From an early age my stubborn streak has rendered me immune to peer pressure. In primary school, if we were painting during art and I wanted to use textas, that’s what I did. During highschool, if the other kids were using Bunsen burners and I wanted to use a flame thrower, that’s what I did. At tech, if the other students went hangliding on the weekend and I wanted to hitch a ride on an eagle, that’s what I did. Possibly, I’m exaggerating a little. The point is, go your own way.
My way is not for the faint hearted. If I’m at the pub and someone repeatedly asks me why I’m not drinking, first I soften them up with copious detail about NYE 2000. In the early hours of the new millennium, my projectile vomiting spree melted a hole in the mirror and flash flooded the bathroom. Funnily enough, as I tell that story the puzzlement over my sobriety ceases; like the appetite of a sumo wrestler after the seventeenth watermelon. Everyone has their limit.
If they reflexively ask me one more time if I’d like a gin and tonic, before they lapse into a catatonic state, I just hold up my glass of water and ask them “what in hell do you think this is? You’ve just witnessed me pour half of it down my throat and seen the resulting gasp of relief. Then watched me massage my tongue with the upteenth ice cube and you would have me believe you don’t know I’ve already got a drink. Oh of course, it’s not a real drink, only drinks that damage the brain, punish the liver and k.o the kidneys are real. Water must be such an inferior beverage that to call it a drink is laughable because it’s not as toxic as the anxiety you seek to spread like the Black Death, whenever someone reveals the contrast between your alcoholism and their good health.”
I don’t say it too loudly though, otherwise the words “that bloke could do with a drink” are likely to ripple from one side of the bar to the other, with the echoes intermingling until one is not entirely sure if they’re merely in a room with too many conversations or suffering from auditory hallucinations.
If I’d of been sober in the early hours of January 1 2000, I would’ve realized it was still the 20th century because there was no year zero. As it was, if I had been aware of that, I wouldn’t have been able to tell anyone. My vocal ability had regressed by decades. Any thoughts that did escape made the barking and grunting of baboons sound as eloquent as Oscar Wilde.
During my mid teens, back in the early 1990’s, I had the same healthy paranoia about alcohol as I did about every other drug. I could be in the kind of mood where leaping from a bridge seems like the most splendid idea since Leonardo Da-Vinci designed the hellicopter but if someone had of put a glass of beer in front of me and told me this will make you feel better, I’d have been too consumed by visions of brain cells shrivelling and dying enmasse to take a cautious sip.
My propensity for thinking the worst is why I never jumped off a bridge. I’d use my suicide fantasy to make school days bearable. By the time I reached the bridge though, I’d be thinking what if I don’t die, what if I go from being a severely depressed able bodied boy, constantly on the verge of a panic attack, to a severely depressed quadriplegic, constantly on the verge of a panic attack? That fear was diminished in late 1993, after I was prescribed Lithium carbonate.
Lithium carbonate, the mood stabilizer that dulled my depression, anxiety, paranoia and mania worked too well. Lithium eliminates extremes but it’s not selective in which extremes it eliminates. My intense fear of alcohol was among the traits it banished. After I’d been on Lithium for a while, I got drunk about once a month, to make the real world disappear. Some people made fun of me for drinking a glass of water between beers. Obviously I should’ve toughened up and let dehydration cause the concentration of Lithium in my blood to rise to fatal levels.
Despiting consuming a potentially fatal dose of alcohol, I remember a surprising amount about NYE 2000. Advertising obviously works, I thought as I poured myself the first glass of Jim Beam and Coke. I hadn’t drunk a drop and I was feeling more witty already. By the time I was struggling to speak a word of English, I didn’t feel so sophisticated anymore. Instead of hiding the bottle my friends poured more bourbon into my cola. At about 3AM, the murky geysers of vomit that briefly gained on Halley’s Comet hit my reflection for a home run.
The two day hangover that followed was enough to convince me it’s better to sample alcoholic beverages than suck them up like an irrigation hose. I haven’t had a hangover since. It was a close call after the 20 year reunion for the class of 95, at St Gregory’s College. We gave the Responsible Service of Alcohol Officers something to do that night. Without us they would’ve had more time to play cards than the Antarctic Forest Fire Brigade. The former National Rugby League players were wise enough to leave before any unwanted publicity arrived. Not being famous for anything, it was easier for me to keep a low profile.
I discovered that standing as still as a statue is good for more than making videos look like photos. Once the R.S.A officers attention was diverted by a decoy stumbler, I hit the gap at about three km per hour. By the time they looked around I was at the bar and as still as a statue once more. The bips of the cash register substituted for the referee signalling a try. If you’re American, that roughly translates as the proverbial touch down. “Air swing averted”, I mumbled as I raised my glass without missing my mouth. I drained it without spilling a drop, so you could say I converted my own try in a bounce on top of the cross bar and shave the inside of the uprights kind of way.
After stopping at Adam Cass’s room, with Mark Wyrzykowski, for mining industry anecdotes and more beers, I finally left the venue. In my inebriated state I felt like I was strolling along the sea floor. I picked a Bird of Paradise flower, from near the old Town Hall and looked around for a mermaid to give it to. Unfortunately there aren’t any mermaids in the shallow, murkiness of the Alcohol Sea. Alcohol, it has the dubious distinction of rotting the living and preserving the dead. Alcohol, what a blessing it seems until it causes lives to come apart at the seams.
This mostly biographical article was triggered by a Celeste Yvonne Facebook post of virtually the same name. The title and the topic is where the similarity ends.