I went to the worst of bars hoping to get killed
The sure extinction that we travel to and shall be lost in always
This piece features a lot of people talking frankly about substance abuse so if that’s not something you’re in a position to read right now you can probably safely skip this one.
Maybe instead you can read these two previous pieces that are also a lot of fun.
I’ve been thinking again about conservatorship and guardianship in light of the Britney Spears stuff. I wrote about the practice earlier in the year after the movie I Care a Lot came out. It is indeed a kafkaesque nightmare most often perpetrated against the elderly.
Essentially how this all goes is that when an older person “can no longer take of themselves” — a very subjective concept ripe for abuse on its face — a guardian will be appointed by a court. Ideally this will be one of their children or someone who actually gives a shit about them. When such a person isn’t available — or even when they are and they can be successfully boxed out by someone amoral enough to do it like Parks in real life or Pike’s character in the film — a professional guardian will be granted control of the elder’s entire life at which point they will dump them in a care facility confused but often too scared to do much about it. And besides if they do happen to “go crazy” and cause too big of a stink during the ordeal of being uprooted and drugged and essentially imprisoned well then that’s just more evidence that they can’t care for themselves after all. This is all for the best the system says. Look how erratically they’re behaving. We’d hate for anything bad to happen to them.
After that I interviewed someone who works on these types of guardianship abuse cases for the state of Arizona.
“I’ve seen cases where guardians are drugging their wards, institutionalizing their wards, executing their wills not according to the wishes of the ward but just kind of where the guardian wants the money to go, and there's a paper trail along the way before anyone with oversight gets to them where the courts are just rubber stamping it all through and it's all been right there in plain sight. They approve it for years before there is a complaint that points investigators in the right direction. Then they spend so much time unravelling those years worth of shit for one guardian/business that everyone else doing similar garbage continues to get away with it because the state can't do 500,000 investigations at once. It's depressing and a bit Sisyphean.”
Both those pieces were previously just for paid-subscribers but I wanted to open them up to everyone now so you can be as red-assed as I am. By the way if you have been reading this newsletter for a while and getting something out of it I would appreciate it if you could chip in to support my work and also to help pay for the array of great contributors I am paying now. The next two pieces will be paid-only about the death penalty in South Carolina and a new draconian bill in Ohio that will devastate people who rely on SNAP benefits to survive.
If you’ve ever spent a lot of time at casinos you’ll know this feeling. You sit down at a table and immediately can tell it’s just got a real beat energy. But you stay anyway. You’re the unique and singular protagonist of reality after all and you’re going to break the spell.
You don’t of course. You lose instantly and consistently and the scowling Asian tourist next to you loses and the old lady with the oxygen tank smoking Kent Ultra Light 100s loses and the scary looking guy with the bored girlfriend wobbling in her heels behind him loses and the backwards sunglasses fishing trip profile pic looking ass guy loses but you all keep putting your chips in thinking something is going to change. Maybe you win a hand and your spirits are briefly buoyed but it doesn’t last. The reason you sat down in the first place even if you don’t know it or aren’t ready to admit it to yourself is that you wanted to lose and the voracious house is more than happy to oblige you in that endeavor. Its appetite is insatiable.
That’s what drinking or using drugs has become for a lot of us over the course of the pandemic and also at all times before that throughout history for that matter. The first sip is a roll of the dice or a shuffle of the cards and part of the excitement is in finding out what’s going to happen next even if you know logically that the odds are it’s going to be shit. Fuck it let’s find out anyway though. Are you going to be lifted albeit briefly into fleeting euphoria you spend the rest of the night running behind trying to catch up to or are you instead pouring yourself a cup of anger or shame or sadness. Sometimes all of those at once.
God I kind of want a drink right now. Not really but kind of.
I wrote briefly the other day about my thoughts of late on drinking and then wanting to die but not caring about the dying and not drinking and then being terrified of dying all the time without that armor of courage and indifference and that all probably sounds bad but don’t worry I’m also on a pretty good run of “taking it easy” the past couple weeks so I’m basically cured and will never experience disordered substance use ever again as long as I live if I understand correctly how this all works.
Basically something like this is how I feel about the prospect of dying.
by Phillip Larkin
I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.
Till then I see what’s really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.
Arid interrogation: yet the dread
Of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.
The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse
—The good not done, the love not given, time
Torn off unused—nor wretchedly because
An only life can take so long to climb
Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never;
But at the total emptiness for ever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.
This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
That vast moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,
And specious stuff that says No rational being
Can fear a thing it will not feel, not seeing
That this is what we fear—no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anaesthetic from which none come round.
And so it stays just on the edge of vision,
A small unfocused blur, a standing chill
That slows each impulse down to indecision.
