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Staying dry in the one of the wettest cities in North America.
July 29, 2014 9:57 AM   Subscribe

Writer Jules Bentley writes about being (and staying) sober in New Orleans.
posted by Kitteh (30 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
It is not surprising to hear that this article generated a pile of mixed reactions.
posted by komara at 9:59 AM on July 29 [2 favorites]


I'd always considered people who didn't drink to be psychological cripples, at best uptight or constitutionally weak, at worst deliberately dull: individuals so afraid of themselves they cut themselves off from pleasure, limiting their palette to life's beiges and grays. Five years sober, I find that assessment to have been accurate.

Fuck you too, Jules.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 10:03 AM on July 29 [14 favorites]


Even without booze New Orleans offers plenty of opportunities for binge eating.
posted by jonmc at 10:05 AM on July 29 [3 favorites]


Without the armor of alcohol, I am histrionically sensitive to bad art. Lazy or uninterestingly inarticulate art, art that comes from a place of complacency, psychologically dishonest art — all are intensely triggering for me. This makes post-Katrina New Orleans a minefield; I avoid St. Claude on gallery night.
This line doubtless will draw a lot of defensive boosterism (and perhaps deservedly so, as like much of the article it's a bit on the histrionically newly-sober side) but I have to say it nonetheless both cracked me up and rang true. I have a map burned into my head of the bars around St. Claude and the Marigny that I've been driven to purely by the need to drink off the terrible art.
posted by RogerB at 10:08 AM on July 29 [4 favorites]


That evening I attended a downtown theater production so poisonously self-congrat-ulatory and irrelevant that, fleeing the show during intermission, I felt I had to either get drunk or kill myself. No other responses seemed possible; the show was unsurvivably, terminally terrible.

I don't have an alcohol problem, but boy, have I been there. 10 years of theater-going in NYC will get you there sometimes.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:09 AM on July 29 [4 favorites]


After my very first trip to New Orleans, I ended up with a particularly chatty cab driver trying to take me back to the airport. He was trying to remember out loud, as we drove, what special events and conventions had been going on that week while I was there - the city's Pride Week had been that week, and a couple of random conventions - and a national Alcoholics Anonymous thing.

I'd only been half-listening, so it took a minute for that last one to sink in. But a moment later I blinked. "Hang on," I asked him. "Did you just say that they held an Alcoholics Anonymous convention in New Orleans?"

"Yep," he said. Then he blinked as it sank in for him too. Our eyes met in his rearview mirror - and we both burst out into hysterical laughter.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:12 AM on July 29 [10 favorites]


As a personal commentary on New Orleans and its drinking culture: I know a guy down here who just isn't a big drinker. Not a teetotaler, just usually doesn't have more than a single drink in any evening. He says it has happened to him more than once that he finishes his first drink, sets it down, and someone says, "Need another?"

"No thanks."

"Oh, you don't drink?"

and he always wants to say, "You just SAW me set down this beer? What do you mean?" It's a sign of the mindset down here that a guy who only drinks one beer, or ever says no to a second one, "doesn't drink".
posted by komara at 10:12 AM on July 29 [4 favorites]


As a former resident of New Orleans (who decamped for a job offer in Atlanta) in the mid-to-late 90s, I love the city deeply. But I deeply suspect that if I had stayed, then things would have turned out Really Bad for me in terms of my drinking. I brought a NOLA drinking mindset with me to Atlanta and it took a long long time to cut that mentality loose.

Don't get me wrong, Bentley is coming off as an insufferable jerkface about his life in the city post-drinking, but I still found it an interesting read nonetheless, especially when he takes the focus off himself and on people he knows and has met.
posted by Kitteh at 10:15 AM on July 29


It's a sign of the mindset down here that a guy who only drinks one beer, or ever says no to a second one, "doesn't drink".

New Orleans may just be the most British place in America.
posted by dng at 10:18 AM on July 29 [1 favorite]


I was embarrassed to have stumbled so soon, but it was an important lesson: Without the armor of alcohol, I am histrionically sensitive to bad art.

I'm going to go ahead and say that maybe you should give up art as well, because it sounds like your attitude toward the subject is pretty self-congratulatory, unadventurous, small-minded, and shitty.
posted by maxsparber at 10:20 AM on July 29 [5 favorites]


I'd always considered people who didn't drink to be psychological cripples, at best uptight or constitutionally weak, at worst deliberately dull: individuals so afraid of themselves they cut themselves off from pleasure, limiting their palette to life's beiges and grays. Five years sober, I find that assessment to have been accurate.

It's pretty hilarious to read this when you realize it's really a statement of someone who, when confronted with their true self, unvarnished and unadorned by the self-love or at least self-blindness that may accompany hard drinking, finds themselves and everyone they see as similar to themselves to be contemptibly loathsome.

