It was a scorching afternoon in Austin when I walked over to a seedy liquor store by my apartment and asked for two of those travel sized shots reserved for airplanes and alcoholics. Jim Beam Bourbon. I only needed one, but there was a $5 minimum for cards. When I got home I poured the two shots into a coffee mug and nearly yakked as I took a healthy swallow. I'm not a whisky guy, but this wasn't a drink I was looking to enjoy. I picked this drink to help me remember the sauce for what it was—foul tasting poison that hadn't served me one damn bit.
I started drinking during the summer before entering college and was hooked immediately. I was anxious as all hell and alcohol gave me a break from my racing mind. In some ways, I felt more myself when I drank. Or at least more of what I imagined myself to be. Funny, relaxed, confident, and not so goddamn scared all the time. I rarely felt comfortable in social situations, and alcohol loosened me up. Plus everybody drinks in college, right?
Drinking was my foot in the door. I would damn near introduce myself as a functioning alcoholic as if it were a badge of honor. I said this despite full-well knowing I had actual alcoholics in my family. I never thought I had a problem though. My mom was another story. When she got drunk she got mean. And when she wasn't throwing hands or whatever she could grab a hold of, she was sobbing like there was literally no tomorrow. But me? I was a happy drunk. A fun drunk. How could that be a problem?
Aside from the hangovers and the occasional secondhand story of how I puked on some dude's brand new baby blue suit, I couldn't come up with a reason of why I'd quit. What the hell would I do with my friends if I didn't drink? I can barely talk to girls after a few beers, I'm sure as shit not getting anywhere sober.
It wasn't until I started meditating that I began to reconsider things. I realized that there was another way to shut off my monkey mind. In time, I learned to notice thoughts and let them be. I learned to not be so quick to attach to thoughts and follow them blindly. I learned to simply rest in awareness and rest as awareness. Where I'd previously took to booze to turn my awareness off, I'd begun to learn to embrace my experience—discomfort and all.
The more I practiced, the more I wondered if alcohol had a place in my life any more. Getting drunk seemed opposed to all the hours I was putting in on the meditation cushion. It felt like I was busting my on a five-mile run in the morning but throwing away all that work by downing a Big Mac and Coke at night.
I wanted to embrace awareness, not push it away. I wanted to work through my anxiety and discomfort in social situations instead of using liquid courage as a bandaid. Actually, what am I saying... I didn't want these things at all. Anxiety sucks. Embracing awareness meant looking myself in the mirror, and that mug looking back at me. I didn't want to work through these problems. I still don't. But I knew it would make me a better person, and I had a feeling that in time I'd find peace in awareness that I'd never find at the bottom of a bottle.
It's been about 8 months since that last double shot of Jim Beam. I can't say that I really miss drinking. Social gatherings felt a bit awkward at first, but like anything I got used to it. Frankly, I think I'm better company when I'm sober. I'm more present, and drunk people make for easy crowds. I've made a lot of positive changes since quitting the sauce. I can't directly attribute those changes to not drinking, but habits are definitely easier to keep when you're not willingly impairing your mind.
My brother asked me a while ago, "If you could remove alcohol from the world completely, would you?" I think I would. I'm all for freedom, but in this hypothetical, alcohol wouldn't be an option that we're free to choose. Removing alcohol from the equation would save millions of lives, prevent a ton of needless suffering, and make us much healthier on the whole. I don't know that we should ban it now that it's here, but if it were a new drug that arrived on the market today, I doubt we would accept the costs as willingly as we do now. For me at least, the pros and cons scale is way the fuck out of balance.