Monday, August 23, 2010

Alcohol Free, the Premise

There's a bit of a scene in that epic Infinite Jest when one of main characters from the rehab clinic is in the hospital after kicking some major Québécois butt--he's seriously hurt though, taking a bullet in the shoulder, if memory serves (the Canadians are flummoxed by the surprise kidnapping of their dog by another detox center/rehab house inhabitant, in some of the best and most exciting writing I've read in a while, though I won't go further here).  He's in the hospital, this guy, and he refuses pain medication that is scheduled as a narcotic.  Which is to say that he must endure unimaginable pain.  In the book he begins to hallucinate from the pain.  An apt metaphor, perhaps, because, for folks struggling with addiction in both the affirmative/positive drinking/using stage or the restricted/negative stage, they suffer for their addictions.  He must think that the absorption of any addictive substance will lead him to a binge--that complete abstention is the only choice to survive. 

One commenter, though, suggested that, while some problem drinkers (maybe most) adhere to this premise, it is also possible to "keep the line bright by basing the rules on the context of the drinking situation rather than the amount of alcohol. It's fairly simple to construct easy to follow rules that do not require that you refuse a toast glass at a New Year's party."  To which I'd only inquire about how easy it is to follow rules. Perhaps problem drinkers need to have good friends that stand guard against extraneous consumption?  For me, at least, the longer I'm sober the more of a risk it seems if I choose to drink.  It doesn't happen immediately, but it happens.  Allowing some alcohol for special occasions specializes all sorts of occasions--heck, after a while, coming home for the day is a bit of an occasion.   But if I know that x months, or even years, are behind me, it proves a useful deterrant.  When (if) I drank two days ago and felt relaxed doing it, there's not much of a disincentive to abstain now.  Conversely, I'm not sure how I could have a moderate or decent (or professional even!) relationship to alcohol if I didn't have any relationship at all for a year and then decided to start in again.  Is booze the perennial lover, always full of intensity and passion, then remorse and low grade nostalgia?  Should we give in to death and age so that we can approach a mutual understanding, a meeting of the minds, or is it rather the case that, every time we get up close to realize it, to realize where we stand in the ring, we get shockingly unhinged, and swear against it again only to find some wanderlust return to shine the horizon bright again--brighter still because we lay on a bloody floor? I don't mind leaving the footprints, of course, even relish in it, but I'm not sure if there's a start and endpoint they lead back or forward to.


Anonymous said...

I should have said "bright line rules are easiest to follow relative to other rules" not that they are "easy to follow." There are no easy rules.

The IRS will enforce any tax debt, even if it's $100. They don't do this because your not paying the hundred buck poses a threat to the budget. In fact, from an immediate monetary perspective, the government would rather not have to enforce low tax debts. It costs the government orders of magnitude more than a $100 to fully enforce a tax debt of $100 all the way to courts and warrants and such. So, they protect the rule not because breaking it is immediately dangerous. They protect it because if they didn't, they would be sending a signal that it's okay to break the rules, which would cause people to break them in situations when it could be immediately dangerous.

Similar with abstinence. Very extreme cases aside, it is almost never the case that a small amount of alcohol is immediately dangerous to a problem drinker. It's just that if your rule is "zero alcohol" it's much harder for you to make up excuses for yourself.

But you could make up contextual rules that would be equally clear but somewhat less restrictive, like "a champagne toast at black tie occasions only" or something.

Also, even if your rule is that of zero tolerance, worrying about things like cough syrup or pancake sauce seems a bit, shall we say, counterproductive.

hmm said...

That's a good point.