Most things may never happen: this one will,
And realisation of it rages out
In furnace-fear when we are caught without
People or drink. Courage is no good:
It means not scaring others. Being brave
Lets no one off the grave.
Death is no different whined at than withstood.
Slowly light strengthens, and the room takes shape.
It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know,
Have always known, know that we can’t escape,
Yet can’t accept. One side will have to go.
Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring
In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring
Intricate rented world begins to rouse.
The sky is white as clay, with no sun.
Work has to be done.
Postmen like doctors go from house to house.
Then again Larkin was kind of a fascist piece of shit wasn’t he so now I don’t know who to trust. Maybe this guy? Nothing unsavory about him as far as I know.
The Suicide Kid
by Charles Bukowski
I went to the worst of bars
hoping to get
but all I could do was to
worse, the bar patrons even
there I was trying to get
pushed over the dark
and I ended up with
while somewhere else
son-of-a-bitch was in a hospital
tubes sticking out all over
as he fought like hell
nobody would help me
the drinks kept
as the next day
waited for me
with its steel clamps,
death doesn’t always
when you call
not even if you
from a shining
or from an ocean liner
or from the best bar
on earth (or the worst).
only makes the gods
ask me: I’m
Or how about this one?
The Absinthe Drinker
by Arthur Symons
Gently I wave the visible world away.
Far off, I hear a roar, afar yet near,
Far off and strange, a voice is in my ear,
And is the voice my own? the words I say
Fall strangely, like a dream, across the day;
And the dim sunshine is a dream. How clear,
New as the world to lovers' eyes, appear
The men and women passing on their way!
The world is very fair. The hours are all
Linked in a dance of mere forgetfulness.
I am at peace with God and man. O glide,
Sands of the hour-glass that I count not, fall
Serenely: scarce I feel your soft caress.
Rocked on this dreamy and indifferent tide.
“Sands of the hour-glass that I count not” due tend to fall when you’re drinking I have to agree. That right there is the shit I’m after. The grim march of time meaning nothing.
Thinking about all that reminded me I’ve been meaning to check back in with readers on how their addictive behaviors played out over the past year and a half or so. I did a piece like this a mere twelve days into lockdown last year which seems really fucking stupid in retrospect lol. Oh my god how is everyone holding up after not even two weeks of being inside! I was an idiot back then who knew nothing. We all were I suppose.
So here’s what a couple dozen people told me about drinking and using drugs. A surprising number of people talked about their dependence on weed. (Alex Berenson was right after all!!) Some of them came out of this better than before. Some didn’t. (Not that this is over by any stretch. In fact a few hundred people in America alone never mind everywhere else around the world are still dying every day from Covid but everyone is acting like it’s over and if enough people believe something it’s true I guess.) Thank you as always to everyone who shared. Sorry to the people that wrote really really long entries that I had to brutalize for space. This one is too long for email so you’ll have to read it in your browser I think.
I came down with Covid at the very start of all of this and lost my sense of taste and smell for months. (Smell is still not 100%). I stopped what had been a pretty steady bourbon or two a day habit during that entire period. No drinking at all for months, which is easily the longest I’ve gone without booze since I was probably 16. Since then I’ve made a conscious effort to go sober at least a couple days during the week.
My dog died during Covid and I ended up drinking a lot to cope and to give myself something fun to look forward to at the end of each workday. I gained ten pounds on top of ten pounds I was already trying to lose. But I also discovered race cycling and have become addicted to that. I lost ten pounds and am now trying to get better at it, and as a result I am drinking less and smoking more.
My drinking has gotten both better and worse. I went through really dark stretches where I drank more than I’ve ever done before. I’ve also gone 100 and 150 days without a drink, gaps which I hadn’t achieved since 2002. Having said all that most days are pretty bleak and a daily slog to get through.
I fell into the habit of drinking with dinner, then after dinner, all the way until thirty or so minutes before bed, at which point it was the booze knocking me out obviously. My sleep was getting real bad to the point where I'd need an hour nap to feel rested at some point during the day. I was snoring really bad too. I started dating someone in April of last year and she could hardly be in the same room with me when I slept. If I went 3 days without drinking that was a win in my book. So for all intents and purposes I was an alcoholic, I just justify that I wasn't by saying, hey, I don't wake up and drink. Hell, I wait until I have dinner or start cooking dinner to start drinking. It was on Thanksgiving when I got good and toasted and the next day had to take a two and a half hour nap just to feel human again that I said fuck this and stopped. I just stopped. To be fair I have gotten drunk a couple of times since then, but I realized that when I drank I couldn't regulate how much I drank so I decided to take the temptation out completely by abstaining. My sleep is way better.
