Alcohol, Inhibitions, and Freedom

I find it odd that I have to explain to people why I don’t consume alcohol. It doesn’t come up often – at parties and celebrations mostly. When everyone else has a cocktail or a beer in hand, I’m ordering an iced tea. This inspires people to ask very strange questions. “You don’t want a beer?” Um, no…that’s why I ordered an ice tea. “You know they have a full bar here…” I will look at them and simply say, “I don’t drink.”

They usually frown at this point as though I’ve said something offensive. They half joke that I’m not much fun. Actually, I’m all about having fun, I just don’t need alcohol to enable it. Now the pointed questions come. “Why don’t you drink? Are you an alcoholic? Do you have a medical condition? Are you on medications?” Apparently people who don’t know me somehow believe they have the right to know these things.

The same folks who get unsettled by my not drinking will go absolutely ballistic when I excuse myself to go outside and smoke a cigarette. With a cocktail in hand folks will stop me and say something brilliant like, “How can you do that? Don’t you know that’s bad for you?” I’ll look pointedly at their glass and explain that I love smoking even though it’s horrible for me. I’ll then point toward their drink and say, “Don’t you understand that your glass is full of toxins? Don’t you know that’s bad for you?” This triggers an eye roll and a series of rationalizations about how it’s just a couple of drinks. It’s no big deal. I’m not interested in making a comparison. You have your poison and I have mine.

People who need to drink to lower their inhibitions and have fun are not people I want to hang out with. I am fully capable of making a complete fool of myself stone cold sober. I have a lot of stories about being sober and outrageous and most of them make my poor wife twitch.

Do we ever really look at what our inhibitions are? They’re fears, insecurities, and self consciousness. As far as I know, there’s nothing in a margarita that inspires a person to sing in public. The woman who sings karaoke after three of them is a person who was too uncomfortable to do what she wanted to do in the first place. I have no interest in making anyone feel bad about their inhibitions. I challenge the socially acceptable use of alcohol to lower them. In The World According To Jim ™ there is nothing a person can do drunk that they can’t do sober if they’d just work through whatever holds them back.

We admire children in large part because they are uninhibited. Ask the average five year old to sing or dance or try something new and they won’t hesitate. We revel in their fearlessness but we think it’s just because they don’t know better. What they haven’t yet learned we would do well to unlearn. They are showing far more zest for living than we are.

We have a lot of euphemisms for lowering inhibitions and improving moods. We say that alcohol provides “liquid courage.” We celebrate beer as that thing that, “makes me a jolly good fellow.” We write songs about Tequila and its magical effect of making clothes fall off. We create cocktails with intriguing names like “Sex on the Beach”, “Slow Comfortable Screw” and “Orgasm.” Of all the places we are inhibited, sex is at the top of the list.
I can’t begin to tell you how many couples I’ve worked with who have terrible sex lives because talking to each other about sex makes them incredibly uncomfortable. For the uptight professional couple, three glasses of wine becomes the gateway to the best sex they ever have. Investing an hour in uncomfortable conversation could provide years of better release and intimacy. The thing is, it’s always easier to not face your fears. Alcohol hides our fears temporarily, but always at a cost.

Here in Maine we love us some coffee brandy. Allen’s may well be the unofficial alcoholic beverage of Mainers. In rural Maine I’ve often heard it referred to as, “liquid panty remover.” Coffee brandy drunks are some of the most obnoxiously annoying people on the planet because they’re not only drunk – they’re hyper as well. These are people who desperately need something to do but lack the coherency to actually do it.

The latest country music song to make me want to shoot myself in the head is an all time low, “Red Solo Cup.” Seriously. Toby Keith suggests that my masculinity is to be called seriously into question if I prefer drinking from a glass to drinking from a cheap plastic cup. Toby refers to the receptacle of his beer as his friend and notes that it helps him meet women.

This is the world we live in – we celebrate alcohol as a means to good times. We associate it with holidays, traditions, get togethers, leisure time pursuits, relaxing, and raising a little bit of hell. All I’m saying is the next time you’re having a few at a gathering; notice that the kids are having more fun than you are and that they’re doing it naturally.

I certainly understand that alcohol can be used responsibly and in moderation. I’m thinking that if you’re comfortable with what you’re doing; it would never occur to you to ask me why I’m not doing it. The simple truth is that alcohol makes me sleepy and unsociable which is understandable given that alcohol is a drug – a depressant with sedating qualities.

A few things to consider:

“The secret of happiness is freedom. The secret of freedom is courage.” – Thucydides

The person you are when you’re drinking…is that the person you wish you were all the time? Are you freer with your words and actions after having a few? Wouldn’t it be cool if you could be a better version of you whether you’re drinking or not? What holds you back? What keeps you from being happier?

Most every client I’ve ever served tells me they just want to be happy. To me, happiness comes from the freedom of being who and how I consciously choose to be – not how I was socialized to be. I have little use for what society as a whole has taught me and I’ve spent a lot of years unlearning socially accepted ideals about normalcy, gender, sexuality, appropriate behavior, beliefs and values. Now I get to spend the rest of my day trying to get that insidiously catchy Red Solo Cup song out of my head.

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim offers a limited amount of online therapy to those with very flexible schedules.