While I’d always been a good, albeit sometimes misguided, young boy, the Dionysian promise that getting fucked up represented pulled me in little by little. At the start of high school I was the lone member of my friend group not partaking in the weekend pastimes of 40s and blunts (common among the pupils of Manhattan’s private schools). By junior year, however, a lot had changed. I joined cult of maintaining excellent academic and extracurricular performance while consuming enough liquor to get on the dean’s other list.
This meant that while I wasn’t studying college-level physics, taking photography classes, learning calculus, and editing the school newspaper, I was with my friends in someone’s parent’s living room shouting about Heidegger and gripping a bottle of Southern Comfort (of Janis Joplain notoriety).
Many kids start drinking or doing drugs to fit in. That was there for me as well, but I was less interested in fitting in with my peers than with the people I admired. My depression-addled adolescent mind grabbed onto the wrong parts of my idols. Even though I knew how the Syd Barret story ended (and Dylan Thomas and countless others) I identified enough with their isolation and pain - however self-imposed - that I made sure to emulate their unhealthy habits. I recall hearing Anthony Bourdain (another ill-advised hero) saying that he always knew he’d get into heroin simply because all his heroes had done it. I think what it comes down to, excuse the cliche, is that misery loves company.
We - the miserable - want others to like us, want to like ourselves, want to forget our misery, and, above all, we want to perpetuate it.
Of course, college didn’t help; and neither did my obsession with electronic music.
Most of my 20s (I am 29 now) involved a lot of partying and, like almost everyone, a lot of drinking. It started with alcohol to emulate the poets and rockstars I grew up on, then party drugs to accommodate the electronic music scene of the early 2010s and then evolved into the psychadelics that the psychonauts and entrepreneurs I admired in the Burning Man scene seemed all too eager to consume (or medicine, as they unironically call it).
I am going to skip the gory details and just say this: ignoring your insecurities and out-sourcing your social life to events centered around getting wasted will reinforce all that makes inebriation attractive in the first place. For me it was a simultaneous arrogance, pain, and insecurity. I held the tacit belief that I deserved greatness while maintaining an unwillingness to deal with what kept me from it. I held the belief that life was unfair and that I was meant to feel isolated - that I was less than. And I believed I had no relief from that reality unless it was at the extremes of the human psychological experience.
By the start of 2020, though, I was starting to see that all the agony I thought I was destined to was of my own doing. Like an ouroboros, I was the snake eating my own tail - causing my own pain in an infinite circle.
On an intoxicatingly beautiful day just after new years, I was alone on a beach in Colombia. I was reviewing what had been, thanks to drugs and alcohol, one of the most tumultuous years of my life when my mounting suspicion finally became a decision: “I am going to be sober.”
While that sentiment was clear, very little else was.
I didn’t know how long, or whom I’d tell, or if I’d need help or if it was going to be hard or easy. I just knew that it was necessary.
And it has been over a year now.
To be honest, there isn’t that much to say about the other side. It looks like not asking myself every 5 minute if I need another bump or another mezcal. It looks like not having to replay last night over and over to determine all my social faux pas. More importantly, it looks like every other essay, book, conversation, etc. spoken by someone who doesn’t have a dependence on getting fucked up. It looks like every earnest chat with a friend about living a better life and being a better person. It looks like incremental progress and heightened accountability. It looks like a life - with ups and downs, with happiness, with control, with trials, and with responsibility. And I look forward to keep living it. I look forward to chasing more and more acceptance and love from myself on my own terms.
2021-02-24 18:48 -0800