Maybe hilarious is the wrong word but I can't really see it any other way right now, likely due to his appalling pomposity.
posted by elizardbits at 10:25 AM on July 29 [27 favorites]


I'd always considered people who didn't drink to be psychological cripples, at best uptight or constitutionally weak, at worst deliberately dull

Both sides seem to get judged a lot: (some) drinkers view non-drinkers as lifeless puritans who hate fun, and (some) non-drinkers view drinkers as immature hedonists who can't enjoy themselves without help.

Having been both a drinker and a non-drinker, I'd say that each choice is as boring or fun as you make it.
posted by Metroid Baby at 10:32 AM on July 29 [4 favorites]


I don't know if this is more or less charitable than elizardbits, but I just saw the writer as an alcoholic. You don't stop being an alcoholic when you sober up; everything is still compared to that state as the default.
posted by selfnoise at 10:33 AM on July 29 [3 favorites]


There's a mixture of self-worship and self-loathing in this that's pretty common to alcoholics and addicts. If he's still white-knuckling it five years in, I have to wonder if he's having trouble working his sobriety program or if he doesn't have one but just went dry on his own.
posted by middleclasstool at 10:33 AM on July 29 [1 favorite]


I'm here in Austin drinking or some drug tends to be part of most social events. Being sober means you see people's insecurities, you hear the stings of the hurtful things they say or when you're being ignored. You hear the loudness of the music, and the abrasive nature of the art itself being communicated- you see suffering presented in the art-- you wonder what that says about the people around you-- why do they like so much darkness in their art and music and activities? Are they suffering? What are they coping with? Why is this entrenched as a way of life?

Why is art here so infused with darkness to seem "deep" is it really beneficial or a cultural pathology itself? I feel a huge gap between those who use substances and myself now- I don't understand why they don't want to see the world or themselves with more clarity and they don't seem to understand what it is I want out of the mental clarity I get from avoiding use of substances as numbing or pleasure agents in recreation.

When I was a kid I knew how to feel pleasure without substances and I find it strange that people who have lost this ability don't feel more concerned about it, what's going on in your life that it's not much fun without these substances? Not that I'm opposed to an occasional drinking night or use of some drug or the other for recreation but why the dependence on them for fun or just to feel ok in your body and social situations?

I don't relate to some of the things said in this piece, but I think it's pretty common when living as a sober person is a very drunk/stoned culture to find the art and value system itself suddenly doesn't even make sense to you and you feel a really deep fundamental distance from the heart of being and connectivity that people sharing in those substances feel together in the kind of community spaces and experiences they want to generate together.

I feel like an outsider just watching and I don't get it, when I watch a woman staggering before me unable to stand up talking about how she gives her body to men because she loves them and everyone nodding I'm just like, what is wrong with you people? I feel like I can see all the suffering people are trying to numb themselves too and I'm alone in seeing it because others are avoiding it so they don't even have to see what is happening in their lives.

There are healthy people who drink modestly in the world, but I don't know how active they are in creative the kind of feel that is generally considered "Austin" which is artsy, kind of dirty, and often a bit dark or "edgy" which basically means references to violence, suffering, or sexual exploitation. I'm not sure what's so cool about all that, I'm more like, let's all care about each others feelings and paint pretty flowers everywhere and go to bed on time and drink warm tea together! YAY! And the knitting! That said, Austin culture is highly influenced by people who are in pain, while much of Austin is doing well economically, there's a huge streak of desire to "keep it local" but local businesses struggle to pay employees living wages so people living that lifestyle are often living in poverty and overworked and stressed and facing a lot of instability. I think it's totally reasonable to numb the pain, or relate to painful art as part of coping, I just see that as a problem and not a way of life to celebrate being stuck in.

Pomposity! I love this word. I agree the tone of this is full of pomposity, but I related to the outsider feeling of values and interpretation of entire cultural values and entertainment choices once living a more sober life.
posted by xarnop at 10:35 AM on July 29 [3 favorites]


Also I'm pretty grossed out by his whingeing about the "thankless ordeal" that he can never again have sex ever forever for the rest of his life because all the people he wants to sleep with are drunk and that would make him a rapist. Because apparently the thought of saying to someone at a party "let's meet up tomorrow for brunch" or "let's hang out again sometime, maybe for coffee?" is utterly beyond imagining. The only possible outcomes he can conceive of are permanent celibate or rapist.
posted by elizardbits at 10:35 AM on July 29 [17 favorites]


Well, to be fair, doing the things you suggest would require putting forth an effort and also getting to know people I mean WTF
posted by middleclasstool at 10:38 AM on July 29 [5 favorites]


Why is art here so infused with darkness to seem "deep" is it really beneficial or a cultural pathology itself? I feel a huge gap between those who use substances and myself now- I don't understand why they don't want to see the world or themselves with more clarity and they don't seem to understand what it is I want out of the mental clarity I get from avoiding use of substances as numbing or pleasure agents in recreation.