During the pandemic my pot smoking went from a thing I enjoyed doing to an activity I’d do whenever I wasn’t working, so basically anytime after 4 during the week and all weekend if I can swing it. This frequency has not abated now since we can “go back to normal.” While my wife has been able to flip the switch from hermit to socialite immediately, I’m still slowly emerging into daylight, but it’s been tough. Lots of us have addiction/obsession issues and I’m no exception. Between this and vaping, I am essentially always inhaling/exhaling some substance while awake. Kind of weird how it dovetails with your constant thoughts on dying. Like I know I’m slowly/mediumly killing myself with my habits (waking up hacking a lung, etc) but also animals will eat themselves to death if given a chance, so I’m just another animal that knows better but is still powerless.
I’ve been listening to that Purple Mountains album (you shared the other day) a lot lately. So strange listening to those songs knowing he’d shortly kill himself, and I know it probably wasn’t intentional, but always read like an album-long suicide note. The dead know what they’re doing when they leave this world behind.
At first my drinking got a little worse with nowhere to go or no obligations. Drink. Sleep. Repeat.
Then I met a girl who hardly drank at all and we basically watched movies and cooked YouTube recipes together. I’ve been drinking way less. She’s been a positive influence for sure. I would like to continue that.
I remember this MASH episode, one of the ones where they do a mock-documentary, where B.J. Hunnicutt says, and I paraphrase, “Do we drink a lot? Not for Korea.”
Obviously, I'm not living through a war, but that's how I feel about my increased alcohol consumption during the pandemic. Do I drink a lot? Not if you made it through the pandemic.
I drank a lot —I leaned heavily into bourbon — and I drank for longer periods of the day. I was lucky to not lose my job but there wasn't a ton to do, so I wasn't adverse to making a whiskey soda for the daytime routine because so often that was just waiting, idly, for someone to email me.
I think when I can go back to work I'll stop drinking like I've been drinking. Right now it's both a demarcation between work and not-work (geographics being unchanged) and a way to just shut off everything. I haven't been able to read many books during the pandemic either, and I think part of that is that I have a very effective tool to shut off everything, and that might include curiosity.
I miss life without daily alcohol consumption because I miss life, but I don't feel very bad about how tightly I've allowed this snake to coil about my body. I think it's a bit of a deal I made with myself: I kept my job, I kept my marriage, and I kept my kid alive during the pandemic, and if I'd tried to do that without shutting myself down every day, I'd have gone mad. So alcohol shielded me.
I really miss it being a treat. Which maybe is a metaphor for the whole goddamn pandemic. I had to turn every comfort into a shield.
I haven't had any real impacts from the increased drinking, but I have been lying to friends about how much I'm drinking. So that's the thing I hate the most. I'm not being honest with people. When folks say, “Oh, I'm drinking more, I'm having a glass of wine every night now,” I'm like, “Yeah, me too,” but really I mean a bottle. Maybe they're also lying, maybe not, and maybe I don't owe them anything because it's not their business, and again there’s been no negative impacts to my life. Except that I'm not being honest, which is bad and causes dissociation. In these isolated times, I think that's the worst part: I'm already separated from so many people and I'm not being completely transparent about my coping mechanisms, which means that even the most genuine connections are limited and bound by my dishonesty.
I had a really bad first couple months with drinking, and then boomeranged around all summer before having a couple real bad physical and mental health scares in the fall. After that I started running and taking medication, and that helped get me through the election and the crippled holiday season, but the medication in particular went way south around the beginning of February and I had to stop taking it. (Seroquel is no joke, man). I was then leaning really heavily on edibles and kratom, with mixed results to say the least, but I have been able to reign in my drinking and change things in a big way the past few months courtesy of a family friend turning me on to microdosing. And, like, I know, I know, but it really works, man! At least it has for me. Like a tenth of a gram or less of this mushroom chocolate, basically nothing, but after a couple weeks I felt a lot different, and steadily so, no big waves or crashes, and with staying up on therapy I was able to get into a mindspace I can comfortably inhabit, dealing with past emotional traumas and coming into the person I've always known myself to be but couldn't ever quite become if that makes sense? And it's not an everyday thing, just a few times a week, at night, after the kids go down. I don't drink when I do it either, and have stayed very disciplined on that. It's like letting my brain and my mind kick their feet up after a long day, but not in a way that separates me from reality or will reverberate in the morning.
