Poke at the Hive

<Slurring> “I know zhu believe that. We TALKED about thish BEFORE!”

I waited, lined up in the pub. No servers here, you want something, you order it at the counter—food, drink, merch. Or maybe at the bar, if you’re lucky enough to get a seat at the bar. Five, six people away from the register. Ten minutes or so, the cashier fetched drinks too.

The drunk lady caught me off guard. Seated right next to me, I could touch her, probably would too if I was as plowed as she. I might reach out and poke her, see if she’s real. Sitting at her table, not necessarily a prime spot with that never-ending procession of customers hovering over her, watching her descend into inebriation. Not quite dinnertime, I suppose she made an afternoon of it.

It’s been years since I saw a drunk person. I quit drinking six years ago; I haven’t been in a pub since the pandemic. Out of practice, I might have stared. I only went in for the t-shirts.

My kid’s both have birthdays this week. When they were young, I feared this week. Back-to-back parties, different friends, different activities. The only constants at their August parties: water balloons and birthday cake. The rest of the activities needed planning. Scavenger hunts, picnics, swimming, bowling, movies, grilling—my enjoyment of the events always dampened by my desire for perfection. They’re now young adults, their birthdays still overwhelm me. Susan and I often don’t excel at gift buying. We procrastinate. August sneaks up on us, surprises us. We’re always caught flatfooted one week prior.

The other day I drove past the Michaux Brewing Company (Michaux is pronounced mi-show). Brand new. Last time I drove through Waynesboro, it wasn’t there. Michaux Brewing Company t-shirts! The perfect gift idea for both kids.

So why is this nondrinker buying his underage kids brewery t-shirts?

Michaux state forest is widely known for its mountain biking. And not because it’s awesome, but because it’s so freaking hard. The terrain of Michaux formed when an ancient shoreline solidified as rock. Plate tectonics shoved that rock bed skyward and fractured it upwards and outwards leaving a billion rocks, large and small, jagging out of the ground. Michaux mountain bikers ride through rock gardens that span acres.

Michaux riding is difficult and frustrating and exhausting, but it’s what we’ve got, and local mountain bikers harbor tons of home-turf pride. Anything emblazoned with Michaux is cool. So I bought some t-shirts for my mountain biking kids.

This morning on a walk, I told Susan the only thing I still miss about drinking is the discovery, seeking out new flavors, new experiences. Waiting for my turn in the brewery, I watched the couple before me buy a sample tray. On the blackboard behind the bar someone scrawled:

Old Forge Oatmeal Stout – 5.8% ABV
Sunrise Blonde Ale – 5.8% ABV
Cold Springs Kölsch – 4.8% ABV
Pseudo Logger American Lager – 4.4% ABV
Yellow Birch New England / Hazy IPA – 6.3% ABV

The couple walked away with five four ounce-beers, varying in color from almost white to almost black, lined up ready for sampling.

“We can still do a tasting tray. We could share the order. You can taste the beers, and sip your nonalcoholic beer in between.” This struck me as a good idea. “In fact, on occasion you could just order a beer and enjoy it.” Susan knows I don’t like this line of thought. “Your language, your attitude on not drinking is always so black and white.”

“There’s a lot of black and white thinking in the sobriety community.”

“You didn’t quit drinking to be sober, you stopped because of OCD.” This is accurate. I didn’t get drunk anymore there at the end, but I thought about drinking all the time. As soon as I finished my nightly allotment, two glasses of wine, I began pining for more. This picked up steam by lunch the next day, I anticipated that time after dinner, after exercise, after parenting when I could settle down for my next two glasses. Then my focus skipped to the next day, thinking about my next dose. It tired me out.

It isn’t that Susan wants me to drink. She wants me to be happy. But I’m not sure occasional alcohol will achieve that. I envision a sliding scale of self-imposed rules regarding alcohol—once a week, twice a week, only on weekends. Is Sunday the weekend? Three times, four times. Susan pointed out that six years of abstinence is a long time. I’ve medicated my OCD since then. “Maybe it will feel different this time.”

“I think I need to blog about this.” That’s what I told Susan at the end of our walk. What I meant is I need to delve into the topic, sort of poke at the hive to see what flies out. I’ve done that now and what I found is I’m not ready. I like the idea of the tasting tray. I could be like the wine aficionados and spit my beer into a bucket. I could sit in a pub, try the selections, enjoy the various beers offered. I wouldn’t even need to spit them out. The alcohol-free beer I enjoy a few times a week has 0.5% alcohol. That’s about the same amount as the ten or so sips I might ingest while sampling the beers.

And if the drunk lady starts in on her boyfriend again, that’s fine. This time I’ll ignore her and try not to stare.

31 thoughts on “Poke at the Hive

  1. Love the title and how you used it late in the piece.

    Interesting topic. There’s much in the media these days about drinking culture and how non-alcoholic drinks address that aspect of socializing. Susan likely has a point, but… is it worth risking similar thoughts about drinking if you start again? That’s your dilemma, I think. I’m of the “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it” school.

