Tag Archives: Alcohol

The Captain and I (part 4 of 4)

20 Feb

(Part One)

(Part Two)

(Part Three)

Eventually I started crawling up. Partially due to poverty, partially due to a glimmer of understanding, I stopped drinking every night. The awful roommate I was living with at the time left. My friend came back from Iraq, and instead of drinking because it was a very incremental form of suicide, I was drinking to celebrate again. Slowly my friends came back, and with each new addition, there was more to celebrate. Legitimate celebrations. We had all gone through some extremely painful and deep shit, and alcohol makes it easy to distract yourself.

This summer I partied a lot. All of us made up for lost time, throwing parties without pretense: we wanted to party and that was all the excuse we needed. Our revels were good natured: we are all good natured people and the people we invited were good natured. For the first time in my life I stopped caring. It was more than a fatalist’s nihilism (though I will admit that it cropped up time to time). I just simply embraced that fact that happiness, that good feelings, don’t have to have a reason. I didn’t need some cosmic justification for smiling. I had survived the worst year of my life, and that was enough for me.

That realization, that it was alright to be happy, and that I didn’t have to explain it to anyone, gave me the strength to get back in school. I got back into school, and I kicked its ass. Was I a perfect student? God no. I didn’t emerge from rock-bottom re-forged as a muggle Hermoine; but I learned what I needed to learn and got good grades. Things were going great. And I was putting back a handle of rum a week.

Wait. What?

That’s a lot of alcohol. That’s an obscene amount of alcohol. That is a 12-steps amount of alcohol. Which brings us to the statement we’ve both been thinking through this: Mike, you sound an AWFUL lot like an alcoholic. Yes reader. Yes I do.

I have thought about this a lot. That’s because alcoholism is a huge deal, and one that runs in my family. On one hand, the evidence is pretty damning: I can’t think of a single time I’ve gone two weeks without any alcohol since I turned 21. Also, people call me an alcoholic, and while I’m not one to make important policy decisions based solely on public opinion that’s kind of a thing. On the other hand, I don’t feel bad or anything when I don’t drink. A week and a half without a drink and I feel literally no compulsion to drink, I don’t feel sick, I don’t feel much of anything. That’s not denial either; if I was an alcoholic I would damn well want to know so I could get help.

Ultimately, it’s something of a moot point, because I’m just not drinking as much anymore. Yes I get drunk when I party, and no, I don’t feel a need to apologize for that. But overall, I’m drinking less. It’s because inevitably, if I don’t slow down, I will become an alcoholic. It’s because alcohol is poison and years of poisoning is a bad idea. But mostly it’s because there are 120 calories in a 2.5 oz shot of rum and I’m tired of being fat.

Yes, that’s right, my wake-up call was Googling the calories in rum. For a bit over a year, rum and coke has been my drink of choice. Given that I put what can charitably called a “nearly undrinkable” amount of rum in drinks, each of my rum and cokes is like 400 calories. Now multiply that by the five or six of those I’ll put back at a party, and we’re looking at a normal human being’s daily allotment of calories in a four hour period.

So I am drinking less because I want to lose weight. And because I’m tired of being called an alcoholic. Alcohol has been (indirectly) responsible for some of the most painful and terrible moments in my life. Alcohol was also there through each step of my return to life. I do not have any sort of affection or sentimentality towards alcohol; I drink when I celebrate because it feels good and being sober when everyone else is drunk sucks.

So yes I drink to celebrate. But I don’t celebrate to drink.

 

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The Captain and I (part 3 of 4)

19 Feb

(Part One)

(Part Two)

So yes, when I was suffering from a massive depression caused by a legitimate disaster that was (partially) my own fault, I drowned my anti-depressants in alcohol. At this point I was enamored with vanilla vodka and orange soda which, as I’ve surely told you if we’ve ever drank together, tastes exactly like an orange dream-cicle. “You know,” I’d have told you, “like when we were kids.” (Someone three years past the age of majority doesn’t really get to talk about childhood as some distant epoch, but they do it anyway). Needless to say, the anti-depressants didn’t do their job terribly well.

I struggled through another whole year of college, now an English major because: I’m a fairly talented writer and people like to read my things, artists are by-and-large intolerable and self-centered pricks, and I needed to change majors because art school had largely kicked me out. I did very well when I bothered to, once I understood the “culture” of the English department I got to writing quite well. I never bothered to do inconsequential stuff like reading the other student’s pieces, or the assigned reading, or anything the professors handed me. I would get out of school, spend a few hours brooding near my girlfriend, whose incredibly endurance with this behavior should have warranted some form of medal, then go home and drink.

