My (long gone) relationship with alcohol

Turns out that my old problems with the blog are not yet gone, which means that I’m currently writing with draft on EverNote (why not Google Docs? Let’s just say that I don’t like some of its auto formatting). Hopefully it won’t make me cringe too much to stop keeping up with the blog until I can fix it, or get somebody to fix it for me. I wonder if I could make use of IFTTT to just post the drafts from one to the other, and keep the formatting. I don’t have the time.

In my commentary about 23andme I noted that I know I’m a mean drunk. At the same time I have been writing for years at this point how I don’t drink. So how do I know? Let me try to explain.

First of all, unlike Penn Jillette who I have seen just last night, I cannot assert I never touched a drop of alcohol or recreational drugs. I can probably assert I never did any recreational drugs per-se, if we don’t count caffeine as one, but I did drink alcohol, many times. It could probably scandalize my American readers, but I used to drink beer when I was ten. But wait, didn’t I also say that my mother was right in believing I was not drinking the night before I got the (second to) last pancreatitis event? I guess it comes down to Italy being a every different, European place to the US, but my parents, like most of the parents of the people I know around my area, never shied away from making me drink that one or two glasses of beer at the table. No it’s not a stereotype, it’s reality as far as I can tell.

They would probably have been fine with me drinking wine, or spirits – after all my grandfather was born up in the mountains where grappa would have probably been put in baby bottles, if they had baby bottles when he was born, and he made his own wine up until he died – but I never could stand the aroma of wine. Even at New Year’s I would be the one cheering with Coke or Pepsi — I’m not sure if it was much better, to be honest.

The taste of beer itself is not something I disliked. It’s not like I drank it very often anyway — up until high school, it was mostly reserved for the special occasion when the whole family was united around the table, which was honestly not that often; it had more to do with it being expensive than with me being young, though. Things got a bit different after my father got some sort of jobs while I was in high school, and then it became a bit more affordable; my mother likes (or liked) drinking half a bottle of beer – basically two small glasses – at dinner time, and so I would, more often, share. My father was more of a wine drinker.

What I ended up noticing, in my third year of high school, is that if I was to drink at dinner, the day after in school I would be more easily depressed – by a bad mark, the realization I did not understand something the way I thought I did or, the worst and last drop I guess, understanding that the girl I had a crush on was going to leave school – I understood then that I had no intention to let alcohol take decisions for me on how to feel. Okay maybe not so clearly or pompous, but I did realize I did not have the physique to drink. It probably had something to do with my father, too.

I liked the taste of beer, I didn’t like the alcohol (or at least its effects), so I decided to go for non-alcoholic beer, for a while. Those of you who drink will probably think I’m blasphemous now — and I would agree, most non-alcoholic beers taste like crap, and I didn’t like those either. I did find Bavaria’s 0.0% beer quite drinkable though — and it turns out they even have a Wikipedia page for it; I suppose I was not the only one appreciating it among the other poor replacements for a beer.

I was not drinking any of that either, the night before my pancreatitis. Things weren’t going really well at that point; not only the stress of being put in front of the option of leaving Italy, leaving behind my family, which at that point was much larger than it is now. I thought that it would have been smarter for me not to drink even the non-alcoholic beer at that point, if anything because I felt like it could mean for me being too near the risk of becoming similar to a person I did not want to become.

Can you tell one more reason why I’m afraid of genetics, now? Hint: it has less to do with the chance of having inherited a predisposition to melanoma than a doctor would think. Oh yes I left this small detail out yesterday: I never got tested for this yet. On the bright side, a coworker recently told me that, as my maternal grandfather – from whom I got my second name – had quite a lot of hair until he got sick, it means that I won’t be going bald anytime soon. A little bit of genetic justice for me!

Anyway, I have not had a single drop of alcohol since the pancreatitis event. The whole idea is, for me, abhorrent now, as you noted from my posts.But until here I haven’t confessed of ever become full-blown drunk, and how I could learn that I’m a mean drunk without doing that? Well, there is something that also works in about the same way alcohol does, and is called Xanax. It’s a psychoactive drug, but believe you me, it’s not fun! How did I end up encountering Xanax? It’s a somewhat funny story, and it involves, once again, a girl — pass me the term, as she is some nine years younger than me.

