Let me begin by saying that I am not a fanatic, an ascetic or a lunatic. On the contrary, I am generally mellow, sane and – if I may be frank – dedicated to creature comforts and the enjoyment of life.
I just have not had any booze – with one memorable exception – since April.
Everyone who drinks even moderately has experienced hangovers: pounding head, nausea, spit in your mouth that has the consistency of Elmer’s Glue and a taste like malted battery acid. The next morning is a queasy hell, but the night before makes up for it, right?
What if the hangover were to start twenty minutes after you pound that first can of Natty Ice? It does for me. I drank modestly for more than seven years with no more than the usual ration of ills. At various times, I even drank a lot, partied, boozed and hurled with the best of them.
Last April, it all changed.
I began to get headaches. Bad ones. Really bad ones, the kind that last for an entire day and leave you prone on a grubby mattress in a dark room, praying for death or a shot of morphine, whichever comes quicker.
Half an hour after that first belt of shitty beer would hit my stomach, you could find me huddled in a corner, whimpering.
As much as I liked to drink, when “buzz” became synonymous with “excruciating pain,” I re-examined my priorities and decided to quit the sauce.
As you can imagine, my social life has changed somewhat.
The odd thing is how other people deal with my decision. Close friends offered me drinks for months afterward. Hell, some still do, refusing to remember that I quit. That’s OK; to go from finishing the I.V. loop in less than two hours to booze-free in the space of a year is hard for me to comprehend sometimes.
What is not OK is people refusing to accept something that is none of their damn business.
At parties, drunken louts treat it as a personal insult if I don’t pound brewskies until we’re all hunched over a toilet, crying for Mommy.
At bars, some girls get offended if I refuse a drink, even after explaining that I would love a Coke, just not a rum and Coke. One chick asked if I was gay. I could not see the connection between it and refusing a shot of tequila, but maybe I am just not smart enough.
One friend told me it was all in my head. True, blinding headaches generally are. She kept pestering me to drink every time I saw her, telling me to just have one to see what happens. I said I would drink if she would let me sock her in the back of the head every fifteen minutes until tomorrow.
My friend was right; it was a horrible thing for me to say, but all I tried to do was make it clear that what she said to me was equally bad – that this was the kind of pain she offered me, along with a dash of disrespect.
The friend in question has not tried to pressure me since.
When someone chooses not to drink, for one night or forever, trust that they have good reasons. Even if you don’t know why, even if the teetotaler in question cannot articulate them, the reasons are there.
Only once since April have I gone out and gotten totally bombed. My buddy Red turned 21, and I had promised him long ago – before I quit drinking – that I would go out and get plastered right alongside him. Hordes of my friends treated it like the Second Coming. A mob of us climbed onto Bill’s Bus, and I got weepy with nostalgia for debaucheries past. We tore through State Street, drinkin’ and yodelin’ and pukin’ and fightin’. It was grand, headache be damned.
And yes, I do still miss the booze.
Owen Salisbury is the Daily Nexus assistant art director and is really sick of being the designated driver.