An Identity Approach to Alcohol - Part II - Potions, Pleasure, and Skill

Alcohol as a Potion

What ratchets everything up is that alcohol erodes that self control. I think I just don’t think about this enough.

Imagine the opposite. If there was a potion that magically imbued you with a top up on willpower with no real downsides, why wouldn’t you drink it?

By this logic, why would I drink a witch’s brew that leaches self control every time I sip at it? And because of my progressively lower tolerance, that factor is progressively increased. It seems totally and utterly counter to this project more than any one thing.

I never drank until I turned 21. When asked “why not?” I would reply “I have little enough control over my life as is, why would I want to give up more?” What changed my mind was a fusing of two distinct sides of my self. Socializing becomes one with drinking, and I think this is quite normal in adults. As I delve into habits I realize just how fused some of them are, and that improvement involves an uncoupling.


How do you socialize without a drink in hand to lower the awkwardness and anxiety of interacting with new people? I had this conversation recently with a friend who was quitting for a month - he had done this the last few years and was thinking of making it permanent. 

It started with him waking up with to a bad hangover, and being struck with the visceral realization of it simply being chemical. Why would he choose to feel bad based on a few hours of fun?

The Greek hedonists talk about how certain sacrifices are needed to extend and deepen the joys of life. We could choose to go on a drug and booze fueled bacchanalia, but for how long would that last before we cut short life? How many conversations are forgotten? How many true relationships do you have rather than a filler person that’s simply there? I think I haven’t truly explored what fruits that trade off would entail.

For my friend, it just wasn’t worth it. Sure, he said, he might have moments of awkwardness, the moments of feeling like an outsider at social situations. But in knowing a bit of skill acquisition in social dynamics, I know that’s a pain period that gives way to true social skill - after all, I interacted plenty enough with people before I took a sip of alcohol.

Years ago I was talking to another friend who was having problems socializing. He was reading quite a bit of existentialism, and we were talking about feelings of isolation in crowds  -  in the midst a party. I told him that when I felt that rising isolation I imagined the party as a ritual. In order to gain connection  you have to wait, you have to sip the libation of the rite in order to gain its rewards. It was a combination of all of it - a bit of drink, waiting in awkwardness, and then it usually comes together. It was more of a begging thing, you see. I wanted my friend to stay out, I didn’t want him to be alone and sad like I had so often been.

I’m now beginning to see many sides to that dance. I’m beginning to believe another sacrifice can be made -  greater awkwardness in lieu of the drink in order to gain even more - deeper connections that last beyond the rite.


Oddly enough pickup artists are perhaps the greatest advocates of not drinking in social scenarios  Initially the subgroup focused specifically on seducing women, but it has grown to cover all elements of social behavior, from business networking to forming a social group in a new city, for the purposes of being a more whole, fulfilled person. Pickup artists treat socializing as a skill to be learned like any other. 

Most adults never learned social skills in a methodical manner. We happen across our skills, and so very often we grab for the glass as a crutch to lower inhibitions and loosen tongues. To become truly skilled is to execute behaviors without any such aids.

In this manner I see actually learning social skills methodically as an answer to the awkwardness. Focusing on skill sets rather than any given interaction also means that awkwardness becomes a pain period on an ascending path of refinement rather than you as a person being odd. It’s less personal. And it works a lot like vipassana, where precise noting of the details of a painful experience pushes you to master it.

Potion by Roberto Milloch, Dionysus by Derek Key, monks meditating by Renee Barron