Certain people (me, for example) believe that they are basically fuckups at least as often as not when it comes to anything that matters. Whether this is true only or mostly in the hapless, entropy-soaked silt comprising our own thinking apparatus is irrelevant so long as the belief is persistent and powerful. So at the moment, quite apart from those who are currently using substances to escape reality in a manner that could be termed pathological,” it’s not hard to find people who have already tried that route and are instead struggling mightily against the pain of not hurting themselves on purpose, because the means of warding off the significant discomfort that can accompany merely existing in modern society almost always incur a cost.
And that’s really what not submitting to an unwanted craving of any sort is all about: I will refuse to treat this awful rage and irrational madness I have this second by dumping alcohol into my head, because the long-term benefits of resisting outweigh the ultra-short-term “benefits,” and the longer-term costs of ephemeral reassurance from a toxic chemical clearly outweigh the benefits. Or more succinctly, “this too shall pass,” though I avoid invoking even the more innocuous of the Christianity-based slogans that basically define the colossal shityard of terrible ideas Bill Wilson and Bob Smith introduced in the late 1930s known as Alcoholics Anonymous.
There are surely at least 50 million American adults who at this moment are in the grip of a compulsive behavior that will eventually land them in jail, a medical institution, in rehab or something much like it, or on a slab, probably before the age of 50, if it hasn’t already. (One of the joys of blogging for a small audience is that I can make up numbers as long as I admit it, or blow up backing up things I happen to know are true. I spend a great deal of my day harvesting hyperlinks and putting them in Web documents, and this is obviously my time to kick back and discuss how much I enjoy life.)
This isn’t to point out yet one more obvious way in which humans are doing things wrong on a galactic scale, because really, anyone these days can use pretty much any statistic — phantom or legitimate — to prove that no one should possibly give a shit if we all became sterile immediately. Instead, it’s to point out the obvious reality that finding people in your immediate circle whose lives are a mess at the moment because of addictive or compulsive behaviors should be a snap. If you’re not one of them, you know someone who is. This is not news.
As a result, addicts of various kinds are everywhere, and some of them do quit their compulsive behaviors for good, even after a seemingly uncountable number of desultory drying-out periods and maybe even an earnest try at sobriety or two. Thus the “how I did it” is a common story, not just at 12-step meetings and usually meant to be inspiring: Someone quits doing something he’s been choosing to do for years in spite of its ruining pretty much everything in his life, and he’s branded a hero, often by himself. (Alcohol gets him to torch his own life while convincing him — not necessarily on bad evidence, by the way, but just to underscore the evil in play here — that this mayhem and ruin is actually for the best, because it’s likely to lead to accelerate his death without any committed work on his part, and piss on the consequences to others.)
I have to emphasize that I don’t think people deserve credit, ipso facto, for removing a glaring, fully optional deficit from their palette of regular behaviors. It is a given that my life got better when I finally stopped instead of drying out for the three or four months it would take for me to amass sufficient resources to resume the “killing fog” again. It is also a given that Boulder had one less person wandering around passing out on bus benches or worse because he had chosen a vodka-buzz over a place to stay that night. And so on. But all moral assessments aside, it’s an interesting fact: As of yesterday, I had gone 1,000 days without a drink of alcohol, August 19, a streak that began on the 53th anniversary of the JFK assassination — and interestingly, two months before Donald Trump took office but two weeks after was elected. (I think the only other president during my lifetime whose tenure I spent literally alcohol-free for was Richard Nixon’s, which seems about fuckin’ right. I was four years old when Nixon resigned, and had sips of my dad’s beer on occasion during the Ford and Carter years. I first got sauced days before Reagan won a second term, and since G.H.W. Bush’s presidency more or less overlapped my college years, I barely remember it. I had some solid bouts of abstinence during the Clinton years in the 1990s, including a period of almost 2 1/2 years during which I flourished sufficiently to lose a great deal when I ultimately didn’t act to salvage a golden opportunity, one I’m now sincerely glad I was denied but will forever rue pissing away in the manner I did.)
I won’t describe here how, over a nearly 20-year period, I binged ferociously on booze, came skittishly back to reality from blackout drinking, cleaned up, and returned to drinking every three or four months like clockwork. Not just because that would take forever, but it would also just be describing how I made the same mistake repeatedly, even if the paths I took varied here and there. Instead, why am I even sober? There is nothing tangible keeping me from going back to the same fucking tricks even knowing it will kill me, because in case it’s not evident, I place no real value on this (points to random spot on own carcass). I could do no work for over a year and meet all of my obligations without being displaced, unless I burned the house down, which would be somewhat likely, or wound up in jail or dead, either of which would both probably be more likely than a fire scenario. Well, I guess this motivates me more than before: There’s no fuckin’ dignity in killing yourself no matter what, but doing it slowly is pathetic and disgusting, all while cheating others out of peace and serenity, and that’s generally how booze does it. I tried and failed even at killing myself with booze, and as a result I’ve been afflicted with a curious and vexing desire to seek alternative distractions in times of psychological unrest.
