One summer, several years ago, I wrapped up an evening of art openings in my boyfriend’s neighbor’s loft, listening to beautiful Spanish poems recited. Everyone at this gathering was an artist of some sort, and conversation flowed around South American travel adventures, and paintings, and poets. I listened to their conversation begin to pool and cycle. I got irritated and thought: I want to go home. This is getting boring. They were drinking a lot of cheap Cabernet, and I was not.
This was early in the history of my alcohol absention. For years, I gave up chocolate for Lent, but alcohol eventually became the greater pleasure, and thus I added it to my list of forbidden indulgences.
I think the first year I gave up alcohol was also the year I went on a first date and seriously disappointed the man by ordering a Sprite at Gillhouly’s. It’s Lent, I explained. I don’t drink during Lent. First dates are much harder without a drink.
Sobriety isn’t the greatest virtue. I’ve known plenty of cold, nasty sober people. I even find some virtue in drunkenness. Sharing the experience of losing sobriety, and the progressive scrambling and blurring of the world, can be sacramental. There are safer ways to get out of your head (meditation, exercise), but drinking is awfully fun.
I think there is a time and a place for drinking and even for drunkenness. I love wine and whiskey, and I love the casual, romantically self-destructive community of bars. I’ve been lucky enough to maintain a relationship with alcohol that I enjoy. I think it’s as safe and healthy as most of my relationships.
Giving up alcohol for a short time (Lent is 40 days plus Sundays) ensured that I spent some of each year resting my liver and reassuring my addict DNA that I can live without it. It forces me to remember that I go to parties and bars to be with people, not to drink. That when I say, “I need a drink,” I actually need to breathe and relax. Sometimes I need a nap, a meal, a hot bath, a massage.
Not drinking makes Lent about sobriety. It is about honest confrontation: you are going to die. You are not perfect. And the response, the reason that you can face this is that your tradition and experience tells you it is okay to die and it is okay to not be perfect. To die and to be imperfect, in fact, is a critical part of the human experience.
Most religions encourage confronting this reality– Jews particularly on Yom Kippur, and Buddhists during every meditation. Christians have Lent, which is way longer than the Days of Awe, and usuall y milder than a stringent meditation schedule.
So, I might give up alcohol again. It’s only 10 AM, Ash Wednesday. No one’s offered me a drink yet.