Alcohol plays a large role in everyone's life. We use it to clean our many wounds, and we add certain percentages of the stuff to our gasoline, within certain states where that's required by regulations. Some of us even drink alcohol, for pleasure or otherwise. But you can count me out of that last group. For all of this year, so far, I have been "on the wagon."
This is the time of year when we discuss our various resolutions, in public. From weight loss to "somehow getting rich," we use the first days of January as a kind of self-shaming performance. Of course nobody wants to hear about our ill-planned and short-lived vows for the New Year, but that has never stopped anyone else from talking about them.
Writers are especially shameless about this show-off flagellation. And if publishers and editors keep paying money for tales of addiction and recovery, why not? It's easy to convince yourself that your own dull diary of getting on or off the wagon might help someone else, or at least make potential sex partners have pity on you—easier than actually researching a topic or "doing journalism," anyway.
That's how I came to the difficult decision to share my story, even if it makes some people uncomfortable. The truth is, I have stopped drinking many times, and not always successfully. Often I will think, "well this is the week," and then my wife will bring home some good beer from the Trader Joe's.
That beer is not going to drink itself.
Strangely enough, just as I typed those words, I noticed the Firestone-Walker brewing company just off Highway 101. (My wife is driving while I type.) "Firestone brewing company! And look, there's a Tap Room," I said with delight.
"Whoa!" she said. "You want me to turn around at the next exit?"
"Nah," I said. "Let the kids sleep." When the kids sleep on a long drive, it is a special time when they're not annoying the hell out of me.
You can see how tough this can be. You go to dinner, they ask if you want a cocktail, and of course you want a cocktail because that's what civilized people do before dinner. So last night I had my first cocktail of the year. It was the same cocktail I've been drinking for the past three decades, a Ketel One martini up with three olives, and it was just fine.
As they probably say at this or that high-priced Detox Mansion, when the horse throws you, you must get up and brush yourself off and kill the horse. Life is a journey, etc.
There are many reasons why we start or quit drinking or smoking or gulping codeine cough syrup or shooting smack or getting a job at the pharmacy just to steal oxycontin or eating a box of Little Debbie chocolate muffins at 3 a.m. We're alive for a long time, if we're lucky, but a lot of that living is dull bullshit.
Drink adds a little fun to the routine. Drugs can make the most boring people seem exciting or sexy for a least an evening. Food tastes good. Cigarettes are the most addictive thing on Earth, even long after you've begun to despise yourself for smoking them. When moderation fails, as it does for some but certainly not for all of us, dramatically quitting the demon substance seems easier than changing all the other problems, like the losers you hang around with, or your evil family, or your dumb job, or the debt you've been trying to pay off forever, or the awful town you have to live in because of those same people who are such consistent bummers.
But as Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson sang together, "The reasons to quit don't outnumber all the reasons why."
My own reasons to quit have been consistent for many years. After Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Year's and all the parties and boozing and eating and sloth of these sociable five weeks, I am tired of being bloated and looking as haggard as Merle himself. A month off the cocktails and wine and beer and champagne and margaritas is a month of exceptionally good sleep and a renewed commitment to the daily five-mile walks, which tend to trail down to a nightly three-block walk to the pub by Christmastime.
I realize other people have struggles that are different and even more difficult, but it's the duty of the Recovery Writer to put their own story atop every other. The addiction and recovery genre always needs just one more column or book or tweet about the endless struggle of our very personal continuing crisis.