November 12, 2019 § 17 Comments
I have wanted a drink since I quit drinking, November-the-something, five years ago. Five long years.
Back in August I was walking down the street in Vienna and I started shaking. My stomach was bare and I wanted a drink.
One of my friends had said to me when I embarked on this particular journey, “You can’t white-knuckle it. Eventually you’re going to break.” He knew what he was talking about; he’d been in AA for more than twenty years.
Ever since going on the wagon, my favorite part of the grocery store has been the beer aisle. I’ll walk down it and gaze longingly, lovingly, lustily, greedily, at the pretty cans and bottles of beer. I’ll read their labels, examine how they’re set in the cooler, I’ll even read their prices.
Most of all, I’ll imagine how they taste, and when I slip into that brief moment, I’m transported.
It all ends when I get to the end of the aisle, though, because I know. Down that aisle lies pleasure and joy and relief, but it is also seeded with death. I escaped it once, I remind myself. Not going to be so lucky next time.
But it was next time, that warm evening in Vienna. No one was ever going to know, and I wanted a beer so badly that like I said, I was shaking.
“Fuck it,” I growled, brimming with defiance. “I’m going to have a beer. JUST ONE.”
My whole attitude changed. It was no big deal. I could handle this. It had been almost five years. It was just a bottle of beer. I’d have one and be done. Really, Seth. No big deal.
No big deal? Then why was I so frenziedly happy? I trawled the sausage section and picked out the perfect spicy salami; Austria is nothing if not sausage heaven. Then I grabbed a block of pure Austrian butter and a loaf of thick rye bread to slather it on. My mouth watered.
Finally I got to the beer aisle. Compared to California, it was an impoverished place, with only a couple of craft beers, neither of which looked too crafty. But I studied each bottle and can, trying to figure out which one would have the best combination of high alcohol content and good taste. I settled on the red and brown bottle, a Stiegl.
I bought it and took it home, set it on the desk, unwrapped the bread and butter and salami, and then almost tore my hand off trying to get the bottle open.
The beer gurgled and foamed as it reached the brim of the cup, filling the room with the world’s best smell. I savored it, and then I dove in, headfirst, with all my clothes on. It was everything I thought it was going to be, only more, and better. Every cell in my body screamed “Welcome, old friend!” as the cold beer drained down my throat into my stomach.
I set the empty plastic cup down, giddy, then refilled it.
In between mouthfuls, I slowly worked on that bottle of beer, until about ten minutes in the buzz came. It hit like a soft ripple and built into a strengthening wave. I could feel the circuits switching off, things that hurt didn’t hurt anymore, the blood stanched, the wounds healed.
“How I have missed you,” I thought as the numbness spread.
But then a strange thing happened as I sat there, mildly drunk. I took another sip and it just tasted sour. Sour, rotten water in a cup that someone had pissed in first and topped off with bile.
“That’s odd,” I thought, and cut another thick slice of bread. I ate the whole slab and looked at the bottle, which was still one-third full. I raised the cup again to my lips and it was even more sour. I felt like I wanted to puke.
I pushed my chair back and looked out the window. The pleasant numbness wasn’t pleasant anymore. “I want my mind back,” I mused. “Such as it is.”
I finished the dinner but not the beer. I watched, disinterestedly, as the remnants of the bottle swirled down the sink in the bathroom. The next day I was fine, and sooth to say, a little proud of myself. Sometimes it’s not enough to quit. You also have to know.
I don’t walk down the beer aisle anymore.
December 29, 2014 § 58 Comments
Since swearing off beer I’ve gotten a handful of messages and emails from friends who are also struggling with alcoholism. It occurred to me that I’m not the only one trying to find the season’s “merry and bright” while simultaneously fighting off the urge to get shit-faced drunk. Cycling has its share of alcoholics, and although I first thought that it was related to the intense, addictive quality of biking, the more I look around the more it seems like the world is chock full of drunks. My cycling friends are just more open about it.
The worst part has been the physical and emotional withdrawal, or that’s how it seemed, when going cold turkey plunged me into depression combined with intense craving. However, after three weeks of that hell, a good friend who’s been successfully fighting addiction for 25 years told me that that the hardest part isn’t quitting, it’s “staying quit.” How right he was.
The best part has been people reaching out. There are lots of recovering alcoholics out there, and it didn’t take me more than a few days to realize that “one day at a time” wasn’t going to cut it for me. In my case a day is waaaaay to long. Half a day at a time? One morning at a time? Nope, and nope. I’ve refined to something much more immediate: “I’m not having a drink now.”
I’ve also beefed it up with a promise to myself. Although I’m trying to quit outside of organizational help, the minute a taste of alcohol crosses my lips, I’m heading straight to AA. In other words, this is the first step, and it’s likely to fail, so I’ve got a Plan B.
Of course the only thing that really matters with regard to sobriety is this: “Has it helped your cycling?” In my case, no, but that’s because a lifetime of data has conclusively shown that nothing will ever help my cycling. Perhaps a better question might be, “Is your cycling any different as a result?” and the answer to that is “Definitely.”
First, I’ve lost three pounds. These are real pounds, not water goop loss. This has affected my cycling because my jerseys don’t make my tummy pooch out as much as they used to. It’s nice to think that over time, abstinence may help me go from looking like a reasonably malnourished person to one suffering from disease.
Second, when I need to run down to the bike shop in the evening — that’s any time after about 3:00 PM — I can, because I don’t have to worry about getting a DUI. It’s nice not being homebound at age 51!
Third, I’ve been able to shift beer money into cycling purchases. For the first time ever I’m riding full carbon wheels. Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh!
