A few months ago, I began drinking again after more than eight years of sobriety.

I didn’t go out the way that alcoholics normally do. I didn’t find myself in a bar one evening. I didn’t slowly slide back into it without telling anyone. Instead, I sat down with a few friends and had a conversation.

I had a plan, and this is what I told them.

I’d gotten sober eight years before when my life had fallen apart. In fact, my life had been falling apart — slowly at first, and the more more quickly — for about two years. And it took me quite a few years to start putting my life back together, one brick at a time.

But then I did. I put all the pieces back in place, and built a little house that was something different than I’d expected. I got married, inherited two cats, and got a dog. I settled into my place in the world, in a little corner of Indiana. It was everything that I never wanted, but it was — for the first time — calm in my world.

That calm was something I’d never had in my life. Soon I found myself as lost in it in the same way as I’d been in the drinking all those years ago. But this lost was different. Better is so many ways. Nearly every way.

Except one. In the calm, I found my writing — my art — fading away , disappearing into the haze of Sunday morning walks and Netflix evenings. My stories — when I wrote — were redundant at best, rehashing of old tales at worst. I would sit in front of the computer, blank page staring at me, mocking me.

I told my friends — and my wife — that I felt like I’d lost myself in this calm. And that I had to find out if maybe the person who I was today was different than the person that I was those eight years ago. Maybe now, in the calm, the drinking wasn’t the problem.

And so I proposed to my friends this deal: I would begin drinking again, and they would watch me for signs of The Demon. At the first sign of trouble, I’d shut it down.

This all seemed very logical. Very well considered. Very calm.

But that is not the way this story goes.

* * *

There is a feeling that addicts have — and it’s one that I had forgotten about — that resides deep within the belly. It’s the place where ulcers and heart attacks live. In the old days — the early days of my drinking career — that burning pit would really only make itself known in the hazy mornings, lost to the alcohol. For years, I never quite knew what happened when I’d wake up, and so my gut was in overdrive. Always. Nervous. Anxious. Aware.

For the last several years, I’d forgotten about that feeling. The Demon was gone from my life. (Vanquished, I thought. Victory was mine.) Life had taken on a certain voyage, and I knew how the waves would rock the boat. That steady swaying had become second nature, and it calmed me.

But almost immediately upon drinking, the feeling returned (which I realize should have been the first sign of trouble). And not in the mornings. The feeling took root in my stomach and followed me around everywhere I went.

I found myself waking up in the middle of the night, or unable to fall asleep, or — the best way I know how to describe it — always with the motor running. My engine shifted into high gear, and I found myself losing control. Of everything.

* * *

What didn’t turn off was the writing. That buzzing needed to come out — just like it needs to come out now. I would lock myself in my room, or sit in a local bar, or hole up in some dark corner, or stay in an Airbnb, and just write.

Tens of thousands of words. Some good. Many bad. But words flowed for the first time in years. I was intoxicated by the intoxication, and in love with the writing.

“Be damned the demons!”

The words were flowing again. The ship sailing across the choppy waters. I was home!

* * *

But that wasn’t the deal I made with myself, my wife, or my friends. This experiment wasn’t about writing —although this is what spurred it on. I sent a letter to my friends and writing partner John, who lives overseas, and lamented the the writing — the muse — seemed to have died in me these last few years.

Was this middle age? Was this just how the creative spark dies? Or had I just made this up because I no longer had anything to say?

The fear and anxiety grew within me — The Demon was back! — and I tried to outrun it, just the same as I’d tried to outrun it before. Even as it grew inside me — pushing out against me, spilling out into the world around me — I tried to deny that it was back.

Which was the second piece in the puzzle.

* * *

There were other puzzle pieces — because there are always other pieces. But each of those — in some way — involved burning down the villages along the shoreline.

I wanted to set torch to everything in my life because that is what addicts do. There can be no calm seas. There’s only the carnage and the destruction that follows The Demon no matter where it goes.

And over the last few months, I’ve had a conversations with those very friends whom I asked to watch me. And the tiptoed around the idea that that maybe — you know — this experiment had produced a negative result. That I’d found out exactly what I wanted to find out — if I could drink now that I’m in a better place.

The answer was, unequivocally, no.

I bristled, of course. Because that’s what an addict does.

* * *

And so here I am, sitting in The Writing Room where much of this began, writing the story of this Day One, hoping to find the calm seas once again.

