Friday, June 17, 2011

Hiding One's Non-Drinking

I'll always remember a new boss I had once, who quickly became the scourge of all of my colleagues.  It probably wasn't just the bow tie he liked to wear.  When he first arrived we had a little office holiday party, to which he promptly responded that he'd come, of course, but that he "didn't drink." This was odd.  Everyone looked puzzled.  And as young fashionably liberal outgoing anti-poverty type people we were, this was indeed appalling.  He wasn't one of us.

Yes, I'm dramatizing a single variable among many, and there were many, but so much of our social world is (get ready for a tautological statement) about who we can appeal to regarding similarly held positions, attitudes, and norms.  So, not drinking as a sign of one's identity automatically breaks ranks with others.   I guess it depends on who we want to socialize with. 

 I feel less awkward lately myself, and more comfortable with myself generally (even though I'm more aware of my limitations and lack of knowledge), though I'm still susceptible to fits of anxiety at times, especially if I've had a cup of coffee (yeah, even though I love coffee). Still, interactions are strange things, in a way.  We take it for granted that people say what they think, and, I think (pun intended), most times, people say what they think.  Except that there's a few layers going on that probably aren't realized coherently on the surface level of verbalization.  People seek certain associations, and follow certain patterns, irrespective of their specific belief systems, irrespective of their thoughts and words.  Or, the words are an outgrowth of certain undeniably human traits that none of us are exempt from. So, when we say we don't drink, we cut ourselves off from certain people--and it isn't just the extreme lush out there that will shudder--because most people do drink, and think it is normal to do so... the trick is to say it nonchalantly so that the statement isn't seen as highly bound up with personal identity--though, watch it, most people will try to get you to drink at some point, and they might do so aggressively, so this strategy has some risk associated with it. 

 Eventually you've gotta come up with a narrative for why you're not drinking.  

I guess what I'm really struggling with here is this: I don't think it is a good idea to tell unfamiliar people that you've got a problem with alcohol and that's why you stopped drinking.  Maybe I should just be open with it, and let them think what they think.  Maybe I don't want to be excluded from their group.  Maybe I already am excluded, though, and I have nothing to lose.  Still, my mind ticks off this rationale: I stopped drinking so that drinking wasn't a big part of my life. I don't want not-drinking to be an obsessive caterwaul of paranoia, either.  

No comments: