It was a busy restaurant; people paraded in and out and the wait staff hustled around the joint to get the mob satiated. There weren’t many seats, and my friend and I accepted a table in the bar area, rather than wait for thirty (30) minutes for a dining room table to open. I’m not all that comfortable in bars; years of bar-fights have made me a bit nervous to be around people who are drinking. Though it’s been years since I have been in a bar-fight, that anxious feeling that someone could whack me with a bottle at any moment still bubbles in my veins.
We ordered burgers and fries, but my friend ordered a stout ale with his meal. It was a bit of a shock, but with the frenetic energy of the place and my own nervous energy, I figured he was calming his own nerves as best he knew how. Though I don’t drink alcohol anymore and teach about its harmful effects, I don’t judge others when they choose to drink it around me: They have to walk their own paths and figure out their own relationships in their lives. If he wanted to drink a beer with his burger, so be it.
But, when I ordered an iced tea, a befuddled look flashed across his face. Through utter confusion, he asked, “Why aren’t you having a beer? the stout is recommended with the burger we ordered.”
I’ve known this dude all my life, literally. He’s known me through all my struggles and successes. He’s sat next to me while we’ve buried friends and family members killed in DUI wrecks. He knows that almost nine (9) years ago I stopped drinking alcohol entirely. And he knows that I am an addiction treatment provider. ”Well,” I said. “You know I don’t drink anymore.”
“Right, I know,” he said with his arms folded. ”But one beer isn’t gonna kill you.”
His words punched me with a force that Mike Tyson couldn’t match. I looked around at the chaotic bar scene and listened to the cacophony of voices and glasses tingling and music blasting through the speakers. I tried to absorb as much sound as I could in an effort to drown his statement. But there wasn’t enough noise in all the world to cover what he said. Instead of ignoring him, I chose to process what he said. Perhaps he was right: Maybe one beer wouldn’t kill me. I mean, unless I’ve developed an intense allergy to beer that led to anaphylactic shock, one stout ale wouldn’t lead to my physical demise. But, that one beer would kill the almost nine year timeframe since I’ve had an alcoholic drink of any kind. That one beer would kill my integrity: No longer could I stand before another human being and speak of seeing the beauty of experiencing the world without a chemical filter of any kind. If I had that one beer, I could no longer say that these years without chemical filters have been the best of my life because I made an exception to dampen the experience of eating with my friend in a busy restaurant with an alcohol-influenced mind. And I could no longer talk about refusal skills and not allowing exceptions and excuses to enter someone’s reality because I myself would have traveled down that slippery slope of excuses: One beer isn’t going to kill me, after all…
So, perhaps I wouldn’t have died had I drank one beer. But the second the beer hit my lips, everything for which I choose to stand would end. I would lose a piece of myself that I could never get back.
The waiter stood at the table, pen in hand, ready to write down my beer order. I shook my head and said, “No beer for me, iced tea is fine.”
My friend said “anyway.”
We finished our meal through uncomfortable small talk. I did my best to not let my hurt show; but I’ve never been any good at hiding what I feel. We left the restaurant and went our separate ways. We haven’t had lunch since; that one beer of his has seemed to kill the friendship we once shared.