Saturday, July 28, 2012


Okay, so, first: blogger has deleted my reading list, for some reason(Edit: No it hasn't. Must have been a temporary glitch). Most of the people I read I found their blogs because they commented here. If you could just make a quick comment with a link to your blog so that I can re-add you, I'd appreciate it.(Edit: don't worry about it, I have all of you. But feel free to comment anyway!) onto my real post, I guess.

I'm not sure if this happens to anyone else, but sometimes I'll be at a party or hanging out with friends, and I will accidently stumble over some words or do something clumsy like spilling my drink or whatever, and I instantly fill with fear and guilt. I'm suddenly afraid that whoever I'm talking with will think that I've fallen off the wagon and that instead of just soda water in my glass, I'm actually imbibing straight vodka and am three sheets to the wind. I get as far as thinking up excuses and preparing to let them try my drink to prove that I'm still sober before I stop and realise that the melodrama is all happening in my head and that in all likelihood the person I'm talking to doesn't even care if I've been drinking a lot.

As uncomfortable as these random moments are, I never really gave them much thought, but when I was trying to fall asleep a few nights ago, I realized that these moments are probably left-over bits from my drinking days when I really was trying to pretend to the world that I wasn't as drunk as maybe I might seem. The brain is lazy, and when it finds a pattern of activity, it likes to start taking shortcuts: this is why we sometimes put meatloaf in the fridge instead of the oven or pick up the phone when the doorbell rings: instead of wasting all that time thinking about every step of meatloaf baking or door answering, our brains select a pre-recorded pattern of actions and sets itself on autopilot so it can focus on more important things, like making to-do lists or remembering our favourite American idol contestant. And sometimes our brain just chooses the wrong pre-recorded pattern and we don't realise it until we check to see if the meatloaf is ready yet (it isn't, because we put it in the fridge!) or can't hear anyone on the phone when we say "Hello?"

When I was a drinker, it was very important for me to never, ever appear as drunk as I actually was. Appearing drunk could get you kicked out of the bar, or cause the beer store clerk to decide not to ring through your order, or else cause everyone else at the party to wonder if you've had a bit too much and maybe it's time for everything to wind down for the night. Even the day after, it's important that no one thinks things got out of hand, if only to avoid the "Marc, let's talk about your drinking...." conversations that never end well because if I can't see a problem, shouldn't everyone else mind their own business?

Addiction hijacks the brain so that we become drug-seeking machines, and so a lot of my thought went toward making sure I would always have as much access to booze as possible. It's a tricky balance: how can one get completely, brain-numbingly, eye-wateringly drunk while still appearing relatively sober to the outside world? The drunker you get, the more difficult it is to do, but the more important it is that you do it, because what if you get cut off before you can pass out? Game over, man. Game over.

Now, the rules have changed. I'm not drunk, ever, so it's actually become staggeringly easy to appear sober. I just act like myself. I now have a whole bunch of neurons and synapses and neural circuits in my brain that have nothing to do. Or, almost nothing: because I'm human, I sometimes stumble over my words, or sometimes spill a drink, or stub my toe, or make a bad joke or non-sequitur.....and when I do, all those neurons and synapses fire up, thinking: "This is our moment, guys! Time to make sure our cover isn't blown!"

In time, my brain will figure out that I don't need those behaviour patterns anymore. As it does, it will gradually co-opt those connections into other patterns and circuits that I do use, and I will get slightly better at, say, remembering episodes of Community or studying for exams or making meatloaf. Because the brain is conservative and doesn't always like changing existing patterns (breaking habits is hard), there may always be a ghost of this obsolete fear of appearing too drunk, haunting the darker corners of my brain....but that's only human. I mean, I still remember most of the words to the theme song of Perfect Strangers and that show hasn't been on TV in over two decades (I also remember part of the Bibby Bobka Ditty....). I can live with that.

Today's post, in case you're wondering, has been brought to you by my psychology textbook, which I have clearly been reading too much of.


  1. OH MY GOD, I thought I was the only one who did that. I do it all the time, right up to preparing to offer up my drink for my husband or whomever to smell. What is up with that? I too prided myself on rarely appearing as drunk as I was, so that's a sound theory. Now we have all this sobriety and everyone's buying it and we don't know quite what to do about it.

  2. HI Marc, just found you. So funny - i was drinking a coke the other night and stumbled over some words and got all embarassed ant thought "Oh my, people will think I'm drunk". And then I thought no there is nothing to worry about you stumbled over some words thats all. Nothing to be embarassed about, nothing to prove. How nice and simple is that?!