In 2017, sobriety is the new subversion

by Rebecca A. Watson on January 1, 2017

in change, community, escapism, feminisim, government

As we say goodbye to a year that plenty of people have loved to hate, it is traditional to think of how we would like 2017 to be. Of course, there are the typical resolutions, and I encourage you to check out my guidelines to making those actually stick around.

Even though I don’t like to hate on a whole year, I am guilty of blaming 2016 for things it had no part in. For taking Prince and George Michael, the former of which I mourned for days, crying like I lost a friend, the latter I am still reeling from denial.


And then of course there was the U.S. election. If the people of the U.S. ever needed evidence that our system is governed by the rule, “He who has the most money wins”, this was it.

I wrote a bit about how awful the outcome felt for me earlier this month, and I have been thinking a lot about the question so many of us have: What can we do? People are fed up with online petitions and arguing in the echo-chamber of social media. They want real action, and this has manifested in the increase in donations to organizations like Planned Parenthood and nonprofit journalism groups; more than 200,000 participating in the Injustice Boycott; and more than $40 million moved out of banks that invested in the Dakota Pipeline in the last 40 days. In response to this question, I have another radical suggestion for my friends and readers: Consider quitting drinking.

A little background

The first presidential election I participated in was Bush v Gore, which did little to instill faith in the electoral system for me. I responded by avoiding the news. For a girl who learned to read with the daily newspaper, this was extreme. Fast-forward to September 11, 2001, and this  reinforced my behavior. People watching planes fly into buildings on TV over and over were insane, in my opinion, and instead, I opted for the company of others in dark bars where beer tasted the same as before and you could never tell what time it was until last call.

Most photos of me in my 20s were in a dark bar

I ignored the whole thing, until for whatever inexplicable reason I decided to go to journalism school where I read (and was quizzed on the content of) three daily newspapers. I could no longer ignore reality, but alcohol dulled the pain, made the hard edges of killer tsunamis, tyrant dictators and global economic collapse a little softer, easier to digest. Or at least to pass.

I was not alone here. In 1996, a Gallup Poll reported 58% of Americans were drinking. In 2002, it was 66% and we’ve been hovering around there since. In 2016, global consumption of alcohol decreased around the world except for, you guessed it, the United States. And while I can’t guess exactly why everyone in my country was reaching for the bottle, I do know that alcohol is a numbing substance, capable of narrowing your attention to only a few things. And many people often use it as a coping mechanism while dealing with grief over the loss of a loved one, your way of life or the recognition that your country is an oligarchy.

The problem is, using that method of coping can possibly lead to rumination, which does nobody any good. This leads back to the question I encountered initially: What can I do? The answer, I think, is not to continue running as we have, from one book club to another BBQ to still another birthday party, meeting for happy hour drinks and quaffing wine with dinner and waking up wondering why things are the way they are. I lived that cycle for more than a decade and it did me (not to mention my loved ones and the folks who could’ve used my help) little good.

Sobriety as subversion

Most people who drink, even those who binge drink, are not alcohol dependent. That’s the CDC’s view and I tend to agree. I am not suggestion people quit drinking because they have a problem. I am suggesting more people stop drinking so we can solve some problems. Alcohol is part of our modern-day bread and circus society. In 2009, the U.S. Department of Labor found people over age 15 spent an average of 58 percent of their leisure time watching television, playing games and using the Internet — an increase of 16 percent from 2003. When I quit drinking, I found that many TV shows I watched were really terrible. Not that there is anything wrong with watching a little brain-candy now and then, but if we are really serious about making meaningful change, we can’t spend all of our free time watching New Girl.

Subversion is a systematic attempt to undermine a government or political system by persons working from within. I am not implying that not drinking will make you more likely to commit treason. No. What I am saying is that this conduct tells the people in charge (read: those profiting) you’re not happy with the status quo. The alcohol industry is like many others we are familiar with, dominated by major conglomerates, paying bloated CEO salaries while dodging taxes, and perpetuating rape culture. So using these companies products less often, or not at all, sends a clear message. In a government dominated by special interests, one of the biggest ways to make a difference is to speak their language. Vote with your dollar.

