Great epiphanies follow sobriety. It is not the other way around. Most addicts don’t have singular life-altering epiphanies. Angels can sit down with us on the bus and talk our ears off and we’ll tune out their blathering. Most of us just wind up wanting to crawl out of the loathsome phantasmagoria we’ve created externally and internally. You normally cannot quantify the moment where things pivot for the better. Most of us aren’t even sure how it happened. I’m grateful that I went through darkness. Without the darkness, I may never have seen things from the perspective I now have. I don’t feel sorry for myself or want you to feel sorry for me. My hope is that some authenticity and availing myself may give hope.
I had no epiphany that made me stop drinking. I had millions of moments that should have shaped me up. Cracking my head on the bottom of a pool at 3 a.m. wasn’t enough. Being holed up in jail in the middle of Texas without a phone call for days didn’t strike me as being “off”. Unintentional 180’s and wrong-ways down one-way streets didn’t do it for me. Jumping medians making my car go “Dukes of Hazzard” airborne didn’t impress me much. What didn’t kill me made me suicide-proof. Dropping acid at 13 and really grasping the visceral meaning behind the Pink Floyd lyric “There’s someone in my head but it’s not me” wasn’t a big problem for me after “The Real Scott” eventually crawled back home days later. Looking back on “my pivotal moment” is to peer into pandemonium: a flushing commode of orange vomit littered with the bobbing surfaced detritus of my past & future descending again into the abyss from whence it came in some mindless cycle. I’m prostrate with cold sweat propped against my bathroom wall glowering at the whirlpool and dehumanized by it. Each time my familiarity with the toilet’s cold porcelain surface was reinforced it took another part of my soul with it into the netherworlds with the previous night’s alcohol.
I was never an angry drunk or got a DUI so I figured the alcoholism that runs through my family wasn’t going to sink its claws into me. In my late 30’s that started to change but for some reason I was ignoring the signs. Every time I cracked a beer open while driving I had this peripheral inner monologue, “You keep doing this man. You do it all the time dumbass. You think you’re going to do this the rest of your life?” I indeed kept doing it and every time I was a little more freaked-out by my behavior. I was anxious because I wanted so badly to chug the cold numbing-bubbles down and have that “oh-so- pleasant carefree-glaze” fall over me while I’d crank tunes and smoke cigarettes with the windows down. That carefree abandon was tainted – almost negated, by the looming inevitability of being caught. I was pushing 40 and I’d been driving drunk or getting drunk for way more than half my life – since 13 to be exact. My number was up soon and I was upping the ante all the time. Finally, on a Wednesday evening after band practice the darkness in my Tahoe’s cabin was illuminated by the dreaded frenetic strobes of neon blue angrily ping-ponging off my side and rearview mirrors. I immediately accepted my fate. I drank 13 beers. I polished off a 12 pack and bummed a beer at practice. I was screwed.
“How much you had to drink”, it didn’t take the officer long to ask. The equation for such a contingency was second nature to me as I now realize that every time I completed a drink (normally counted in wholesale denominations of six packs or twelve packs with side orders of gas station malt liquors) and looked at the clock, I was calculating a web of complexities involving hours, drinks and meals which might satisfy the question as to whether I was legally impaired. Of course, the numbers would always need to be drastically “fudged” and “rounded” to the point of being an egregious and borderline sociopathic lie.
“Well I left the house around seven, had four beers and dinner, so it’s now 11 and I feel totally sober”, I fibbed to the officer. Four beers were the magic number – a bit too much but honest-sounding and justification for why my sour Budweiser breath clam-baked the entire cabin of my SUV as undoubtedly when I rolled the window down to greet the officer the tell-tale miasma rolled out like cartoon sewer fog.
“Why were you going so fast”, the cop asked secondly.
I replied, “I guess it’s just been a long day and I was just thinking about eating my food and go to bed.” I gestured to my passenger – the jumbo Taco Bell bag sitting shotgun which contained a sumptuous variety of that novelty slop which is so gratifying for the drunkard to ghoulishly gorge upon lonesome in front of the television.
