Experiments with Alcohol

Posted: November 20, 2011 in Food for Thought
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I woke up after a 10ish hour slumber after an ‘epic’ Harvard-Yale with a sense of shame that I really am not comfortable with, and that has lead me to a few conclusions. The only way that I could help process my thoughts was to use a scientific approach.

I’d say that my experience with alcohol has been interesting and that what I will take from it are to be analyzed critically here. I didn’t start drinking until I was 21, because I thought that I didn’t ‘need’ alcohol to have fun and that I was content with who I was – no need for alcohol when you’re already brutally honest. And the trigger for when I started was that very memorable trip to the Bahamas, and alcohol was part of the ‘all inclusive’. I had actually decided not to drink for that trip, but since my birthday had just passed I figured it could happen. Senior Frog’s is where it all started, upon ‘winning’ free shots and that’s when my experiment began.

Now that I’ve started drinking, I would say that I’ve been more than making up for time abstaining. The past 3 years have been like a reality show of what happens when you consume too much, most of which I have already blogged. Over that course of time, I have tried to find the reasons why things go wrong, rarely but publicly enough to warrant a need to want to modify behavior. I now realize that you can’t rationalize and explain causality for what leads to a behavior, you actually just have to change the behavior. It doesn’t matter if you hate work, it doesn’t matter if there’s peer pressure, it doesn’t matter that it only happens when you mix different types of alcohol and it doesn’t matter if it’s an ‘occasion’ to drink. It all starts and ends with me.

Due to some health issues around allergies, skin sensitivities and being told to hold off on working out too strenuously,  I decided to not drink for a short period. The timing of this brief control phase of 3 weeks (in contrast to the 3 years of experimenting phase) was to coincide with Harvard-Yale weekend. In those 3 weeks, I was doing pretty well and enjoyed activities that I normally would sober. I of course, had to answer so many questions as to why I wasn’t drinking and I really found myself rationalizing it to everyone – part of what I annoyed me before I ever started drinking.

Upon the eve of HY, I remembered that my body was going to rebel against me if I didn’t ‘warm it up’ and just assaulted it with champagne showers. I had ordered a Sprite, but then saw that a colleague had Jack & Coke and thought, “I should have some of that too”. I alternated alcohol and water because I was trying to remember how to be a responsible drinker. All was well, I stopped after 3 drinks. All of that caution, I intended to exercise the following day. I brought Gatorade to hydrate and coffee cake to eat in case my stomach was in need. And then the big day came, and got caught up in the moment and caution went with the wind. I woke up feeling a sense of anxiety and wondering:

Did I do anything regrettable, did I offend anyone, how much did I embarrass myself?

I hate that feeling, and am now ready to put that uncertainty to an end. I think I’m done with my young 20s defining fun= alcohol. The 3 weeks I spent consistently turning down alcohol in all of the situations I would normally indulge has been great.

So what am I planning to do going forward?
In thinking about why I drink and what it does for me, I’ve applied some thought to how I can be responsible. I find that alcohol allows me to be me in a way that I don’t either get a chance to do enough, or helps me be more comfortable in certain situations. It mostly includes social situations like dates or when I’m uncomfortable around people.

  • I have realized is that drinking to avoid an awkward social situation is a terrible coping mechanism; instead, I will just leave the awkward milieu. That means if it’s a party that I don’t like, I’m around people that make me uncomfortable or what have you, I will let my guests/host know, and then make a timely exit.
  • Drinking around friends is no longer on the table, if I am comfortable enough in our friendship, I don’t need alcohol to have fun or a pleasant time.
  • Drinking to ‘celebrate’ an occasion or event (including Harvard-Yale weekend, big parties, birthdays, etc) is now off the table.

The reality of things are that I cannot stop drinking all together for some of the rationalization (especially a red flag in a work situation) or social ease issues. So my new rule is to never drink when the conditions above exist and to moderate in other instances. Given how delayed the onset of alcohol’s impact to my body is and how easily it is for me lose track of the number of drinks, I have come up with a simple solution – way simpler than my # of drinks x type of situation matrix I had initially thought of. I will have a one drink limit in the following situations:

  • First (and sometimes second) dates
  • Work events/functions

I’m really serious about this, and I hope that my friends will understand where I am coming from. I am not asking my friends to moderate for me in any way nor am I relying on them to help me modify my own behavior – it’s all on me. The only thing that I am asking is that you don’t judge, don’t bombard me with questions when I elect not to drink and be an otherwise supportive friend.

I highly recommend this article for a similar discussion.

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