My Approach to Drunkenness

The perception of we, the Irish, is so often one of a person who cheerfully consumes vast quantities of alcohol on a regular basis, often to poetic or musical effect.  

That wouldn’t be my perception of we, the Irish, and it certainly doesn't apply to me.

Around the age of 14, as is the norm, me and my classmates were encouraged to take ‘The Pledge’.  This happened as part of a religious ceremony where the priest called forth all the boys who wished to eschew the demon drink until they reached the ripe old age of 21. 

That happy cohort rose from their seats and enunciated ‘The Pledge’ while the villainous renegers remained with ass-firmly-in-pew. 

As I recall (I may be wrong) I was the only one in my class to not take 'The Pledge'.  As I also recall (I may also be wrong) I was one of a very very few who went on to not take a drink until I was over twenty-one.  This probably says something about me but I’m damned if I know what it might be.

If my relationship with alcohol was summarised in a Facebook page, it would definitely say, ‘It’s Complicated’.  Thankfully, though, it is not a tragic relationship, as so many complicated alcohol relationships are.  My family were all light or non-drinkers and nowhere in the closet lay the spectre of a relative damaged or destroyed by the bottle.

No, my complication lay firmly with the fact that I started working behind the bar at such a young age.  My friend's family owned a pub and we both worked there regularly.  It was mighty fun but I got to see an awful lot of drunk people while I was there and I think this coloured my own subsequent behaviour markedly.

You see, I like a drink.  I like many kinds of drink.  Sometime a beer is just Nirvana, a whiskey a treat and a glass of wine a welcome accompaniment.

But, here’s the thing, I hate to be drunk.  I really really hate it.

There is a brief magical thirty minute period which can occur about three drinks into a social occasion where I become 'Master of The Known Universe'.  My synapses weld together and connections and thoughts flash across them and out my mouth like a virtual wild fire.

Then that passes and I get drunk.

I’m not a sloppy drunk or anything.  It’s more about what’s going on with me than with what others are seeing.  I feel, inside, some abdication of control.  Whatever events might unfold over that subsequent few hours will not be manageable by me, someone else will have to do it.  And somewhere deep inside my haze, this disturbs and unsettles me.  I try to regain position but I know I am now hobbled and that it will be twelve hours or more before normal service is restored.

Nuh-huh.  That’s not for me.

So the upshot of this is that I have only been drunk about three times in my life.  A little buzzed?  Many time but drunk?  Not so much.

I remember, so well, the first time I ever got drunk.  I was twenty one, living and working in London.  One Saturday night, we went out in High Street Kensington and I had one too many.   That’s not an expression.  It doesn’t take many drinks for me to get drunk.  One too many will be fine.

I remember standing outside a pub, under a scaffold, with my friend who had best remain nameless as he is now a more prominent man than I am.  “Look,” the now-prominent person said, “A scaffold.  Let’s hang on it.”  So he and I jumped up, grabbed a bar, and dangled on the scaffold.  It was fun.  Long after he had fallen away and found something better to do, I was still dangling.

Then a girl I had known some years before appeared.  Her name was Grace, I’ll say no more, she might be prominent too.  I was astonished.  Is this what alcohol does?  Bring old friends out of nowhere on a Saturday night?  What a wonderful thing.

I conducted a jolly and effusive conversation with Grace who I noticed, even in my befuddled state, was not the least bit interested in reciprocating.  Looking back, I believe this is because I remained dangling from the scaffold for the whole time she was there.

After that some time passed, Dylan Thomas fashion, and I found myself alone in my shared flat.  Lord knows how I got there.  The other guys were not back yet so that explained the alone part.  I found that it was far too dark so I turned every light in the place on.  Then I found that I missed the gentle gurgling of my home-river so I turned every tap on too.

Then I sat on the couch and watched telly.  Fatima Whitbread was on.  She was talking about her javelin and running with some car tyres tied to her rear end  As I studied her face in close up, she slowly transformed.  She became bigger and more Neanderthal and, well, sorry, uglier (it was me, Fatima, not you).  Then I fell asleep and was found that way later – lights on, water running (no leaks) and Fatima long-departed in disgust.

So, these days, if we meet, don’t expect me to consume vast quantities of booze with you.  I will probably have two and be surprisingly altered by them.  Then I will either move on to soft drinks or simply pretend to drink more if required.

It doesn’t mean I don’t like you. 

Quite the opposite, probably.


Anonymous said...

Do people take it as an offense if you wont drink with them?
I didn't know that

twistedlilkitty said...

I didn't drink for years. Never really drank in Uni, I used to get buzzed up on lots of caffeine and go out.
I got into drinking beer through Colm, he taught me about craft beers and that they had a complexity to them that needed to be appreciated.
Unfortunately the beers I like most are also very strong, since I've been living in Dublin I've been drunk more times than I care to recall.
Usually what happens is I forget my tolerance *or* I get greedy. That's my downfall.
More often than not I will drink to a point then decide to stop and switch to water, I guess I get bored of it and like to keep my wits there, somewhere, nearby.
On Friday we went out, I drank a bit, then switched from beer to rum, which doesn't make me that drunk (it did once, I got greedy) to water. We went dancing. I hadn't danced like that since uni.
It reminded me of the nights we would have, not drinking, going clubbing, going getting coffee after the club, playing on the swings and going home.
I don't like the fact that people need alcohol to lower their inhibitions, I don't, I end up having to wait for people to catch up on me, to let go a bit so we can have fun.
Being honest I'm as happy having a cup of tea with someone as a pint.
(sorry for the long comment)

Anonymous said...