The pandemic ruined me in terms of my drinking. I’ve always loved drinking and had fun. I never went crazy or anything, but I’ve always been an addict to it as a coping skill for all the crap in life. The pandemic took my life away: the music and shows. My habit developed into me ending up with borderline cirrhosis. My levels are fine now thankfully. I was suffering from withdrawal seizures which are terrifying. I had gone in and out of detox facilities, a 30 day stay in a sober home while attending an intensive outpatient treatment, and going to AA. Well that still didn’t stop me and I relapsed very hard to where my family tried to section 35 me. That didn’t go through but I still kept drinking. It wound up to the point where I was threatened by my sister that she would try to section me again unless I willingly go to rehab. So I spent an entire month in rehab. I’ve been sober now for 50 days and I’m in various therapies 4 days a week as well as AA or NA meetings.
Drinking definitely became a daily feature early on during Covid. I was used to going out several times a week, and when that stopped every day became the same and every night followed suit: The wife and I cooking dinner, watching TV and drinking. Every night.
I was sober for about four years, and then late last year I moved home to help my grandma before we finally put her in a home. Staying with mom and dad after, who are both older and at risk, I stopped being able to do much of anything in order to protect them except sit on the neighbor’s porch. I soon found us killing a case of Natty Lite a night.
Being back home, where all my old vices are easily in reach, and watching the woman I thought I loved be in an emotionally abusive relationship, I’ve been doing blow a few times a week too and smoking weed everyday. I even ran into some acid last week and bought it up. It’s still in my pocket right now. It’s been a long time since I’ve done that.
So the shit’s not been great. Like every other American I work too much for too little and that clearly doesn’t help. Um probably don’t use my name if you use this, since I’d get shit canned for being on drugs, which is ironic because it’s weed that gets me through a day.
Pretty early into lockdown I stopped buying vodka and switched to beer, then eventually cut it down to just non-work nights. Mostly. I realized pretty quickly that my job was taking advantage of the work from home/live at work dichotomy and the itch to “force” being off the clock by getting buzzed was going to need to be tempered a little bit. I did quit smoking weed entirely though, because lockdown supercharged my anxiety. I realized about a month or two in I was just giving myself panic attacks when I got high despite being a pretty regular user for about a decade. Which is a bummer since I definitely developed a bit of a case of agoraphobia over the last year. I was always a homebody, but being fully justified in staying home as much as possible and no regular trips out to go to an office really did a number on my brain. Goodbye pot, hello SSRIs I guess.
My partner and I were both bartenders (her full time, me part-time alongside an office job) so we very rarely had booze in the house or drank at home. In the first two months, once we all got sent home from the office, I was transitioning from one role to another role internally, so I was doing something close to 12 hour days at a Covid-induced 80 percent salary. Almost immediately I would signal the end of the day by drinking three or four beers a night then eating a THC gummy, getting high and going to sleep.
Once the end of April rolled around, I went completely sober because we brought home our first child and I was equally afraid of “having to go to the emergency room stoned or drunk” and “being stoned or drunk and fumbling the baby.” So now I rarely ever have more than one or two beers a couple times a week, but that's mostly because parenting a toddler when you've got a hangover is fuckin miserable.
I don’t drink anymore because drinking for me was always social (especially if I was “socially” overdoing it) and my experience in the hospital during Covid left me with bad social anxiety. I’ve replaced those endorphins mostly with exercising to the point of exhaustion. Not “healthy” at all but I am losing weight, so who’s to say what’s good or bad for me.
I actually found myself drinking less during Covid. During the early days, the idea of doing anything that would make me not feel good in the morning would only add to my paranoia. Instead I turned to weed. After avoiding all substances for the first few weeks of stress I started smoking for a little mood boost/help sleeping. It was great. I laughed, every reality show my wife turned on seemed Shakespearean, and I slept like a baby. Now we’re mostly on the other side and weed is like my safety blanket. I get so nervous about not being able to sleep if I don’t smoke that I start stressing hours before bedtime. I kept telling myself that it was good, that I’m like enlightened because I’m doing it in my own yard and not the basement of a frat party. Like, I’ve always been uptight but am now embracing my inner hippy. But it’s also a crutch that I’m still working on how to navigate. Ultimately I think it’s good I drink less. I’m just working on a post-pandemic weed balance
I'm drinking more frequently at home, but that's because I'm not going out to restaurants or bars. It's nice to not have to worry about getting home, but I miss the social aspect obviously. My husband and I have learned how to make increasingly complex cocktails, which is something I never bothered with before because it meant sourcing the ingredients and learning to make something I could get at a bar.
My drinking spiked at the beginning. Having a drink at the end of the workday was the best way to transition to “home time” after a shift when all I did was change seats on the couch. Then a call to my parents reminded me that I come by alcoholic tendencies honestly and I needed to cut that shit before it got out of hand. So instead I just bought shit online to feel better. Now I have a stand mixer.
When my kid's school closed back in March of 2020, due to Covid, I told my family I wouldn't drink alcohol until the pandemic was over. I wanted to place myself 'on call' in case I needed to take anyone (namely my 80 year old dad) to the hospital, if the virus hit home. Admittedly, I thought back then that my pause in imbibing would only be a 'dry' month situation. 15 months later, I am still staying the course. I did have a couple shots recently though...in my arm
I've actually been drinking a lot less, which does make sense because it's long been my way of self-medicating my social anxiety.
My food addiction got worse in the form of me just hoarding food; buying too much food to begin with and cooking a lot as a comfort measure/thing to do. Drinking took a nosedive for me. I just haven’t been interested.
I have absolutely become mentally addicted to weed in the last year and a half. It's not ruining my life or anything but I haven't been able to take a tolerance break more than 3 or 4 days when I always intend for them to be 2-3 weeks.
I've been a heavy drinker since I was a teenager and discovered beer and partying. I grew up in a stoic New England family that was also a stoic traditional Scandinavian family, so I had the double-whammy of emotional repression. On top of that, I enlisted in the Army Rangers (four days before 9/11) and was immersed in that culture, which I will argue overall actually made me a much better person by the regiment's culture of personal sacrifice, unconditional trust and putting your Ranger comrades first. It actually made me a Communist, which I doubt was the desired result, but also rewarded my repression and natural ability to endure physical, emotional, and mental pain. Yeah, yeah, I was an elite stormtrooper for empire and I'm appropriately guilty about it, but in my defense I did desert in protest when we declared the Iraq invasion because choosing between betraying my Ranger brothers and knowingly murdering innocent Iraqis wasn't really a choice at all. I would hate myself for the rest of my life either way, but at least I'm not a war criminal.
All of this is to say I was the most repressed, un-self aware, emotionally stunted and guilt-ridden person I've ever met until very recently, and drinking was the only way I had to mitigate that. Drinking helped me feel the positive emotions I couldn't feel sober, or could only feel distantly. It made me let go of my guilt, temporarily. It was the only time I didn't fucking despise myself.
So obviously, I drank A LOT. And why not, right? I felt like a real person, and I was honestly way nicer drunk than sober. Sober me was cold and distant and bitter. All that shit that alcohol did was exactly what I wanted and I couldn't bring out of myself without booze. Obviously, the longer I used booze as a crutch, the less well it worked. I started being bitter and feeling the negative emotions that depression and my repressive socialization kept me from feeling. Not a lot, at first — I was usually still having a great time — but enough that I noticed. And being me, I ignored it and stuffed it down where all those other feelings went and kept going, and alcohol kept being less of a reliable good time and more of a crap shoot. I developed crippling anxiety disorder literally overnight (my guess is the idiotic tactic of repressing any uncomfortable feelings created an untenable mental framework to support it that finally collapsed), and that made me lean on booze even more, because it was literally the only thing I could get that gave me any relief from the constant, gnawing pain of anxiety. I eventually sought psychological help, got treatment and meds and cut my drinking by a huge amount. I took a few months off every spring to lose the winter beer weight and make sure that I could cut that shit out with no ill effects, which I could. Never had any sort of withdrawals or cravings, at least not more of a craving than you might get for a taco or whatever.
Now, finally (I know, I'm sorry) we reach the pandemic. I'd been out as trans for a good while at that point (unsurprisingly, it took the world's least introspective girl an embarrassingly long time to put that fuckin puzzle together), which was good, but my emotional illiteracy and obliviousness (and heavy drinking too, I assume) cost me the love of my life and all my plans for the future, which was uh not good. I have a severely fucked respiratory system, so my pandemic was solitary confinement or death, essentially, but also being alone with my thoughts is the worst place I can be. I started drinking harder and harder to cope with the loneliness, and the abject evil on display across the country (as seen in your fine newsletter), until I was putting away a truly alarming amount of vodka seltzers pretty much every day. The nights weren't so bad, because even if I fell into a black mood or a rage, I felt something. Something other than despair. It was the mornings after that did it. I've never had hangovers in the traditional sense; it took a truly stupendous night of drinking and not bothering to hydrate for me to ever get so much as a mild headache. But I started to wake up in the absolute most agonizing, bleak hopelessness and despair as my worst, deepest depressive episodes. Eventually I had enough, I was hardly ever getting the enjoyable parts of drinking and I was as miserable as I've ever been. So last summer I just stopped drinking. It was easy, just as easy as my spring breaks had been in the past. No withdrawal symptoms, no negative effects whatsoever, unless you consider smoking way more weed a negative (it is not).