    All that said, I do enjoy my wine every evening, so I’m not unbiased.

    PS: Cool choice of gift for your kids.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think it’s a lot easier to be a nondrinker these days with all the AF beers and mocktails restaurants are offering. It used to be O’douls and diet Coke. For now, I don’t think restarting drinking is worth it.

      Liked by 2 people

    • The two drink idea comes from the CDC and what they always deemed a safe amount to drink. They’ve backed off on that lately. They probably realized a ton of people were drinking exactly 14 drinks a week. I think they’ve made their guidance more vague.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Jeff, I’m glad you brought this up. I’ve been sober for over five years now and am the happiest I have ever been. Like you I gave up alcohol not so much because I was a drunk but because I didn’t like the way it got in my head. I lid I had a limit of two drinks, the alcohol wanted more. It said one drink wasn’t enough. Plus I’m an emotional drinker/eater/human so sometimes I didn’t make the right choices due to emotional turmoil. Anyway, from this far more grounded place where I can’t believe I would ever be pushed around by alcohol anymore I nevertheless miss the camaraderie of drinking. Last week-end for my birthday my younger son bought a bottle of non alcoholic champagne so I could “join in the celebration” it was a terribly sweet thing to do but I didn’t feel I was missing anything by not drinking. I was laughing, I was eating delicious food, I was within hugging distance of my favourite humans so was constantly being enveloped by either one or the other of them. I didn’t feel I was missing out. But then sometimes if we are having an afternoon just Steve and I at the beach and he is having a nice craft beer with his fish and chips and I’m thinking hmmm does he miss me tasting it and commenting? I’ve asked him and he says it doesn’t bother him a bit and he fully supports me not drinking and can see how much happier I am for it. But there are little pockets of time where I do wonder, just like you are now – would it hurt? Is it such a big deal if I just had a drink? I’m a black and white person too, it’s just my personality – in or out, up or down – there is no easy grey area once I make up my mind on something and that’s why – in trusting my nature and how quickly it sees a slip as an excuse to slip more – I would say no. Alcohol is in the black areas and can stay there. Smoking is in the black area and can stay there. Once I put something in the black area, it is easier to just leave it there rather than constantly have to put up with ink stains bleeding to my clean white slate.

    Liked by 2 people

    • It sounds like our experiences when we decided to give up alcohol were pretty similar. My relationship with it is somewhat colored by years of destructive drinking before finding moderation. I have zero tolerance for drunk people–probably because I know that for years I was one of them, and I’m forever embarrassed by that fact. I don’t really see much change coming my way. I already taste and comment on the rare occasion that Susan gets a beer, but seeing that blackboard really made me feel like I was missing out.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I can’t give any advice Jeff. It’s a personal choice to drink just as it’s a personal choice to abstain, in the end it’s up to the time the place and the person. Try a chocolate or cheese factory instead of a brewery – tasting isn’t an issue for me in those places and we all enjoy together 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  3. It doesn’t sound like it goes out of control with you so I’m (personally) not worried. It’s only about whether you think it might occupy that much mental space this time and whether you want to deal with it or not. It’s probably a question only you can answer, as everyone’s so different. Sorry, I know that’s not helpful in the slightest.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Both our offspring are nondrinkers, but the wife and I do enjoy the occasional alcoholic drink with our evening meal. Most commonly it’s a glass of NZ wine, but depending on the style of cuisine it may be sake or umeshu (Japanese) or if it’s more BBQ style, a cider for myself and a beer for the wife. Neither of us drink unless it’s a component of a meal. The idea of using alcohol as a social lubricant or for a high doesn’t appeal to either of us.

    Personally, if either of us though about having a drink at any time other than when it came to deciding if an alcoholic drink would enhance the meal we’re about to consume, and then what drink would be most suitable, then I would consider I (or the wife) has an alcohol problem. But remember that’s my personal view as it pertains to the wife and myself.

    We’ve attended a few wine tasting evenings and perhaps two beer tasting evenings, but on all those occasions each drink was partnered with a matching dish so that the food enhanced the drink and the drink enhanced the food. I found these occasions very enjoyable. The amount of alcohol consumed over the two to three hour tasting sessions would have been around three standard drinks. In NZ a standard drink is the amount of alcohol an average person can fully process in one hour – if you drank 1.5 standard drinks, then a blood alcohol test 90 minutes later should return a negative result.

    I’m not a black and white thinker, and family members describe me as thinking only in tones of mid-grey, so my perspective on alcohol may not be appropriate for you. Clearly you have some level of unease about consuming alcohol again, so all I would say is err on the side of caution.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Given my history with alcohol and the propensity for people with Tourette to overdrink, I’d be pretty pleased if my kids wind up a teetotalers. Your relationship with alcohol sound like about the most healthy I’ve ever heard. Part of my problem is I have a hard time separating the buzz from the act of drinking. Possibly the nonalcohol beer I drink sometimes will decouple that expectation.

