The first drink had few consequences. Sure there was the dry mouth and the shards of glass rattling around in my brain the next morning. But that cleared up relatively quickly. I didn’t drink again for a year.
The second drink was a few shots of gin before high school wrestling practice. My coach asked me if I had imbibed. I lied. Lies and liquor went hand in hand. He let it slide. No real consequences except forfeiting some integrity. I was selling myself so short in that department with or without booze that one more lie hardly seemed to matter. It would be six more years before I drank again.
The third drink? Well I had been doing a slow tango with the idea of taking that drink for months. Drugs, not alcohol, had gotten me kicked out of high school many years prior. I changed playgrounds and playmates and stayed dry for more than half a decade. For most of that time neither drugs nor alcohol held any appeal. But then the dance started.
For the first few stanzas I held my ground. Lady Alcohol moved gracefully across the stage of my mind. She was coy, rarely looking my way. She just danced a slow, seductive dance. Only when she caught me stealing a glance did she beckon—a nearly imperceptible flick of her outstretched hand as she moved in closer.
Every move she made suggested ease, comfort, and an end to obsessive fears and worries. I was transfixed. I pulled her close. I lived that drink a thousand times before finding myself in a dingy alley running parallel to the main drag to the Los Angeles International Airport. A quick stop at a rundown liquor store and a half-pint of who-knows-what in my hand. In no time a feeling of warmth and well-being was gliding down my throat.
As the last drop of in the bottle was downed, I heard a subtle clank of an iron cuff and the click of a lock. I paid it little heed. I just settled in to enjoy my buzz. Little did I realize that the ball and chain of mental obsession had been fastened to my ankle and was to stay there for twenty-one years.
Don’t know if I could have slipped it off early on. The “isms” (internal spiritual maladjustments) were pretty strong. I had a gaping hole in my soul… a God-sized hole. Inebriants provided the fleeting illusion that the hole had been filled. But as alcohol oozed out of my pores and processed through my over-worked liver the raw and ragged hole was repeatedly re-exposed—begging for more.
Mental obsession. My constant companion. The actual, satisfying high of that tantalizing tango came to an abrupt end early in my drinking career. I had hit it hard and drank the fun out of drinking while still in my twenties. But the illusion of ease and comfort that seductress created was something that I would chase for fourteen more years.
When something, say an electric razor, wears out I am quick to throw it out. I’m no hoarder. Why pull a dull razor with a weak battery over my oh-so-sensitive face?
But Lord Alcohol? Well that was a whole different deal. The high… The relief… The little mental lift… All that was gone years before I quit. But with that ball-and-chain of mental obsession fastened securely, the thought of a drink was with me constantly.
“Normies”—those average, temperate drinkers–just don’t get it. They can take it or leave it. They have no idea why the alcoholic returns again and again to the bottle like a dog returning to its vomit. Returning to a substance that, to all onlookers, is wreaking havoc on the life of the addict.
Despite all the consequences. Despite the lost workdays, broken marriages and painfully embarrassing episodes, the mental obsession never let up. For twenty one years I thought about drinking every hour, every moment that alcohol was not cursing through my veins.
Does it ever let up? the newly sober may ask. Yes. Sometimes quickly and sometimes slowly. There is a way out from under the oppression of mental obsession. I will blog on that Sunday.