When I was twelve years of age, I made my Confirmation as a member of the Catholic Church, and willingly took part in “the pledge“. The pledge is an odd legacy of 19th century Irish society, in which various Catholic and Protestant leaders urged people to refrain from or reduce alcohol consumption, and which has survived, despite Ireland’s slightly unhealthy and overwhelming obsession with drink. Perhaps, considering the regular tragedies related to over-consumption of alcohol, something as diametrically opposite as “the pledge” makes sense. It’s a weighted reaction to a weighty problem.
Standing on the alter of that church, I remember watching my friends leave, and hearing how some took the pledge very lightly, with some even joking that they would get drunk that very night. I would have felt slightly disappointed, thinking that some would give up so quickly. There we were at the turn of puberty, so much of the innocence of our youth running past us. The inevitability of growing older coming hard and fast. Why embrace it? Why not wait a bit longer? We have the rest of our lives to be adults. Because so few adhered to the pledge, and because I was naturally stubborn, I tried to be different, and yet had been influenced by my mother’s recommendations. For years, as a child, I would always chug glasses of fizzy drinks within a few seconds. My mam would say that I shouldn’t drink alcohol if I was going to drink that quickly. It stuck in my head, and from then on I intended to avoid drinking. As the teenage years rolled on and ‘knacker drinking’ become de rigueur, I must admit, I became slightly snobbish toward the whole thing.
It’s mainly around Christmas time that people ask me why I don’t drink. If it’s not at Christmas parties, it’s before Christmas parties, or after them, or around the time people are preparing or recovering from a massive session.
It can be a bit of show stopper, or a conversation killer. The shift in mood is downward, with an immediate group of listeners gently going silent as if to make way for the awkward, social pariah who has to explain why they are different, like somebody with a chronic infliction explaining their condition, or somebody of different ethnic or social origins trying to explain why they’re there; time taken from nonsensical merriment to give due consideration to those less fortunate, or who don’t quite fit in.
I usually jest to make light of the conversation, stating that the main reason I don’t drink is because I might piss the bed. That always gets a laugh, but then I remember that people can piss the bed when drunk, so I might actually be embarrassing the drinker. Maybe I could tell them about the times I spent cleaning up vomit at parties, because I was stone-cold sober, thinking of what my friend’s parents might think when they came home? Or standing in the city at 3 a.m. waiting for a girl in the group to stop crying over ‘that bastard’ and realise that that song wasn’t about her? It’s not a party ’till a girl cries, usually at the bottom of the stairs, still talking about ‘that bastard’, and being comforted by a bitchy friend who throws dagger looks at anyone who comes near. Christ, what a nightmare. I hated alcohol growing up, having to listen to that drivelly shit.
Imagine explaining that to a group at a party? Dullsville.
I could also tell them about my addictive personality: about how it’s taken me nearly ten years to come to terms with and control an eating disorder; how I could eat an entire tin of Cadbury’s Roses, even the orange caramels, no longer enjoying them, to the point of agony, because of a self-destructive void within that cannot be satisfied? Sure, why not throw some alcohol into that vortex of misery?
No, thanks. They’d be backing away with raised eyebrows.
The truth is, not drinking can be a terribly isolating experience. While people always praise me for not drinking, telling me that I’m much better off, healthier, richer, they can proceed through the evening becoming more and more distant, harder to converse with. Anyone who knows me would agree that I’m probably a pack leader when it comes to loud, rambunctious jocularity. But the fun ends when you stop getting feedback, when your jokes fall silent on gently smiling faces that are clouded by an alcoholic haze, moving further away, as I’m left talking to myself.
And I’m still there, twelve years of age, standing on the alter, watching my friends leave, going to a places to which I still haven’t gone, and probably never will. If I am so better off as is, why don’t they come back and join me?
The solution is, as always in life, moderation. I’ve learned to not be a judgemental prude when it comes to alcohol, but I haven’t gone so far as to enjoy or appreciate a good glass of wine. Perhaps it’s something I need to consider: to taste, experience and socialise around an alcoholic drink; to discuss its finer points; to contrast and compare. But not to develop a dependency; to learn more self control; to make it as frequent and inconsequential as it is to the sophisticated continentals.
Whatever about me, in this season of increased consumption, please don’t hurt yourself by drinking too much. 2014 has been a tragically shit year on a global scale. Don’t make it worse by fucking yourself into a tree at 100 Km/h, or suffocating on a cocktail of cheap beer and curry chips while you sleep. Do what I can’t do yet, and enjoy, savour and appreciate what you drink, but in good health.