This weekend is a Bank Holiday weekend here in the UK. This means that most Monday to Friday workers get this Monday off. It’s essentially a slightly elongated weekend. For obvious reasons Bank Holiday Weekends tend to be times when people drink more, and I’m not just talking about heavier drinkers; they are traditionally a time when everyone who drinks ends up drinking more. Sunday turns into another Saturday, and with an extra day to recover Saturdays tend to be less constrained than usual.
Yesterday (Saturday) I took my two boys (6 and 8) cycling to the local park. We started off playing football, which degenerated into some kind of wrestling / tickling / tag game. A not unusual outcome.
Last night of course I didn’t drink. I got a nice early night, woke up while the rest of the house was still asleep, and went out for an early morning cycle. Then I came back and took my two boys to their Sunday morning swimming lesson. It was the usual chaos with myself and the other parents congregating in the safety of the dry area, with lots of splashing and laughing. I stood and watched them, no doubt with that irritating smile on my face reserved for people who are watching their kids doing something (relatively) well and wondering where the last few years have gone.
The reason for mentioning this is that at the park yesterday and at swimming today I took the time to look about me. Every other parent, without exception was sat either staring at their phones or into space, but universally they were sat and looking despondent.
Many people who stop drinking do so because they have a problem with their drinking and need to cut it out. Not by any means all; many people these days are just questioning why they drink, what it actually does for them, and crucially what it doesn’t in fact do for them, and deciding to cut it out. But many of us have had problems with alcohol and been forced to give it up. Often when we do so we look at ‘normal’ drinkers and envy them. They get to carry on doing this wonderful thing that is denied to us.
This is total nonsense. Think of all those other parents I saw today and yesterday. Yes, there may well be the odd problem drinker among them, but no way do they all have a medically diagnosable drinking problem. The vast majority of them are these ‘normal’ drinkers that we envy so much. But what on earth are we envying them for? I’m the one bouncing around with my boys acting like a lunatic and enjoying myself. Why? Simply because I had had a good night’s sleep. They hadn’t. They may not have an actual hangover but even one drink spoils your sleep, so even the one or two they drunk will have left them feeling tired and drained the next day. Hence sitting around waiting for the day to end instead of getting stuck in to life.
Who do you envy in that situation? The person who is enjoying themselves, or the person who isn’t?
That then got me thinking about the drinking itself. Recently we went out for a meal with a group of other people, all of whom were drinking apart from me, but none of them heavily. In other words precisely the sort of people that we poor deprived individuals who have stopped drinking are supposed to envy.
I don’t particularly enjoy socialising, although I (almost) always end up enjoying more than I think I will. This particular evening I did enjoy it. I chatted to a few people, the food was good, and overall it was a nice evening. But now for crunch time; did I who was not drinking enjoy myself any less than those who were?
Genuinely I don’t think I did enjoy myself any less than anyone else. I had a Becks Blue, as I started to relax the conversations started to flow a bit easier, and the evening went on. In fact it’s worth mentioning the different types of ‘normal’ drinker. There are what I call the dabblers, people who don’t really seem to enjoy drinking at all and seem to dabble in it more to fit in than anything else. They will have a glass of something, sip it tentatively, and it lasts them all evening and mostly when they leave at the end of the evening their glass is rarely empty. Why would I envy them? In terms of ‘drinking an alcoholic drink’ (ie tasting it, drinking it, and feeling its effect) there was virtually no practical difference between them and myself.
The other type of ‘normal’ drinkers were those that actually seemed to enjoy their drinks. Of course by their very nature they drank more. Of course they did, after all if you enjoy something you’re going to be more enthusiastic about it. But before the effects of the alcohol kicked in they didn’t seem to be any better off than I was. In fact they only difference I noticed with these drinkers was after the effects of the alcohol kicked in. This became noticeable when the meal was finished when they looked far more tired and were far less animated than myself and the dabblers. Why on earth would I envy them that?
In fact isn’t it the case that when we envy ‘normal’ drinkers we envy them because we think they get the good part of drinking without the bad? But the fact is that although it is undoubtedly the case that the more you drink the more bad there is, no drinker, however occasional or light, escapes the bad. Every time someone has a drink they interrupt their normal sleeping pattern.
Envy is never good, but envying someone who is better off than you is understandable at least. But why would you envy someone worse off than you? Why would you envy someone is who is tired when you aren’t? Why would you envy someone who is only enjoying themselves as much as, and no more than, you? Particularly if their enjoyment is reliant on regular, expensive, doses of a drug? A drug that erodes their fitness and confidence, stops them sleeping properly, and makes them ill? What exactly is there to envy?
Imagine there’s a weekly ten-mile hike. All the participants are all fit and strong, it always takes place on a lovely day, and the walk is all through some beautiful scenery. In fact it’s a wonderful and enjoyable experience. Only here’s that thing, I’ve managed to convince a significant number of the participants (nearly 90% of them in fact) that they are only going to be able to manage the hike, and more importantly enjoy it, if they wear a certain type of hiking boot. In fact these boots are rubbish, they totally wear out after about a mile and need replacing (but don’t worry, I’ll be there by the side of the road all the way ready and willing to sell them another pair). And because these boots are such poor quality although the walkers will just about be okay for the hike, they are going to end up with some very bad blisters, sore legs and inflamed joints the next day.
Who would you actually envy in this situation? The poor fools who are convinced they need something they are far better off without, something that is costing them a fortune and actually hurting them considerably? Or the people that are happy to do the walk and enjoy it without having been conned into thinking that they need something that they don’t?
What if there were a group of people who had done this walk a few times with these hiking boots, realised the error of their ways, and decided to do all future walks without them? Would you envy the people who were still being conned? Or those that had seen through the trick?
In fact the only thing I can think of that would make anyone want a pair of those ‘special hiking boots’ would be if everyone who was wearing them started banding together, and started exhibiting their blisters and swollen joints as a badge of honour, so that those lucky few who weren’t wearing them started to feel excluded.
But that would be a ridiculous situation, wouldn’t it?