In a little under a week I’ll be at a wedding. I’ll be surrounded by old friends and have the opportunity to make new ones. Those old friends, all from my university days, will likely expect me to clang a glass or two in celebration of the couple and quaff heartily. But what’s the protocol when you don’t drink anymore? Is it an empty glass? Is water acceptable? Personally, I’d prefer something that bubbles with that familiar effervescence. Cola isn’t my thing tough; maybe Perrier? Whatever ethanol-free libation I choose I’m sure when all our cups rest gently on our lips and our hands raise them gently higher, a few eyes will slide my way as we imbibe.
Those old friends may not recognize me without that twinkle in my eye, that slur in my speech, that stumble in my step. The hooch has cost me more than the pennies to pay for it. It’s been damn expensive, actually—opportunities, reputation, relationships, time, oh so much time. Entire Sundays spent on the couch convalescing from a night my memory either strained to recall or wished to redact. I’d indiscriminately exterminated innumerable brain cells. Not enough to do any real damage, right? Got lots o’ brain goop, I do. Consider this: I used to be the go-to guy if you needed help with your schoolwork; somewhere along the way I got demoted to court jester.
So that’s why I’m a little (terribly) nervous for when those eyes slide my way. They’ll be looking for me to put on the usual performance. They might even be disappointed. Some of that disappointment might be self- reflexive; but how will that project? Will there be cajoling? Likely. Will I acquiesce? Possibly. But I hope not.
The unfortunate truth is we all look at people who abstain as aberrant. Admit it, you’ve grilled at least one vegetarian in your life. What about those who choose to abstain from sex? How do they do it? Well, those questions, whether we realise it or not are framed by our own perspective, our own values and beliefs. I’m sure a vegetarian, vegan, sober or chaste person would be happy to answer a sincere question about their lifestyle. But the questions are never earnest, they’re directed interrogations aimed at getting the answer we want: “Fuck vegetables! I want to eat meat like everybody else! A reassurance that our worldview is the correct one.
Willpower, resolve, even guilt can be praiseworthy motivations yet we question the follow-through. Why does an alcoholic have to explain their sobriety or a person patiently waiting for marriage explain their virtue? We all have our indulgences, our addictions. Netflix, ice cream, heroine: some are more dangerous than others but the strength to overcome them always manifests unpredictably and is fleeting. That strength, when availed, should be respected. No one should have to endure the third degree for trying to make themselves better in their own eyes.
That strength has a name. It’s honesty. I used to smoke several cigars a week and pretend I wasn’t a smoker; I used to gamble with more than I had and claim not to have a problem; I use to balk when called a drunk.
Fuck, I sound preachy. That’s not what I was going for. This teetotaller role is new for me; it’s only been a few weeks but damn do I feel better. With nothing attenuating my thoughts and more time to spare I’ve put more words on paper than I ever have. The quality of those words is still in question, of course. I think too that the number of excuses I’d formulate in my head correlated directly with the number of beer I had that week. Did you know hangover is really just a euphemism for a day-long excuse to do nothing? Also, the paunch that was rapidly developing at my beltline has begun to retreat. And the money I’ll save. I can use it on endeavours more worthwhile than liver cirrhosis: I’m thinking fiddle lessons.
Yup, can’t help it. Definitely preachy. I guess I’m just working out all the answers to those questions I fear I’ll be asked when I request a Perrier instead of a pint. Maybe I’ll just deliver some trite maxim like: “I’m getting high on life!” The question I’m most afraid of, the question that I can’t have answered until I’m acutely aware of the answer, is the one I’ll be posing quietly to myself: “How will these people look at me at the end of this toast?”