No matter how many cats I break bread with, I’ll break who you send to me.
- Earl Simmons
I haven’t gone more than eight weeks off the sauce since I was 14. But come Sunday, I’ll hit six without having had a drop of booze, and be that much closer to breaking my record.
I spent most of the summer drunk and dysregulated, fluent in horseshit, and on the run from ghosts that had never been. I acted as if life had been denying me sustenance, when in reality, I had taken a steaming hot shit in every plate that was offered.
Doing damage wherever I could and connecting dots that I’d manufactured in my own mind, I was doing my best Bukowski impression, minus the infidelity and the part that involved actually putting words on paper. In the face of challenge, camaraderie, care and love alike, I folded like an origami swan. I wrote about it all in The Sobriety Experiment.
The last two drinks were Hornitos Silver and Busch Light. I woke on a couch the next morning, bummed a cigarette and a ride home, set my eyes on a ruthless mirror and then went about putting the pieces back together.
I’d spent the summer stomping around with blood on the tongue– a dog in constant search of the next bone to chew; harboring a belief that I deserved punishment and had been bred to withstand it in all forms, but avoiding the beatings that would actually lead to breakthroughs.
When you dodge the mirror and stuff down the past for years on end, trauma metastasizes to every corner of the body capable of playing host. I used booze to deny that inarguable truth.
With sobriety’s help, I’ve been tracing a painful past and the story of what I once believed to be a tainted bloodline. I have accepted the hits as they come, with nothing on hand to numb the sting.
Imagine having battery acid injected into your bloodstream. It runs through the branches of your vascular system, flooding all of your limbs with flame. A burn’s brought to the tips of your fingers and toes, your organs liquify and radiate heat through your abdomen, as the brain bubbles and boils behind your eyes.
It’s as if worms with prickly spines are crawling around just below the surface of every inch of your skin, treating themselves to little nibbles and gnaws as they go.
When I first started making a conscious effort to process without whiskey, that’s what it felt like.
But I broke bread with the beasts in my head regardless, because each time I pulled a chair to their table, our meetings were shorter, and the stillness that followed, more stout.
Like other forms of deliberate stress exposure, such as cold plunges or intense cardio in extreme heat, the aftereffect was one of overwhelming relief.
I’ve sat by the river and tried to convene with the 7-year-old kid who came to America with his mother and little brother, not knowing a lick of English, and owning nothing but the clothes on their backs. I see him hoisted onto the shoulders of older, taller immigrant kids, reaching over a farmer’s fence outside Miami to steal mangoes off the trees, so he can bring home something to eat.
I see his little fractured family crammed into a studio apartment with a second set of mother and sons, surviving on oatmeal and pilfered fruit. I wonder if they talk at all when they eat, or even bother to turn the lights on.
I see him a few years later, confused when there’s a knock on the door and he opens it to see his father on the other side, inches from his face after a seven year absence. There’s even more confusion when he comes home one evening and men from the neighborhood are seated with guns on the kitchen table, asking his parents for money to fund their people’s cause.
I see him grow older, into a teen, and fall before the rule of a dictator his mother allowed into the house. I watch him falter in the face of pressure from a father figure who demands to be treated as an emperor, then harden and adopt a persona out of alignment with who he truly should be– much in the same way as me.
What I see is somewhat imagined. I’ve adapted the scripts and scenes from stories I heard growing up. But I also relive things that I saw with my eyes and felt with my body.
Dozens of times, I’ve scooped another human’s remains from beneath my fingernails, heard that glass shatter, and seen eyes go yellow and dead again.
Other things I see, I will write about at length in the future, while some of it will likely never make it to a page outside of my personal journal.
When I engage with this shit, my senses are kicked into overdrive. Nauseating smells slither into my nose and I feel cold skin pressed to my palms. I leave the banks of the river, or my sister’s empty deck, and am placed directly into the scenes my mind has set.
I try to steady myself with breath.
I hate it.
But I do it anyway. Wading waist deep into suffering, by choice, so as to confront what I’ve been fleeing for years and thereby alleviate a paralysis of my trust and belief mechanisms.
The breathwork keeps me afloat and carries me to the other side of a lagoon that I had feared might be bottomless prior to taking my first dive.
What follows is stillness.
I am relieved of the burden that came with projecting a phobia of the past’s recurrence onto the places I was in and the people I was with– this summer and in the many months prior.
But, I am still a dog at heart. When I pick up a scent and see something tasty to chase, I have a hard time letting up. Where I'd gnawed on the bottle for so long, I’m now trying to run down and catch as much stillness between my teeth as I can.
So I write about these things too.
What I imagine my father’s childhood was like. Who my other insane relatives were. I put all of my insecurities, nightmares, fears and traumatic experiences on the page, and have penned countless letters to the broken woman who died in front of me a day and a half before the old man.
I wonder what dreams she left unrealized.
I ask about her family.
I see and hear her knee burst open beneath the weight of that trailer.
I apologize for not having been able to help in any way.
When I crack open caskets with the keyboard, I listen to the same song on repeat, because it helps me trick my mind into thinking there’s a soothing someone at my side, urging me to keep giving life to the dead within this context; to walk on the embers until they cool. I take breaks to pace around my sister’s kitchen island, ball myself into a fist, then open back up, and sit down until the release is complete.
After these exercises, breathing through the slideshows or transcribing them onto the page, I’m able to have a day. And I step lightly instead of stomp.
The birds are louder, I feel wet grass beneath my feet, and I’m more awake and alive when my dog is at my side. We hike or hit the river, and he runs down rabbits in the sagebrush with a bloodlust that’s somehow endearing.
When I’m writing for this site or for fun, the words come easy. There’s a nonstop deluge of ideas that makes me feel electrified. I draw doodles, draft notes, and discuss the future with established editors, while stepping into a flow state that tastes better than the very best bourbon.
At the chinese restaurant, I roast the 12-year-old who runs the register
You don’t even know how to drive a car, BUH-ROH!
And take his counter attack with a smile and belly laugh
I can learn to drive, but your hair will never grow back.
He daps me up, then I take my Moo Shu Beef to go.
Early morning coffee on my sister’s deck, walking amongst aspens in the throes of color change, communion with folks in the midst of their own struggles, and spirited debates with friends, in which I insist there’s not a single, legitimate slice of pizza to be found anywhere in The Rockies.
And best of all, both strangers and friends have stopped me on the street in this little town. They give fist bumps, high fives and hugs.
“Dirt Lot is siiiiiiiiicck.”
“Your words have made me cry so many times.”
“I’ll never call [NAME REDACTED] anything but ‘The Rasta Goldfish’ again. Your shit’s hilarious.”
“Keep doing what you’re doing, cause it’s doin’ something to us.”
The written word stays stagnant on the page, but proper writing brings movement and momentum to both reader and writer. Though I lost sight of it for a time, these interactions remind me of what the goal has been from the jump: impact.
I’d been flooding my engine with fear for so long, slamming the throttle to the floor in an attempt to get out from beneath the next shoe before it inevitably dropped. It always dropped, right on my skull, not because it was some predetermined destiny, but because I had inadvertently set the stage for it at the start of each day. I had become so comfortable anticipating the next letdown, that I was incapable of digesting joy, believing that when it showed itself, it had to be too good to be true.
I saw something recently that said, “whatever makes itself manifest as a consequence of the truth, is the best possible reality that could be manifest, even if you can’t see it.” I try to think of that when I publish something new, when I puke everything out of my heart and mind onto the page, and see the idea confirmed in interactions on the street and emails in my inbox.
Early in the summer, after an evening of beating my liver and sinuses into submission, my best friend woke to find me already attacking the morning, staining shelving that I’d built the previous afternoon, and almost done before the day had really even begun.
You’re a machine…
I’ve held onto that memory through this entire healing process, and reminded myself that machines can be programmed to perform whatever task most suits the operator.
And so, there’s been a rewiring, a reset and a remembering, of what I want and who I’m supposed to be.
I allow my inner child to take the controls– the chubby kid with the mushroom cut and belly, who saw the world as limitless, loved to tell grand stories, and was dead set on mass producing smiles. With his guidance, I’m on the road to a life elastic, rather than rigid.
With sobriety, has come surrender. And though it may seem counterintuitive, with surrender, certainty. A belief in a positive outcome, and knowing of what and who I want in my life. I know where I’m going, how I’ll get there, and who’s going to be along for the ride.
Surfboards and sand. Culture, music, markets and mountains within driving distance.
Dinner parties with friends, fiends and the funniest of freaks–the main course being something I’ve hoisted from the sea– glasses clinking, livers wincing, a collective laugh and sigh. Stories that move, hands that hold, and an office with a library that has one of those weird old ladders on wheels.
