My take on liquid courage

One of my friends is an extrovert, but I still like her. She even enjoys parties.

And no, I don’t mean the type of party where you get home from work, have a really great workout, and then run a bath. (With balloons.) I mean the type where people “mingle,” and others you don’t know show up, and the ending time is a big, fat question mark.

Oddly, my friend (who is also an alcoholic in recovery), said booze was less vital to her at parties. Rather, she used it to facilitate getting close to people. Alcohol made it easier to open up.

I’m not a total stranger to this. While I didn't need booze to open up to girlfriends (I usually start at a pretty startling level of honesty), it certainly helped in romantic relationships. Sober, I’m particularly scared of saying the wrong thing, causing a fight, or ruining things. After one drink, alcohol was as gentle and reasonable as a therapist: Um. Just say it. That’s probably not going to happen. (After three drinks it was more like, Um. That might happen. But who cares?)

If I were asked to summarize my relationships from the ages of 18-22, I couldn't. I could not do those people justice. We drank together. I have no idea how well they knew me, or I them, because I tended to take a powerful sedative before even letting them know what I had for lunch.

And even if they had known quite a lot about me - what would that mean? The term “false intimacy” comes to mind. It’s not false because what you said wasn’t true. It’s false because you obliterated fear before saying it, which means it didn’t require courage. Intimacy requires courage.

For that same reason, “liquid courage” is probably a misnomer. If courage is action in the face of fear, the only action I took while still fearful was finding the corkscrew. (Life hack: a coat hanger will do in a pinch.) Once the bottle was open, I no longer needed courage. Just liquid.

Alcohol was a prerequisite for attending parties. And I don’t mean something cute and unassuming like, “I hope they have wine,” or “I’ll probably crack open a beer when I get there.” I mean I’m definitely drinking beforehand, and it will not count as drinking alone.

I wonder if the original pre-game was simply a room of people nervously drinking together, quelling their fears before hitting the bar. One turned to the other and said, “Maybe we need a name for this so it’s less pathetic.” Someone suggested “warming up,” and it was quickly shot down for its athletic connotations. Another person suggested “pre-game,” and won a Nobel prize for ingenuity. (Drunk people are easily impressed.) Little did they know, there would still be nervous introverts out there pre-gaming the pre-game. If step one is drinking alone, and step two is drinking at the pre-game, step three - drinking at the bars - had me very sleepy, but Brené-Brown-level courageous.

There are dark and foreboding days in sobriety when I am asked to go to a thing, and other people are projected to attend. When I first got sober, I couldn’t quite scratch the belief that I had to consume something beforehand. I often went for sugar-free energy drinks, which meant my energy was right where I like it - way more nervous than anyone else’s - and my belly was right where I like it - super distended from all the rat poison (erm, aspartame) in the energy drink. I don't always know how to feel good, but I do always know how to feel different.

These days, I can attend group events without trying to feel different first. I'm not drinking, and by and large I'm not thinking about drinking. I sometimes have the thought, What would this be like if I were drinking? but the answer is rarely Better. The truth is that once you grow accustomed to not drinking at parties, bars, holidays, vacations, concerts, etc., you stop missing it. Sometimes, you become uncomfortably aware of new things - Huh, I guess I never really liked that band/restaurant/relative - but usually, that feels like pretty valuable information. You know, the kind that could direct future behavior. I think it's called learning from experience.

At a baseball game. Others were drinking. It didn't matter.

Lots of people, and not just alcoholics, drink for “liquid courage” or to facilitate intimacy. The thing is, if you entertain any hope of one day being courageous or intimate while sober, you actually have to practice it sober. If you wouldn’t go bowling with bumpers, then don’t take a shot before asking a girl out. For my part, when I quit drinking, I had to re-learn making small-talk at parties. (I also had to develop ornate exit strategies and a host of responsibilities elsewhere.) I had to re-learn making big-talk (i.e. emotional intimacy) in relationships: saying things like, "That hurt my feelings." "It bothers me when you do this." "This isn't working." And saying it all sober.

It was not pretty.

But it was, for the first time, courageous.