In my mid-teens, I began to go to parties and hang out in the recreation rooms of friends who were experimenting with quantities of beer and pink gin, and my mother issued a stern warning: “Dypsomania runs in the family.”
The expression puzzled me. I gathered that she was issuing a warning about the danger of alcoholism but, as with her embarrassed explanations about how pregnancy resulted from a meeting of sperm and an ovum, there was a disconnect. In her lecture, the mystifying encounter in the fallopian tubes did not appear to involve actual sex as far as my limited pre-teen knowledge could register. Sex was invisible in those years, as were the dypsomaniacs said to be running around within my family.
Growing up, I watched my parents drink cups of tea each evening and only rarely offering pre-dinner drinks to guests. At Christmas or New Year’s Eve, there were some celebratory drinks but I didn’t see excessive imbibing. Only in their later years did my parents start to drink wine at dinner and have the occasional cocktail or an after dinner liqueur.
Not so with me. I drank unrestrainedly from my teenage years through my youth and on to my older years. Nothing was ever said about it. But, I have realized, people rarely tell you that you are drinking too much, even when it’s apparent.
Similarly, people rarely point out that you are eating too much, driving your car too much, traveling too much, buying too many new appliances or renovating your house too often. You might observe an occasional raised eyebrow, a knowing smile, a slight shaking of the head, but nobody will actually confront you about excessive behaviour.
Recently I visited a friend in the hospital who’d been advised that he should cut back on alcohol, which didn’t come as a surprise to him. “I’ve been drinking far too much,” he said. “You know how it is: one drink is too many and two drinks are not enough.” I was surprised at this, as I’d always heard it the other way around: one not enough and two too many. But his version fits better. For many of us, once we’ve had the second drink, we want more and don’t stop.
We have an insatiable appetite for more of everything: more drink, more food, more holidays, more beautiful houses, a better car, a bigger boat, the latest of technological computers, telephones, toys of all sorts. We consume and consume, and we continue to fill up the landfill. We take up more and more room, forgetting that old maxim that if one isn’t living one the edge then one is taking up too much space.
Reducing excessive consumption requires making connections. I and most of my cohort find it very hard to do — but I believe that many young people are getting the message. Perhaps because of necessity and lack of opportunity, they do not see it as an expectation or entitlement that they will own their own home. A lot of them seem to prefer bikes to cars, and a great many of them are keen on buying locally and growing their own food. I think they see a different way of living on the planet. I hope so.
And I too will try to do better.