On the other hand, it didn't make much of a positive difference either. I didn't have that regular morning despair, but I still had equally horrible depressive periods, and they lasted longer and got worse as the pandemic went on. I was not happier, I was not doing better in any way mentally except that my depressive episodes were now not scheduled, they were walk-in tables for abject fucking misery. And I didn't have those occasional nights when drinking made me feel warm and silly and fun and some faint facsimile of joy. The only positive thing I can say with certainty that it did was help me lose a ton of weight and get even more attractive, and honestly I was probably vain enough already and it's not like I was getting laid so that was a hollow comfort.
I got drunk for the first time in almost a year on Friday at a gallery showing with an open bar. They had kick-ass microbrews, it was the first real event I'd been to since getting vaxxed up and I just figured fuck it. I never intended to become a teetotaler, and I'd celebrated my freedom a couple weeks earlier with one beer at my fave bar with my ex, and a couple glasses of wine when I had her over for dinner one night, but I didn't get a buzz or anything. This was a big social event and I wanted to have a great time. And I did! I reconnected with people I haven't seen in years, one of whom has a volunteer position for me at a criminal justice reform nonprofit where I can actually help people and fight the carceral state. I did dabs and made out with a hot hippie girl in the secluded third floor bathroom and got her number. And when I got home, the cute couple who just moved in next door were having dinner outside and I had the sass to stroll up and say "heeeeyyyy, I'm your cute neighbor and you're the cute couple that just moved in! We should be friends, let's hang!" And god damn if we didn't do exactly that. We grabbed some extra beer and hung at my place, taking turns playing our fave indie rock songs, laughing and arguing about different bands until god knows when. Their dog pissed on my carpet. It was fucking awesome. None of that happens without drinking those beers, I guarantee it.
Am I endorsing drinking here? Not really but kinda? I'm absolutely never going back to sitting alone getting hammered every night, but I will absolutely have as many drinks as I want when there's an event or whatever like last weekend, which was the only truly good day I've had since long before the pandemic. The leftover beers we bought are in my fridge and I might see if my new friends wanna come hang on my patio and help finish those beers while I grill us dinner. Is that bad? I don't know and more importantly I don't care. I think it's going to be a very nice time. And to be honest, the only reason I've decided to get drunk on a very occasional basis is because I look so fucking good with all that booze weight gone. It's not like quitting made me want to die every second of every day any less than I did when I was drinking.
As for addictive behavior, I was lucky enough to have a close friend in the same apartment building who took this as seriously (if not more so) than I did. So I did have one constant companion throughout who wasn't like, guilting me into going to their wedding where everyone gets the bug or dropping by unannounced, unmasked and unvaxed to see the grandkids like horror stories I've heard. And they were very gracious about my essentially moving in, Kramer-like, because their apartment was nicer than mine. But there was literally nothing else to do but sit on a couch and drink and watch TV with them.
My consumption has gone way way up because I have had 3 or 4 every day for 14 months, as opposed to the old times when I'd pound like 7-10 on the weekends, even as I've gone from regularly processing the self loathing misery of a hangover every week to having maybe 2 hangovers all year? My family has a history of alcoholism so, and this might sound weird and maybe it's just rationalization, having gone through the young binger and the oldster constant alone-drinking phases of consumption and managed to keep my shit together, I'm pretty sure the gene missed me.
I had some leftover mushrooms a few times back in I wanna say Oct 2020, but if you're ever in the situation to take hallucinogens that make you introspective and brutally honest with yourself, I can't recommend strongly enough *against* doing them a half year into near total isolation with no end in sight, having broken up with a long-term s.o. you haven't seen in almost a year, watching every promising political development from presidential electoral politics to grassroots counter-policing be successfully stifled, and having convinced yourself (I still kinda am, despite the stonks' evidence to the contrary) that a Great Depression 2 is around the corner.
Anyway it's not so much an addiction but it is the bad brain chemicals that most interfere with my life. It’s a tendency to depression (no shit, right?) and introversion. In terms of angst and anxiety I feel like quarantine was easier for me than other people because all I had to do was switch my brain off, sit on a couch inside, watch TV, and let life fast forward on by me. You know, the whole thing I've spent my life struggling NOT to just do until the grave. Now I need to shake off an overriding personal tendency and reestablish the contrary good habits I spent my life working on and let die as a survival strategy. You know how when you see a friend's kids every couple weeks or months and it's like watching a time-lapse of a flower growing? Well the infinite instant of quarantine means I went from being early 30s, still legitimately kidding myself I'm young, to a late 30s person who's instantaneously tacked on 2 years of unavoidable physical decline. Plus I've barely exercised beyond jogging, so I'm also weaker and more injury prone than I was previously and would have been at this age without quar-atrophy. In the last 3 months I cracked a rib goofing like I used to be able to get away with, and sprained a joint hopping right back into Jiu Jitsu with a Summer of George body. Plus a hand surgery I'd been putting off. I'm a goddamn Hellraiser villain, just a mantle of pain.