Walls on which to scrawl visions for the future, strategies that might monetize a careful indulgence, and words that spark movement. Fat cigars, a cacophony of crass jokes, and quiet beneath the trees, too.
A boathouse, artist’s studio, woodshop, and small climate-controlled barn (where I will eventually develop the greatest variety of prosciutto the world has ever known).
Gatherings, get-togethers and group giggles. There’ll be space for the dog to run and for my people to come and feel, both good and bad, my home being what I’d always craved as a kid; an adventure and a retreat for those that matter most.
A career I create on my own, that enables me to get paid to do cool shit with cool people, and tell the stories about it.
And most importantly, a hardcover book with my name on it, that I’ll finally get to hand to Mom.
Many friends and acquaintances told me I couldn’t rush healing. That to recover from certain things and shift my perspective would take tremendous time. They were correct to an extent. The work is not complete. But, I’m a stubborn spic’s kid. For all the old man took from me, he gave me something that trumps his thefts– an inborn belief that with proper focus, nothing is unattainable. The hungriest dog runs the fastest.
The removal of booze revealed a map to healing that had been scrawled on the walls inside my skull all along, but I couldn’t see with whiskey-blurred sight.
I breathe. I write. And during our two to three sessions a week, I insist my therapist take me to the mat and pull no punches on the way down.
Through this approach, and unyielding repetition, I’ve conditioned myself into a new response to stimuli. Where two months ago, I couldn’t bear to stand at the sink and wait for my glass to fill beneath the faucet, I’m now taking my time to slide through the afternoons. The only thing I approach with a Spartan-like attitude, is the routine I’ve cultivated in order to settle my heart and mind.
There are still little blips and bumps. I was down and out for a few hours last week. I’d gone back in my phone and read the last few text messages my father had sent me. His words ran counter to the narrative I’ve spun in my head of a twisted, sad and evil patriarch.
It had been a desperate cry for connection sent around the time this website was first born. Though murky and a bit crooked, it was the only way the battered boy at his core could think to try and at least make an effort to right things between us.
I shook and wept for some time, racked with guilt at seeing all the messages I’d ignored, that could have opened the door to some sort of reconciliation. But I got up, felt the granite countertop and listened to the dog’s heavy breathing in the next room, grounding myself in the space I was physically in, and relinquishing an attachment to years past and events outside of my control.
Time spent trying to alter the past is time spent tilling the soil of the present, dropping seeds that lead to a harvest of nothing but self-destruction.
There’s a love for the old man now and a daily recognition of the fact that he’s the one who turned me into a storyteller in the first place.
Where once I’d spiral and fall apart as I fled, or show tooth and claw to anyone that came close, I now feel, then regroup and re-engage.
There’s been a shattering of contrived connections I drew between my present moments and my history. I’ve thrown the eggshells my people had to walk on into the compost pile of the past. The war I’d been bringing to the world only has a place inside now.
Love’s a sharp edge meant to carve away at the delusions you use to cushion yourself against the reality of who you actually might be. I got it within the four walls of a shitbox camper and from a friend who’s put a roof over my head since I got sober.
A few weeks ago, she told me that I’d once been the glue that held a subsection of our group together. But with drink in hand and a refusal to move, I had done nothing this summer but sow seeds of division within our dirtbag ranks, and held onto my potential as if it were a form of currency that could only be traded at a later date.
But with keystrokes, controlled breath, and the absence of any chemical that might interfere, I have been steadily closing gaps between value and action. With the written word I’m getting stickier, and coming back to being the glue I was and want to be.
I don’t see any real merit in quantifying the days I’ve gone without liquor, nor did I get sober with the intention of breaking some personal record. I did it to lift a veil I’d draped over my own head, so that I could see a path forward more clearly and be reintroduced to myself.
I will drink again. Likely a light lager with lime beside a dozen oysters. But not until I hit specific mile markers I’ve designated in my mind– some of which, thanks to a commitment to routine, have recently revealed themselves to be much closer than I’d imagined.
But when I have that drink, if I feel that my old, sponge-like tendencies might return, I now have the necessary tools in my kit to recalibrate once more.
Where the drunk, depressed and dysregulated version of myself thought hope had died, I see that the curtain still hangs high.
I’m a dog. Always will be. But I’m no longer jonesing for a bone.