“One should always be drunk,” Charles Baudelaire wrote. “Drunk with what? With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you please. If you are not to be the martyred slaves of Time, be perpetually drunk!”

Yes. We read those lines and say, yes. But how? And at what cost? There’s no wine-buying advice from me today. I’m tired – drunk with fatigue – and contemplative.

In some ways, the holiday season we’re now entering might be renamed the “drunk season,” as we stagger from Thanksgiving to office parties to Christmas parties to New Year’s. It’s no great challenge to be perpetually drunk.

Amidst all that, I will take a couple of weeks out of the coming month to abstain, completely, from alcohol. The ramifications of that practice – the relationship between wine’s blessings and its dangers – are the subject of today’s column.

I love wine. I love what it tastes like, and I love what it suggests; its physicality and its metaphysics. I love the worlds, earthly and ethereal, to which wine brings me access. And I enjoy getting buzzed.

But the fact is that alcohol is a depressant, no matter how good it makes us feel temporarily. It brings things down.

Often, we can find ways to shoulder that weight – more wine, maybe, or coffee or pho, and then artful self-justifications concerning who we really are, what we’ve earned and deserve, the meaning of life – but ultimately, there’s a reckoning.

Our bodies let us know, but so do our loved ones or a patient, still voice inside warning us that we’ve lost the clarity we thought drunkenness had a unique capacity to bring.

When I abstain from drinking for longer than a few days, I’m shocked by how much lighter I feel, softer, calmer, more generous and confident. I can tune in to life at a level unavailable to the everyday/Europhile/wine-pro version of me.

I think I’m a good husband, generally, but recently after a few nights off, I spontaneously gave my wife a neck rub exactly when she needed it, and intuitively found her sorest spots. I felt like I would have missed that opportunity had I been somewhat scattered by the glass-or-more-at-dinner routine.

I had stepped into that clean state that permits access to things unseen. The crazy thing is that we also attune to unseen life when we’re drunk. Wine engages certain senses as it deranges others.

If I had to classify, though, I’d say the senses wine engages are the more self-directed ones, the less empathic ones. Solipsism feels like liberty until it doesn’t anymore. Intoxication mimics insight until it numbs.

The 20th century’s Baudelaire, Allen Ginsberg, once said he practiced yoga in order to drop acid but “stay neat about it.” Is it possible to be “mindfully drunk”? To be in charge but loosely? It takes more inner strength than we ordinarily budget for to keep the holy drunk in charge of the fun-loving drunk, lest the selfish, angry drunk slip in when no one’s looking.

I unapologetically use wine as one of several tools for spiritual advancement.

The Buddha is said to have identified the root of suffering as a cycle of craving and aversion we’ll never escape without developing an inner observer. We can be slaves to our cravings, or gently nudge desire onward to insight by watching ourselves crave.

Baudelaire suggests you can be drunk on calm, drunk on clarity (those are my synonyms for “poetry”). When I find that state of inner elegance and quiet, I want to stay there forever, just as fiercely as I want to stay buzzed forever when I’ve found that apex moment a couple of glasses into the evening.

This is not about righteousness or ethics. I’m not trying to be “good” or “better.” The world is just bits of information, and each bit offers lessons, if we’re listening.

I’m looking forward to a period of abstinence because it will be a challenge, and because my encounter with that challenge will help me return to wine recommitted to its noblest aspects, and recommitted to my own noblest qualities.

Maybe I’ll be able to remain clear, soft and selfless, even as the world throws me all its lies and distractions. And when it throws me something beautiful – a glass of wine for instance – I’ll be able to drink it.

Anyway, tomorrow is Thanksgiving. Eat, drink and be merry with the ones you love. Commit to it fully, indulge, but stay neat! Watch what inebriates you. Be not martyred slaves of Time!

Then, a little later, maybe take a moment to assess how your indulgences, along with your restraints, might be used to keep you steady as you walk the path.


Joe Appel works at Rosemont Market. His blog, soulofwine.com, continues the conversation, and he can be reached at: [email protected]


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