Alcohol. It can ease the mind and exalt the spirit. It can turn enemies into friends, friends into rivals, rivals into teammates and teammates into lovers.
It can be a tonic, or embalming fluid for a corpse that does not yet know that it’s dead.
We use alcohol. A 2010 poll showed that sixty-seven percent of American adults drink alcohol; at the time that number represented a twenty-five year high. Alcohol is a drug, it alters the mind. People will say that they drink it for the taste, but the fact of the matter is that if they created a beverage that was indistinguishable from normal beer or wine or liquor, we would choose the intoxicating spirit every time. It is within our nature to do so… we have for all recorded history.
I use alcohol. I don’t always drink, but I do sometimes and sometimes even to excess. There are states that you simply cannot reach without an excess of alcohol, and these are states that I want to reach at times. It’s not an accident.
We justify it, we do it at home, in private, or in specifically designated businesses. We’re actually a little prudish about alcohol… people will say that they don’t drink to get drunk (we do), as if the pleasurable effects of alcohol are somehow in themselves an indicator of a moral failing. You can be denied service at a bar if you already appear intoxicated, which makes it technically illegal to get drunk in public. I have several friends whom people have described as “drunks” or “problem drinkers,” and yet the way in which they use alcohol impacts their day to day lives very little or not at all. Up until recently, one could only buy liquor in Washington state from state-run liquor stores… and even now that private sales are allowed, the stores in question have certain requirements that are presumably to prevent minors from buying alcohol.
You have to wait until you’re twenty-one years old before you can buy alcohol or drink in a bar; that’s three years older than you have to be to vote, enter the military, or buy cigarettes (which I would argue are more detrimental to the user than alcohol). It’s as though anything that feels good must be bad.
Well, I’m done with all that.
Alcohol can be a wonderful thing. It can fuel a revel, it can eliminate your inner critic (however temporarily), and despite what everyone says it can spur creativity. In fact, the creative process is not only enhanced by alcohol, but also looks similar in the brain to alcohol intoxication.
Alcohol pushes aside the ego in favor of the id. It allows the spirit to soar above all of the worries and woes of daily life; allows us to stop caring for a few short, precious hours what other people think of how we’re behaving. In that sense, using alcohol, for the thinking drinker, is a transcendent experience. You can talk to people that you wouldn’t normally talk to in ways that you normally wouldn’t dare. Expression of the self becomes more effortless; singing and dancing come to you with no concern about whether you sound or look like Christina Aguilera… or whoever. You are better able to express and divest yourself of emotions while under the influence of alcohol.
Alcohol can bring you closer to god. Human kind has been creating alcoholic beverages (and other mind altering substances, but that’s for another time) for millennia. In ancient Egypt, it was thought that beer was invented by Osiris (he also presided over the Egyptian afterlife, fascinatingly enough) and alcohol had uses both in religious and in funerary rituals. In fact, prior to the effort to remove alcohol (and other intoxicants) from normal religious practice, alcohol had been involved in religious practices from the neolithic area forward, in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas. Probably Australia, too, but I couldn’t find any resources directly corroborating that. In each of these places, alcohol has been used in religious observances. The religious prohibition against alcohol is relatively modern, and started with the Big Three monotheistic faiths (and also Buddhism). And is it any wonder that alcohol was so often used to connect with the divine? It makes us more ourselves, more accepting of our flaws and virtues, and it suspends the rational mind, allowing for better communion with the less-rational.
Moderate alcohol consumption, in addition to the benefits to your creative work and to your emotional and spiritual well-being, has numerous health benefits, including a reduced likelihood of cardiovascular disease, erectile dysfunction, diabetes, and dementia.
This is not to say that alcohol doesn’t have its dangers. It’s potentially addictive… my mother died in part due to her alcoholism. It can ruin relationships, destroy opportunities, create misunderstandings, and it can even kill you. It almost universally causes the dreaded hangover (I actually enjoy hangovers, but I’ll write more about that later), and those photos that end up on social media can cause some degree of embarrassment. No transcendent experience comes without a cost. This, I think, is a tremendous flaw in our culture; expecting the good without the bad. For me, the price is almost always worth it. When you take a drink, and that butterfly in your chest opens its wings, and then you’re suddenly more yourself than you ever remember being… that moment will always be worth it. When I wake up in the morning with a bad head and the world looking all strange, well… that’s all a part of the ride that I paid to be on.