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Alcohol & Sigmund Freud

One of the most intriguing theories I came across during the course of my formal education was Sigmund Freud’s Structural Model of the human psyche described beautifully by dividing the human brain into 3 hypothetical parts, namely – the id, the ego and the superego. For the benefit of those who haven’t heard of these terms before, Freud describes the ‘the id’ as the unorganized part of the human personality that contains basic, instinctual drives – acting on the ‘pleasure principle’ and indiscriminately seeking to avoid pain or displeasure; the ‘super-ego’ is the critical, moralizing part that argues based on cultural and social grounds and the ‘ego’ plays the balancing act of fulfilling ‘id’s’ desires in a realistic manner without crossing boundaries laid down by the ‘super-ego’. Freud argues that ‘the id’ is the first and only component of a human personality that is present from birth. As a human mind learns and absorbs more and more of his cultural and social nuances, ‘the super-ego’ starts developing itself and influencing every decision we make. This pretty much explains why it is easier for young children to chase imaginary dogs, rabbits, butterflies as well as their greatest, fulfilling desires, whereas adults find it harder and harder to give in to their most primitive and deepest craving and do what truly makes them happy.

The idea behind this completely unrelated prologue to the piece was to draw a parallel between Freud’s mind-numbing explanation of human psychology and the effect of alcohol in our personal lives. As I spent my hard-earned Saturday night bringing in a friend’s birthday, drinking to our hearts’ brim after a long-slog week at work, it struck me how and why alcohol has become an integral part of our lives. Having grown up in an upper-middle class Indian society, alcohol, for most of my peers, is still a tabooed subject at home. About 90% of my friends are still uncomfortable about accepting their alcohol consumption to their immediate family and indulge in their weekly barrel of beer after a well-planned cover-up to hide the fact that they returned home shit-faced that night. Unlike most western countries, alcohol is still considered a moral and social vice. Unlike in most other cultures, the Indian social setup banishes alcohol from its set of ‘sound habits’ not on the premise of adverse health effects, but as a vague, shameful personality flaw, roughly similar to the way we look down upon people indulging in thoughtless displays of public affection.

Someone once described alcohol as a great leveler. While I was mildly drunk on a couple of beers it struck me how I couldn’t agree more with the statement. The liberating intoxification that comes with a peg or two is a genuine blessing in disguise. Imagine walking into your local pub with your boss after a grueling week at work and discussing the hot woman at work you know you both find attractive (I will leave the rest to imagination). Imagine running into that cute girl you see every day at your bus station flirting her ass out with the bartender because she’s out to have a thrill. Would it be all that bad if alcohol gives you the confidence and the courage to walk up to her and strike a conversation which may or may not lead to a fruitful friendship at the least? Imagine going out with your local gang which also includes the person you have crushed on forever but haven’t had the heart to confess to. Why would we look down upon it if you got drunk that night and hooked up with them (assuming it was mutual)? Why would we look down upon the usually quiet, introvert who is the wildest dancer you have ever known after some steady alcohol intake?

I know somebody who has traveled the world alone, run into a total bunch of strangers, gotten wasted with them and still counts them as some of his most rewarding and vivid memories.

As we grow up, we start discounting the deepest of our desires inherited from our evolutionary seeds as we start absorbing and understanding the society we live in. We start rationalizing every desire that we may naturally have with the argument that the culture we live in will not approve of it. In Freud’s words, the super-ego starts taking over and before we know it, the desire to become a musician is replaced by the social pressure to be recognized as rich and successful; before we know it, the sudden urge to go right ahead and kiss a complete stranger you just met owing it to nothing but the mutual attraction you share is accompanied by a strong pang of guilt – that’s right you primitive little cave man, civilized men aren’t supposed to behave that way. This possibly explains why most of us are different people when we are drunk – we are suddenly wild and free and carefree. Some of us are almost unrecognizable. Most of us are what we truly are deep within. Every layer of social cosmetic that we hide behind everyday is peeled away with each passing drink we consume. And why is that such a bad thing I ask. In an ideal world I’d rather just have my ‘id’ guiding all of my behavior, but of course the realists of the world would argue why that would be the end of the world – what with people wanting to murder and rape and steal with abandon under the pretext of being what we are. And there isn’t much you can say to argue with that. Society of course exists for a reason, and much of our progress as a race is attributed to our socialibility – the problems arise because society consists of doers and non-doers; and much like everybody else, the non-doers have evolved to become able enough to harness the doers into fulfilling their own desires. Don’t we all deserve the opportunity to be ourselves once in a while and feed our ‘id’ for being slaves of our ‘super-egos’ for most of our usual adult lives? Of course there will be that odd time when you do something that deserves a genuine trashing – like accusing your boss of being an exploiting, two-face bastard just because your last increment was lesser than your expectation or drunk calling your ex and confessing that you still love her or simply stealing an interesting looking alcohol dispenser from the bar because you thought it was thrilling; but guess what? In some way even these things are okay; because eureka! These are all things you feel or believe in at some level. If you are a horny little bastard who hooks up with the first woman you run into when you’re drunk, it’s probably because you have been trying too hard to keep your libido in check for the time you spend sober.

alcohol

Yay! Hoegaarden!

The intent here is not to promote or encourage alcohol consumption – anything of an excess is always going to hurt you in the long run. If you’re a regular drinker, your health will catch up with you eventually, and I can accept/relate with people who look down upon it for this; I do not however relate or understand the elite bunch of holier-than-thou idealists that look down upon alcoholics like me based on social or religious high ground.

So the next time you go out there with the intention of shit-facing yourself and doing something wild, leave your guilt at home and tell yourself that you have earned the right to fulfill your primitive, instinctive, evolutionary, treacherous, caveman-like desires because you will spend most of your life trying to rationalize every urge you have and your id will lose out to society’s brainchild on most occasions. Only – understand the difference between being an alcohol consumer and an alcoholic and pay close attention to your body when it starts giving out signs of protest. Cheers!

Also Read:

Freedom, Independence & Such Things

Wanderlust – A Way of Life

How to Deal with One-Sided Love

5 comments

  1. I would be sold to drinking and how, only if I didnt indulge in everything you’re talking about in this post already! Cheers to happy highs!?

    • mm

      Cheers to every thing, especially the fact that your’s is the first comment on this blog! Your next beer is on the house lady!

  2. Super… Sure Freud is going to be proud of you… just like me 😉

  3. A leveler and an inhibitor, how many people have told me that when they are drunk they can speak a language? I always can’t help thinking that they are probably too drunk to realize their language skills are actually not good, even if they sounds awesome in their inebriated mind

    • mm

      Haha! That’s a first for me — people speaking languages they don’t know. Never happened before. Just think people have so much more fun when they let their guard down, no?

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