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Munchies

Not Getting Wasted Is Actually Pretty Great

I chose to stop getting drunk years ago, favoring passive drinking, clear-headed mornings, and limited existential crises over nights of slobbery abandon. How's your hangover?

by Eleanor Morgan
May 3 2014, 4:00pm

Image via Flickr user andrew_mc_d

There was no specific event that made me want to be an (almost) non-drinker. I just don't love being drunk. It makes me sick, anxious, and sad. I'd never been a huge boozer, even at university, because I am—always have been—a complete lightweight. Two beers and my femurs turn to milk. But here's the thing I've come to believe: Developing the ability to become passively drunk, to be able to able to absorb the sickly-sweet ethanol fumes from the merry and rowdy around you, is one of the finest skills one can hone as a sentient human being. I'd actually go so far as to say now, having done both kinds of drunk, that actually being drunk is overrated.

Why? Because, for me, and perhaps the growing numbers of others in the UK who aren't getting off their nut all the time, passive drunkenness is a far superior plain to exist in on a night out to actually being out-of-your-mind wasted. You can have a couple (one, if you're me), then just move with the tide. You can convince yourself your brain chemistry is changing. By power of osmosis, it can happen: Trust me.

Getting really drunk can reduce you (yes, you) to an eight-month-old baby-like state of ineptitude, bleeding half-formed words and "deep" nonsense all over yourself like pureed apple. You lose all sense of self, thinking you sound as smart as Will Self. And that's all before the next morning, which has you on your knees, eyes like a newborn rat's, bringing up rounds of a substance that resembles Heston Blumenthal's sea foam into the toilet. At such points—I am, naturally, speaking from past personal experience after mammoth benders of three or four Coronas—the earth spins on a different axis. It rotates gently out of time, beckoning every decision you've ever made to come crawling like a nasty, crunchy little spider into your mind's eye, reminding you that you are, fundamentally, a terrible person.

Yes, such porcelain-based nightmares might be transient, and yes, hangovers don't last, you will say, but if you could avoid the messy existential crises that alcohol can bring, well, why wouldn't you? So many people I know don't think that a night out has been good or fun unless it can be subsequently described as "big" or "messy" and I always think, Aren't you afraid of losing time?

But maybe that's the thing I'm not getting, the thing that makes me seem like a crashing bore to those who do want to get wasted, the thing that still, after years of being a non-preachy non-drinker, has some friends saying, "Oh come on, asshole, just have one" at 11 PM, when everyone else is just getting started and I'm ready to go home and watch The Good Wife in bed. My own experience with alcohol and narcotics—sometimes good, rarely amazing—cannot blinker me to the pleasure that oblivion, the loss of time, brings some people, though. The world is fucked, and if we can't down something to forget that it's happening, what can we do?

But all I ever see in the binge-drinkers I know now—and there are still plenty—after nearly three decades of living is regret. It used to be wild nights followed by some heavy shoulder-shrugging and pained, funny texting the next morning. Now it's just bleak regret.

The regret might come after a night of loud laughs, sloppy tonguing, and slurred pavement rowing with their partners—old or new—that climaxes with a round of fumbled sex in a haze of fermenting hop and nicotine breath, but it always comes. The day after boozing, they want out of their minds all over again. Only now it's wanting out of the one that's shrivelled with dehydration and regret. But you can never say anything to these people. You can't suggest that at some point they probably should stop pretending they've just graduated and are living in a shared warehouse space living off both an intern's wage and the capacity for alcohol that an intern-aged person has. Regardless of how you phrase it, you just sound like you're trying to play mummy.

Part of me also thinks that a bit of early-evening anxiety that could very easily be drowned out with a couple of drinks is fine—there's a lot to be said for being able to oil the cogs of a friendship without some fuzziness around the edges. So many people reading this will think, Fuck, she's boring or, Lighten up, bitch, no one's dying, but honestly? I'm happy to be boring. People can do what they like, and I can try and be the fun, buoyant person that keeps up with them in the pub to a point. And whereas once I would be crippled with FOMO on the pre-midnight walk home while everyone else's engines started up, now, watching Julianna Margulies rip someone a new one in court on my laptop screen is the peak of my Friday night. To me, that's hanging onto time.