Last, and most importantly, I’m engaging in dialogue with fellow cyclists who are at different points along the same path. Some have offered guidance and let me know that whatever I need, whenever I need it, they’re going to be there for me. Others have asked for help, which is tough because I don’t have much in the way of answers except this: We’re going through the same thing, and to succeed you’ll need people around you to help you succeed. Flipping this switch from the inside, and keeping it flipped by myself, is too hard … at least for me.
Over the next few days the New Year merriment will be beckoning, and as I’m fond of telling myself, I may well have a drink. Maybe you will, too. But hopefully not right now.
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December 7, 2014 § 34 Comments
Newsflash: It’s damned hard to quit drinking.
In addition to all of the other wonderful symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, after putting down the beer mug for a couple of days everything starts to look like a tall, frothy, Racer 5 IPA. My coffee. The bike stand. The toilet bowl. That street person pushing a cart and asking me for a dollar. They say that all of this has to do with the fact that I’m an addict, but that’s not true.
I’m not an addict, I’m a drunk. Addicts are people who have a handle on the fact that they’re addicted, whereas a drunk is just a deadbeat who can’t stay out of the gutter. Drunks have to work really hard, up their game, and get their self-awareness going in order to graduate to addict level. So AA is out for me; I can see my first meeting already.
Head addict (after my 57th meeting): “So, would you like to say something?”
Me: “Yeah. I got a question.”
Head addict: “Go ahead.”
Me: “How come I’m hanging out with all you addicts?”
So I’ve pretty much despaired of improving enough to reach addict status. There are some dark curtains that I just can’t bear to peek behind. Instead, I’ve decided to simply stop being such a worthless fuggin’ drunk, and, as noted above, it’s hard. However, I’m developing some workarounds and am laying them out here in the event they might be useful for someone out there, in other words, for me.
First, since I don’t think I’ll ever get my act together enough to become an addict, my goal isn’t to quit drinking. To the contrary, my goal is to drink, and to drink four shit-tons and half an assload. I’m making plans to drink so much beer that it will make all prior bad decisions, terrible hangovers, and legendary family embarrassments look like Drosophila malanogaster compared to the Death Star.
That’s not all, that’s just the start. After I descend into the endless drunk from hell I’m going to really turn up the gas by going on a 14-day bender. I pledge to start drinking as soon as I get up and to not stop until I’m in jail or dead or both. People will say in later years when someone’s bragging to them about the night before, “Yeah, sounds like you pulled a Wanky.” It will be the gold standard for self-destructive, alcohol-addled misbehavior resulting in the devastation of entire city blocks.
However, in order to pull this off I need to get into training, and as cyclists all know, training requires a kind of committed asceticism. In other words, to do this with maximum effect I need to completely detox and purify my body so that I can hit it when it’s defenseless and unable to respond, kind of like when I show up and register at those kiddie races and whip ass on all the three- and four-year-olds. This phase of the plan is already working, but it’s going to take time get really clean enough for this maxi-bender to have maximum effect. A long time.
Second, while I’m purifying my body, which is my temple, before I pillage and ransack it, I’m setting a clear and immoveable date for this off-wagon leap which will be longer, deeper, farther, and atop more nuclear-tipped land mines than any wagon-offloading in the history of drinking. The date for this? Tomorrow.
Third, in order to make this as spectacular as possible, I’m taking a vow to not have a drop of beer today. In fact, following through on that very simple vow has been difficult since I took it a couple of weeks ago, especially since I’m such a dedicated liar, and especially since the oath was sworn to myself, the person who I can most easily deceive and never be the wiser. Yet as I get through each today without a drink it only prepares me better for the glory and happiness that awaits me tomorrow, when I’m gonna drink all the beer in the South Bay as my fuggin’ warm-up.
Fourth, the only way to keep from drinking today is by relying on friends, and they’ve responded in a variety of subtle and overt ways. Some have texted, some have Facebagged, some have called, some have come over in person. Some have joked, some have spoken in earnest, some have shared their experiences, some have encouraged, some have challenged, some have implored. Today a buddy offered this with regard to hanging out in bars–“If you spend enough time in a barbershop, you’re eventually gonna get a haircut.”
Each and every friend has made my resolve strong enough to do the only thing I have to do before I go on my bender: Not have a beer today.
While I was riding yesterday and complaining about how everything looked like a yummy IPA, including the Pacific Ocean over on our left, my buddy was telling me about his Thanksgiving in Ohio, about all the great food, and about what a good time he’d had.
“They have a ton of great craft beer in the Midwest,” I said.
He looked at me. “You know what they have in the Midwest?”
“They have a ton of great craft water. Really good stuff, hand brewed, various flavors and varieties, and it goes great with pretty much everything you’ll ever eat.”
“Yeah,” he said, peering steadily at me. “Craft water. And that’s what you need to develop a taste for.”
The ride continued for a few hours until we were both extremely tired and hungry. As we rolled through Abbott-Kinney we could smell the food. “Man, I’m hungry.”
“Me, too,” he said.
“And I’m thirsty,” I said.
Then I broke. “Dude, I’m gonna pull over and have a beer.” I fell apart just like that, all the miserably hard work and effort and fatigue and irritableness and depression lunging up in ecstatic happiness as I contemplated my first cold beer.
My buddy looked over at me. “No, you’re not. Not on my watch.”
We continued home, so it looks like I’ve ticked another today off the calendar. And in the meantime, please pass the craft water, the one with hints of minerals, overtones of PVC pipe, and a slightly arsenic-y finish. Yum.
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