Not a nice girl though, rather very bad news for me, to the point that I lost a few friends after the “adventure”. Before somebody eagerly judges me, I’m sour, I’d say even pissed. I did not sleep with said girl, I did not even kiss her, but I’ve been made to dance to her will for a while — I’ve been lead, not according to me, but to a (girl) friend of mine. I guess her endgame was to make her ex-boyfriend jealous. But this is a different story, the only part of it that is interesting to this post in question is that, at the beginning of this adventure it turned out that for the first time in my life a girl seemed interested in me… but being the socially awkward nerd I am, instead of asking her out (which would probably have shown how the interest was not really the kind I was longing for), I organized a group dinner with friends. The day that was supposed to happen, I had a panic attack.

With panic attack I mean that I ended up collapsing on my bed, in the dark, almost hyperventilating and almost crying. My mother (who didn’t know anything beside the fact I was supposed to go out with friends like many times before) came to check on me, and between some tachycardia and my BP being quite high, decided to get me to the ER once again. With all that happened at the Hospital that one time six years ago, most but not all of which I talked about in the previous post, my Italian health card has “gained” a status similar to what happens with frequent flyers: as soon as somebody inputs my ID in their computer, I end up in the emergency lane. I could probably go there with a cold, and still I’d end up in the emergency lane. I’m not sure if I’m proud of it, or if I feel very happy about making doctors get to me in a hurry given that there are probably, nowadays, more real emergencies.

At any rate, that one time I got my usual set of blood tests, then they gave me Xanax, and a prescription to take it for a few weeks, whether I felt anxious or not, then they released me. Okay not true, they released me as soon as I remembered to tell them about my Gilbert’s syndrome, as they were snooping around trying to figure out why my bilirubin was so high — I deserved it that the doctor scolded me about going to the ER without my full set of medical records! That night I went out without anxiety, without stress, for once I felt free — so don’t tell me I don’t understand how alcohol helps being less socially awkward, I tasted that freedom and it felt good. Until some of my friends, both the day after, and after I finally got rid of Xanax, pointed out I acted like an asshole. Not drunk, but tipsy, just lost enough awkwardness to act like a brogrammer I guess. One incident I still remember, I ended up slapping a friend on the head with the menu of our pub — not hitting him to hurt him, I wouldn’t have the strength, but at least three different people at the table, at separate time, told me they were getting ready for trouble.

That was, unfortunately, not the last time I used Xanax. I ended up using it for about a week or two, I’m honestly blurry a bit on the timing here. It was just the minimal dosage, but it was enough to get rid of my basic shyness – and that sounds good, on paper. Turns out it also set the basis for a few more issues. My group of friends ended up going to the beach; I was asked not to go by one of them, because she was worried about my anxiety, as there are no hospitals to bring me to. Unbeknownst to me, this worked out well for the girl, as she ended up sleeping with the aforementioned ex-boyfriend during that weekend — I was kept in the dark about that till months later. Did I say already that the whole adventure made me lose some friends?

Enough with my idiocy regarding the girl though — I can’t blame the Xanax for all that happened that summer; I got my hopes up all by myself, even when she offered multiple times to sleep together she was playing me and if I had some more control over my hormones I would probably have been able to see that. I don’t even know why I’m gushing so much about my personal affairs, when I didn’t even talk to my sister about them at the time. Maybe it’s because I just don’t care anymore, maybe it’s because I’m trying to just get clear on my own past.

Anyway, that one weekend I ended up staying home, alone as most of my friends were at the beach, and maybe because of what was going on, maybe because of the Xanax, I was not able to realize that I had plenty of other friends to go out with and have fun, distract myself… I stayed home, and after the “wish you were here” text from the character described above, I felt terrible. That one day I think I got two or three times as big a dose of Xanax I was told to take. It felt better, then it felt worse. I screamed at my mother… and that was my epiphany. That was exactly why I stopped drinking beer. That was exactly the part of me I did not want to help surface. That’s how I know, I’m a mean drunk. I’m not sure if it’s genetic, or if it is nurture. But I knew exactly who I was looking like.