Drinking helped my writing. I wrote some real masterpieces drunk. If you look back at some of the incoherent and emotional messages I sent my friends, family, and girlfriend you’d surely demand I was given a Pulitzer. My cryptic and impossible to decipher allegory in status messages (Michael Potter sure wishes someone would call him) will garner a Nobel (in Passive-Aggression) someday. None could hold back the tears evoked by my half-finished songs with no perceptible rhythm and the most tenuous of rhyme schemes. Finally, who couldn’t identify with the sad-twenty-something-male misunderstood by everyone who was the protagonist in so many no-where-near-finished half stories, and who was TOTALLY not a shitty doppelganger of myself.

TOTALLY.

To the incredible surprise of no-one, I did not pull my grades above the 2.0 needed to stay in school. And so in June I was told that I would not be returning to IUPUI for the Fall 2009 semester. This piece of news was just a fragment of the joy 2009 brought. Believe it or not I’m tired of going on about it. Suffice to say the girlfriend lost her patience, followed quickly by my job. One friend was in the grips of his own crumbling relationship, one was in Germany studying life, one was in Ohio being a productive member of society, and the other was fighting for said society in Iraq. Lacking anything to celebrate and anyone to celebrate with, I cut the shit and started taking drinking seriously.

Late 2009 and early 2010 are not fuzzy because drinking makes it hard to remember; that is one effect of alcohol I rarely ever deal with.  They are fuzzy because when you’re depressed, your mind doesn’t remember things well. Your short term memory goes to hell. It’s not just that you can’t remember happy things, you don’t remember the sad things either. I continued dutifully taking my medicine, washing it down with a Berringer Chardonnay or a Chateau St. Michelle Riesling. It was a wonderful time, I made a great show out of my “break-up beard” and churned out several emotionally-earnest if ridiculously unsophisticated stories. But mostly I drank, a lot. (The astute reader will realize the author has switched to wine. This is because the author was reading Hemmingway. Of note: don’t read Hemmingway if you’re depressed).

When not killing yourself is the excuse for your nightly celebration, you have begun to approach what experts refer to as “rock bottom.”

(To Be Continued)

The Captain and I (part 2 of 4)

18 Feb

(Part One)

The legend is that after he was killed at Trafalgar, Admiral Horatio Nelson’s body was preserved in a cask of rum, as the alcohol would preserve it. It was actually brandy, but marketing is stronger than history and Admiral Nelson’s Rum is available at your local liquor store for a pittance. This makes it incredibly attractive as a beverage for poor college students. The Admiral chose Black Friday, that violent orgy of commercialism, to come into my life. I had just worked a twelve hour day at Best Buy, and I was tired. But it was Thanksgiving break, and everyone was in town. This was a time to celebrate, and as I have previously stated, I liked to celebrate. So, on six hours of sleep in 36 hours, I drank. A lot. I drank so much Admiral Nelson’s and coke that for the first time in my life, I threw up. I then passed out in my room.

I woke up with what I thought was a hang-over. As luck would have it, some thoughtful person who desperately needed a $78 Kodak shit-cam had not only given me their money, but also their bronchitis. Given that my immune system had been punished by having no sleep, and then had been poisoned quite heavily, I can’t really blame it for giving up. I got pneumonia, which kept me bed ridden through the vast majority of the final projects which make up the bulk of any art class’s grades. Long (and too often told) story short, I failed three of my five classes.

Woops.

Now most people are very familiar with the image of someone drinking because they are sad, and we all know that this man is an idiot because drinking doesn’t make you feel better. This is an example of you not having a damn clue what you’re talking about. That man isn’t drinking to make himself happy; he, like you, knows that won’t happen. He’s drinking because when he’s drunk he won’t feel bad for telling you all about it. Sad drinkers drink so that they can let being sad out (without feeling guilty for ruining your buzz).

As you have wisely predicted, this is the point when I started sad drinking. This grand adventure in adulthood had suddenly become an enormous mess, and I was fucking it up royally. I was smart enough to know that drinking because you’re sad is also when people start worrying about you, which was the last thing I wanted (I’m a grown-up goddammit!).  So I would start each night of drinking with a smile: We’re celebrating the latest paycheck! (Because something that happens every Friday absolutely needs a fifth of Smirnoff dedicated to it). The fact that each night ended with my friends awkwardly dealing with a sobbing, snotty Mike was conveniently covered up (in my mind) by the fact we’d started so well, and they were well and truly smashed too.

