37, day 5.
When I wake up in the morning after a night of moderate to severe debauchery, my hangover comes with an deep and fundamental appreciation of the fact that I am not addicted to anything. A lot of the members of my immediate family are or have been addicts, and I have known a few in my social life over the years. It is a fate I have avoided, and I expect to avoid, without much effort, for the rest of my life. But it is a significant question. Why am I not an addict? It would be naïve to attribute it to willpower, or strength of character. I’m not particularly well equipped with either of those, and plenty of people who are succumb to addiction anyway. I’ve given it a lot of thought, and I think I know the answer.
My mother in law and I went to a belated Christmas party today. It is an annual gathering with some friends of her family. I dreaded it. I dreaded it even though I quite like these people. I dreaded it because I am the sort of person who does not like going to vaguely unfamiliar social gatherings by default. My wife is the same way, and sometimes we don’t go out because neither one of us is willing to kick the other in the pants and force them to do it. It is comfortable, and if either of us worries at what we might be missing they have the other to assure/enable them. I also dreaded it because because my wife wasn’t going and it would mean I would be stuck with my mother in law.
I like my mother in law a lot, most of the time. She is intelligent and engaging and interesting. She is also, and there is no delicate way to put this, old. She likes to talk, and she likes to tell stories. The problem is I am one of her only regular social contacts, and she no longer has the cognitive capacity to remember what stories she has told me and which are new. She does not have Alzheimer’s, or anything. She just has standard OPDM (Old Person’s Diminished Memory), the same condition that prompted Alex Trebek to explain that he would only be good at Jeopardy if he competed against people in his age group. In addition, she also lacks the ability to tell whether a story is interesting to anyone but her. I do not think this is a factor of age. She is just like that. She has stories about meeting and hugging Desmond Tutu or climbing out along a rickety roof when she was in college just after a storm to fix a damaged radio antenna. She tells this stories with the same intonation enthusiasm as her story about spending the whole day hanging up fliers for a Church book sale in Bothel.
The Bothel story is considerably longer.
I have heard it, without exaggeration, 20-45 times. That is on the low end. I have heard the story about Jeffrey Tate and his New York Julliard London accent more times than there are discreet particles in the universe.
The party was in a house neither of us had never been to. She had the address, but nothing else. I looked it up on Google Maps, gathered up the turkey I had cooked and the party mix she spend the day making, and we were good to go. What could go wrong?
We were lost in Redmond for almost an hour and a half. I hate being late. I am usually always on time for everything, even unimportant things. I am one of those people. I think that people who are punctual do it not out of some sense of responsibility, but because being late makes them unreasonably antsy and nervous. My parents were like this. We once showed up so early for a movie that the theater wasn’t even open yet. I’ll tell you, the hour waiting in the car with my brother and my parents just flew by.
The first reason my mother in law and I got lost in Redmond was because, I think, I typed in the wrong address to Google maps. I started to type in the address, and it popped up on the auto suggestions. It was too much of a temptation. What was I supposed to do? It led us to something that sure sounded like the right street, but all of the address numbers started with 2, and ours started with a 4. So I pulled over, typed the address back into Google Maps, and got a completely different answer. It was not very far away, so we drove there. Easy peasy. I don’t know what that expression means, but I like ease, and I like peas, so I just go with it.
When we got to the new address, we found out that it was also wrong. These addresses also started with 2s rather than 4s. Also, the map my phone gave me did not quite correspond with the physical reality I saw before me. There was supposed to be a road jutting out in that direction, when all I saw was a fence. It was a very new looking community, so maybe the fence was added recently? I climbed over it and tried to scope out the addresses of the houses on the other side. I didn’t know how to get over there by car, and my 72 year old mother in law certainly wasn’t going to be able to climb the fence. But if those were the right houses, I would at least know we were in the right area.
