Something I distinctly remember about Trump’s inauguration was that right after his swearing-in, I went on Facebook and posted, “Sooo… when do we start drinking?” Judging by the many “likes” I received, lots of depressed people boozed it up that day.
It’s been a drunk few years for leftists living under Trump, rising fascism, and rapid climate change. We don’t allow ourselves the comfort of denying how bad things are. I give us credit for refusing to look away from the darkness, and even more credit to those of us who organize to fight back against all the scary things. But for those of us who imbibe — and I know many comrades who do — our perennial rage, fear, and discouragement make us more inclined to drink from stress. Sometimes you just wanna take your mind off the pain and worry for one night. Or two. Possibly most nights out of the week, depending what kind of news cycle you’re in.
I’ve recently decided that the repercussions from drinking this often generally outweigh the enjoyment. Part of my issue is just age, limited energy, and how much my schedule’s changed recently. During the holidays, I switched from part- to full-time at my very pleasant retail job that I don’t discuss online. So I have way less personal time. But I’m still a mom, still writing, still leading my local DSA organizing committee (we’re in the process of forming our own chapter!), and also canvassing for Bernie whenever I can. I cannot imagine trying to balance all of this activity with even the slightest hangover. At age 42, anything over two drinks per night will likely mess up my sleep or leave me feeling fuzzy the next day. Suffice to say, I’ve had many 2+ drink nights since January 2017.
I feel quite vulnerable putting this in writing. I can speak about my anxiety and depression with far fewer reservations. Alcohol is a very touchy subject. I do genuinely enjoy the flavor and warmth, and don’t necessarily want to give up drinking entirely. But my dad was a drunk, and a pretty mean one. I don’t like thinking of myself inheriting his worst qualities. Nevertheless I want to be honest about how much I’ve been drinking over the past few years, because I know I’m not alone. If you drink a lot and don’t feel great about that, please know you’re not the only one grappling with where you ought to draw some lines. Perhaps we could all benefit from speaking more frankly on the subject.
My spouse and I decided to abstain from alcohol between New Year’s and Valentine’s Day, an old tradition I practiced during my last couple years in Michigan (so as not to become an extra depressed winter drunk). This go-round of temporary temperance feels very different than it did ten years ago. I was another person then — childfree and politically inactive, less burdened in many ways. But I also harbored meager expectations worn down by low wages, high rent, and the scarcity of jobs in my rust belt homeland. In 2010, I wasn’t nearly so afraid of the immediate future as I am now. But neither did I feel as much hope for a better, more just, and equitable society. What I’ve come to realize about drinking is that if I do it too much, I rob my sense of hope to feed that anxiety.
In my experience, drunks are not at their worst when they’re wasted — indeed, that is often when they’re the most fun. The nightmare moods strike when they’re hungover. The difference between 24 year-old me and me at 42 is that it takes relatively little alcohol to bum me out the next day. It’s this aging body, and it’s also the greater demands. No matter what, I have to wake up early every morning and care for my child. I don’t often sleep in. If I ever had a day when I didn’t have stuff to get done, maybe I wouldn’t mind feeling a little tired or weary. I could just lay on the couch all day, binge-watch Netflix, and order take-out. But I don’t often have those days. Not when there’s a DSA chapter to form, or a Bernie to elect, or an essay to post.
Speaking of which, I’m writing this paragraph at my favorite brewery, where I’m sipping a hibiscus soda. It’s been a long day. After helping my husband get our kid off to school, I went to work all day, then to a DSA event, then to the pet store for dog treats, followed by a quick (possibly regrettable) meal at KFC, and finally here. My town doesn’t have many late-night establishments that aren’t bars, so I’ve made my peace with being sober at the watering hole. This is the other reason I know I’m not the only one struggling with where to draw those lines. So much of our adult leisure culture revolves around alcohol. Drinking can feel like the cover charge you pay to enjoy a grown-up social life.
I remember a couple summers ago, we visited Michigan toward the end of Ramadan. One night my husband ran out to a Yemeni cafe in Dearborn and came back to my mom’s place in awe of what he’d seen — Muslims of all ages gathered at midnight, sipping tea and coffee, nibbling pastries, enjoying boisterous conversation. Old women in hijabs pounding the table and laughing. Of course it made sense that the cafe was open late, serving a community that had fasted all the long summer day. I just loved the idea that there was a party happening that didn’t guarantee an exhausted tomorrow. I love to chat and joke and stay up late with friends, and I hope one day (maybe when my child is a little more self-reliant, and I can sleep in) that I can go to that kind of party without feeling the need to pickle my insides. Let’s add that environment to our long list of socialist demands.
I don’t blame anyone for drinking too much in the face of this broken and disintegrating world. But as always, my mind wanders back to “What’s it gonna take to win a better one?” It’s gonna take a lot of work, which requires enormous energy. I can’t tell anyone else how to spend their energy. But this drinking fast has shown me that I have plenty more when I don’t wrap my down time around alcohol.