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In Boozo Veritas #8 by Teege Braune

I Was a Teenage Teetotaler

It’s hard to say what about alcohol bothered me so much when I was young. My parents never had unhealthy relationships with it. I never saw them drunk, and they always made it clear that there was nothing wrong with adults drinking in moderation. They were the kind of parents to have frank, open discussion about the sorts of topics teenagers hate to talk about with their parents. My dad would even occasionally drop unexpected drinking stories from his past. These brief tales were never cautionary nor did they romanticize drunkenness. They simply didn’t make it sound like too much fun and usually ended with his younger self sick or doing something embarrassing. They were amusing, but never made me want to go out and relive the experiences.

Certainly youth group culture exacerbated my fear and detestation of alcohol at a young age. Growing up in the Bible Belt in a multi-faith household, my father a Buddhist and my mother a Christian, religion had always been a topic I’ve had trouble reconciling. Though the church I attended with my mom and my siblings was theologically very liberal, at some point in my teens I got sucked into a very conservative youth group that took a literal stance on scripture, toted a rightwing agenda, and attributed any issue of moral complexity to Satan. While much of their rhetoric concerning gay rights and new earth creationism never sat well with me, I generally kept quiet so as not to isolate myself from my friends. Alcohol, like everything else in the universe, had to be either good or evil, and since some people overdid it, it was surely evil. When I finally broke out of that world, getting drunk and smoking cigarettes seemed like the best way possible to distance myself from them.

Nevertheless, while a backlash against Evangelical Christianity may have encouraged me to drink later in life, it wasn’t the youth group alone that created my aversion to it in the first place. I saw my peers eagerness to drink as its own form of conformity. Even when someone would say to me, “But drinking is fun,” which it can be, the vacuousness of that answer didn’t quell my discomfort, though I considered myself a person who like to do fun things. An intense young man who felt things very deeply and often, much to the frustration of my family, quite loudly, I couldn’t stand the idea of an easy escape. Evangelical Christianity may have been my own way of feeling, however briefly that I belonged to something, but it was never the crutch on which anti-theists accuse the religious of relying. In fact, it simply turned the volume up, made the stakes higher. Now not only could I get in trouble for my actions, my thoughts were also being scrutinized. I associated drinking with with something one did so one didn’t have to think about things and loathed the intellectual laziness of it. Ironically, much later, I used drinking for the very same purpose.

I was wrong about a lot of things as a teenager, but like most teenagers, their were some grains of truth in my wrongness, interesting ideas blown into monumental proportions, shimmerings of the person into whom I would grow. I started drinking just before college and never stopped. When I was in my twenties I overdid it too often. Now in my thirties, I can finally appreciate small amounts of alcohol at a time, and yet I still overdo it sometimes, but I admire something about that kid who, so possessive of his own well of emotion, even when it felt like more than he could bare, that he faced it head on and even appreciated it. At the same time, while I would never encourage a teenager to get drunk, neither would I encourage one to go through their adolescence as I went through mine, paralyzed by the fear of stepping out of line and thus punished by whom? My parents? The law? God?

What I didn’t realize then, but can see clearly now is that my morbid distaste for alcohol as a young person was linked with a deep fascination of it. I couldn’t understand what was so enticing about this liquid that tasted terrible that drove people to madness. As I came out of my teetotaling years, but was still too afraid to actually try it, alcohol became mysterious, magical, almost shamanistic. If the millions of advertising dollars spent by U.S. macro-breweries put the idea in my head that booze was something that one day I might like to try, it was Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining that sealed the deal. The yellowish splash of Jim Bean in its glass of ice that Lloyd, the best goddamned bartender from Timbuktu to Portland, Maine, or Portland, Oregon for that matter, pours Jack Torrence, that Jack so eagerly gulps down, a look of eerie exhilaration on his face, looked more wonderful and delicious than anything I could possible imagine.

jack&jim

Of course, I knew nothing about addiction and had no clue that Jack’s momentary, paradisiacal, albeit unsettling, transportation had to do with issues far more complicated than the flavor of mediocre bourbon. Needless to say, I was thoroughly disappointed the first time I took a shot of Jim Beam and the choking, burning sensation was not the spiritual experience with which Jack is blessed, but by then it was far too late to turn back and go dry.

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absinthenight

Teege Braune is a writer of literary fiction, horror, essays, and poetry. Recently he has discovered the joys of drinking responsibly. He may or may not be a werewolf.

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