Feature photo by michaeldlilly

Alcohol: it’s the people’s drink. Note the use of the plural form, there: the expectation that booze will be consumed in groups. Drinking alone is one of signs of alcohol abuse, according to myriad organizations, all of whom know better than I. Alcohol is meant to be a social drug, its effects tolerated so long as they stay within the bounds of our extroverted society.

Of course, there are plenty of things one can get away with in society. Puking on a train platform or embarrassing oneself at karaoke is small peanuts, comparatively. Laissez-faire is the name of the game where regulations, entertainment and powerful lobbies meet. This is true in politics, and what are politics but bar arguments (barguments?) writ large? Few people were calling for financial regulations when the economy was chugging along like a faithful family car. It’s only when something falls apart — the car vomits its engine onto the road, the housing market crashes or someone gets naked and tries to operate on their own pet — that makes us wonder if there’s a problem. To bring this back to my original point: We live in a society that demands self-regulation and moderation, but only in other people. Why do we act surprised when someone passes out in drive-thru on their way home from the bar or steals an ambulance and crashes it while drunk?

I enjoy alcohol. I like glasses of wine with dinner and cold beers in the shower. I drink hot toddys throughout the winter and tell anyone that will listen that they’re the best cure for a sore throat. I like how alcohol relaxes the muscles in my back and shoulders, how it tastes in combination with food: wheat ale and Belgian french fries, mimosas and breakfast burritos, a glass of Riesling to soothe the sting of a spicy curry.

I don’t enjoy drunk people. I have a prickly relationship with humanity as a whole, and when either of us has been drinking, things can deteriorate quickly. Therein lies my problem.

One of my problems, anyway. Another one: I drink more when I’m not drinking alone. When I’m by myself, I feel no compunction to finish a beer that’s gone warm or flat. Nobody is going to cajole me to take a shot with them. No bartender will give me a free drink for loudly telling embarrassing stories about myself. I drink only as much or as little as I want, and usually in conjunction with other activities — cooking, eating, showering, writing, watching crappy television, folding laundry, whatever.

When drinking by myself, I have never vomited in a bathroom sink. I have never broken my glasses in a fight with someone dressed as a vampire. I’ve never tried to sing “Bohemian Rhapsody” onstage. I’ve never fainted in a stranger’s kitchen. I’ve never made out with a dreadlocked white guy carrying a giant stuffed fish.

I have, on the other hand, done all of those things when drinking with other people.

For this New Year’s Eve, I fully intended to stay inside with a few bad horror movies, a bottle of wine and some pizza. I had just managed to get through the special hell that is working retail for the holidays and felt as though this were a just reward.

A few days before the event, however, I got a call from an old friend, who’s been living on the West Coast for the past two years. She was going to be in Chicago for New Year’s. Did I have plans?

I did, but “drinking half a bottle of Tempranillo and watching Maximum Overdrive” doesn’t sound like valid plans to anyone but me. I invited her over and bought a bottle of wine for each of us. True to form, I drank all of mine and part of hers and spent the first full day of 2012 hungover and cranky.

I made two resolutions that day: the first was to get a haircut, and I’ve already accomplished that. The second: spend more time drinking alone. Cheers.

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