I had a bit too much to drink today – two beers (yes: I’m a lightweight) at lunchtime with friends. I’m not a big drinker and one of the problems with me and alcohol is that it makes me talk too much. It thins the filter between my mind and my mouth, so the process of “No, wait, I probably shouldn’t say that” is far less likely to happen.
It doesn’t change me. I don’t get nasty, or more acerbic. It doesn’t make me violent, or reckless, or even particularly expansive. That’s not it at all. We all know that alcohol reduces inhibition: in me, this means that I simply express myself more. Without inhibition squeaking at me not to speak up, that I should talk less and listen more, that people will judge me if I dominate the conversation – without that nagging, frightening and frightened little voice I relax, and say what I think. I don’t monopolise the conversation (at least, I don’t think I do). I just participate in it more.
Which is pretty funny because flicking through my old journal this evening, looking for a book title I’d written down, I found the line “I shouldn’t need wine to be myself”. It was written at a different time and in a different context, but it’s relevant today. My friends didn’t care that I spoke more after my beer. In fact, they seemed to welcome my comments and my input. And I’d really like to be able to say that I don’t need wine to be myself.
There’s a reason for all of this, of course. Over ten years I have learned that drawing attention to myself is bad, and will lead to some sort of punishment. I’ve learned to regard myself as not worth the attention of people who might be interested in what I’ve got to say. I’ve learned to be quiet, and self-effacing – something which I think I am naturally but which has been so brutally imposed upon me that I would have become that whether it was part of who I am or not. I’ve learned to stay still, on the outskirts. And the external oppressor who imposed that upon me has been internalised – now it’s the voice in my mind that says “Shut up, no one’s interested”.
Sometimes it’s an act of grace to be quiet and self-effacing, to create space for people to be who they are and to listen, really listen, to what they have to say. Often, though, it’s an act of grace to contribute, to be bold enough to add to the flow of conversation, to respect others enough to let them into your experience and your thoughts. To share your wisdom and observations.
I worry a bit about the fact that alcohol has this impact on me, but I also figure that the fact that I worry about it is the best predictor that I won’t develop a problem with it. It has, though, given me an insight into myself. That inhibition is not always a good thing, because it keeps me from my friends, because it keeps my friends from me. That, if my inhibition takes a step back occasionally, I can still be trusted. My friends still want me around. They either are genuinely interested in what I have to say, or they like me enough to pretend that they are. And that letting myself go enough to be more myself is an act of not selfishness but grace.
Grace is important. Now I just need to do it without the beer.