What Brings True Happiness: the Booze or the Bonding?

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In this personal essay at Good Beer Hunting, Helena Fitzgerald wonders whether she can still enjoy herself and the easy camaraderie she finds in the dark, cozy dive-bars bars she loves — without drinking alcohol.

The wood bar that I loved so much, where late afternoons were an exhale shaped like a drink—would I still love it if I wasn’t getting drunk there, or was getting drunk the thing I actually loved, and the bar only a fiction I had placed like a screen in front of it?

What was even less clear was how much I could maintain my love for bars, and all the specific details and experiences that attend them, if I wasn’t drinking. The thing is, I just love bars. I love the permissive relief of a bar, the just-perceptible sense of entering another world where the rules are ever so slightly different. I love how so many of them feel like caves. I love the small unspoken camaraderie, and the particular conversations one can have with a friend sitting in a tall chair at the end of the bar that one can’t have anywhere else, and I love the relaxingly transactional half-friendships that one establishes with bartenders if one goes back to the same bar even a few times—the sense of being very gently known.

I had no idea if, when I stopped drinking for a while, all of this would become inaccessible to me. At the same time, that worry was what made me feel most certain I had to give up alcohol at least for a little while, if only to know definitively how much these small but bright joys actually belonged to me.

It has been, in a simple way, a relief to know that choosing not to do one particular thing for a while does not shut me out of the spaces intended for that thing, and to realize that those spaces are perhaps not as defined by drinking as I had understood them to be.

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