A theme that came up more than once in my latest reading of Richard Nixon’s Leaders was alcohol. Here are some stories that Nixon tells:
—-Page 143: “[German leader Konrad Adenauer] had other weapons besides the cold steel of logic, however. When a cabinet meeting grew difficult, he would sometimes suspend debate for a while and pass around a bottle of wine. After a few glassfuls and some friendly small talk, he would resume the meeting. The opposition would then be substantially less resolute.”
—-Page 155: “[Soviet leader Nikita] Khrushchev was then relatively new to power and unfamiliar with the leaders he would be confronting in the free world. He was clearly intent upon testing Adenauer’s mettle. During one banquet he proposed a seemingly endless series of toasts to see whether the seventy-nine-year-old Adenauer, so intractable at the negotiating table, could be worn down by liquor. Though he preferred wine to vodka, Adenauer had a stomach as well as a will of iron. After fifteen toasts he was still both upright and alert—-alert enough, in fact, to notice that Khrushchev had been drinking water. The next morning Adenauer confronted Khrushchev with the tongue-in-cheek suggestion that any man who would do such a thing could not be trusted. Surprised to find that he had been caught in the act, Khrushchev could only laugh.”
Page 188: “The table was laden with every manner of Russian delicacy and soft and hard drinks. Despite his well-deserved reputation for drinking heavily, Khrushchev only sampled the array of vodka and wine. He appreciated good food and drink. But just as his famed temper was always his servant and not his master, his drinking on this occasion was strictly for pleasure and was never permitted to interfere with business. He was cold sober throughout our long afternoon of talks.”
Alcohol can indeed be conducive to camaraderie and socializing in a relaxed manner. I one time heard a person with Asperger’s Syndrome talk about how he did not really fit in with his Irish extended family—-until they started to get drunk together. Then, they could have fun and bond with each other.
But alcohol can also hinder some people from doing the business that they need to do. Khrushchev did not want to get drunk when negotiating because he wanted for his mind to be alert and sharp during that time. And, speaking of the negative effects that drinking lots of alcohol can bring, that one person with Asperger’s whom I discussed in my above paragraph eventually decided to quit drinking, for he thought that he was degenerating into a sour alcoholic.
I used to drink for a variety of reasons. I drank socially because I hoped that it would loosen me up in social settings. Social settings make me nervous. I tend to clam up within them, which is not particularly attractive to people and which can even draw mockery. Drinking helped me to loosen up, to relax, and to talk more. Did that make me more attractive to people? To some people it did, and to some people it didn’t. One person told me I was fun when I was drinking, which was probably true because I loosened up when I was drunk, whereas when I was not drinking I was more stiff, reserved, formal, and guarded. But not everyone likes to be around someone who’s drunk and who’s saying a lot of silly things with bombast. Come to think of it, I myself don’t, particularly.
But I drank even more in solitude. The reason was that it made me feel better. I have Asperger’s Syndrome, and what that means is that I don’t do too well socially. I have a history of not fitting in and of being rejected by people, and I become resentful when I think back about that. I also have fear about the future: how will I make a living in the future if I have a hard time getting people to like me? Drinking was a way for me to self-medicate. And it got to the point where no amount was enough. I would go through a six-pack on certain nights and still want more. I could identify with something that Leo McGarry said on an episode of The West Wing: he kept on drinking because he wanted that feeling to go on! But waking up with a hangover was no fun. I think of what Scotty said on that episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation: never get drunk unless you’re willing to pay for it the next morning!
I decided to stop drinking, and I have been sober for what I consider to be a respectable number of years—-though, regardless of how many years that one is sober, it’s always one-day-at-a-time. What do I do now that I don’t drink? How do I do socially? How do I cope with my resentments about the past and my fears about the future? How do I self-medicate?
Socially-speaking, I’m not as nervous now as I used to be when talking with people. But I still can be rather stiff, formal, and reserved. I doubt that I would be the life of the party were I to go to a party. By and large, my policy about a lot of social gatherings that I have to attend is “suit up and show up.” I show up, do my duty, and I leave. Sometimes, I can end up having enjoyable, interesting conversations with people. Sometimes, I just want to rush to the door! I’m just speaking for myself, and there are plenty of people within recovery groups who would tell you that they became more fun—-more happy, joyous, and free—-when they quit drinking and did the spiritual work on themselves that would help them to stay sober. That’s fine (even though I get rather sick of people bragging about how happy and spiritual they are), but it’s just not me. Come to think of it, though, I do have a little more serenity now that I don’t drink. I’m not the life of the party, but I do have a quiet, flat sort of peace. One thing I will add: I’m not sure if my social mettle has been truly tested over the past couple of years. My Mom and her husband accept me, even though I am quiet. I go to church, and there are plenty of people at the pot-lucks who themselves are quiet, so I don’t feel out-of-place being quiet. That doesn’t mean that I feel compelled to throw myself into hyper-social situations, though.
How do I cope with my resentments about the past and my fears about the future? This is still a struggle for me, to tell you the truth. Many within recovery groups find that working with a mentor or a sponsor is helpful. It can be. I don’t do that as much nowadays, since I’m not really in recovery groups, due to my struggle to fit in at them. But I did find one time that talking with my pastor really helped me. I was nervous about a social event that was coming up, which I had to attend, and my pastor gave me encouragement. It’s good when you can find someone who’s rooting for you and can give you guidance to hang on to within a tough setting. Another way that I cope is through prayer and Bible reading, and, the more I feel resentful on a given day, the more I pray and read the Bible. That doesn’t necessarily solve my problems, to tell you the truth, but it does help me to alleviate feelings of resentment or fear that I may have.