As it turns out, houses these days rarely keep their addresses written on the back of the house. Damn inconsiderate, if you ask me. These were cookie cutter houses, and most of them had large sliding glass doors on the back that led directly into the kitchen. Through the doors, I could see children and families milling about, getting ready for dinner. Some of the children stared at me and point, most likely wondering why there was a stressed-out looking man in their communal back yard. I very nearly knocked on one of the glass doors, both to ask for directions and to explain that I wasn’t the crazy ice-pick murderer that they probably thought I was. The only thing that stopped me was the realization that it would make me seem more like an ice pick murderer. I do love me a good ice pick.
I climbed back over the fence, and eventually did ask for directions by knocking on someone’s front door. It was my mother in law’s idea. She also suggested I ask for a telephone directory. She is from an era where knocking on someone’s door at twilight and asking for things is something normal people do. The kind of people that deliver their electric bill by hand. The woman that answered the door was in a bathrobe. She was very polite, but her body language clearly said “go far far away so I can forget you exist and get back to watching Sheldon from Big Bang Theory say ‘bazinga’.” She seemed the type. I understood. About the body language, not about her taste in sitcoms. She assured me that I had the right street, but that she did not know where that particular address was. I thanked her, returned to the car, and tried my hardest not to feel like a creepy bastard. I did not ask her for a telephone directory.
My mother in law had brought a copy of the address, but not a phone number. She does not have a cell phone, and she had not given anyone at the party my cell phone. Finally, I looked up the hostess and found her address. It turned out we had the wrong address. The 4 was supposed to be a 1. That was the sort of thing Alex Trebek would probably do.
We finally got to the party an hour and a half late, roughly 5400 pins sticking out of my sense of propriety. The hostess answered the door with an indulgent smirk and a glass of red wine in a stemless wineglass. I apologized for being late. She didn’t care. I told her I needed to go back and get my box of presents and my mother in law.
“Do you need help?” she asked. “Is there anything I can get?”
“A glass of what you’re having,” I said, with some desperation. After the anxiety of the drive and dealing with the fact of hearing the Bothel story again, I needed something to take the edge off.
The party, as it turns out, was fun. I am glad I went, which I only did because my mother in law doesn’t drive. We talked about stuff. I made jokes. We exchanged stories. We ate food. I had a good bit of wine. She was serving some kind of red that has some kind of connection to Neil Patrick Harris. I misheard her slightly and heard Neil Patrick Harvest. If ol’ Neil hasn’t started a vineyard with this name yet, he’d better get on it. It’s pretty much perfect. I had a few glasses. My alcohol tolerance is hilariously low, so it did not take much to get a bit of inebriation on. Later on, she brought out a rose liqueur and a blackberry cordial that a friend of hers had made. They were 80 and 50 proof, respectively, and quite tasty.
When the time came for the evening to wind down, I knew it was time to stop drinking. I had to drive home, after all. I didn’t want to stop drinking. My inhibitions, never exactly forged of iron, were a bit looser than usual. Everything was just a little more entertaining. There was more wine left, and plenty more cordial. I could probably have drank a bit more and still been good to drive. At least, I thought I could.
But I didn’t.
Turning it down was easy. It was easier than avoiding the bacon cheeseburger I had for lunch yesterday. It was easier than going to sleep last night rather than playing the end of Assassin’s Creed IV. It wasn’t effortless. It was a legitimate temptation. But I knew it was a bad idea. I knew my wife back home would disapprove. I knew that on the off chance I was impaired enough to get pulled over, it could mess up my life pretty badly. So I refused. I had a bit more chocolate, and some water, and let some of the alcohol metabolize. When I felt okay a few hours later, I drove home. I am confident I was under the legal limit.
But why was it so easy? The lord knows I am not particularly good at resisting temptation. I can set my mind to resisting a set of temptations and do that quite handily. I went from being a serious meat eater to a vegan overnight, and stayed that way until culinary school lured me away. But the little, every day temptations, those are far more…tempting. So why not alcohol?
