I used to drink a lot. Like, a lot. And in retrospect, my dark, nightmarish days of drugs and alcohol weren’t really all that nightmarish. A lot of mistakes and illness can be attributed to those things, but half the time I spent on some kind of bender was actually fun.
And so when someone asked me a few days ago if—after three years and change of sobriety—I missed drinking, I told them I did. If they’d asked me if I missed smoking, I’d also say yes. I am glad neither of those things are part of my life anymore, but I still remember them fondly. I feel that way about some of my ex-girlfriends and banished or long-lost friends.
This conversation would have faded into the ether, where idle chitchat goes when it’s done passing the time, were it not for the follow-up question: “What do you miss about it?” And just like that, I was stumped.
I can tell you what I don’t miss. That part is easy. I don’t miss vomiting, or day-long hangovers (or two-day, or my personal record, a three-day). I don’t miss the spinning beds and couches, or the falling down. I don’t miss saying or doing something really stupid because it seemed like a good idea at the time. I don’t miss the shouting. I don’t miss having another, and then another, and then another, and so on, because you lost count or you simply think you can handle just one more. I don’t miss the absolute certainty that this party’s going to suck without throwing a few back, or the worry that you and a friend won’t have anything to talk about until you are lightly toasted. *
What do I miss? I miss red wine. I miss beer, because it comes in endless genus and species. I miss the sweet, mellow, citrus of a gin and tonic. I miss the shoulder-tightening kick of whiskey; the uplifting weight of rum; and the sweet simplicity of Jack and Coke. I love the smug bitterness that comes from walking around a room with a glass of scotch in your hand. I miss the difference between really good and really cheap tequila, and how the latter isn’t much of a problem when it’s on special. I miss the smell.
It’s not just about the flavor, though. I mean, I miss donuts too, but I don’t wistfully remember gathering around conference tables or those donut shops (except for maybe Crescent Donuts in Bloomington, Indiana, because damn). So, what is it about alcohol that I miss? Is it the bonding? No, I can bond with people over a club soda, no problem, as I’ve proven time and time again.
I miss the myth of drinking, from the awesome cocktail parties that in reality are too loud and full of desperation and insecurity and hip people, to the dark, smoky old-man bars full of soothing melancholy that are actually stinky and miserable. My memory is romantic and fallible, and in most cases I let it be so. But not today. Today I have a puzzle to solve that is harder than I thought it would be.
So, taking away the taste and the legend, what is it about drinking that I actually liked? Alcohol makes you not care, but in a good way. I’m not talking about apathy; I’m talking about not worrying so much. It’s the lack of concern you have for what that stranger is thinking when you strike up a conversation. It’s knowing enough to forget issues that you are powerless to fix, especially at that moment. It’s feeling cool and funny and someone people should take the time to know.
So, when you break it all down, what I liked the most about alcohol is that it made me feel like I do today, properly medicated and (80 percent) in shape.
*I wish I could say that I don’t miss waking up in strange places, but that part was always kind of cool; I can only say that because I’ve never woken up in a place I’ve actually regretted.