This post was originally published on February 23, 2015.
I had some really great times drinking. They weren’t all hopelessness and despair. They were fun. I guess that’s why I tried like hell to gain back the control for so long: I wanted those good times back where the fun outweighed the bad and the only consequences I suffered were the occasional and regrettable hookup and morning hangovers. For the most part, my 20s were one big party. I moved from Charleston to Boston to San Francisco and my only motive and intent was to have fun. For me, fun equaled alcohol.
My morals were low and my tolerance was high which allowed for a lot of crazy nights. I’d take last minute trips to Vegas. I’d find myself at the Hustler Club on Kearny with random strangers. I went to fancy restaurant openings and would dine at places like French Laundry and Jean George. My life was out of control. I was a tornado of intoxicated destruction everywhere I went. If there was alcohol available and I was still functioning, I was always a yes. I never wanted the party to end.
There were years that I knew I had a problem and didn’t want to stop drinking. I didn’t want to stop drinking because I didn’t think I would have fun anymore. I thought my life would be boring. Forget the fact that drinking eventually wasn’t fun for me at all. I still chased it. I chased the fun I once had straight into rehab. And that’s part of the insanity of the disease. Alcohol stopped working for me long before I stopped drinking. I still didn’t want to give it up.
I turned everything into a reason to drink. I would “hide” my drinking when I was around my family for something as simple as a family dinner. I would need a buzz to go pretty much anywhere. Vacations revolved around drinking. I would sneak wine into movie theaters and then get so drunk I would forget having seen the movie. I would drink at home before going out with friends to drink more. The number of concerts, movies and shows I went to but don’t remember much about due to my level of intoxication is just stupid. Why did I think I needed to get wasted to see Dave Chappelle? Did I think he would be funnier if I was wasted? No, I thought it would be more fun if I were drunk. Same thing for the Nora Jones concert I went to. Of course, neither was fun—or they may have been but I don’t know because I don’t remember anything about them.
I remember sitting in rehab about halfway through my 28-day stint when a wave of panic and anxiety came over me at the realization that I was going home soon and didn’t have a clue about who I was sober. Most of the things I considered fun were illegal, immoral or intoxicating. I was terrified that I was going to be boring without booze.
It was summertime when I got out of rehab and I went home to my parents’ farm where a ton of produce was in season. I was hanging out with my family a lot because they didn’t drink and it was safe. My grandmother, who was 89 at the time, taught me how to preserve and can fruits and vegetables. So, that’s what I did. Y’all, I am not kidding you when I say I canned morning, noon and night for the first month I was out of rehab. I was either pickling or preserving everything I could pull from the dirt, take from the vine or shake from a tree on my parents’ farm. But you know what? It kept me sober during those days of early recovery when I had to stay busy to not think about drinking, when I needed to fill the hours that I used to spend drinking with something because being bored was my worst enemy.
That summer came to an end and I had canned enough jellies, jams, relishes and pickled foods to get my family through the apocalypse. I am sure everyone thought my new obsession was a little odd, but they overlooked it because I was staying sober. They were literally enjoying the fruits of my labor. I eventually started to be okay without mind-altering substances in my body. I gained confidence in myself and began respecting the person I was becoming, even if that person was beginning to resemble an 89-year-old who liked to make jam. I had started having fun again, the kind of fun you have as a kid.
Since then, I’ve consistently found a way of life that allows me to have fun doing things without alcohol. And I have come to understand that what was missing for all those years of my active addiction was joy. Today, my life is fun because things bring me joy. There is a Terry Pratchett quote I love that says, “Joy is to fun what the deep sea is to a puddle. It’s a feeling inside that can hardly be contained.” It’s pretty simple, really; things I find fun are usually the things that bring me joy.
I used to use YOLO as a mantra to excuse a lot of stupid shit I did when I was drinking. Today, that mantra has an entirely different meaning to me. Yes, it’s still you only live once. But I’m not going to waste that life drinking, drunk or hung over. To me, that’s not living at all.