And consider bringing back the dignity of a tea service

Speaking of dollars, you could also consider donating the money you are saving by not drinking to local organizations that you believe would be most affected by the upcoming administration. Perhaps those who teach English to immigrants, groups who provide LGBT services or churches giving sanctuary to undocumented workers who pick the food we eat. Look to those who are most vulnerable and ask what groups are helping to amplify their voices. Start there. Donate your money. And since you’ll have more energy (alcohol is a depressant), consider donating your time as well.

Those coming into power in the coming weeks are scared of free-thinking, creative people. Art has been a vehicle for expressing discontent with government since well, the beginnings of government. Even in monarchies, the court jester was a royal position that existed not only as an entertainer for comedic relief but also to tell the King/Queen things no one else dared to say, whether it be bad news from a war front or the fact that their village-burning policies have been met with little enthusiasm from most of the serf community. If you are someone who has plans for 2017 that include reading more, creating more or just generally living a more full life (one of the top resolutions for this year, apparently), not drinking will make those ideas a reality. When you drink, your motor skills are affected, which means things get done more slowly and anyone who has done a little day drinking knows what alcohol can do to your motivation. I’ll do it tomorrow becomes the mantra for those sipping cocktails in the sun. Skipping the booze makes those 15 minutes you want to spend on fighting the good fight every night (whether you’re calling your congressman, painting your vagina for Mike Pence or reading race resources) doable.  

Maybe “selective sobriety” is more realistic

Perhaps this suggestion is too extreme. I am an alcoholic after all, and we are known for our severe behavior. Maybe there is an easier, softer way to achieve the kind of civil disobedience many people would like to manifest in the coming year.

It would appear that the majority of alcohol sales come from problem drinkers (a topic for another time), so not drinking may not put as much of a dent in the coffers of these conglomerates as we might think. But just to be safe, maybe do your homework and find local breweries and distilleries to patronize. And perhaps you think your art is positively affected when you’re a little loopy, and you could be right. I mean, that’s the conventional wisdom anyway (a topic for yet another post, methinks) so perhaps pulling the plug on the muse-juice isn’t the right idea.

I guess the idea is to do things differently. If we are asking ourselves what we can do in the face of the richest and least educated administration in modern history, we need to get creative. This isn’t about putting our heads in the sand and riding out the next four (or gods forbid, eight) years. Alcohol isn’t the problem; denial is, especially minimization, which is a type of deception involving denial coupled with rationalization in situations where complete denial is implausible. Drinking alcohol changes our perceptions and softens sharp edges: a recipe for minimization. This isn’t about treating an alcohol problem. This is about removing obstacles in our paths to, in the words of a friend of mine, “stand up for minority, women’s, and human rights, and to check your privilege, no matter what shape it takes!”

In order to do that, we need to be able to face uncomfortable realities with our brains operating at full capacity. We need all hands on deck, and I’m simply suggesting that, despite reputations, American sailors do their best work sober. So while maybe you don’t need to quit drinking completely to fight the good fight, treat alcohol the way you would other luxuries like massages and vacations — imbibe only on rare occasions. (The fact that alcohol has now been linked to seven different types of cancer and no amount is considered safe should be another bit of motivation.)

Is ‘sobriety’ the right word?

A caveat for those people who, like me, believe in the power of words. I use the word sobriety for more than just its definition of “not drunk.” I actually don’t use the word too much in my recovery. The fact that it is also used to describe a person marked by sedate or earnestly thoughtful character or demeanor is important. When we ask what can we do, we are asking a question that requires a steady temperament. And yes, I’ll admit, I love the alliteration of it all. I mean, hell, I’m a writer.

So, as we begin another year, I think a lot of us can feel the buzz in the air, the shift in perceptions and reality. And my friends, if you are drinking at all, let me tell you that shift is even more apparent with all your senses turned up to 11. Consider practicing sobriety as subversion. I can promise you this: Rarely have I met a person who was upset they didn’t drink. If you’re looking for a way to change yourself and the world, this might just be it.

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