The title of this essay is “Why men drink.” I do not know why men drink. But it’s too late to back out now. You’re already reading. I may as well tell you a story while you’re here.
I was 18 when I first got drunk. It was in a dorm room on the woman’s floor. This was significant because A) I was talking to actual women, B) I was drinking massive quantities of alcohol for the first time, and C) everyone was laughing at my dumb jokes. Later that night I drunkenly convinced myself that I was vomiting blood. (It was not blood; I had been chasing whiskey with fruit punch.) The next day I was a legend. I had no physical or social skills to speak of but my liver was mighty. The men respected me. Boys, really, but technically men. The women, however, never invited me back to their rooms because no one can truly be charming while puking.
Thus, my drinking career began. It would last almost 15 years. I drank like a man. Or, at least, that is what I told myself. The end.
I really would love to reveal, definitively, why men drink. I promised I would, and I like to at least try to keep my promises. Normally, I have no problem making sweeping gender platitudes. It can pay well! So maybe I’ll give it a whirl: Men drink because being a man is a real burden. What do you think? You have to act like a man all the time. That means swallowing all your gravelly emotions, killing bugs with slippers, and opening things that cannot be opened. Mansplaining can be exhausting. But the truth is I don’t really know why men drink. I think that question is best asked of advertisers. They’re the wizards of our secret hearts.
I also don’t know why women drink because, through no fault of my own, I am not a woman. My sister always held that against me, but never for very long because she loved me even if I was just a little brother. Sisters are good that way.
I don’t really know anything except that I quit drinking and I’m a man, or at least, I am a reasonable facsimile of one. But why men drink isn’t the right question, of course.
The important question is why men stop drinking—if they can. But that answer would still require that I speak for all men, and I’ve already suggested that is absurd. So I will answer this question instead: Why did I stop drinking? Why did I sober up? I’ll tell you. But first: Hi, my name is John, and I’m an alcoholic. No, no. You don’t have to say “hi” back. This isn’t an AA meeting. You’re probably not even an alcoholic. Maybe you drink too much? Or it’s been, oof, one of those days or weeks or months? Did you black out this week? Are you drunk right now while you’re reading this? (I hope not because this is going to be a b.u.z.z. kill.) Anyway, let’s talk very briefly about binaries: There is a middle ground between alcoholic and non-alcoholic. It’s a spectrum, really. There are all kinds of problem drinkers. I happen to be the type that can never drink again. But who knows! Life is exciting that way. Space is so vast and my starship is so small.
I stopped drinking because if I hadn’t I’d be dead, or worse, boring.
I really wish I had a story about my “moment of clarity.” I didn’t have a moment of clarity. I wish I did because it would make my book proposal so much more entertaining. Let’s be honest for a moment: There really is no more tedious narrative in modern life than the addiction story. Here’s what I wish my story was: I was a sexy brooding drunk who drunk drove my sports car into the East River, learned important life lessons from a wise and eccentric alcoholic at rehab, and then, eventually, bought another sports car.
The reason I stopped drinking was far simpler: The IRS put a lien on my bank account because I had failed to pay taxes, which is such an amateur junky mistake. Wait, no, that’s not the reason I quit. Oh, right, my boss told me he’d fire me if I ever went on the air drunk again, which I did frequently when I found myself inexplicably hosting a satellite radio show dedicated to men’s interests (which were, and this is a direct quote, “boobs, bacon and beer.”) Although, to be fair, that’s not the real reason I sobered up. I mean, I made people I love cry. I scared them with angry speeches about poor, poor me. I spent a lot of time unconscious on public transit, too. Then there were all the fights I’d get into, and lose, with inanimate objects. Oh! Yes! I also had this annoying habit when shit-faced of never taking responsibility for my actions. That was a good one. Alcohol, like money, has a way of making you more of who you already happen to be.
Then, one day, I stopped drinking because I suddenly had almost nothing. I mean, I had enough to survive. I certainly had enough to keep drinking. I had adequate amounts of boobs, bacon and beer, but what I had was barely enough to be human. That’s what I thought. I was lucky there were people in my life lurking. I played a trust game with the universe. I fell backwards. I was caught.
I guess it’s dishonest to call it luck. The love of friends is not a lottery. They are there or they are not. I suppose I should mention why I drank. I knew I said I wouldn’t but one thing I learned about myself after I sobered up is that I am still capable of lying. Sobering up doesn’t mean you’re suddenly a good person. Ha, ha. No. Just keep in mind that why I drank is related to why I stopped.
