Saturday, October 30, 2010

Stone Sober -- and Absolutely Fascinating

[Originally published Sept. 4 2010 on]

Jerry was at dinner with his ex-wife and his 12-year old daughter.  A fragile web of emotions spun across the table.  He felt delighted to be with his daughter, who looked happy to be with him, and his ex, for once, was not interfering. The waiter suggested a glass of wine.  Jerry demurred.  He so enjoyed being exactly as he was that he didn’t want even the mild alteration in mood brought on by a glass of Chardonnay.

Jerry is an emotionally intelligent man who knows from experience that even a small amount of alcohol will induce emotional and cognitive distortions. He does not drink because he treasures the natural chemistry of his feelings.  

The talk show host Dick Cavett once asked Katherine Hepburn whether she had ever used drugs or indulged alcoholically.  The actress’ reply is a classic:  “Cold sober, I find myself absolutely fascinating.”  

This sounds a bit narcissistic, which is only natural for a famous actress, but it has a core meaning with universal validity.  Cold sober, we are all of us worthy of esteem and interest, if we only take time to get to know ourselves.

Gillian E., a British artist living in San Francisco, recalls an idyllic moment: a beautiful beach, a glorious setting sun, a gentle breeze, a charming man beside her, and a glass in her hand.  In the glass:  fresh sparkling water. She asked herself, would I rather have alcohol instead?  The answer came back to her loud and clear: “No way.  This is just perfect the way it is. Drinking alcohol would interfere with this beautiful clarity that I feel, and would just get in the way.”  

Some time ago, I made an illegal left turn and got caught.  In traffic school, the instructor showed a video of people driving their cars on an obstacle course that required precision steering and quick reaction times.  They did well.  Then they were given one drink.  Their performance deteriorated, big time.  They were surprised -- they didn’t feel drunk.  But the trail of knocked-over traffic cones behind them didn’t lie.   

Such anecdotes are among the small building blocks of an emerging secular argument for complete abstinence from alcohol.  I mean, abstinence for healthy people, for everyone, not only for people who are already addicted to the stuff.  A secular case for abstinence is called for because it’s obvious that great numbers of people ignore religious prohibitions against alcohol, where they exist; and such prohibitions are altogether lacking in most flavors of the Christian faith, as an excellent article on
Christianity and Alcohol in Wikipedia points out.  

Not so very long ago, the media were filled with advertisements for the supposed social and psychological benefits of cigarettes.  We were given to understand that if we smoked, we would relieve our stress and we would become more attractive to other attractive people.  Cigarette smoking was painted as an essential glue of happy social relationships.  We now know better.  Most educated people in the U.S. no longer smoke.  

A similar awakening needs to happen with alcohol.  Alcohol as stress relief -- bunk.  Alcohol as social lubricant -- more bunk.  Alcohol as a sex magnet -- nonsense.  Alcohol as an essential part of pleasant social togetherness -- not true.  All lies, promoted by a multi-billion dollar industry totally lacking in ethics.  

Alcohol and wellness are polar opposites.  Wellness includes emotional intelligence, self-esteem, mental clarity, and fine coordination of the senses with the muscles.  Alcohol is a poison with a destructive impact on all the above.  It’s time for a cultural awakening, for a new appreciation of our sober selves, for an affirmation of our inborn capacities for healthy and happy living.

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