Life Choice: Sobriety and St. Patrick’s Day
It’s hard to describe my choice of sobriety. I did not have any complications with the law, and I did not put myself in a position of danger. I will say this: on nights when I did choose to drink, there are nights I had trouble cutting myself off. Some nights, it wasn’t clear who was coming to the party: two-drink me or many-drink me. I started getting the feeling that drinking was becoming a part of my personality; if I wasn’t drinking, I wasn’t me.
That is a terrible thought one should have.
I wasn’t planning my week around drinking, but I found myself making plans with certain friends and saying to myself, “Tomorrow is going to hurt.” An automatic response! I’m hanging out with [friend], so obviously I’m going to drink excessively and feel like complete shit Saturday. It became more and more apparent to me that this behavior was unhealthy, but it wasn’t really until St. Patrick’s Day 2012 that I made up my mind.
St. Patrick’s Day is a source of contention among the Irish Catholics [and I should note I grew up as such, but have been an atheist since 2000]. For some, it’s a fantastic day of the year and should be celebrated loudly and proudly with family and friends. It’s time to bust out the green attire, throw on a goofy hat, and go see the parade and the river downtown. It’s a holiday of excessive drinking and ruckus behavior. Everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day!
I hate this holiday. For a few reasons.
St. Patrick’s Day has become less of a celebration of Irish culture and the celebration of Irish heritage, and more about the negative stereotypes associated with the Irish. St. Patrick’s Day gives people an excuse to get hammered, be jerks, and cause fights. It brings out the ugly in people, and therefore tarnishes the image of the Irish American. All around Chicago and its surrounding suburbs, people are drinking and puking and fighting and crying all because they think this is what you have to do on St. Patrick’s Day.
Even when attending U of I in Champaign, an “unofficial” St. Patrick’s holiday was created by the bar owners because the actual holiday fell on Spring Break. Working at a prominent campus bar for two years, I witnessed this event on the front lines, so to speak. Completely sober, I watched people destroy themselves. I got kicked, punched, spit on, shoved, and verbally berated by people who just wanted to show their “Irish spirit”. It’s become a destructive and negative holiday, and it is that way because people think it’s what happens on St. Patrick’s Day.
“Everyone’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day!” No.
You’re acting like a jerk, your mouth is stained green, and all you’re doing is promoting a stereotype. Being Irish is not about drinking and fighting and wearing green; being Irish, or being any heritage, is about respecting where you came from! It’s about traditions and ideals. It’s about your family. It’s about respecting that history, and respecting yourself. Respect.
I realize my opinion of St. Patrick’s Day may not be a shared one; I know for certain my opinion is not shared with my close friends, or even my family. I understand that the holiday will continue to be what it is. It’s why I choose simply to shut myself off from it, and stay indoors. I didn’t even want to discuss it in this much depth, but it applies to my decision to not drink.
This year’s St. Patrick’s Day, I did decide to stay home and not venture anywhere near the city or go out to a bar with friends. The thought of so many getting so drunk just made my stomach turn. Instead, I got in touch with a friend of mine and suggested we grill in the suburbs. She agreed, and I planned to meet her at the train station blocks from my house.
When I went to pick her up, I was shocked at the number of people on the train. It was packed like the Blue Line is at 8 am, and this was a 5 pm Metra train! I have never seen anything like it, not even for Cubs games. The whole train was a sea of green; everyone looked tired, sick, angry, sad, or a combination of those. As we walked back to my house, my friend told me she witnessed two people throwing up on the platform as she waited for a train. The more we talked about the holiday and previous St. Patrick’s Days before, I realized my decision was not a passing one. I wasn’t just thinking, Maybe I’ll take a break for a little bit. I wanted to be done. For a long time.
So far, it’s worked. I hadn’t drank for a week before St. Patrick’s Day, and I haven’t drank since. I have gone out as a designated driver, and that’s done nothing but cement my stance. I watched people drink, go overboard, and then heard of the fallout the next day. I watched, two weeks in a row, a friend make two separate people cry while all were heavily intoxicated. I watched people fall, break furniture, and hurt themselves. Watching this completely sober is difficult, and it’s honestly life-altering. When drunk, it’s hard to focus on more than one thing; while sober, I am focusing on everything. I’m trying to stop a friend from crying, I’m getting someone else water, I’m stopping an argument, I’m figuring out transportation plans. It’s exhausting, and scary.
It’s even scarier because I’m starting to realize that I can’t hang out with certain groups of friends if all they’re doing is drinking heavily. There are hangouts with the sole purpose of sitting around and drinking; if I’m not drinking, why am I there? It’s awkward for everyone; not only am I not drinking and am cut off from the group’s main activity, but I keep getting asked why I’m not drinking, and if I could have just one. It’s difficult, for all involved, when a member of a group of drinkers stops being one. I’m not the guy who likes to chug anymore. I’m not a formidable beer pong competitor. I’m not the loud guy with the obnoxious drunk laugh, and I’m not the friend who passes out and snores like a dinosaur on your couch.
I’ve lost my identity to some people in my life, and I realize that. I just hope I can make up for it with actual positive aspects of my personality. It might not work and, sadly, I will lose many friendships keeping with this course of action. After telling a friend of mine my decision she responded, “You know, there’s more to life than alcohol.” Thinking about it, though, alcohol has been a major part of many friendships and relationships. To cut that out of my life will test how strong these relationships truly are. It’s scary, it’s sad, and it’s going to be difficult.
But it’s important.