What I Talk About When I Talk About Drinking

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A boy and his case of beer

During the late 1980s, going into the 1990s, I was in the U.S. Army, and all things considered, I probably had somewhat of a drinking problem. This was the latter part of the era of drinking before people started getting serious about the ramifications of the problem, meaning that we started enforcing drunk driving laws (unlike the past where we swept things under the rug) and Alcohol Anonymous was no longer just a light at the end of tunnels that no one would ever travel through. To understand my perspective on the whole situation, let’s visit the late 1980s and let me share a bit of a story with you.

You see, back then I drank a lot. Every night. It was almost a ritual of service at that time. Work hard during the day and then get plastered at night. Wake up the next day, run PT (most likely throwing up alongside the other soldiers who were all suffering hangovers) and then by the time evening came along, we’d go out and do it again. THAT was pretty much a part of the military lifestyle back then.

I think the apex of this whole situation occurred when a colleague and I decided to take a trip to the Canary Islands. On the plane, we both got plastered, and then when we got to the hotel, we got smashed. And then for the next week, well, I know I had a really good time because I have pictures of me and a lot of very beautiful women cavorting together, but to be honest, I have figments of memories of what actually happened during that week long trip. All I remember was being greeted at the airport on the way back by my fellow GIs, and they had brought beer with them, so we got obliterated on the trip home, too.

A couple of weeks later, I was driving my car back to post (in Germany), and I was extremely inebriated. Some friends were in the car behind me, and they drove up behind me, hitting my bumper and then trying to push my car forward with their own acceleration. I was at an intersection, and as they pushed me forward, or tried to do so as I held down on the brakes, I suddenly sobered up. I was probably still quite drunk, but right at that moment, it suddenly dawned on me that there were other people on this street, that if I just gave in to the fun, who knows what damage (or lives) could have been affected.

Driving home slowly (the other car rushed by me and continued on towards the post), something came over me that made me realize something was wrong. I just was too drunk to really figure out what it was.

The next day was Saturday, so I didn’t have to be at work for a few days, but instead of my usual routine, I decided to skip the club that night. Instead, I sat at home and read a book. My fellow party buddies thought something was wrong, but the next night, I skipped partying again and did something else (don’t remember what it was at the moment but I do know it didn’t involve drinking).

A few days later, I sat down at my computer (one of the early ones…this was the 1980s) and started writing my first novel. In case you’re wondering, it was Innocent Until Proven Guilty, and it was the first work I completed where there was absolutely no alcohol involved. Shortly after that, I began work on my second novel, Loser.

I was reading an article today in Salon, about how alcohol is targeted at women through intricate manipulation and advertising, but I’ll have to be honest that when I was drinking, it just seemed like the thing to be doing. There were no great football beer ads that i remember during this time. Sure, there was peer pressure, but I’ve never been all that susceptible to that sort of thing. For me, all there ever really was involved the “you have to be old enough to drink it” mindset so that when I hit that age, I started imbibing because it felt like a chronological ritual of growing up.

I’ll admit that when I quit partying, it wasn’t the end of alcohol for me; that would come years later, but it did change things for me because that pleasure I received of getting smashed no longer seemed to be of interest to me.

What used to fascinate me was how many of those tests in books I would take that indicated I was most definitely an alcoholic. Do you often drink to excess? I sure did. Do you wake up the next day and not remember moments of the night before? I woke up one morning and couldn’t remember much of what happened the entire week before. Do you ever blackout? When didn’t I? Do you often crave alcohol? And that’s kind of where it breaks off for me, because to be honest, I’ve never craved alcohol. Actually, kind of hate it the more I think about it. I liked the buzz I got, but to be honest, I wasn’t all that excited about the buzz either. I drank back then because it was something to do. I really didn’t like my life back then, and it seemed like a good crutch to fill in the gaps of what was going on and not going on. I’m one of those kinds of guys who never really has romantic relationships, even when I was in the middle of a romantic relationship (if that makes sense). So, drinking filled a void that I basically needed to fill with something.

Fortunately, writing kind of fills that void now. The “thrill” of drinking was the ability to turn off my mind and allow this other sense to overwhelm me. Believe it or not, I get that (and more) from writing. I take myself to another world, and I get to live in that world during the time that I’m writing. It helps me to forget that my current life kind of sucks. Sorry, but it does. I still don’t have romantic relationships, and that part of me has never changed. So, I spend a great deal of time trying to find some way of filling the gaps that basically never get filled.

When I got out of the service, I didn’t quit drinking completely, although I became more of a social drinker. My friend Kat would drink from time to time, so I would drink with her. When we parted ways, I basically just stopped drinking completely because like I said before, it never really gave me anything that I was lacking anywhere else.

And that’s been years for me now. A friend of mine visited me for a week a few weeks ago, and when we were at the store shopping for groceries, she asked me if I wanted any alcohol, and it never even crossed my mind that I might be interested. Alcohol has no value in my daily life, and it’s not something I seek out. At one time, I was going to start drinking red wine, but only because I heard that it had certain heart benefits. Never could get beyond the fact that I can’t stand the taste of wine, so it never became the habit I was going to allow to happen.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is that I suspect that alcohol serves a purpose for everyone that consumes it, and what’s important is finding if that purpose is strong enough and whether or not it can be replaced with something else. For me, writing served as my alternative. But then, I’ve never been addicted, even though I can’t even begin to tell you how many people over the years said I must have a problem because of how I answered some of those questions. One person I know who is an alcoholic thinks I have some kind of strength to stop as I did, but I never saw it that way. I have my own vices and my own things that need to be dealt with (we all do). Alcohol just doesn’t seem to be one of them. Others, unfortunately, can’t say the same thing.

Author of Innocent Until Proven Guilty and 15 other novels. Writer, college professor and computer game designer.

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