At the risk of being too poetic before lunchtime, you can't visualize the depth of things without shadows, and light can be too bright to see things clearly.

And on that note, I think a breakfast burrito is on the agenda.
posted by Celsius1414 at 10:42 AM on July 29 [3 favorites]


Also I'm pretty grossed out by his whingeing about the "thankless ordeal" that he can never again have sex ever forever for the rest of his life

Really? I was quite pleased by this. I wish more annoying writers were condemned to a lifetime of celibacy. It seems like a perfectly appropriate penalty to me.

When they stop being so annoying, perhaps someone will want to do the deed with them once again.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 10:46 AM on July 29 [2 favorites]


Eh, it reminds me of the same shitty entitled bad faith arguments we see here (and everywhere else online) in threads about sexual harassment where guys are all SO WHAT, THIS MEANS I CAN NEVER AGAIN SPEAK TO A WOMAN IN PUBLIC FOREVER, IS THAT WHAT YOU'RE SAYING, etc etc.
posted by elizardbits at 10:50 AM on July 29 [5 favorites]


I'd always considered people who didn't drink to be psychological cripples, at best uptight or constitutionally weak, at worst deliberately dull: individuals so afraid of themselves they cut themselves off from pleasure, limiting their palette to life's beiges and grays. Five years sober, I find that assessment to have been accurate.


I can't relate to this at all. There was very little pleasure left in drinking, for me, by the time I stopped. It was all fucked-up need by then. After about 11 months, I suddenly had to pull my car over, and weep with joy that I was making it. The milestone of a year without drinking meant a lot to me and I suddenly saw that it was truly within my reach.

I pity the guy if he still thinks that alcohol makes life interesting. I don't think it ever did. Maybe it made things that weren't fun seem like fun, because I was drunk, but they weren't more interesting. Maybe there's just a difference between my vocabulary and his. Or maybe I just drank long enough that my point of view changed.

It would be an interesting experiment for him to spend some time in a different city. I have a feeling that it would turn out that alcohol sobriety was just as much of a problem for him there.
posted by thelonius at 11:05 AM on July 29 [6 favorites]


It seems like too much of his outer facade (as well as his inner self) is irrevocably (to him) tied up in alcohol abuse.
posted by elizardbits at 11:13 AM on July 29 [2 favorites]


I grew up in New Orleans and didn't start drinking until long after I left the city. My current alcohol intake is one glass of cider a week at a cartoonist meetup in a bar, with the occasional beer or wine when the ex-with-benefits and I go out for dinner. When I go home I never feel pressured to drink, even if I'm at a live show; I feel like I could have a perfectly happy and sociable life without it centering around DRUNK if I moved back down there*, despite a several blocks of Bourbon being a tourist-attracting shrine to that.

I know anecdotes are not data, but I think half this guy's problem may be that his social circle is still largely made up of people who like to drink a ton. And that he is unable to have one drink without it leading inexorably to another, and another, and another.

* not that I would, I feel like twenty-five years was enough for me
posted by egypturnash at 11:19 AM on July 29 [1 favorite]


I'd always considered people who didn't drink to be psychological cripples, at best uptight or constitutionally weak, at worst deliberately dull: individuals so afraid of themselves they cut themselves off from pleasure, limiting their palette to life's beiges and grays. Five years sober, I find that assessment to have been accurate.

If that was what it was like for me I doubt I would have stayed sober for 25 years. Christ, here's 20 bucks, first one's on me.
posted by shothotbot at 11:48 AM on July 29 [1 favorite]


I don't see any reason to condemn this article; it does nothing but show that a contented, even successful, life of sobriety can be lived in New Orleans, as well as paint the author as a dour, dry drunk who once used alcohol as a vehicle for surviving life as well as for preying on drunken women.

You'll have adventures, you'll be surrounded by witty, sexy people, and if you're feeling reckless, the rabbit holes here go so deep that if a pebble or a person gets tossed in one, he or she won't be heard hitting bottom for years.

I think that can be said about being a participant of drinking culture anywhere. I definitely remember feeling adventurous, etc. in my drinking days. Was that the reality of the situation? Who's to say? Alcohol clouds your perceptions, your memories. While I remember the short-lived excitement of going out drinking, the people I hazily met, the silly and strange circumstances that would sometimes occur, I don't miss it at all. The reality of being a drunk is so far from one's internal perception of it.

