Those times are over now. At least, I hope they are. As of this Sunday, it'll be 63 days since I've had a drink.
Nearly every day on my walk home from the office, I pass the sun-flooded patio of Chill Winston in Gastown and observe people sipping from what appear to be the tallest, coldest, most spectacularly golden glasses of beer I have ever seen. I always think the same thing: Why can't I have one?
The reason why you can't have one, I patiently explain to my dumb self, is because you could never stop at one. My thinking was always this: Why have one when you can have six? Or ten? Or fifteen?
My appetite for beer has been insatiable since college. Whenever I shopped for beer, I'd always think of this line from True Romance: "It's better to have a gun and not need it than to need a gun and not have it." Only I'd replace the word "gun" with "beer." This was my way of giving myself permission to purchase an extra six-pack or a spare tallboy, you know, just in case I needed it later. And if I didn't drink it tonight? It would be there tomorrow night, waiting for me.
When I moved to British Columbia in the summer of 2009, I dropped off my luggage at my furniture-less apartment then headed to the nearby 7-11 to buy beer. After a thorough investigation of the store's cooler sections and a brief interrogation of the cashier, I learned that convenience stores in B.C. do not carry alcohol of any kind. Over the next few days, I cased the neighborhood for liquor stores, only to deduce that there were none. The closest booze seller was a good sweat-inducing 15-minute walk away. I thought, Fine. This is the universe telling me that it's time to establish better habits, to start fresh here in this city. I hear you, Universe. And for a while, I was marginally booze-free and feeling pretty good about that.
Then three months later a beer and wine store opened its doors not more than a hundred steps from my apartment building. I anxiously peered through the front windows of the store wondering what, exactly, the universe was telling me now.
I became one of the store's first and no doubt best customers. I knew the owners of the store, and knew all the cashiers by name. And the money I spent there! A 12-pack of Alexander Keith's, which is pretty good beer, costs nearly $30. Six-packs range from $14 to $17 dollars for anything of quality. Trying to be a drunk in this province is no small investment.
It pains me now to do the math, thinking of all the cash I spent there. The store has only gotten fancier over the last two years. I can't help but think that some of the nicer additions, like the dimly lit wine alley on the far side of the store, wouldn't have been possible without my generous donations.
Though the amount of cash I've spent on beer is extraordinary, what galls me further, and makes me despair further, is the amount of time and energy I spent thinking about drinking, planning my drinking, and beyond that, being hungover from drinking. It's a truly staggering amount of time. I could have done plenty of other things with that time. I could have finished writing a book or two, could have gotten married and had a family, could have gotten married a second time and had a second family, could have been a better friend to my friends. I could have finally finished Fallout: New Vegas. I could have written more Jones Report entries, could have done more loads of laundry.
I could have learned to play the goddamn French horn. I could have called my mother more often.
Make no mistake: my life is fine. In some ways, considering all the self-destruction I've engaged in over the past two decades, it's borderline miraculous that things have turned out as well as they have for me. Still, it's hard not to wonder sometimes what I could have done, what path I might have taken, if I hadn't devoted so much time and energy to drinking.
At the back of my mind I suppose I've always fantasized what my life might be like if I really tried, you know, to be the best I could be, day in and day out. I've always wondered what I might be capable of, what fortune, glory or sense of self-satisfaction, if any at all, would come my way. Part of me has always been afraid to learn the answer to that question. I mean, what if I actually tried my best, tried to find out what I'm truly capable of, what I'm worth, only to learn that it's not really all that much?
That's a really shitty thing to learn about yourself. That said, I also know that if I don't at least attempt to learn the answer to that question, if I don't at least make a whole-hearted run at it, I'll never be able to forgive myself.
I went to a couple of AA meetings. It's an excellent organization, and it obviously works for a lot of people, but it's not for me. Maybe I'm being naive here, but I have a hard time accepting the I'm-helpless-in-the-face-of-this and addiction-as-disease approach. I believe you have a pretty clear choice when it comes to addiction: You choose to do it or choose not to do it. And that's it. (This article in Macleans deconstructs the addiction-as-disease way of thinking far more eloquently than I ever could.) (And if you're in the mood for one more booze-y click, it should be John Bowe's terrific story from the Lives section of the NY Times Magazine.)
So am I an alcoholic? Man, I don't know. A diagnosis really isn't even relevant anymore. All I know is this: I no longer liked the role that alcohol was playing in my life. That's all.
Sixty-plus days in, I'll confess: there's a pretty big hole in my life, and in my personality, that beer had occupied for decades. I've realized that I don't know who I am, or what I'm going to look like, or feel like, without beer in my life.
But I'm figuring that out now as fast as I can. In the meantime, I'll put in another load of laundry, then telephone my mom, then get busy attempting to realize my full potential.
Oh, beer-free life: I haven't completely figured out your appeal yet. But I will.