I was depressed, and since I was convinced I wasn’t self-medicating, I sought professional help. I received it (God bless my parents for having health insurance), and so was prescribed a potent cocktail of anti-depressants, mood-stabilizers, and in time anti-anxiety pills. All of these were designed to put my depressed levels of dopamine, serotonin, and whatever the hell else was confused up there, right. Each bottle, along the name of the prescribing doctor and the pharmacists number, bore an identical sticker.

DO NOT TAKE WITH ALCOHOL.

I read incredibly poorly for an English major.

(To Be Continued)

The Captain and I (part 1 of 4).

18 Feb

When I was 16 I started sneaking whiskey from the cabinets in the kitchen. This was not a difficult proposition for a number of reasons: My mother was very ill, and the medication she was taking didn’t exactly sharpen her senses. My father was working ten hour shifts what felt like seven days a week, and he didn’t really have a lot of time to check the fluid level of his Jack Daniels. Both of them were asleep from exhaustion by eleven. So at 16 I could easily sneak down stairs, pour (what now seems like) a pitiful amount of Jack into my coke, and wince through my grand rebellious gesture. I doubt I ever really felt the effects of the ethanol, but the drama of the act generated its own buzz.

Unlike 99% of American youths, I did not actually increase my alcohol intake when I (first) went to college. In fact, I more or less completely cut it off. I remember both instances of under-aged college drinking. One was a Mike’s Hard Lemonade, which I discovered was delicious when my Aunt snuck me a couple over the summer. The other was a party in Ohio, where I was also introduced to an interesting method of imbibing: binge drinking.

Now I made a point about Mike’s Hard being delicious because most alcohol is decidedly NOT delicious (or so I thought at the time, more on that later). In the great, broad spectrum of alcoholic beverages, the vast majority are vile. This is because ethanol is a poison and your body wants you to NOT put poison in it. Fortunately human beings have evolved sufficient self-control to overcome such primitive and backwards wishes.

Binge drinking addresses this problem, the taste problem, head on. One is drinking alcohol to get drunk; at 20 this feeling is incredibly novel and the lowering-of-inhibitions has the added effect of stripping you of your incredible awkwardness. Plus it’s something grown-ups do and everyone is making an enormous deal about how we’re all adults now. Regardless, you are not drinking $10 vodka because you “enjoy the flavor.” So you do not sip it, you chug it. This gets the most “drunk” for the littlest “taste.” A single shot of vodka will make your tongue miserable for two minutes, but this clock resets with each new shot. If you take the shots in rapid procession, you can REALLY cut down on the amount of tongue misery. Plus, once you’ve committed to your buzz, it does you the favor of cutting down on ANY sensation, which makes the flavor a LOT easier.

Thanks buzz.

The party in Ohio was the first time I ever binge drank along with many other new things. It would be the first time I would run around in a parking lot – shouting in what I thought was a whisper –  about how ridiculously drunk I was. It was the first time I would perform that celebrated bit of theater: pretending to be sober when in a place where being drunk might get you arrested (a friend desperately required green beans).

Ohio was also my first hang-over, and this is where a problem begins. You see, when one ingests poison, one will in time feel poisoned. That is the nature of poison, it poisons you. Unfortunately, I did not have much of a hang-over. This is unfortunate because this is when MOST people learn what is ubiquitously known as “their limit.” The miserable hang-over is like the sun, melting one’s ethanol wings for flying too high (that’s an Icarus reference, because quoting Greek mythology during my dissertation on drinking makes me seem sophisticated). I did not learn my limit. It would be four years before I would reach that point.

So, having learned only that Southern Comfort and Rum are pretty easy to shoot, I approached 21 with no consternation, only anticipation. As the oldest in the group, I had the unique distinction (for a month!) of being the only guy who could buy booze. Not having any money, this meant I had the unique distinction of being the guy who takes his friends money to buy everyone else’s booze. As the only supplier, I could do this without much complaining. We all got completely shit-faced, and it was wonderful. We had a couple of parties, accompanied by a couple of drinks. I had just moved back to Indianapolis and everything was going absolutely wonderful. There was so much to celebrate! First apartment? DRINK! First day of school at the 2nd Best Graphic Design School in the United States? DRINK! New job at Best Buy? DRINK! The girlfriend seemed ESPECIALLY in love with you? DRINK! Suddenly there was nothing too small to celebrate and life was great.

Until Admiral Nelson came.

(To be Continued)