I recently had an uncomfortable conversation that reminded me why I don't like talking to drunk people.
It wasn't a dialogue; it was a diatribe. I had heard the same monologue so many times, I could repeat it verbatim. I'll spare you details. The gist is someone I care about who loves their booze was ranting, blaming, shaming – while I was driving.
I wore an earpiece but we all know it's the conversation, not the act of holding a phone, that's distracting and dangerous.
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For what may have been the first time with this individual, I set boundaries. I said, "I can't talk right now. I'm driving and my daughter's in the car."
Miss 15 and I were heading to Auckland for a concert. I said, "I can tell you've had a few drinks. Let's chat tomorrow."
This line in the sand seemed to provoke rage. The monologist unleashed a torrent of f-bombs and said alcohol had nothing to do with the words spoken.
"That's even worse," I said, "I can't believe you'd say those things sober."
The last words I heard before they hung up on me were, "Don't ever call me again."
This person rang me.
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The caller has since apologised. We may yet have a relationship, preferably one that doesn't involve them binge drinking while I stand in as the metaphorical punching bag.
The incident makes me think about the silly season – and how it could be less stressful if we drank a lot more water and kombucha and a lot less beer, wine and spirits.
I don't want to be a killjoy.
I've imbibed myself. Except for a time or two in my 20s, I've always been too much of a control freak to get smashed. Also, my current health status has me drinking Heineken zero per cent beer (it's not bad – honestly).
Ask the police, Coastguard and hospital staff how much fun they have around the holidays when people have time off work and are knocking back booze, knocking around each other and hurting themselves cutting the Christmas ham, falling off the boat or, God forbid, drink driving and injuring or killing themselves and others.
Twenty-five per cent of Kiwis have drunk alcohol the past year in a way that could harm themselves or others, according to alcohol.org.nz. Men are twice as likely as women to be hazardous drinkers. Even if you don't get stupidly smashed, I bet you know someone who grew up in an alcoholic family or were part of one yourself.
Our holiday festivities are driven by a hard-drinking culture that is slowly starting to understand downing a six-pack in a couple or three hours harms your health and likely your relationships, too.
We're realising the risk alcohol plays in all kinds of cancers, from breast to bowel to liver. And the idea that drinking red wine will help our hearts is a bit of a wash, as researchers say we could get the same effects without the increased cancer risk by drinking grape juice.
Here's something else to ponder: The Bay of Plenty has an above-average percentage of seniors. Alcohol.org.nz says older people may be at risk of developing problem drinking – alcohol abuse or dependency – often triggered by significant life events such as loss of a loved one, loneliness, retirement, insomnia, illness or pain.
Alcohol use often declines in older age, partly due to its interaction with prescription medicines. But older people who drink are less tolerant to alcohol's effects. The ageing body doesn't break down alcohol as efficiently as a younger one.
The ratio of body water to fat tends to fall and alcohol has a faster effect on the brain. As we age, it takes less alcohol to become drunk, increasing the risk of falls and injury.
A glass of bubbles is lovely. A second, probably no worries. Beyond that, watch the mental functioning of your friends and family rot like sea lettuce on hot sand. Are they better drunk? Smarter? Funnier? Only if you're wasted, too.
We can start with small changes, like bringing a bottle of red and a bottle of soda water to a party (if you don't already).
Not making alcohol the focus of an event, but almost an afterthought. What if, as I've seen some rogue operators suggest on social media, you tried an entire holiday meal sans adult beverages? Sacre bleu! It would be one way to try to keep tipsy Uncle Tim from getting too obnoxious, from blathering on about politics, religion or any number of topics that make people want to slink from the dinner table.
We've been debating the pros and cons of legalising recreational marijuana in the lead-up to a referendum next year.
Sure, pot makes people slow and mangles motivation, but the amount of harm caused by alcohol in terms of health problems, injuries, violence, relationship dissolutions and death is exponentially higher than harm caused by weed (this is not my endorsement for pot legalisation; the smoked version of marijuana smells gross).
We don't all have to become teetotallers, but looking at the bigger picture of how alcohol fuels society's problems could start some people on the path to drinking less and enjoying life more.
I can't remember my last hangover, but I hear they're horrid. Waking up clear-headed on a summer morning is always beautiful.
As for silly season? Imagine how many family gatherings would be merrier and less scary if alcohol was a celebration garnish, rather than the appetiser, main course and dessert.