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A Newfound Sympathy for the Sober, Thanks to Lent


Christian D'Andrea - published on 03/06/15 - updated on 06/08/17

best coffee and beerjoint.  Hmm, I didn’t even know that was now formally a genre of restaurant. Another blow from the Gauntlet.

Sipping my coffee in the shop’s outdoor patio, I overheard one of my neighbors recounting a story about being on a party bus where “they were pouring shots the whole night. It was the best night ever. We stopped at all these bars. But at this one place, I got left by the bus, because I was too wasted.” Alcohol doesn’t always bring out the best in us. But man oh man, do we love to talk about it. Even when the story we’re telling is about how cruel booze was to us, or how badly we abused it. It occurred to me that what this young woman was relating was basically a horror story.  But that’s the power of the sly grip booze has on our lifestyles – we think those horror stories are somehow also evidence of the good time we must have had.

Next up on this day’s travel itinerary: checking in at my hotel. The friendly associate at the front desk said, “welcome, and thank you for being a platinum guest with us… when would you like your complementary glass of champagne?” 

“Never,” I said, with a smile.  I then told her about my Lenten battle plan, and she said “wow, that must be tough.”  Which is what a lot of people say. So, let’s think about this… if we all feel that it’s so tough for a non-alcoholic temporarily giving up a couple beers a week, then what do we truly think about what we expect recovering alcoholics to do – i.e. give it up forever when they crave it more than the rest of us do?  And why don’t we spend more time thinking about how hard we make it on them?

I was trying to think if I’ve ever encountered a host at a party who said “before I offer you wine, are you a recovering alcoholic?” Nope. And it’s not their fault. It just isn’t done. I myself don’t do it. But maybe I should. The point is that we have all kinds of sensitivities built into our culture for every conceivable kind of person grappling with even the slightest challenge or personal difficulty. And yet for the class of people facing one of the harder challenges, not only do we not have special sensitivities, we go the other direction and actually make it harder for them by waving their poison in their face all day long.

I was reflecting on this when I entered my hotel room that day, and smiled as I looked on the bed and saw the following card:

 Next, my smile matured into a laugh when I looked at the nightstand and saw the following magazine cover.

In all of this, though, I’m not saying the recovering alcoholic’s lot in life is all pain and struggle. One of the huge upsides to zero booze is that it becomes mathematically impossible to drink too much, and your odds of a hangover dip to a permanent 0%.  (Let’s remember that the root word in “intoxicated” is “toxic.”) 

I’m also not saying that the booze industry is evil. (Although there have been a couple moments in my life when I thought “Demon Rum” a pretty fitting appellation). After all, George Washington distilled whiskey. And Holy Week – Lent’s crescendo – is packed with powerful cameos performed by wine, including that moment when the good folks at the foot of the cross sopped a sponge in wine, skewered it with a reed, and held it up to the dying/living Jesus.

I’m just saying the booze industry is awfully good at what they do – i.e. get us to drink massive amounts of their product.  And they’re so good, that they inadvertently make the recovering alcoholic’s road a tough one to hoe.

But it’s not just the booze industry that’s responsible for creating The Booze Gauntlet.  We all are — the spirits industry and the civilians who buy its wares and innocently guzzle them out in the open. We’re responsible for the habits we have which have made it OK to wave so much alcohol marketing in everyone’s face all the time, and the ways we’ve tacitly agreed to what we’re being told – that happiness and relaxation and socializing must involve beer, wine, liquor.  Those messages and cultural credos are happily embedded in our subconscious because we let ourselves absorb them and believe them. 

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