As soon as I realized that, I cried. I cried for an hour or two, I think. It could have been five minutes, it felt like eternity. I put the Xanax bottle into the original carton, closed it, sealed it with plastic tape. Then still half crying I went downstairs to my mother, gave her the bottle and asked her to stash it somewhere I could never find it again — she tends to have an art to put stuff in places where it gets lost to knowledge of men. She did, I never found it even when getting my stuff ready to pack when leaving for Dublin. She confessed she does not even remember when she put it (I was suggesting her to use it when she panicked after I left), and I believe her.

So here it is, another part of the story of my life. One I’m definitely not very proud of. I originally didn’t plan to write that much about the girl from two years ago. It was a bad experience, that still hurts me sometimes. You can believe my words or just assume I’m an asshole and I’m trying to excuse my behaviour — feel free to. I’m afraid I don’t have much evidence to bring for the contrary. Most of my friends directly involved in the situation did not believe me either. Only one of them did, as she has known me for many years, and couldn’t reconcile my character with what they were told. I disappointed her anyway, later on.

I sure hope my blog is not going to fill with personal time travels and pathetic stories, tomorrow I’ll try to write something more technical — I have a half-written draft about PAM and 2FA.

I don’t do it for the beer!

This is a rant that might sound silly, but this is one thing that has started to irk me significantly. I’m tired of people that paint all developers out there as beer drinkers, even more so when they actually seem to akin them to drunkards who code under influence.

I do not drink. I can’t, to be precise, but even if I could, I don’t like getting drunk, I never got drunk really but I know enough of what would happen to me because I had, at one point, to use Xanax, and I don’t want to do that anymore. It wasn’t fun! This does not mean that I have a problem with people, or developer, drinking or having fun. Those who know me, know that I’m very socially liberal at heart, I really don’t care what you do with your own free time, as long as it’s not causing trouble to me or others.

When I went to FOSDEM, the pre-conference event is a beer event. I can understand that: it’s Belgium, and the Délirium is on the Guinness Book of Records after all. Last VDD there was a beer event as well, but the place was definitely apt and if you got upstairs (which I didn’t, bad me!) you would have found a number of other things, including non-alcoholic cocktails — me and Luca came back the weekend after VDD, although I didn’t try any because I didn’t have my blood sugar test strips and I didn’t want to risk getting too high for comfort.

But in both cases, this is just a mingling event, and it doesn’t really bother me at all. First you can get other drinks as well (at FOSDEM you usually see me with a Diet Coke or water), and second this stops the moment the conference actually starts… to a point. The VideoLAN people didn’t give us barrels of beer during the conference, but a rather more general refreshment, for which I’m definitely grateful (the croissants were delicious, seriously!) Thanks guys!

But then there are posts like our own Donnie’s that tick me off a bit. Then we got tweets such as the one today from Chad Windnagle of Joomla. Seriously? Donnie actually tooting the (mangled) responses of a survey by one company (Zend) which extrapolates that the majority of developers love beer (compared to what? teachers? teenagers?), and people at GSoC proclaiming that the unifying factor is beer?

I know it’s a tiny minuscule offence in comparison, but to me, this is still a shade of the “brogrammer” stereotype that is also giving us the grief of sexist pigs in our communities, in the bigger picture. Which does not mean that everybody (or anybody) who drink is part of the sexism problem – it is not, and I wouldn’t blame Donnie to be offended if I was to suggest this; he’s the first person who fights against it – but these remark do make me understand how women in tech feel. I do feel shunned every time a point is made across that if I’m a developer I have to enjoy beer; when a major point is made of a conference about the amount of beer available, I do feel less welcome than I should.

To me it still feels like there’s this stereotypical bad example of “the developer” (either opensource or not) that is the pimply overweight sexist who lives in the basement of his parents, and can’t wait for a conference to get drunk. And that’s hurting us, because some developers take this stereotype as a license to indulge in the negative aspects of it, ruining it for everybody.

So let’s start with a simple rule

Developers, open-source or not, are all different from one another. They have different genders, different goals in life, different lifestyles, even different values. Communities are formed when you share some (but not strictly all) of these characteristics. Open-source communities for the vast part are formed by developers (and not) who like to see, and to show, how things work.

And now let’s make sure we shatter that outdated stereotype, as I really really enjoy getting to know the diversity of people I work with.