When Getting Drunk is Too Loaded

Ottawa XPress, March 2, 2006

If you’re not sorry for who you are
Why are you sorry for where you been?

~From “Wasted,” by Joseph Arthur


Is it about celebration or medication? Jubilation or depression? Can you remind me again why it’s ever a good idea to get wasted?

I gave up drinking in July when I realized that mixing a breakup with copious amounts of liquor didn’t taste so hot. Drinking left me at the end of the night all hyped up with no one to do, and nowhere to go but to stupid things and many regrets.

Why should you care? ‘Cause that was you or a friend last weekend, yeah?

Shotgun taking the piss at getting drunk is about as fun as inviting me and my six-pack of ginger ales to your cottage party, right? You’ll feel differently when I’m the only camper fit enough the next morning to cook your sorry ass some breakfast, so shut up already.

I’m not telling no one to stop drinking. No way, not here. I just want to know why you can handle it, while I – and a whack of others – cannot.

What is it about drinking that people love so much?

Society puts way too much into alcohol. That we know. Beer commercials market instant parties-in-a-bottle, signalling a social opportunity to be with people, be seen and meet strangers easily.

Problem is that while the world puts so much meaning into alcohol, alcohol puts way too much meaning into some people. You know, the ones who only come alive when they drink. Nice beer goggles. Or others who get sappy, or violent and want to kung fu fight you.

When it comes to saying “I don’t drink,” I have a lot to learn from those straight-edge punk rockers I used to make fun of at Fugazi shows a decade ago. You know, the Henry Rollins followers who marked their hands with an X to show they didn’t do drugs or drink alcohol.

Those kids annoyed the piss out of me with their vegan ways and their underground politics and their silk-screened patches and their shoegazing sways and their tight-fitting hoodies. (Sorry, I found them holier-than-thou.)

The supersonic, loud, raucous music blasting out the jaws of pierced and tattooed aggressive onstage screamers inspired me to want to get liquored and jerk my body frantically against the wall – not just stand there stylishly in the cramped space that was 5 Arlington, for example, “appreciating” the emo.

And now it’s 10 years later and I think I missed a very important lesson in my dislike – and posturing. ‘Cause I see many of those kids have developed into very self-assured folks who are contributing to the community, be it through a band, knitting parties or political activism, whereas at 31 I’m just figuring out where to throw all my energy.

To copy Joseph Arthur, “In my heart is a hunger I will never give away.” It’s just a matter of staying away from booze – which supercharges the intense energy – to keep from going under. ‘Cause what goes up, must come down.

I appeal to indie kids now, who I thought were little nerds back then, to find out how the hell they did it. How, amidst such a tough-as nails scene, did they say “no liquor, no kickers.”

‘Cause if I had kids, I’d encourage them to embrace punk music and look like a skid all they wanted if it meant celebrating an underground scene that promotes alternative thinking and rebels against mainstream constructions of cool. And let’s face it, drinking has always been seen as cool. Martinis are chic. Shooters are hip. Straight-up is tough.

By contrast with the punk scene, the rock and roll world isn’t as welcoming to straight-edge types. It’s more popular to trash your hotel room under the influence, fuck preteen groupies, abuse narcotics and disregard world politics.

But we’re not without role models in rock who turned away from that crap. Johnny Cash and Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails are good examples. (Did you know Gene Simmons of super group KISS never touched alcohol, drugs or smoked in his life?)

“It’s not that drugs are bad, just recovery is awesome,” says Gene Bowen, tour manager for many bands, including the late Jeff Buckley who died before completing his last album, My Sweetheart the Drunk. Bowen started up Road to Recovery (www.roadrecovery.com), a non-profit organization of music industry professionals whose lives have been touched by drug and alcohol addiction. They promote the benefits of a substance-free life through live performance and action programs.

Now, I’m not about to self-identify as straight-edge and sport the pin on my mechanic’s jacket. And I can’t pretend I was ever hardcore like Cash or Reznor. But what I will own is the belief that maybe some of us just weren’t designed to drink.

Getting drunk for me is like packin’ a loaded gun in my Levi’s – I often end up blowing off a toe, but usually my heart. What I want is to blow off the perception that you need alcohol to have a good time. I appreciate my social outings more now that I have someone special to share them with.

I have Me. Not that fucking poser who thought it was impressive to get obliterated or the other one with so many issues she needed to hide from reality.

– Sylvie Hill