      Liked by 1 person

      • On the very rare occasions I’ve felt even a slight buzz, I’m very aware that I’ve drunk to much. The truth is I dislike the buzz. It’s too close to the sensation I often get as a precursor to a migraine attack.


    • I’m vehemently opposed to organizations that encourage (demand) recovering alcoholics to reset the clock after a drinking mishap. They treat it as if all those months/year of sobriety didn’t count for anything. Whereas in truth, the person is living a healthier life, and developing nondrinking coping techniques. Those don’t disappear because you have a few drinks with an old friend. I don’t have much fear about being around alcohol. The addictive draw has worn off (about 2 years ago). I actually expected a bunch of sobriety bloggers to read this post and jump all over me. Not sure where they got off to.


    • I don’t think I’ll ever do a phase out again. Easier to stop altogether. Do you ever listen to the Discord and Rhyme podcasts? I Just discovered them the other day and I thoroughly enjoyed the one talking about Camper Van Beethoven’s Key Lime Pie. It made my obsessions with the album seem less odd.


  5. I play the same game with my brain that you did – a glass of wine at night and I’m still in the “okay zone.” I should really just walk away from it. But I could see how a sampling would be enticing after six years away. Everyone’s brain is different. You know yours best. Great title too!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, after 9 years of blogging, I can say without a doubt that I know my brain. About eight years ago I saw a psychiatrist who said to me at the end of the session “You will stop drinking.” And then I did, like it was some sort of Jedi mind trick. I blame him for the whole mess.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Jeff. I could really identify with this post. As you know, I used to be a drinker or, being truly honest, an alcoholic. I think, at the time, it was a combination of liking the feeling of drifting off into oblivion when I got there (it didn’t take long) and the mind-numbing ‘pleasure’ of escaping my reality (much the same thing, I guess). It was never about the taste. I only ever drank at home, never when out socially (not that I was in a fit state to be socialising back then). These days, I don’t relish the prospect of ever going back to those times when mind games ruled the roost. It was a nightmare, and oh, the lies I told myself to kid myself, I was in control. Huh!

    I’m also definitely a black and white thinker, so for me, it’s either a solid yes or a big fat no! Knowing that I also have an addictive personality in all sorts of fields, I know that it would be a disaster to even have one sip of drink when out for a meal with a friend. I would feel as if I had ruined all those years of abstinence and would soon be on the slippery slope again and then find myself thinking, oh well, blow it; I’ve ruined it now; it’s too late to go back. This is a very hard confession to admit, but it’s true. As long as I never pick up another drink, I feel I’ll be okay. I also tell myself not to be too blasé about it. I never want to go back to that place where I couldn’t function without a drink inside me and where I alienated my entire family for years. I’m still trying to build back the relationships I ruined at that time. I’m incredibly grateful for my years as a sober woman.

    Only you know you, Jeff. I’m glad you decided to blog about the situation and that it helped you come to a clear conclusion. It’s helped me, too. Reminders are always beneficial, I find. I love the title, too.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m vehemently opposed to organizations that encourage (demand) recovering alcoholics to reset the clock after a drinking mishap. They treat it as if all those months/year of sobriety didn’t count for anything. Whereas in truth, the person is living a healthier life, and developing nondrinking coping techniques. Those don’t disappear because you have a few drinks with an old friend. I don’t have much fear about being around alcohol. The addictive draw has worn off (about 2 years ago). I actually expected a bunch of sobriety bloggers to read this post and jump all over me. Not sure where they got off to.


  8. god, i miss alcohol. especially the green bottles! just reading about a beer board makes my mouth start to water. i feel like homer simpson craving a donut. yikes!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Jeff I’m almost 28 months sober. A very good friend of mine who had some sober time and then tried to moderate cannot for the life of her get back to the sober baseline. She said it’s easier to stay sober than get sober. I try and remember that if I ever feel tempted, which is almost never now. Before I got sober and tried to moderate, it felt like a special kind of hell. I also think that your writing would not be as good. One day at a time.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. My daughter has an August birthday. It was good for birthday parties when she was younger. We would set up an inflatable swimming pool or sprinkler in the backyard. My son is four years younger and he was always insistent that he would be involved in the party fun.

    I’m not much of a drinker these days. When I went on my recent vacation I did have two beers and two tiny overpriced cocktails—-that will do me for a while.

    I’ve known many people who struggle with alcohol, including my sister. I have a sensitive stomach that sometimes dislikes more than a couple drinks at any one time—so that is a deterrent for me.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I had stopped drinking for about four years, but threw it out the window when I went to London to teach for a couple of months. Now I’ll have no more than two beers a night, maybe a couple of times per week. I just like the taste of beer, and would probably be just as happy with the NA ones…


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