Elizabeth Pearce writes Neat with a Twist every month. To read more of her musings on drinking, click here.
I am writing this during Carnival, my favorite time of year and a time of excess. It’s when you have King Cake and bourbon for breakfast. When you find glitter in your drink. When you are drinking the liquor of people you don’t know, in unfamiliar homes, and don’t feel out of place. To that end, this column is not about the craft of a well-made cocktail, the history of a particular spirit, nor the health benefits of red wine. And it sure as hell isn’t about moderation. This column is about the joys of getting drunk.
I am not advocating getting drunk to alcoholics, those afflicted with a terrible disease that I am very glad not to have. Nor am I saying that one should get drunk every day. We are surrounded by reminders of the evils of excessive alcohol consumption. Every woman’s bathroom in a bar or restaurant contains a poster listing the dangers of alcohol to one’s liver or unborn baby. I do not argue with these pronouncements. But I do think getting drunk every once in a while is a good idea. This column is directed to those who regularly embody the principles of moderation and restraint. To those who have one nightly glass of cancer-fighting red wine or those who “indulge” in the occasional light beer at a bar. To them, I say “Why not get drunk instead?” Behold its benefits.
Getting Drunk is an Achievable Goal
I learned this term, “Achievable Goal,” when I acquired my masters in education. We future teachers were to create goals for our students that were measurably achievable, lest we set the young ones up for failure. This is a good principle for one’s post-academic life. Most folks’ goals are unachievable, usually because these goals lie outside the realm of our influence. Find Love is a big goal for many and while it helps to Have an Open Heart when looking, it’s no guarantee that Mr./Ms. Wonderful will show up any time soon or ever. Many of us have professional goals: Get Promoted, Start a Business, Make More Money. Though there is often a corollary between working hard and achieving goals, it’s just as likely that the boss will promote his niece over more-qualified-you or your new business will be run into the ground by a box store chain. You can work as hard as a Horatio Alger hero and still fail in work and love. Even those goals that seem achievable often require more effort that you are willing to expend: Clean the House, Go to the Bank, Make Dinner. You start with the best of intentions, but are easily sidetracked, and there you are at 9 pm, watching TV and eating take-out.
But rarely do folks fail to complete the task of drinking too much. If you set your mind to it, with very little time, effort or money, you can get spectacularly drunk. Depending on your professional goals, you can do it before or after work. It can be done at home alone or while out with friends. If you are pressed for time, you can do shots. If burdened by a lack of funds, cheap booze cut with a mixer makes you feel rich after the first sip. Best of all, you will have accomplished what you set out to do, what indeed you may have announced to friends/family/co-workers: I’m going to get drunk. And unlike when you announced you were running a marathon, doing your taxes, or getting a job, when you see them again, you can proudly proclaim that you did it.
Getting Drunk (and Being Hungover) Makes You Lazy
It’s no accident that the titans of industry, John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie and Henry Ford, were all staunch supporters of Prohibition, believing (rightly so) that alcohol consumption led to diminished productivity in their workers. Ironically, one of the reasons Prohibition was lifted was because it coincided with the Great Depression. President Roosevelt knew that beer and spirits’ production were two industries guaranteed to thrive, and “Beer for Prosperity” ties were de rigueur in 1933. So if the spirits industry is doing its part to bolster the American economy, what’s so great about the lethargy that comes with being drunk and the debility that comes with the hangover? Well, we need it. We Americans are a busy lot, working more hours than we did two generations ago, and that’s not counting time spent in stultifying commutes. In addition, our leisure time has ceased to be that, but instead is full of activities, including sports, community service clubs, and working out, as well as the housework and yard work we put off during our 60 hour work week. We can’t even vacation properly. We bring work with us via our laptops and smart phones, constantly fretting about what we will have to do when we “get back.”
But when you are drunk, you don’t think about work. Or laundry. Or “getting back.” You think about how pretty that girl is, or how sexy your wife is. You think about how delicious this sandwich is. How tasty this cigarette is. How funny your friend is. How good this drink is. How you want another. Being drunk compels you to pay attention to the pleasurable things around you and makes you want to continue them. Beer does lead to prosperity, though not the industrial kind. The soul kind. The mental kind. The friendship kind. Being hungover continues this. Of course you feel terrible, but instead of beating yourself up about it, why not wallow in it? Hunker down on the sofa, watch that third season of the Sopranos, sip juice and eat toast. Or join your friends for an over-the-top breakfast complete with an eye-opener or two. You aren’t mentally or physically capable of doing anything, so why fight it? You work, and by work I mean participate in the business of life, pretty much every damn day. Take a day off and don’t get anything done. The hangover gives you permission.
