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Seeker Higher Ground: Some sober reflections on Carbondale culture

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Even though it’s home to Jaywalker Lodge, I suspect it isn’t easy to get or to stay sober in Carbondale.

Although I have been darn-near dry for 30-plus years, it’s rare for me to go to a First Friday, an art opening or a fundraiser without feeling like a fifth wheel. No sooner do I walk in than some sociable soul offers me a beer, a cocktail or a glass of wine. Following a brief, awkward opt-out, I generally find myself sipping a Perrier (yuck) or tap water (same minerally taste, fewer bubbles).

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It’s the rare event that’s planned with Jaywalkers or Friends of Bill in mind.

I’m not an alcoholic, so I’ve never had a physical craving or felt withdrawal. I virtually quit drinking due to a six-month-long fit of rage brought on by my divorce from an alcoholic. I cut out the remaining glass of wine on New Year’s and my birthday a year ago for health reasons. Alcoholics have a tougher row to hoe.

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Recently, a bright and inspiring acquaintance of mine — I will call him Shep) announced that that he was ready to say goodbye to booze and is going to rehab. Because he’s so athletic, social and entrepreneurial — the opposite of my laconic, grumpy, anti-social ex — I was surprised at Shep’s announcement.

Then again, not surprised.

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Roaring Fork Valley social events tend to be fairly high proof. Octoberfest is all about beer. Every business mixer features mixed drinks. And everybody would whine if Happy Hour didn’t include wine.

Everyone except me.

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This past summer, I found myself stuck with tap water at a fundraiser for CARE, exiting a KDNK First Friday concert and boycotting the Art Base’s pARTy fundraiser all for the same reason. I did donate a painting to Carbondale Arts, but I boycotted the Art Heist where it was sold. The evening was a Roaring-Twenties themed cocktail party where, once again, I would be left feeling high and dry.

I got testy with Carbondale Arts when they sent an email offering to buy me a beer at Mountain Fair in return for renewing my membership. (I re-upped despite that offer. I do love what CA does for this town, and Amy Kimberly sent a solicitous note in response to my admittedly cranky email.)  

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It’s not fair for me to be picking on Carbondale, or even the mid-valley. Aspen has long had a party culture that flows downhill and has proved toxic to many. Decades ago, when I was a ski-bum in Snowmass, the place was Rocky Mountain high, and it hasn’t changed. While working for an Aspen real estate firm a few years back, I was gobsmacked to discover the reason my colleague could never schedule a meeting before 3 p.m. – she was a 50-year-old party girl who was still working off a daily hangover!

I suspect the problem starts in college, then by the time we’re middle-aged, we’re so acculturated to drinking it’s hard to imagine being social without spirits.

My alma mater, CU Boulder, was a famous party school, though perhaps not on par with Georgetown Prep, as revealed by the recent Supreme Court confirmation process for Brett Kavanaugh.  In “Wasted”, a memoir about his time at Georgetown, Kavanaugh’s friend, Mark Judge, wrote, “It soon became obvious that drinking was one of the major forms of recreation… On Monday morning, the upperclassmen would return from the weekend with stories about keg parties, girls, and hours spent in bars in Georgetown…. At Prep, seniors would often go directly from class to a bar.”

The pattern persists at many schools. According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 58 percent of full-time college students said that they drank in the past month and nearly 27 percent of those over 18 reported binge drinking in the past month.

Personally, I think we need to retire the phrase “sober as a judge” and rethink our cocktail culture. An estimated 88,000 people (more than twice as many men as women) die from alcohol-related causes annually, making alcohol the nation’s third leading preventable cause of death.

It is possible to be a congenial host without hooch. It’s been over a year since I visited Steven and Bailey Haines at their green home in Satank. When I walked in, Steven offered me a cocktail. When I demurred, he quickly switched to making me a “mocktail” – a delightful fruit-juice concoction that was as delicious as it was gracious.

Since then, I rarely go out to any event without a BYO mocktail.

I’m raising one now, and wishing Shep all the best for years to come.

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