I have to say that while I am a little despondent to find that I see the world as just as irritating as I always have, I am not surprised. I am also not surprised to have learned that I have, not, in fact, been gung-ho to pursue a lot of the things I assumed I might be highly motivated to do given a clear head and the perfect lifestyle to manage them. I haven’t put much into racing, but I bet I keep cropping up on some starting line somewhere, like a talking skin disorder, once a year or so until I can’t actually run anymore. I have made very little progress on my fiction writing (lately I have made a little more progress), which is really just the result of being a self-contemptuous coward.
Yet if I step back and look at the variables, in spite of myself, I seem to have set up my life in a way that meshes almost perfectly with my apparent needs. I have added a canine member to the household (Rosie is really my raison d’etre now), I save a lot more than I spend every month, I avoid intimate relationships (I know that doesn’t sound like a prescription for fulfillment, but for me, staying away from serious attachments is the wiser choice), I work entirely from home doing things I like — usually a lot — or at least can generally tolerate, I have plenty of Netflix and Amazon Prime stuff to keep me “busy,” and I run every day despite having no competitive plans simply because I like it (and have an obligation to the dog). Because I can’t stand almost everything about what the news tells me about my peers, I don’t seek out news (a newish wrinkle), and because I feel guilty about hating “people,” I apply a band-aid to my misanthropy “problem” by throwing some spare cash at worthy charitable causes (and a couple of Patreon accounts; fuck, what’s the difference?).
All of this could go to shit fast for various unforeseeable reasons, and I could find that I’m not as resilient as I hoped. Because I have an easy life and still get worked up over complete fucking nonsense. But it’s nonsense with special gravity in a world over-flooded with solely digital interactions between speech-capable hominids.
The late writer Thomas Wolfe may well have been a colossal dick, but I think he got some things about society completely right. One of his observations was that, except in moments of true dire need (e.g., starvation or physical agony), the overriding thing that drives people to act in ways that are more harmful than not on balance is a desire for some kind of status. I suppose if one simply broadens the definition of “status” to encompass almost anything, this is trivially true, but I believe Wolfe is right. Despite being completely confident that I am living my life in a way that harmonizes almost perfectly with someone who honestly never wanted to start a family and prefers solitude, reading, running, writing and music to almost everything that requires human company, I still wrestle with the idea that I need to do something outstanding to make up for whatever I’ve done that I’ve failed to adequately address in more appropriate ways. “Outstanding” more by someone else’s definition than my own. Which is crap. If I could filter out the idea of status outright, I’d probably be more fully comfortable in my comparative isolation. I mean, I have two blogs. Why even go that far? No one gives a shit, and that’s not a lament, it’s a mostly very gratifying fact.
It’s been quite a long time since the idea of a drink gained any real purchase in my head. The difference between me drinking and not is a grudging acceptance of reality, including the reality that my own view of the world is largely antagonistic toward my own supposed goals. In practice, this translates to an enormous difference, because I’m not continually applying a wrecking ball to my own life (and catching others with the shards of the wreckage, or in some cases the side of the ball itself, in the process). But on a moment-to-moment basis, my mind is often the same basic place.
To introduce the topic of my next exploration of something powerfully ingrained despite being completely feeble, none of this is really attributable to A.A or a “spiritual awakening.” Although I believe absolutely in the power of individual counseling above all (I have gone weekly for years), I also endorse group support and utilize it in my own secular way. But there is simply no way I or anyone who rejects the supernatural could possibly integrate 12-step notions into the practical task of staying abstinent without faking it. The only people looking to get sober who have the capacity to do this, I think, are people who have believed in such things for most or all of their lives (i.e., those who grew up religious or “converted” as young adults). Everyone else is just toeing the A.A. line, and most of them know it.
The general public and much of the mental-health community still reflexively hold to the idea that A.A. is a good idea to at least some extent for everyone who wants to cease an addictive habit. But where are still distressingly few people in and around the “recovery” field who know this, and who aren’t straight-up lazy-ass dumbfucks in general, the whole “model” of eliminating or minimizing habitual self-destructive behaviors has gotten a lot better since I first darkened the doors of one of these cultish gatherings. (They do have their upsides, which I’d be a dick and an ingrate to not underscore. I may remember to do this next time.)
What are the realities about staying off booze for someone who has absolutely no inclination to treat obvious myths as fact and also can’t stand listening to idiots say words out loud, which is pretty much 85% of any 12-step meeting — but has spent his life listening to experts, or at least people in authority, more or less deem that shit essential to sobriety? As it happens, I consider my past and its ramifications on the present a lot more than I realized I did. Interesting timing now that I’m on hiatus from therapy until I get other bullshit straightened out.