“Do not be too moral. You may cheat yourself out of much life. Aim above morality. Be not simply good; be good for something.” –Thoreau

09 August 2014

Mindful Sobriety

I made a decision as a teenager to wait until I was of legal age to drink alcohol. At 21, I decided I didn't want to drink alcohol at all. I'm almost 29 now, and I've never regretted it. Here are the answers to all the standard questions:

1) I am not a teetotaler. My husband drinks, my parents drink, my friends drink. If she wants to, and she's of age, my daughter can drink, too.

2) I've never had problems with drugs or alcohol. I've never tried drugs, and I've only had a few alcoholic beverages in my life, but I don't have a tendency toward addiction.

3) I don't feel I'm missing out on anything. Ever.

4) My religion does not forbid alcohol, or even frown on its consumption.

5) I'm not judging you. My life choices have nothing to do with you.

Why don't I drink alcohol, then? Like most major life decisions, it's complicated.

When people ask me why I'm not drinking at parties or in restaurants, I say, "I don't like the taste." This answer is both honest and simple; it doesn't provoke much argument, and it can't be interpreted as judgmental.

It isn't easy to be sober.

The older I get, the more people look at me sideways if I tell them I'm not drinking. The assumption is that I am a Mormon or an alcoholic. I'm neither, but this doesn't offend me. I have no problem being lumped together with either group; in fact, I sympathize with them in many ways. It is not socially acceptable to be a nondrinker in the USA. It takes backbone, an ability to tell people that no means no. It also requires you to drink a lot of disgusting soda fountain lemonade. After many years of voluntary sobriety, I know that "I don't like the taste" is the best answer to the question. But it probably wouldn't be worth it if that was my only reason. It's only part of the story.

I've struggled, all my life, to feel connected to something bigger than myself. There is a conscious hum in the universe, and its vibration is very real to me. There is a deep part of me that needs to be tapped into that larger consciousness--the group soul that grants us a unique and abiding empathy.

My oldest memory of this feeling took place at my father's summer resort in Minnesota when I was five or six. I was sitting on the dock in the lake, looking out across the water, and I was overwhelmed by a sudden feeling of smallness. Not insignificance, really, but the general sense that I was very little and the world was very big. Although it didn't scare me, it was incredibly dissatisfying. I wanted to be a part of that bigness.

As I grew older, I realized that other people weren't feeling the hum. They didn't think of themselves as small, and they didn't seem bothered by a desire to be big. So maybe it's my personal neurosis; maybe being a small part of the bigness is only important to me. In my teenage years, the conflict between wanting to be an individual, wanting to be like my peers, and wanting to be linked to something larger broke me into pieces. I clung to the few absolutes I could find: no drinking, no drugs, no unsafe sex. Absolutes were easy.

My friends and relatives use alcohol to relax, to escape, to give themselves an excuse to have fun. It does look fun, and it also looks very mindless. It frees people from the stress and thoughtfulness of ordinary life. I don't mind admitting that the mindlessness of it scares me. It isn't what they do that scares me; it's that they become new versions of themselves. I often wonder what my friends would have done, thought, talked about if they hadn't been buzzed.

I have no desire to be mindless. I don't even practice that kind of meditation. I want to mindful. I want to live with a mind so disciplined, so rigorously open, that the bigness of the universe can rush in. I want to truly hear, truly feel what it is telling me.

Whenever the universe has something to give me, I want be ready to receive it.

Why don't I drink alcohol? Because I don't do anything that will deaden my mind or my senses. I don't want false feelings. I don't want chemical relaxation. I want to be sharp, thoughtful, bright and shiny. It's what I need to do to find my small piece of what's big. That is vital to me.

I am sending blessings and mindful moments to you all. With love.