I‘ve never considered that I had an alcohol problem. Or if it was a problem it was way down there on the list, considering my many more pressing problems. That is until the internet came along.
I mean, I used to get drunk at parties and babble away and make a fool of myself. But the next morning I wouldn’t even remember most of it. But now with the internet, I’ll be up all night getting drunk and babbling away over the internet. And then the next morning, there’s every word I babbled the night before, staring me in the face, in black and white, like a very harsh and unforgiving mirror.
For most of my life I considered myself a “weekend drinker.” I’d go out on Friday night or Saturday night with the boys, or the girls, and tie a good one on. Just good clean fun. Some of the best nights of my life were spent simply sitting across from a table with a good friend, with a couple pitchers of beer, and slowly getting schnockered together. Just sitting, talking and drinking. Can’t beat it. Better than sex. Well. . .better than most of my sex.
But it was about 10 years ago that I became what I call an “every-night-drunk.”
It started accidentally. I was working as a street vendor on Telegraph Avenue. The problem was, I’m basically a painfully shy person. Extremely introverted and socially awkward. Just painfully uncomfortable relating to most of my fellow human beings. I’m the type, just relating to the clerk at the grocery store can be painful. I’m that bad. (Someone once nicely described the difference between the introvert and the extrovert: “Put an extrovert in a big room full of people and by the end of the evening they’re exhilerated. Put an introvert in a big room full of people and by the end of the evening they’re drained.”)
The problem was, working as a street vendor was a highly social occupation. In fact, I’d be dealing with an endless parade of human beings from the moment I set up my vending table until I finally packed it all away 10 hours later. I’d start at noon, and by 5 o’clock I’d be completely drained. So I got in the habit of going down to the liquor store on the corner at 5 o’clock and buying a couple tall cans of Olde English malt liquor. To get my second wind. It became like a cherished ritual. And I’d be looking forward all afternoon to 5 o’clock, the magic hour. I’d quickly pound the first can. Eager for that buzz. Eager for the medicating effect. It was almost akin to choking down medicine. By the time I cracked open the second can, I’d invariably be feeling much better. More relaxed. Completely at home in my place in this Universe of ours.
In a weird way, the alcohol made me a better person. I was happier, friendlier, nicer. I began to enjoy socializing with my customers, my friends and the various hanger-outers one meets on a street corner. Needless to say, by the time 10 o’clock came around I was feeling no pain. And some nights I’d stay out there until midnight simply because I was having so much fun, drinking, shooting the shit, and jamming out cool tunes on my ghetto blaster.
The vending gig actually worked as a great cover for public drinking. Because it wasn’t like I was a raving drunk on a street corner. It actually looked like I was working. And I was very discreet, keeping my cans of beer hidden under the table, and drinking out of a disguised to-go coffee cup.
Then I was homeless for 6 years, and, again, the drinking acted as a buffer from the “endless socializing” that is so much a part of the street scene. Without four walls to protect me, the alcohol helped to erect some padding to protect me from the onslaught of humanity.
And in my defense, in all the years of drinking (and I’m talking drinking to the point of getting royally drunk every night) I never had one serious, alcohol-related problem (aside from an occassional “open container” ticket). I didn’t get in barroom brawls or drunken car crashes or drunk tank scenes. I was basically just a happy drunk. And very controlled with my drinking, in a weird way. So again, I had every reason not to consider it a problem. In fact, drinking usually seemed more like a solution than a problem.
On top of that, so many of my favorite artists and writers and role models were raving drunks. Kerouac and Bukowski to name but two. Bukowski was as legendary for his drinking as he was for his writing. And he had a rather romanticized view of booze. “Alcohol saved my ass,” he often said. Alcohol helped him cool down, and live with, the demons that were always raging in his soul. Alcohol soothed him, somehow. Made his often wretched life bearable. “I’d be sitting there late at night at the typer, with a bottle of red wine and classical music on the box. And it was the best party in town,” said Bukowski. And I believe him. People paid money to read about Bukowski’s personal little parties.
But I was watching a documentary about Hunter S. Thompson the other night. And it gave me a different perspective on the “alcoholism” issue. Thompson was one of those guys who drank hard liquor (primarily whiskey) from the moment he woke up until he went to bed. For his whole life. Non-stop. One guy once described him; “His head was basically a bucket of cheap booze.” And not in a flattering way. Thompson had an image of PARTY!! PARTY!! FUN TIME!! But in truth he was a tortured, tormented soul. An unhappy and extremely angry man. The drugs and alcohol were more a symptom of his mental anguish than of “good times.” Anyways, in the documentary one of his former editors described Thompson’s mental and artistic deterioration over the years. Thompson was one of those writers who sort of peaked around age 30, and then it was mostly downhill for the rest of his life. “I think once you start drinking and drugging your mind stops growing, stops developing” said the editor.
Which certainly gave me pause.
I’m one of those guys who dabbled in “substances” for most of my life. And I’ve tried just about everything. Many of them more than once. Heh heh. There were only 5 years in my entire adult life when I was sober. From 1997 t0 2002. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that those were the happiest, highest and most productive years of my life. In truth, I haven’t really produced anything much of worth since then.
Part of me wants to quit drinking and straighten up my act. But part of me is afraid. That I need the alcohol. That I’ll crack up without it. That whatever demons I’m keeping at bay via the drinking will overwhelm me without the medicating effect of alcohol. Like someone in chronic pain who’s addicted to pain-killers. We all know the downside of pain-killers. But sometimes, the pain of this life can just drive you berzerk. So you make that devil’s bargain.