When I take a drink I am alone, banishing thought, intention, and self. For a second I float outside of history, this feeling being the main appeal of drinking as it is with orgasm.
I don’t like how much I drink but when I imagine consequences I can stop. This is not a straining assertion to self-convince; it’s the truth. Though I fear that there’s a day I won’t be able to, that eventually I’ll be locked on rails like in a 2-D sidescroller, going down one or the other of the two narrative pathways of substance use; those American ways of excess or abstinence.
It’s all possibility, bottled, but narratively it’s more like I have a binary choice: Thompson/Bukowski or Alcoholics Anonymous. Either I go for the redemption angle on this story or I give up belief in redemption and focus instead on indulgence. This goes for all substance stories, and it goes for more than just stories. The entire lived experience of how I can relate to alcohol is plotted out for me and has meaning insofar as I identify with one or the other end of the TB/AA axis.
So when my feelings about my alcohol use are confused, and I can’t tell whether said use is normal or an issue (which the AA side of the scale says that’s a red flag right there, friend (but I question this snap assessment because probably I’m overthinking it and that little white puritanical slice of me that’s still in there somewhere is heaping on all the self-judgment it can)), I’m left centerless, dry and with like no highway in sight.
When my reality doesn’t fit a known story it does not feel real or valid or of consequence.
All our plots set in well-used molds, and we model ourselves after often we don’t even know whom. The unknown originator of a trope, long dead in body or relevance–this person’s spirit is inhabiting us in those times when life approaches tangibility, when we feel like we understand what is happening to us and why. We are part of a discrete narrative. God feels close and sudden in moments of religious clarity not because religious clarity comes bolt out the blue but because it comes in the form of a story where religious clarity comes bolt out the blue. There is no moment of meaning, there’s only the moment as text that gets explicated later.
It doesn’t spiral for me, drinking, it never has; though I can’t be said to be in control of my own desires either. I do not black out, haven’t since I was like sixteen blowing chunks on the freeway sitting in the middle backseat with everyone screaming and my older brother taking care of me. This is no longer even an occasional occurrence. Filling myself to the top with brew like some Kool-Aid man that’s got cartoon ethanol fumes wafting out of his head only to rampage through the walls of decent expected behavior is not something that I do.
But still alcohol sits like a stone waiting for me late on Friday and Saturday nights. Even when I forego it during the workweek (which let’s be honest, isn’t often), this routine shelters me. When I drink it’s like a number of things I’d like to happen are now possible, all of them prosaic, most revolving around self-estimation and sex.
Beer/wine/liquor gets rid of the sads or turns them translucent while letting me believe I am my best self. When I lee back and forth over the toilet, preparing to piss with myself in my hand, dizzy and flushed above and below, thinking about the lies I let pass when en-Substanced, the alcohol allows a further dark freedom which is: The Fuck That. If the self-hatred comes the alcohol says, What Do We Say To It, and the answer is Fuck That. TFT allows me to live totally in the moment while obliterating that moment.
It goes deep inside, The Fuck That, gunking up my arteries and making it harder to feel. At the same time it releases other things. My sexual rapacity is tired of hiding, and when enflamed by alcohol I am a hungry wound and my eyes catch other eyes and someone sees me as an animal, a shamelessly sexual unit, and the fallout will be as terrible and emotionally violent as it is in fiction but I kiss and lick and enter another woman who is not my wife. An accusation will shoot off and light up the sky like a firework and it’s absurd, in hindsight, what they called me, except that word is always deadly serious and it still haunts me and someone who doesn’t know the situation but has their politics all in order will say buddy, you think it haunts you; just goes to show.
Alcohol isn’t the cause of this, of course, but would I have left myself behind enough to act without it? I find I’m genuinely surprised when I see how deeply my actions can hurt others. So often I frame myself as a nonentity, and of course a good liquid soporific helps that tendency along.
This is no longer about alcohol, but neither are any narratives about substance use really about the use. How much freedom do we actually have to make our own histories when our brains have been imprinted with patterns that accrete from story after cultural story, shaping how we’re to feel and act? These aren’t shackles to rage against. This is how human life and society work. Might as well beat against the cage of our mammalian bodies. We are left with the task of how to find a sane analog space that can operate between the poles of all or nothing.
The way to do that, maybe, is to blunder through a wilderness that has not a paved road in sight and try to find something–something if not new, then honest and unlazy. Trailblazing is an outdated game. As far as substance use is concerned, collectively we’ve hit on the two big stories, the T/B and AA extremes, and perhaps that’s enough. The other ones to tell have not nearly as much pathos or dark glamour as those two. The only reason at all to attempt the tale is to talk about something else entirely.