I got sober over the pandemic. Alcohol free since 10/1 with a few blips, including St. Patrick’s Day. How fucking cliché? It’s been 30 days today. Also I met the love of my life, then almost lost him. Twice. I landed my dream job. Almost lost that. Just once.
I drink exactly two glasses of red wine every single night and I love it. I’ve been doing this for ages but the only thing that changed re: Covid in this regard is that I stopped feeling bad about drinking every day and just embraced it. I used to feel guilty or worried about it, but now I feel like 2 glasses of red wine is not that bad of a vice and my new thing is just not sweating it. I will say that during Covid I have found I look forward to the wine more than usual and kind of fetishize it more than normal, which is probably a symptom of mental unwellness, but again I’m not going to worry about it.
Two years ago this month my wife returned from a group adventure trek in South America and revealed that she had cheated on me with her tour guide.
As my life was in shambles and I was clambering about trying to figure out what was happening we went into couples therapy almost immediately upon her return. In retrospect, this was probably too tough on me. I was still coping and sad when we started exploring the details of our relationship and finding weaknesses that we needed to address. We were attending therapy due to her actions but I was being asked to take some accountability in our own relationship. It was impossible for me not to blame myself when I was a bleary-eyed wreck scrambling for answers, the causation/correlation didn't register with me and all I knew was that my entire world had changed and here I was in a couples therapist's office, of course I thought I was at least partially at fault.
We continued to work in couples therapy with my wife also going to a therapist regularly to untangle her issues. It was mostly going well and (imagine this) therapy actually sorta works! Eight months later the pandemic hit and everyone's world changed. My wife and I are fortunate enough to have roles where we have the ability to work from home, so after being chased out of the office last March I've been here ever since.
So it's March 2020 and now I'm mostly confined in a small house with my wife. The daily separation via our work lives isn't an option any longer, so I take to going on walks in the afternoon. The walks are long, 90+ minutes, as I listen to music or some sort of “remember this pop culture thing” podcast to take my mind off of literally Hell World. Pretty early on I’d grab a beer for the walk (always concealed with a coozie because fuck the cops); within a couple of months I was taking four beers with me at a time for my walk. Literally just stuffing cans of beer in pants pockets or rain coats before I walked out the garage door so I could turn off my brain. Then I would come back from my time away and continue to have a few beers in the evening and with dinner. It's an everyday occurence and the only thing I feel that I have control over to make myself feel better.
Now it's May 2021 and I'm fully vaxxed and head to my GP for my annual physical with all the usual poking and liquid collecting. As my test results trickle in that day via the dumb phone app I get one message from my doctor titled “Liver tests.” He tells me that several of my liver tests are high AST/SGOT and ALT/SGPT (I still don't know what those stand for and I don't care) and that this means my liver is being damaged and these chemicals are leaking out. He tells me to stop drinking immediately and reschedule another blood test in four weeks.
I discontinued using alcohol cold turkey and went in for my four week recheck yesterday. My blood pressure was sky high as a combination of fear, embarrassment and sadness have all taken hold in the wake of this sobering (heh) news. While asking if I had effects from quitting I admitted to my doctor the whole background as described above, acknowledging that I was obviously self-medicating. In the past four weeks I've collected a number of therapist contacts for myself as I know I should begin counseling.
Last night my blood tests for my liver came back as normal. I'm fortunate the liver is a resilient organ. When I received the results my wife and I both cried a bunch of happy, yet sad, tears as I'm grateful that there's no apparent permanent damage but with the knowledge that it was self-inflicted due to my inability to access my own feelings the last 15 months. Our marriage is in a good spot now but I have to admit that I haven't done all of the necessary work on my end. “She's the one that fucked some other dude, why should I have to go to therapy?” obviously wasn't the correct path to take here.
Due to the results coming in late yesterday it's unclear if I'm now resigned to being a teetotaler or if there is room for moderation. Once I get all of my questions answered by the doctor I'll start the excruciating task of trying to get a therapist, which is a whole other shit stream to sift through, dealing with insurance coverage and unresponsive inquiries. It's pretty awful that there are these barricades for help and I'm in a good position socially and financially. I can't imagine what it's like for someone not as fortunate as me.
During the pandemic my weed smoking habit and my drinking, which were both already somewhat untenable habits, absolutely exploded. I was going through a handle of whiskey per week—which I’ve only done once before in my life, during one of the most depressed stretches I’ve ever had.