I drank because I was afraid. Booze is an insufficient coping mechanism. I drank because I was in pain. I drank when I won, and I drank when I lost. I drank to cure loneliness, social anxiety, and that most despised affliction, happiness. I drank to get it up, and I drank because I couldn’t. I drank to impress, and I drank to disappear. I wanted to belong, I wanted to rage, I wanted to dance, sweat, cry, explode into a cloud of molecules and then reform, as fucked up as before. So I drank. I drank because it was Friday, or Monday, or, worst of all, Wednesday. I drank because red wine pairs well with whatever part of yourself that you’re eating, raw.
I know I’m just one guy, but I drank around many guys who were, more or less, just like me. There were those guys who would go out and drink three beers with me. Those guys are weirdos. Three beers? What lovely, nice, decent regular people. We’d nurse the brews and complain about the boss, or the girlfriend, or the human condition. If I was able to convince them to have a fourth, we’d all start hugging. Men can express affection for one another when drunk. It’s the law! Eventually they’d go home, and I’d stay and have three more with a barroom derelict. I’d drink with salesmen because they always buy drinks. I’d drink with jocks, lawyers, and actors. We all had so much in common, like, underlying anxiety disorders we couldn’t express because men are tough, like beef jerky. I’d drink with the friends of friends who would drink more than three beers. In fact, we’d end up in bathroom stalls snorting cocaine and baby laxative off the tips of keys. I spent a lot of time in a windowless cop bar in Queens for three years. Cops are champion boozers. There is no free pizza in a dive bar. A dive bar is not where frat boys go to play “beer pong.” It was a safe place for unhappy people who wanted to get down to business.
When I first started whispering to friends I was an alcoholic they had three responses. Some of my friends would immediately tell me that they were not alcoholics and I’d agree with them, and then we’d sit there awkwardly for a few moments before talking about anything else. Others would ask me if I thought they were alcoholics. I’d respond, “I don’t know, are you?” Others mournfully apologized and gently recoiled, as if they were wishing me condolences for having contracted a highly-communicable disease. The reason the most famous twelve-step program is anonymous is because, once upon a time, admitting you were an alcoholic meant you were a social pariah. I write about it publicly because I was a social pariah when I was drinking, anyway. So why not admit that I’m broken. I mean, you’re broken. We’re all broken. We’re born that way. But some of us have such shiny parts.
Getting off the sauce is solitary work. At least it was for me. (Here’s a secret: I still have so much work to do because it is a long life up until that sudden moment when it’s not.) I’d go to meetings and watch people stand up and admit their weakness. You don’t see that often in our wee society. The appearance of strength is valued. We, as Americans, love a good paint job. I discovered in these meetings that there were two types of men who had stopped drinking: Those who stopped very young because they wrapped a car around a tree and middle-aged men whose drinking climaxed in their losing it all — family, job and respect. I was in the middle. The middle is fun. Just men making merry. All of my friends were drinking. I knew this because they never invited me out anymore. Maybe men drink because men drink.
I was a few weeks sober when I told my sister that I was an alcoholic over the phone. Those were wobbly days for me. Once, I sobbed at home because KT Tunstall’s “Suddenly, I See” came on the radio. I mean, that is not the sign of a man who is emotionally stable. She accepted me, the way she always did. Then she made fun of me. We laughed. Six months later I wrote her obituary sober. She had died, suddenly, at the age of 46. I don’t think I could have sat down and composed that obituary drunk. I wanted a drink. I wanted a dozen. But I felt it all. Every serration. I would not waterboard this pain in bourbon.
I can’t imagine anything worse, which is not usually the sort of thing you want fate to know. I stopped drinking so I could feel it all—the terrible and the brilliant. I miss her so much. Still. You want to know a story about luck? It’s about a man who stopped drinking in time to say goodbye to his sister.
So I’m deeply sorry if you wanted to know why men drink. Look, here’s a quick and simple answer: Men drink because they sell beer at ballparks. They also drink because we’re all afraid and lost and God thought tasty nerve-soothing adult beverages would be a nice thing to give us but then some of His children just took it a little too far. It’s not Him; it’s us. If you think you’re drinking too much or feel out of control or would like to stop, reach out to friends or professionals. There are so many professionals out there who are the very best of humanity. They’re not friends, but they want to help. Alcoholism, like depression, can descend like a fog and these professionals are human night lights. No one can fight the fog alone, even Doctor Fog, who, to be honest, doesn’t really control fog. It’s just fog machines and theatrics. If you’re a man who is manly and never asks for help, like, get over that. Act like a human. Be a hero and reach out. You are loved, bro.
John DeVore is an award-winning essayist who lives in Brooklyn with the most perfect dog in the world. He’s written for magazines, websites and radio, and he argued with Ann Coulter on TV. Follow his narcissistic ramblings on Twitter at @JohnDeVore.