That is an interesting revelation Ken. Sometimes books are so misleading,

Cheers to you for staying "sober". I drink to

As usual I enjoyed the story tremendously.

Ken Armstrong said...

Hi 'Anon'. :) People wouldn't take offense at me not continuing to drink but it can seem odd in certain occasions to be drinking happily one minute and then abstemious the next. "What's wrong with you?" "Are you unwell?" Stuff like that. :)

Twistedlilkilly: The longer the comments, the happier I am. It's like setting up a graffiti wall and hoping some people come and scribble their thing. Interesting that Rum doesn't make you drunk. I think it does for some people... :)

Jenaisle: Thanks. Cheers to you too! :)

hope said...

I am a rarity on earth: I've never been drunk. Simply because I don't drink. Just never liked the taste...and after serving beer to college students, can't stand the smell of it.

I have no problem with anyone who does drink...long as they don't drive or hang on me. And yet, drinkers are the world's worst when you politely refuse to join them. They just don't get it.

I get it. You're Irish but you're not pre-pickled because of it. ;)

Laura Cousins said...

When people look at you sidelong on your refusal to partake you could always explain, a broad smile neatly pinned to your face, that alcohol tends to turn you into a fiendish, axe-wielding maniac.

Motherhood and being the only person in our family who can drive the car has turned me into (more or less) a teetotaler on all but the most auspicious occasions. I remember being drunk, in my teens and twenties, and being frightened by the loss of control. It didn't really enhance social situations for me, or make them any more bearable. Like TLK says, why not just have a nice cup of tea, instead?

Reese said...

It's ironic that you mention the perception of the Irish. I'm on my third book by Colin Bateman and noticed that alcohol plays a heavy part in his writings.
As for your take on alcohol, I agree. I enjoy a glass of wine or a cocktail now and then. I like the feeling one gives me, but I hate to be drunk. For me, I think it is a control thing. I don't like feeling like I don't have control of myself.
Unlike your family, mine were heavy drinkers. I am the only one that does not have an alcohol problem, which is probably another reason why I am so careful.
As for stories of my youth and the few times I was drunk in college, well, I'll keep what I can remember to myself!

WiseMóna said...

Hi - I'm Irish, and I love to drink. I have worked in bars also from a very young age (14). My husband has only seen me drunk twice in the last 15 years. I hate being drunk but still like to have a drink!

LuceWomanGetsAbout said...

I love getting drunk. It makes me laugh. Sadly, but fortunately, due to bloody responsibilities I don't get the opportunity NEARLY often enough. Hic.

Jim Murdoch said...

I also have a complicated relationship with drink. When I was a teenager I experimented and, like you, discovered that I did not like being drunk. I’m an intense drunk. When two or three sheets to the wind at a party I’ll hone in on the only person there who really interests me, back them into a corner and attempt to keep them engaged in intense (often philosophical) conversation for the rest of the evening. I have never tried to pull a bird when drunk although I did once apologise to a girl once for being married and explained had I not been then I would have most definitely made some kind of advances towards her. I actually think she took it in the spirit in which it was intended.

Now I don’t drink, not a drop for years. Mainly due to the pills I’ve been on but really I don’t much like the effect drink has on me. I’m a depressive and we depressives do not react well to alcohol. This does not mean I would never take a drink again but I’m in no rush. I’d be happier with a milkshake.

Part of my aversion to drink is based on watching my father, brother and sister all develop drink problems. None of them are alcoholics but they all allowed the drink too much control over their lives and I’m from the same stock. When my first wife left me I went out of the house down to the corner shop. You know the way when things like that happen you have a desperate need to do something. Well, when I got there I thought about buying a bottle of schnapps or Glayva and getting moroculous but instead I bought a box of Munchmallows, went home, stuck the kettle on and ate the whole box.

Carrie has a glass or two of wine most nights. I can’t stand the stuff personally. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Pinotage, Merlot, Shiraz, Carménère, Pinot Noir, Bondara or whatever they all taste awful to me. I can’t taste the subtle differences and Christ knows where they come up with all the crap like: “cherry and vanilla flavours immediately emerge, but these are soon followed with a hint of liquorice and cedar.” Eh? It’s wine. It tastes like wine. It’s not a supple, fruity thing with legs. It’s a bottle of plonk.

Basically that’s why I’ve never got very excited over any kind of drink. Most of it tastes awful. I saw a bloke in a bar in East Kilbride once order a black and tan and blackcurrent – seriously what is that all about? I remember my mate insisting that I acquire a taste for Guinness and taking me to this pub in Troon where, through the back there was this great big open fire and there I worked my way through three pints of the stuff before being very, very sick afterwards. About ten years later I risked a half one lunchtime and I’ve never had as much as a sip since.

And that’s me and the drink.

Alcohol relationships said...

Thank you for sharing your opinion. I wish everyone in this world would realize the "abdication of control" when they get drunk and follow your example.