Out in the world, there seems to be an unconscious acceptance of social drinking as the norm, as a given. Most of us never even notice it or think about it until we get sober. Once our perspective changes, it is interesting to observe what Clementine Morrigan refers to as “intoxication culture.” This week’s article, re-posted from her blog, is stellar. You may read the original here.
In gratitude, harmony and support,
Drinking: The Glue that Holds Us Together
by Clementine Morrigan
The vast majority of community events take place in a setting where alcohol is served. Even when they don’t, such as a lecture for example, there are frequently comments made which draw attention to the normalcy of drinking. These comments are so common that they are ubiquitous. They go unnoticed in the natural, normal flow of things.
Recently, at an event where alcohol was being served, the speaker said “You can tell we’re celebrating!” and gestured towards his glass of wine. Everyone laughed. The comment functioned as a glue, binding everyone together. We may be different, in various ways, but it is understood that drinking brings us together. It is understood that everyone in the room will relate to the correlation of celebration and alcohol consumption. At the time this comment was made, I was sitting with a group of friends. There were four of us and we were all sober addicts/alcoholics. We cannot relate to the lighthearted and normalizing statement that celebration obviously means drinking. We are othered. We are outside. We are not bonded together with this glue.
At another event, one that was held in a university classroom and at which there was no drinking, the speaker was explaining that there would be a question and answer period at the end of the event, but went on to say that more interesting conversation would probably happen later, once everyone headed to the nearby bar. Again, everyone laughed. Again, the glue of intoxication culture worked to bring people together across difference. Again, it was assumed that we all relate to and like the idea of freeflowing conversation over drinks. Again, I was silent.
Politicizing and critically analyzing intoxication culture is about more than accommodating people who don’t drink. Creating sober spaces, which rarely happens in the first place, should not be constructed as an act of charity for addicts/alcoholics. Drinking and not drinking are not two equally valid options from which we can freely choose. Intoxication culture is more than just the regular inclusion of drinking at events. It is the production of a standard of normalcy. This standard of normalcy, if we can live up to it, produces a position of power.
The regular comments which assume and imply that social drinking is a normal, desirable and expected behaviour consistently work to other people who can’t or don’t drink socially. Some of these people include: people who do not drink for religious reasons, people who have legal stipulations which require that they don’t drink such as terms of bail or probation, addicts and alcoholics who practice abstinence, some addicts and alcoholics who practice harm reduction, addicts and alcoholics who are currently using but who cannot control the amount they use, people who can’t drink due to health conditions or medications they are taking, people who are breastfeeding or pregnant, people who choose to stay away from drinking due to a history of addiction/alcoholism in their families, people who have trauma related to alcohol consumption, people who do not drink for political reasons and people who do not enjoy drinking. all of us, and I’m sure other who I have not mentioned, are excluded and rendered other by intoxication culture.
When we reproduce intoxication culture we create divides in our communities. When we reproduce intoxication culture we hold up a standard of normalcy and desirability that many people die trying to live up to. When we reproduce intoxication culture we leave people out. Can we find another glue to hold us together? Can we find other things to relate to each other with beyond the assumption that we all can and do safely enjoy drinking? Can we begin to think critically about the things that we say, the events that we plan and the role that alcohol use plays in our communities?
It is not the responsibility of people who don’t drink to do all of this thinking and organizing. We need people who can and do safely consume alcohol to do the work of deconstructing intoxication culture.