A Farewell To (Bending) Arms

Looking back, I failed.  Failure, it must be said, is something of a broad proposition; on the one hand you can just fall short and comfort yourself that you’ll do better next time, or; you can go so spectacularly wide of the mark that your failure is an achievement of itself.  If that all sounds confusing, think of it in ‘Birdman Rally’ terms.  Some entrants in the Birdman Rally soar majestically and when they fall, we’re inevitably disappointed.  We are poisoned by a sense of a potential that’s not been realized.  Other contestants fall off the platform into the river and never stood a chance and we cheer.  I was the latter.

I speak, of course, of alcohol.  If I’m being completely honest, I was never any good at it.  Two years ago, as the pandemic came down with all the subtlety of a lead balloon, I gave it up. There was, at the time, something of an extended social license to get stuck into the liquor to cope with such perverse and unusual circumstances.  Whilst I realize that ‘quarantinis’ were a comfort to some, I went the other way. It may have been my rebellious streak kicking in.

It was, I think, something I could control at a time when everything else seemed out of control.  In the movies, such things only happen when the protagonist not so much hits rock bottom as crashes straight through it, before plunging into the depths of hell and reluctantly deciding to change their ways.  It was different for me.  Instead of reaching rock bottom, I kind of lost interest.  Two years later, I think I’m ready to accept that my days of drinking alcohol are behind me.  As such, I must now come to terms with the fact that there are certain things I’ll never achieve.

I longed to understand spirits.  Whiskey, gin and vodka – you name it; I found them all absolutely intriguing. All those movies where sophisticated urbanites meet for cocktails, witty banter and dancing to jazz – that’s who I wanted to be.  I desperately wanted to be the one in the crowded room holding the glass of some exotic liquor who was, somehow, above whatever else might be happening at that moment.  It just didn’t happen.  I was rubbish with spirits.

I tried my sincere best to like whiskey, but it didn’t work out.  At the risk of sounding like a total neophyte, it felt like trying to suck down a tumbler of petroleum.  Instead of looking like an urbane intellectual giant, each time I took a sip, my face bore the expression of someone who’d just swallowed a lemon and the tree it grew on.  Getting to the end of a glass of whiskey was an act of endurance rather than enjoyment.  I watched on as friends became connoisseurs, even going so far as to discuss their preferred brands and the great whiskey-producing regions of the world.  The way they spoke made the stuff sound like the highly intoxicating nectar of the gods.  But it all tasted like premium unleaded to me.  

Vodka was something I always experienced more by accident than design.  I don’t recall ever electing to buy vodka; rather, it would simply materialize in the cupboard from time to time.  Gin was, without doubt, the sneakiest of them all. I never knew where I stood with gin, right up to the point that I could no longer stand at all.  One minute you’re wondering whether someone substituted the hard stuff for water, the next your tongue has inflated like an airbag and you can no longer speak.  

Red wine was my absolute favourite.  It was how I ended most weeks for a very long time.  Like a starter’s pistol, a glass of red wine was tangible evidence that the weekend had finally arrived.  Often, I’d fall asleep on the couch on a Friday night, a glass of red wine by my side.  I’d thought that maybe I’d been drinking too quickly but I’ve since discovered that, alcohol or not, I’m still likely to nod off in front of the TV on Fridays.  

Special mention must be made of beer.  In many respects, beer is a lot like love in that it too is a many splendoured thing.  At the right moment, beer can be extraordinary; the first sip on a hot day or the way it melts when it’s poured into a cold glass.  Having said that, I don’t especially miss the way it sits like lead in your body when you’re tired or how it makes you supernaturally flatulent.  I have, instead, discovered a host of non-alcoholic beers that are actually pretty great. 

When I first stopped drinking alcohol, it was like a test to see how long I could go without.  I marked the days off the calendar with a texta.  Now, after two years, I’m enjoying not ever having to think about alcohol.  Don’t get me wrong; I’m not suggesting for a moment that other people shouldn’t drink.  But, for me, I’m glad to be done with it.

Thinking about it now, there were times in my twenties when I deliberately misunderstood the term ‘alcohol free’.  Things have definitely changed.  For the better, I think.  I’ve no idea whether this will be forever but, for the moment at least, it feels like one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. If that means I can never be the whiskey-sipping sophisticated urbanite of my dreams, so be it.  Frankly, failure never felt so good.  Cheers.