Sometimes a bourbon is just a bourbon. And I want one.
Sobriety gets all muddled up in seven months, like a perfect mint julep. And what I mean by getting all muddled up is that in the beginning of sobriety, quitting drinking was just about me not buying whiskey and drinking it. A few months later, my drinking became about my childhood. A month later, drinking was about my long list of character defects. Throughout those months, I tried to find my vacant spiritual center and remain grounded. So, in the end, the majority of my sobriety has not been about drinking at all. I can see as the time moves forward, and the obsession to drink lifted that drinking was but a symptom of a larger problem. One of spiritual bereftness, soul-emptiness, about the spaces I tried to fill and the emotions I try to drown.
But still, every once in a while, it is still just about the drink. And how I want it and can't have it, and how that fact seems fucking unfair. It seems unfair in the way that anything else in the world is unfair, which is to say, it really isn't that unfair. Losing a child is unfair. Getting cancer is unfair. Not being able to drink is just what normal people should do. Alcoholism is a disease whose only treatment is total abstinence.
Being sober for seven months isn't the longest stretch of sobriety I have ever had in my life, but I suppose it is the most intentional of all the stretches. It is the most personal. The most concentrated period of psychic and emotional changes I have ever gone through, if the moment when my daughter died doesn't count. I started quitting drinking the first time I drank. I didn't understand what alcoholism meant as a teenager. I just thought that my off switch had been obliterated by the awesomeness of bourbon, or more likely, I was never born with an off switch. I swallowed who I was with the Maker's Mark until I fell asleep, or fell on the floor. I didn't realize until seven months ago that drinking until you fell asleep meant you were drinking until you pass out. Funny how framing a concept frames how you feel about yourself.
I didn't drink because Lucia died. Lucia died, and I didn't know what else to do but drink. That is something I learned in sobriety. Drinking was all the emotional coping I was taught. Drink until it stops hurting. Drink until you are present with only the sensation of drunkenness. Drink until you write a novel.
There is a long list of writers who are alcoholics or addicts. The names of my first loves of literature: Paul Bowles, Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, William Faulkner, James Joyce...the list is unending.
Ernest Hemingway said, "Write drunk. Edit sober." That was my mantra, my ethos of writing. I wrote drunk, then edited sober. I edited hung over, which gave me the restless, irritable eye of a critic. I wrote, so I could drink. Eight months ago, I thought that I drank so I could write.
When I was eighteen, I worked at a beautiful cafe in the gay-borhood, as it is called. It was a beautiful amazing space, full of copper, French doors and industrial steel. We played Annie Lennox and ordered muffins from the finest bakery in town. The coffee was roasted to perfection and served in Norwegian-designed little mugs for too much money.
I drank a lot in those days. I was single and it seemed victimless. Every morning I walked the six blocks to the shop before the sun rose. I was still drunk most days, or at the least, hung over. I drank forty ounces of Crazy Horse malt liquor, which cost $1.95. I was nineteen. I bought my drink at the corner store called the Cop Shop, which wasn't called that because police officers hung out there. I would bring my liquor home, sit on my dirty twin mattress covered with an American flag my father gave me from his service in Vietnam and write short stories and long missives on the back of flyers from the local cafe. I would take them by the stack to write. I had an old typewriter and sometimes wrote by candlelight when the bulb overhead cast strange shadows on my paper. I wrote short stories about people doing ordinary things. A story of a girl falling in love with a statue. A girl taking a cab until she ran out of money. A novel about an artist and a benefactor. I thought I was Jane Bowles. or I wanted to be.
One morning, while I arranged the scones in the bakery case, the cafe manager asked me, "Since you are a writer, does that mean you are an alcoholic?" And I shrugged. "What is an alcoholic? Someone who drinks to write? I guess it does." And then she asked me if I could shower before work, because I lived in a nigh-squat and rarely had hot water. She was getting at the fact that I stunk because I drank too much."Yes," I said, "I will be a better drunk." And she laughed and thanked me.
I thought about that conversation a lot in the last seven months.That was twenty-one years ago. twenty-one. I am still learning how to write sober. I am still learning how to think soberly. I think my writing is better, maybe less free emotionally, but better.
I am still trying to be a better drunk.