In a couple weeks, I will have lived a whole year of my life completely sober. I remember feeling a lot of similar feelings in my first month or so sober. Feeling cut off from life, feeling like my sobriety is making me miss out on opportunities, feeling ashamed and hopeless when I slipped up.

But it got better. I got reacquainted with myself. I was not using alcohol to disguise my seeming "incompatibility with life" as I would sometimes write in my journaling from that time. I drank to ease the anxiety I felt in social situations, to forget about the pain of the failures I had set myself up for, as an easy way to feel like I had a place somewhere, even if it was only a place at the end of the bar with my boyfriend at the time, who had a similar drinking practice.

It was scary, becoming sober. I felt so naked. Part of it is that there is some chemical reaction that takes place in the brain so that when you are a drinker, and then without a drink, you experience more anxiety than you would if alcohol wasn't a factor. I felt awkward all the time. It was like meeting a new person every morning, and that person was myself without a drink. That's not to say I was drunk all the time before I got sober (though there was a point where I was basically either drunk or recovering from it), but knowing I did not have that crutch anymore was scary and new.

For the first time in my life, I have goals now. I am not just limping along in life, waiting for a chance to catch a drink to ease my anxieties. I feel like an actual person, if that makes sense. I have autonomy now. I am not just reacting to my circumstances. So many good things have come out of this one decision in this last year. I am young, but I can honestly say that it was the best decision of my life, and probably the one that I am most proud of.

I have come to accept that I am offbeat. My goals, hobbies, and interests don't fit into the mold by mainstream American standards and I have come to feel truly okay about it, to feel comfortable with it. I believe that I have become the person I was meant to be before I got all mixed up with adolescence and societal expectations and feeling really alone in the world. I feel that the author does not feel this way about himself, that he had been trying to mask a discomfort with who he is and the way he reacts to things with alcohol, and that in five years of sobriety, he has never reached a truce with himself and his circumstances.
posted by sevenofspades at 11:49 AM on July 29 [15 favorites]


I believe that I have become the person I was meant to be before I got all mixed up with adolescence and societal expectations and feeling really alone in the world.

Beautifully put.
posted by doctor_negative at 12:32 PM on July 29 [1 favorite]


When I was a kid I knew how to feel pleasure without substances and I find it strange that people who have lost this ability don't feel more concerned about it, what's going on in your life that it's not much fun without these substances? Not that I'm opposed to an occasional drinking night or use of some drug or the other for recreation but why the dependence on them for fun or just to feel ok in your body and social situations?

When you get older, you come to realize that life is a really, really horrifying thing in a lot of key ways, both in social/political ways and in baseline ontological ways. Kids are still subjectively immortal, and so don't fully understand the horror of the human condition, and don't understand how that horror makes social/political injustice even more of a sick, cruel joke than it would be if reality weren't fundamentally cracked — like, it's not enough that we're absurd creatures born to suffer and then die, but we have to go out of our way to make it worse on each other while we're busy doing it? Substances become handy when your grown-up mind's merciful inability to correlate all its contents starts to break down.

Basically, I guess what I'm trying to say is HP LOVECRAFT WAS RIGHT WAKE DRINK UP SHEEPLE.*

*: Well, okay, except for the vicious, stupid racism.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:15 PM on July 29 [8 favorites]


I'd always considered people who didn't drink to be psychological cripples, at best uptight or constitutionally weak, at worst deliberately dull: individuals so afraid of themselves they cut themselves off from pleasure, limiting their palette to life's beiges and grays. Five years sober, I find that assessment to have been accurate.

It's funny because this is almost exactly how I feel about people who drink or use drugs heavily to the exclusion of everything else in life. Not meant as a judgement, I understand how difficult addiction issues are to overcome, but it really rings true, especially "deliberately dull."

"Hey want to go see this awesome movie/play/whatever?"
"Nope, drinking/getting high/sleeping off hangover."

"Hey it's a beautiful day wanna go on a hike/to the beach/to the park?"
"Nope, drinking/getting high/sleeping off hangover."

And so on. Again, I'm not trying to judge, but what I saw in, for example, the violent alcoholic I roomed with in college, was a fear of going anywhere, a fear of talking to anyone of the opposite sex, a fear of doing just about anything without being trashed. So he didn't do anything where he couldn't get drunk.

I get that he had a problem and I felt bad for him to an extent, but if that's not dull I don't know what is.
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:26 PM on July 29 [3 favorites]


It strikes me as someone armoring himself with a glib take.
posted by batfish at 1:44 PM on July 29


It's been 5 years since I kicked my addiction to glib takes and...dammit I just fell off the wagon. Curse you Metafilter!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:58 PM on July 29 [2 favorites]


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