Three years ago Terry Lancaster decided to take a break from drinking. It was supposed to be temporary, but he’s never looked back.
“T! Dude, let me drive you home. I’ve never seen you this drunk before.”
My buddy’s yelling at me from the bar where he’s hitting on this meth addict who may have, at one time, a very long time ago, been slightly attractive.
“Don’t worry, bro. I got this,” I slur at him as I drop my keys, stumble to pick them up and head out the door of the smokiest, dingiest, diviest bar in the history of smoky, dingy, dive bars.
It’s three o’clock in the morning October 1st, 2012.
I remember the date because it was my birthday. And a stop at the bar for a quick beer or two had turned into a beer or nine. And then someone started buying birthday tequila shots. And then I started buying birthday Fireball shots. And then, oops, another one had gotten away from me.
It wasn’t the first.
I remember the date, but in all honesty I don’t remember much else. I don’t remember driving home. I mean I must have driven home. Either that or the aliens abducted me and carried me home.
Then they parked my car crookedly in the driveway. And apparently decided that the pool needed cleaning because when I wake up later that morning for my usual round of hide and seek with my cell phone I found it in my wet crumpled jeans in the basement floor.
The pool must have really needed cleaning.
I do remember the hangover. It was a doozy. The railroad spike between the eyeballs kind. The kind where you can’t turn on the lights, yes because it’s too bright, but a little bit because the electricity is too loud.
When Hank Jr wrote that hangovers hurt more than they used to, this is the hangover he was writing about.
And I did what I’d always done on such occasions. What we all do. I started negotiating.
“Dear Newborn, 8 pound, 6 ounce Tiny Baby Jesus. If you let me get through this hangover, That’s it, I’m off the booze. I’m done. I quit. And on the off chance I do drink again, it’s just beer for me from here on out. No more Patron and Fireball shots. Just beer, Coors Light even. That doesn’t even count.”
Of course, I didn’t believe the words as I’m saying them. I’d said them before. This wasn’t my first rodeo.
I was a drinking man long before I could legitimately call myself a man. I started drinking when I was 14 and drank with enthusiasm for three and a half decades.
I was proud to be a drinker. I wore it like a badge of honor. My grandfather had been a drinker long before me. And all of my best friends were drinkers. Drinkers always find drinkers.
I can quote you the stats that show that social drinkers earn more money. That drinking is even good for you. I didn’t see it as a problem.
I was half drunk at the age of 16 when I passed my driver’s license exam. My mom surprised me by taking off early to take me to the DMV, but I’d spent the last hour after school driving around with a buddy drinking a sixer. I thought I had a license to drive under the influence.
Sure, I had scratched a few fenders over the years. And yes, technically, I drank myself out of my college scholarship. But I never had a DUI and I never caused any serious accidents. No blood, no foul, right?
But this hangover felt different.
The nights that got away from me were coming more and more often.
The hangovers were lasting longer and longer. Tying a good one on now could leave me feeling out of sorts for a few days.
And I was starting to lose time. I think the technical term is blackout drunk if you want to be a stickler about it.
So as I spent my 48th birthday nursing the hangover from hell, I had a sudden burst of insight. Epiphany is the big boy word.
When the drunk at the bar hitting on the Meth addict becomes the voice of reason in your life, maybe it’s time to reexamine your lifestyle.
So I decided to spend the next 31 days alcohol free. Just to hit the restart button. Just to reestablish my base level of tolerance. Just to get back to even. Sober October.
And I went through Sober October with the full intention of returning to my binge drinking routine after my detox.
But a funny thing happened on the way to Halloween: I felt better.
Over the course of the month I dropped about eight or nine pounds and since I wasn’t hungover three or four days a week, I had the energy to exercise a little. Just walking mainly, but I felt so good I decided to give it another 30 days—a November I Could Remember.
And then another 30.
By Christmas I had run a mile non-stop for the first time since I was a teenager. And I felt like a teenager again. Better actually.
The truth is I didn’t know how bad I had felt until I started feeling better.
I didn’t know how much work I could get done, how productive I could be until I wasn’t nursing a hangover most mornings.
I’ve been sober ever since.
Now I wish I could say I was cured. That I don’t miss it.
And most times I don’t.
But I liked drinking. I liked telling stories and lies at the bar. Sometimes I miss the camaraderie. The connections.
I read somewhere that binge drinking at its core is a quest for authenticity. It makes sense to me because at three in the morning, after a dozen rounds, friendships are deeper. Opinions more vivid and valid. Shit matters.
But now that I’m clearheaded, I’ve noticed that this quest for authenticity, this need to matter is pervasive. And habit forming.
I’ve noticed how many of our waking hours are controlled by it.
And I’ve noticed how the economic powers that be use this drive to nudge us in the direction that enriches them the most.
Our relentless pursuit of authenticity creates our habits and addictions and our habits and addictions have enslaved us to the merchants who sell what we need to scratch the itch.
My best guess is I’ve saved nine, maybe ten grand over the last few years. Serious money that would have gone straight to the pushers bottom line.
It’s no wonder that some of the largest corporations in the world are the one’s who peddle booze and tobacco.
The health care business controls almost one out of every five dollars in the American economy selling drugs that don’t cure anything—they just manage long-term chronic diseases and create lifetime customers who line up for a new fix every month.
We understand that cigarettes are just nicotine delivery devices, but few people recognize that most of what passes for food in the modern world is no more than a sugar delivery device and sugar lights up the same receptors in your head that heroin does.
Sugar is our true drug of choice.
Even our patriotic folklore is wrong. We all learned in school about Johnny Appleseed who wandered the countryside in the colonies planting apple trees to help the settlers as we pushed westward across the continent.
Here’s what they won’t tell you at this years Fourth of July picnic between beer commercials and the fructose laden apple pies.
Johnny Appleseed was basically a bootlegger. The apple nurseries he planted were full of inedible apples only good for one thing: making hard cider.
Because where the booze goes we follow.
It’s been said that we spend as much as half our waking hours lost in thought wandering around in the caverns in our head.
I’m convinced that at least half of the other half we spend wandering around trying to scratch an itch.
Coffee. Cigarettes. Sugar. Sex. Booze. Drama. Zanex.
We’re all junkies.
But this year Independence Day marks my 1,000th day being sober. 1,000 days of freedom from paying five bucks a shot to scratch the itch in my head.
I’m still a junkie, make no mistake. But I can see a little more clearly. And I can see that the pushers are pulling our strings.
So this year, after your annual Fifth of July hangover—whether it’s from too many beers or too many burgers take a look at your habits and addictions.
What’s driving you? And who’s getting rich because of it.
It’s not exactly taxation without representation because, you know, this is a free country and all.
But if you’re a junkie like I am, freedom isn’t free.
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