Friday, December 31, 2010
THE JOY OF NOT DRINKING
THE JOY OF NOT DRINKING
By Maura Casey
The Hartford Courant
Even after all this time, particularly around the holidays, I can still sense the occasional awkwardness when people discover I don't drink. I can see it in their eyes as they start to discuss with me the wine list at a restaurant, only to stop, or when they laugh while relating a boozy escapade and then cut the story short.
I understand their discomfort. They believe this: Maura cannot drink. The statement is correct, but, 25 years after the December night when I last had one too many, the emphasis is all wrong.
It's true that when anyone decides to quit, he or she starts by saying, "I cannot drink." But year after sober year, the statement changes to a living affirmation: I can not drink. There's no deprivation involved, and certainly no sympathy necessary.
Indeed, the personal growth needed for sobriety, as opposed to the white-knuckled and resentful abstention of alcohol, is neither negative nor the equivalent of a closed door. Instead, it is a series of yeses.
Yes to savoring a sunset without reaching for anything to enhance its beauty.
Yes to lifting raising a glass of sparkling cider during the wedding toast — or when the clock strikes midnight on New Year's Eve.
Yes to greeting the arrival of a baby or celebrating a graduation without needing or even wanting anything more to accompany unvarnished joy.
It sounds Pollyannaish, I suppose, to those who haven't lived it, but it is possible to enjoy not drinking as much as drinking. Of course, that takes a certain maturity, a quality sorely lacking in media portrayal of alcohol. Instead, that portrayal has a comic-strip feel, as a recent article in The New York Times pointed out; on television, alcohol is either a rollicking good time or "a life destroying scourge." Neither deals with either the complexities or contradictions involved.
What rarely is shown is the simple joy of sobriety. Yet it is as real and as rich as all the well-publicized extremes.
Few can quit entirely alone, and recovery is famous for relying upon support of others in words and meetings. But overlooked is the silent power of personal example. While still a committed drinker, I became friends with an accomplished journalist. Joanna had it all: a big job at a major daily, a Pulitzer prize and, to my surprise, a refusal to imbibe. "I like life to move at its own pace," is the most she would say, smiling, and I envied her sense of balance. Her example, more powerful than words, helped me stop later on. A year after I stopped, my sister Ellen did, too.
Not drinking has provided unexpected humor, like the time I asked someone to drink for me. At a whiskey taste at Ireland's Shannon Airport, I asked a stranger to sample and evaluate some morning shots so I could buy a bottle for my husband. He gallantly agreed.
Sobriety has given me a season of gratitude. It has made me a better wife, mother and writer. And, yes, it entails doing without sometimes. Fine wines at restaurants never held much attraction, and now I don't have to pay for them. I miss the occasional cold beer, but I am grateful in the knowledge I need never play beer pong, a pointless amusement not yet invented when I finished my last brew. And the airport whiskey? I have to admit, when the bottles were opened and I got a whiff of that still-familiar scent, I salivated
It's OK. By now, I, too, like life to move at its own pace.