It is such a simple thing. Such a very small gesture, and a very fine line. But I know who is on the other side of the line. The guy on the other side of the line does more than just drink. He stays out late, and comes home to a wife who is worried to death about where he has been. He spends all of his time and effort and energy worrying about how to get the next fix. I am not inclined to do that with alcohol, but I have an addictive personality. Sure, I get bored easily, but there are some things that, once you do them, are really hard to get bored of.
I have never smoked a cigarette. I have barely ever done any drugs. It is not because I was against drugs. It isn’t even because I was against cigarettes. It was because I was a nerd.
None of my friends in high school smoked. None of them really drank. One of them got into marijuana eventually, but he was never very serious about it. He was never really a stoner. He was a D&D player, just like I was.
The thing is, at the end of high school I became highly attracted to the philosophical approach that espoused immersing oneself in experience. I wanted to try and do and be anything. For spiritual reasons, for experiential reasons, and to learn about life in all of its intricacies . For awhile, I was downright obsessed with it.
But I didn’t.
I didn’t have any idea how to even get my hands on the crazy stuff. I did not know where to begin. I liked to talk about it, but that was all it was. Even if someone had walked up and offered it to me, I didn’t want to sit in my bedroom with a chair against the unlocking door and shoot something into my veins. I wanted the real experience, with other people, and all the trappings. If I couldn’t get that, I was willing to wait. After all, college was just a year away.
The friends I made in college made the friends I made in high school look like serious light weights. Not when it came to doing drugs. Oh good god, no. They made them look like light weights in nerdiness. I thought I experienced roleplaying in the form of D&D in high school. That did nothing to prepare me for the double barreled in your face full on sensory experience that was White Wolf games. Oh boy.
I’m joking. Mostly. Half, anyway.
But more than that, they didn’t do any drugs, either. There was some alcohol – it was college – but a lot of my really close friends didn’t do that, either. It meant that if I wanted to drink I had to do it without my favorite people. Where’s the fun in that? None of them smoked cigarettes. There was a little experimenting with hallucinogens, but only the tiniest bit. Just enough to satisfy me that it wasn’t going to turn me into the Buddha or give me super powers. Also, they cured me of the naïve notion that it is possible or even desirable to “experience everything.” After all, if I was to do drugs to get experience, why not cut a toe off? Or become a South American cocoa farmer? People who seek experience are really just after the experiences they want, and they avoid the ones they don’t. The same as everyone else. I learned to pick and choose. I chose roleplaying games.
So here I am. The effects of the alcohol from the party. I could have another glass of wine, but I don’t want to. I have a blog post to write. I’m in the mood for a turkey sandwich. That seems higher priority. I have Assassin’s Creed to play. I’m sure I’m not predisposed towards being an alcoholic, but I never trained to be one, either.
Some members of my family were not so lucky. I have an aunt, and the first time she did heroin she knew that it was going to ruin her life. She avoided it for years. It caught up to her, eventually. It’s an all too common story. If I had tried it, even once, would it have been my story? I’ve had coworkers who are absolute slaves to cigarettes. They control the pace of everything they do, cost them enormous amounts of money, and fundamentally limits what activities they can and cannot do. I never started smoking cigarettes. If I did, would I still be smoking them now?
Why am I not an addict? Some people are smart and responsible enough from a young age to avoid the question entirely. A lot of my friends are in the camp, and I am as glad as anything that they are, and that they are my friends. I wasn’t. I avoided trying any of that stuff because it wasn’t around me. Because I wasn’t brave enough or wild enough to go after it, even when I really wanted to. Recovering addicts have to fight so very, very hard to get to the crappy, get up with the alarm and go to work every day most of us take reluctantly for granted. I don’t have to fight for that. I get to complain about it. And the more I analyze it, the more I think about it, the more I have to accept that the answer is very simple.
Because it just didn’t happen. Only this, and nothing more.