like I just said that Europeans appear to be a bunch of drunks, um....). But drinking alcohol in fucking New Jersey? To quote Iggy, that's "just another dirty bore." Or, as my very favorite just-doesn't-make-sense-over-here British expression goes, "I couldn't be arsed." The ride of life has taken a very sweet turn.


  1. That was fucking beautiful man. I'm sending it to my boyfriend now and telling him to not skim.

  2. Wow. Timely read for me. Notice many similarities within my own life. Will go on 'hiatus' from booze tomorrow morning. Thank you.