So, I drink. And then when I was locked inside for a year, I drank a lot more. Pre-pandemic for about six months I cleaned up my drinking habit, went for a month without drinking, and never had it in the house. I got happier and healthier and lost some weight. But I had already been diagnosed with diverticulitis (in my early 30s, not very good!) after spending two weeks in considerable abdominal pain and I was constipated and scared that my intestines were blocked or something, and it took an ER trip with a CT scan and IV fluids and heavy, heavy antibiotics to get over that first attack. Then I had two more within a year and I got my colon resected, yet another medical bill that I have not paid. I also had a previous injury from working in restaurants, a herniated L5S1 disc, which caused painful sciatica for ten years until my leg was almost always tingling or half-numb or spasming or screaming with nerve pain. So then I had another surgery, during the pandemic.
So when the CDC told us to stay inside indefinitely and stay away from other people and all that, I just drank. Whiskey sours, whiskey shots, whiskey with beer or wine, sometimes I’d finish the whiskey and then drink my dad’s vodka. Blacked out a couple times on late night zoom chats with friends who thought I was funny but they were also very worried about me. I was popping gabapentin for the nerve pain, sometimes Flexeril, and I take klonopin every night for insomnia and anxiety, so you can imagine the assault of substances that my liver somehow endured. I don’t know. But I do know that I will die someday, of course, as we all will, every one of us who went through this pandemic and are still going through it, and I’ll probably get liver cancer or something like that.
Then there’s weed. I’ve smoked weed every single day, with a few breaks here and there, since I was 18 because I was incredibly depressed. Weed is an excellent mental numbing agent that doesn’t destroy your body and mind like alcohol does, but I always did both. Both at once, usually. Like I’ve read before, when you are in constant pain and anguish, when bills are racking up at exponential rates and your pay hasn’t increased in a long time (thankfully I have a salary job with benefits now) and the cost of living simply keeps rising, whiskey or vodka or whatever your poison is is the only way to deal with it in the moment. To forget about it, to say “fuck it” or whatever. So I spent the first 3-6 months of the pandemic completely destroying my brain so that I wouldn’t have to think about any of it. Of course social media is a terrible thing that made it all worse, especially because I am a leftist, and of course the news was simply awful every goddamn day, so why not drink even though you will feel like absolute garbage in the morning? You stop caring about feeling like garbage, and you start caring much more about numbness and burying emotions and simply not dealing with the hellish things of which your life is chock full.
Once I got vaccinated and I could see my friends and family again, and maybe even try dating, I decided to quit weed completely for the first time in my life. I’m going through that right now, it’s day 12 I think of sobriety (from weed, I still drink, but only a few times a week and not many drinks when I do), and the withdrawals when you smoke weed for that long are absolutely nuts. It’s not like you’ve been smoking most days for a few weeks and you decide to stop and have a few bad nights of sleep and lose some of your appetite. It’s like, you’re up at 4:30 AM talking to yourself about not going back to the weed store while eating triscuits in your dark living room, staring out the window at the empty street. Eventually your eyes can’t take being open for that long so even if I didn’t sleep, I’d go to bed just to be in the darkness, with my eyes closed, my body prone and on a comfortable surface. I’ve lived on triscuits and cheese and ramen soup and mac and cheese and whatever other cheap food I can eat fast during all this. My body temperature feels like it fluctuates a lot because I get hot flashes and chills. I take huge amounts of CBD to try and feed other types of cannabinoids into my brain to help out, and it does—I can still eat, I’m getting sleep, even though I’m running a massive sleep deficit which is throwing me into depression, and it makes me not even want to leave my apartment for a walk in the park or drinks in a bar with friends now that we can do that mostly safely.
So, that’s my addiction in a nutshell. Thankfully I don’t drink like that anymore. I come from a long, long line of alcoholics and I know that alcohol abuse becomes genetic and most times when I drink I find it very hard to stop. I’m getting better at that, though, because right now I mostly drink at bars and I don’t have enough money to run up a tab. A few beers, maybe a shot, or maybe a couple glasses of wine. Socializing helps so much because I don’t talk much about my addiction other than my friends asking how I’m doing and saying that they support me and will always, always be there for me and they hug me tight and long and sometimes it makes me want to cry how wonderful my friends are to me. We’re like a little family but except without the bullshit of family (even though I love my family and I’ve had my rough times with them during the pandemic, even a reckoning over past differences, but we get along very very well right now), and I cannot imagine actually surviving all of this—not just the pandemic, but the last ten years of my life—without their love. My friends have saved my life so many times. So has my brother, who despite our differences in opinions and personalities is my best friend. But I feel like I have like, five best friends, and then friends beyond that who are very close friends, and the love is so palpable and real that it hits you like walking out into the cool night after a sweltering day, walking among the trees or laying in the grass to look at stars and remember how beautiful it is to be alive.