I know the routine. This routine never changes. Find a meeting. Go to a meeting. And do the next, right thing.

I know it because I’m an addict. Because I’ve been fighting The Demon for most of my adult life. And these are the lessons that we — I — apparently will have to get back to learning one day a time.

And for the first time since the experiment began, The Demon feels tolerable.

  • That’s a brave experiment and a brave admission. And good for you for listening to your friends.

  • heathergold

    Brad, it means a lot to me that you’d think of me and share where you’re at with me. I’m here whenever you need me. I feel so incredibly grateful to have calm inside now, even in the midst of the country bucking and swaying and looking like it may shatter. It has been one tiny step at a time since we spoke while I was in a deep deep hole. I am happy to share anything that has helped and happy to just hang or listen. I have also been experiencing difficulty writing and reading too..immersing. But I am trusting that the same way everything else has come, slowly methodically this too can come and shift. And your willingness to face what’s there and share that, is your best friend. It’s one of my best friends too because it so helped me in my desolation. Getting better at feeling is just like getting better at lifting. It’s a capacity we build with practice and mistakes. And I love how you share your process lifting. I’m still hoping I’ll be able to make the time , wrap my gimpy hand to the bar and see if I can do it. So I found my art fading a bit. But I know there is more of me here. And i will find a way to get it down *from* a centre where I exist and know there is calm. I feel the safest I’ve felt in a time in which the world around me is anything but. I am grateful beyond measure and I owe much of this gratitude to you. Feelings always shift my friend. I promise you. If there’s anyone I owe the story it’s you. You were there at the beginning. If I can be of any help just text or call. And my love to Bec too.

  • I don’t think it was brave. I think it was driven by the same fear and anxiety, just masked as something else. And now that I let it out – honestly – I feel like I need to get away from everything for a few months so I can begin dealing with this again. It clearly need my full attention.

  • Hubris for me. I thought I was back in control. I thought I had wrangled all of my worst demons. I thought, I thought, I thought. And so now it’s back to square one, and back to fighting every day. And trying to get my shit back together.

  • Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think it was a *good* decision at all. But you knew what was at risk, and did it anyway. So was it brave? Not if you don’t think so. But I’m glad you are seeking help and dealing with it. Wish I could help you with the getting away thing. (Apply to the Kerouac House writer-in-residence. You’d get 3 months by yourself here in Orlando, just to write, write, write.)

  • I have a list of writing retreats that I’m going to apply for once I get settled into my new gig in Pittsburgh.

  • PFM

    Thank you for sharing about this experiment and your experience. I read a comment by/about Philip Seymour Hoffman today to the effect that if one of us overdoses, ten other people who hear about it might avoid the same. Your experiment and your writing about it might also save someone or ten.

    See ya at a meeting some day. -PFM

  • I’m too close to things right now to suss out much meaning other than I brought about a great deal of pain because I stopped doing what I should have done.

    But I’ve heard from so many people who have expressed something like this that I know there must be some truth in it.

    Right now, I’m focusing on doing what I need to do to mitigate the pain and damage that I caused.

  • I’m too close to things right now to suss out much meaning other than I brought about a great deal of pain because I stopped doing what I should have done.

    But I’ve heard from so many people who have expressed something like this that I know there must be some truth in it.

    Right now, I’m focusing on doing what I need to do to mitigate the pain and damage that I caused.

  • Ally

    Not sure if you know Dan Barden, but your line, “And do the next, right thing,” points directly toward his novel on this very subject: https://www.amazon.com/Next-Right-Thing-Novel/dp/038534340X … If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend.

  • The name sounds familiar. “The Next, Right Thing” is one of the phrases directly out of 12-step program that I’ve been involved with. I’ll put his book on my list.

  • Pingback: When I Feel Normal: a story – Brad King()

  • Pingback: “I feel failure, but I don’t feel success.” – Brad King()

  • Pingback: Twenty-Four Years, and Other Thoughts as I Leave SXSW – Brad King()

Brad King's Newsletter
If you're interested in keeping up with my writing projects, I’ll overlook your bad judgement on that and instead say thank you. A writer's life blood is readers. Without you, I'm just a crazy guy sitting in his office furiously screaming on the page for no reason. So not to put any pressure on you, but everything now depends on you
Never display this again