Sean Beckwith: Aspen drinking out of both sides of its mouth
I think the way Aspen makes people feel about themselves is a large reason why so many people are drawn to and stay in this valley. It’s easy to wake up and forget about personal and professional progress because when you open your curtains or drive to work the objective beauty of our surroundings makes it easy to forget one’s problems; it’s a veritable Never Never Land.
For the demographic of the population that’s not flying in and out on private jets, it’s easy to justify stunted growth because you can always find someone who is worse off than you.
“If you think I have a drinking problem, look at Gary. He makes me look like a Quaker.”
I’ve certainly done it to feel better about drinking far too much, far too often. I’m not trying to go full Facebook whistleblower/Frances Haugen on the collegial culture of an Aspen, a Breckenridge, a Telluride because the information is out there. Check out our Longevity piece on substance use in mountain towns. Unlike the recent (obvious) revelations that Facebook is unhealthy for basically everyone, we’ve known the dangers of drinking for a long time, and that’s why I think it’s easier to ignore them.
For the same reason you put off a doctor’s visit or stepping on the scale, admitting that you struggle to control your drinking or shouldn’t drink is a difficult reality to face. The reason people stop tabulating their beer count after college is because it’s no longer funny or impressive if it ever was.
Honestly, substance use has probably usurped mental health from a stigmatization standpoint due to the encouragement of conversation surrounding mental health issues of late.
I don’t know how we do that with alcohol. I’ve written this before, but I think it’s worth mentioning again: Why aren’t there any reminders, warnings, disclaimers about drinking when you attend a Food & Wine, an apres pub-crawl, etc.?
I think it’s because no one wants to be reminded of the inherent risks before having a good time. However, open acknowledgment is the only way you’re going to get people to feel OK about not drinking because, and I know this has happened to me, a lot of people think to say no is to admit failure.
I know people who’ve lived out here a decade and still try to ski double blacks despite a long list of injuries/evidence that suggests maybe they should stick to blues and greens. While I’m a phenomenal snowboarder and eat double blacks for breakfast, my drinking probably falls more in the category of the aforementioned oft-injured skier. I can handle a beer or a glass of wine with dinner, but I should not attend drinking-centric events or activities; my lists of mistakes made and feelings hurt suggests as much.
Yes, it’s funny the next day when you exchange texts with your drinking buddy about how “I feel like a dumpster fire” and “probably could’ve gone without the fourth round of Rumple Minze.” It’s a way to lessen the consequences of our actions.
But what if it’s something that can’t be reversed like a DUI, a fight with your significant other or, and this isn’t hyperbole, a death?
It’s easy to feel safe in Aspen. There’s little to no crime, you can walk or ride public transportation just about anywhere and the police are glorified substance use counselors. I’d even go as far as to say the infrastructure in place is borderline enabling.
But that doesn’t mean it’s risk-free or that it’s an excuse to binge drink. Trying to cross the highway not at a traffic light, hopping in a hot tub or even walking home on a frigid Aspen night can be fatal if you’ve had too much or the wrong mix of drugs.
It shouldn’t take a tragedy to get Aspenites to gain perspective, even though that’s often the case. I know the good people at AA will tell you it’s healthy, and even encourage you, to admit that you have a problem, but until we get society to feel the same way, we’re going to keep pushing people to the limits where they either consciously quit (unlikely), have important people in their life beg them to quit (very likely) or die (a possibility).
While it’s a strong bet that a mocktail or moderation seminar would probably be the least attended seminar at Food & Wine, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t exist. The longer Aspen presents itself as a party haven, the harder it will be to admit that it, and lot of people who live here, have a problem. And that’s OK. I have.
Sean Beckwith is a copy editor at The Aspen Times. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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A faithful reader, known to his internet friends as “Ski Bum,” sent me the following quote after my last column. It seems fitting this week.