Getting Drunk Helps You Forget
Sometimes life is terrible. You get divorced. You get laid off. Your loved one dies. Your heart breaks. Your city floods. When it does, most of us soldier on, waking up to a bleak future, plodding through the day, trying not to cry in public, keeping it together so we don’t lose our jobs/annoy our co-workers/scare our children. Merely being alive exposes us to failure, fear, regret, and loss. Most of us endure these moments, these weeks and sometimes these years, managing to not kill ourselves, until little by little we make life better or, by the grace of time, it just gets better. But during these terrible times, it is perfectly appropriate to want to get the hell out. To get away from the bad that seems like it will never end. And getting drunk can do that for you. Granted, sometimes the drinking can make problems seem worse than they are, but when they actually cannot get worse, when they are really, really bad, go ahead. Get drunk. Forget where you live, whom you live with, your name (old or new) your job (old or new), someone’s absence, someone’s presence, your own presence. Line them up and knock them back. Don’t flip through the old letters, the old photos. Don’t watch the DVD for the 100th time or listen to your song. Don’t try and do the ugly math that is your bank account. They will all be there tomorrow to remind you to remember. Instead, stare blankly ahead of you, don’t look back, and for now, forget.
Getting Drunk with People is Fun
Pretty much every version of it. Celebratory events where the toasting goes on forever, where we laud someone’s past, future, an achievement, a victory. Even funerals and elections that don’t end well are ameliorated by shared drinking, acknowledging the sadness together, celebrating the hard work that was never a waste of time. Drinking with friends while watching your team win or lose, drinking while listening to late night music, buying a round for everyone at the birth of your daughter, your windfall, buying a drink for the guy next to you who just arrived safely back from Afghanistan. Sneaking in the flask to the dry wedding, the dull speech, the beauty pageant your girlfriend made you attend, passing it to your grateful, fellow attendees, a bond instantly forged. Thousands of years of hospitality in that shared sip. Drinking in a bar with strangers, the offering of a drink an easy way to meet people. Drinking in a bar with friends, swapping stories, playing pool, singing karaoke. In all of these scenarios, once you get drunk, the moments get bigger, brighter, and everyone is more entertaining. The stories, the singing, the friendships, the victories, the past, the future all glow even more brightly. All pronouncements of friendship and love, both recently made or decades old, are imbued with promise. Your blood alcohol content soars with the noise of the party, rising to that perfect pitch place when you think “This is it. I will be friends with these people forever. I will love him forever. We will be happy forever. Life is great.” This is, I suppose a different kind of forgetting, but it is also its own kind of truth. Which leads us to…
Getting Drunk Brings Out The Truth
The Romans had it right: In vino veritas, or “In wine is the truth.” Americans like to call it “Liquid courage.” You knock back the shot and ask her to dance or to marry you. You sip your whiskey as you compose the email and hit “Send” with blurry conviction. Alcohol stiffens your resolve while distancing you from the possible consequences of your actions. Sometimes this is a bad idea and can lead to arrest or pregnancy. But other times, it gives you a safe space from which to act or speak. Our country’s overriding aesthetic is one of WASPish reserve. In Europe, people kiss hello and walk arm in arm. Here you get a firm handshake. “While a man may often say “I love you”(whether he means it or not) to his wife or girlfriend, he rarely says such things to his buddies. Until he gets drunk. Then it’s “I love you, man.” Booze loosens your tongue to say what you’ve been aching to say. I love you. I hate you. I am afraid. This last sentiment is the least expressed to those closest to us. This is a shame because when we do, not only is the fear lessened, but sharing this fear brings us closer to our loved ones. So often I have listened to a friend, a boyfriend, a neighbor, unburden himself of something he’s done or wants to do, something she’s afraid will happen or won’t. And every time, I am amazed at what I learn. Here is someone I thought I knew, a man I thought of as brave and strong, a woman who has it together, has a plan. Then I discover they are as human and afraid and flawed as I am. And I feel closer to each of them.
Shortly after my twentieth birthday, my father died. For months after that, my mother and I, separately and together, drank quite a lot. During that time, my mother shared her memories of my father with me, of course, but she also told me her fears for the future: hers, mine, ours. She spoke to me like the adult I was, but had never been with her. And I saw her for the first time not only as MY mother, in the narcissistic way that children do, but as a woman grieving profoundly over her beloved, her partner, her lover, her husband. It was such a bare truth that at first it made me uncomfortable, as truth sometimes can. But soon I was grateful that out of this tragedy, I was able to know her, and therefore love her, better. I do not think she would have been as honest if she had not been in her cups, nor I in mine.
Being drunk allows us to tear down those walls of propriety and fear, to temporarily escape troubles great or small, to feel even more deeply those moments and those people who make life worth living. It’s not for everyday, but diving into the bottom of a glass or a bottle once in a while is probably a better idea than you think it is. Go ahead. Achieve That Goal.