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.