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I Picked a Hell of a Month to Quit Drinking

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I walked home last night from the office. All along the route, I passed the places I used to stop in for a drink. It's been a month now since I had a nice, frosty martini, so cold that the ice chips float to the top and the sides of the glass bead up with condensation... or a brawny glass of Johnny Walker Black, sinuous and golden in a big bottomed glass... or even a festive balloon or two of rich, big-shouldered, blood-red Zin, oaky and spicy and redolent of cinnamon and chocolate...

I walked by these places but did not go in. I figure the time to start drinking again is when I don't feel the inexorable pull to the cozy dimness that lies beyond their inviting portals. In other words, when I don't need a drink is precisely the moment when I'll feel okay having one.

When I reported my intentions a month ago, one very astute commentor told me two things that would happen. Both of them have indeed transpired. First, he informed me that people would be churlish about my decision to quit drinking for a while. This has indeed turned out to be true. Two nights ago, for instance, I went to a corporate event with my boss, one that was preceded, as they almost always are, at that hour, by cocktails. He got his usual. I got a cranberry and soda with lime. Odious thing. My drink of choice at the moment. The following conversation transpired:

"What's up with you?"

"Nothing. It's been a month since I had a drink. I figured I've had a drink every day for the last 30 years. I can take a break."

"You gotta be kidding me."

He was peering at me as if seeing me in a slightly different way all of a sudden. In business, you never want anybody to see you a slightly different way unless you've planned the change of image beforehand. So I added, "We can still be friends, you know." He took a thoughtful sip of his drink and regarded me narrowly over the rim of his glass. "Maybe!" he said at last.

It was a joke, of course. We're still friends. But he's right, too. Everything is a lot harder without liquor. This brings me to the second part of my correspondent's prediction: that stuff would look a whole lot weirder when you're the only totally sober one in the room. A few weeks ago, I went to a formal dinner. I won't tell you who was there because one of them could be reading this. Very high nabob percentage. Lots of wattage in the room. Virtually no oxygen remaining for people with normal-sized heads.

By 10 p.m., everybody but me had sopped up a full flagon of wine. There was hugging among individuals who by no means would have hugged had they not be very well oiled. There was some singing by voices rarely raised in anything but anger. One graybeard leaned over and told me a personal tale so odiferously raunchy that I am praying he never recalls the person with whom he shared it. And I sat amid it all like the albatross at the wedding feast. Nobody but me cared that I wasn't drunk. But I cared. Deeply. And yet I stayed the course.

Since then, I have realized that my current dry spell has made certain things impossible. I can no longer have dinners with boring or annoying people, for instance. This is a significant liability in business, perhaps a crippling one. I have to see if I can moderate this position, for professional reasons. If I can't, it's clear that I will have to either leave business or start drinking again. Boondoggles, sales functions and other social/business events, too, are pretty much out of the question. It's not that I require a drink, that's not it. It's that the entire purpose of the thing is to get hammered and feel a whole bunch of stuff about the people you're hanging with -- love, jealousy, loyalty, hatred, inappropriate amusement. It's a total bummer to be in a room with a bunch of swirling people and feel absolutely nothing. It's a group experience and you're not part of the group, because the glue that holds the human souls together in that space is everybody's common and shared inebriation.

I'll be back pretty soon, I guess. Right now, it's more a matter of pride for me, a test of my will, than any physical requirement to maintain and abstain. But I'll be honest with you: this isn't an easy time to walk around in this condition. Look at the news. We may all be getting to a point where walking around sober is a lot more dangerous than the alternative.

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