The officer bought this utter crap spewing from my mouth and sent me home with a speeding ticket. I could not believe it. It was surreal that I circumnavigated my near-nightmare-come-true. I fully deserved jail. This experience didn’t curtail my drinking. It did (however) in the future, become one of several dots I connected to reveal the “you’re an alcoholic” picture. If I look back and concentrate on what that special “pivotal” moment was which initiated the start of my recovery, the aforementioned scene comes up to the surface as part of a montage but it’s not “the” singular epiphany – there was none. When I look backwards into that fog which was my depression and alcoholism and I peer around for profound moments of clarity, I only see some shaky cryptic footage – an amateur compilation of aesthetically disparate shots on some off-brand camera. Still, it is from the perspective seen through my own eyes at the time. I see those crackling blue lights shatter the serenity of my black “dream drives”. I see myself kneeling on the rocky dry red Carolina clay under the gas lamp in my front yard. I’m weeping with hands clasped beseeching the sickly pale moonlight cloud-painted sky through the menacing silhouette of towering pine branches. Their scrawled and evil outlines are consigned to memory resembling desiccated-balled-up-dead spiders and clawed skeletal hands clutching down at me in want. There I weep and pray to some unknown force I’m certain of. I beg to regain my bearings. I beg to return to the before-time when I was a child. I want to default my settings back to a time when wondrous love and possibility fueled excitement and empowered me with forgotten wherewithal. There was a remote past before alcohol hexed me into suspended animation in which I’d negotiate the entirety of adulthood hobbled by its trance. The next scene materializes into some vision where I’m now out-of-the-body being escorted through recent events by a black figure. I’ve managed to bypass the benevolent “Ghost of Christmas Past” and am side by side with The Reaper. We watch me howl “Pancho and Lefty” on an out-of-tune guitar to our captive guests and my wife. I’ve spent the whole afternoon learning it while drinking whisky so I can reveal it later just one time to 3 people. Way to spend your day Scott! I can’t get through the “performance” without crying. It reminds me of burring my dead dog. I’m pouring all my heart into it but it’s just terrible and I’m out-of-my-league. I’m an imposter human. It’s 7 pm. The guests have just arrived. I’ll soon pass out. My wife thinks I’m pathetic and rightfully so. This is normal now – blacking out around 8 pm. Then the scenes flicker in a warp-speed hypnosis like the intro to an apocalypse-themed b-movie: I’m by myself in my truck in a large parking lot in a derelict industrial district downing an entire blackberry sparks (a malt liquor energy drink) in one gulp. Next, I’m screaming at my wife while our little boy watches from next room with tears streaming down his beautiful perfect little face – he too is screaming, his face is red and contorted weeping violently while wailing, “Stoooop!” This is what it looks like when I think back on the moment that made me “quit drinking”. So, am I coloring this with mellow drama? Yes. But, when I look back at my life it seemed like I was in a waking nightmare when I think of my latter day drunkenness. Of course, there were good times and I functioned but if I recall the final days of my drinking I think of these dark scenes. If I think of my youth and alcohol I have very different memories. I had great times drinking. I wouldn’t have drank otherwise. Alcohol gave me courage in the beginning and turned on me in the end. I never thought it would.
Any one of the scenes I mentioned should have catalyzed a polar shift in my thinking but addiction just doesn’t work that way. The walk out of the alcoholic wasteland was a long one. When you spend a lifetime drinking and finally wake up with your (hopefully) last hangover you tend to find yourself proverbially naked in one hell of a weird place. I was determined to make it home but I was far away and the road ran through lingering darkness wherefrom shadows leered in wait to yank me back into their brambles and waylay my journey. What the hell are you talking about Scott??!! Those “shadows” represent every time I attempted to “cut down” on my drinking only for it to come back stronger. Forgive me, I’ve spent the last 25 years writing heavy metal lyrics drunk and on drugs. This vernacular sure seems appropriate for the bad things you do and go through while using. The nature of this mental illness is that it habitually tricks you until you become perceptive of its presence. That’s why so many people refer to alcohol as a demon. That’s why you need to admit The dreaded “A” word to yourself & others to gain traction on the trail home. I never needed to learn moderation. I needed to banish my enemy.
The grand epiphany that makes one stop drinking is a myth – more rare than a unicorn that one should seize upon a defining moment when they’re fumbling through their sickness and confusion. I know it happens. I know love at first sight happens. It’s just more often than not the opposite. My epiphany happened long after the alcohol dried up. It came to me with clarity. The Universe continuously gifts us with opening doors but we’re often too blind to see them in sobriety, much less when we’re in some chemically-addled swoon. Months into sobriety when my running had really started to shift from being a painful weight-loss tool into a fulfilling athletic pursuit, I was beating myself up over my own bad thoughts. Sometimes you have faint glimpses of wisdom that you know to be ultimate and profound truth but you don’t hold on to them or keep them with you for long. This one was different. This one stuck. That truth was and is that every time I had a bad thought I could acknowledge it and redirect it. And maybe, just maybe, one day I would be able to redress a life’s worth of habitual negativity. With (a lot of) trust in the process of this newfound insight, perhaps I could slowly redirect my inner mind to a peaceful state. This is my journey and it’s unending. It begs the questions: What is really important to you in life? What are you going to do with your time here? Are you enjoying yourself? Are you going to leave the world a better place when you leave, the same, or the opposite? We’re all dying right now. It’s a beautiful fact and proof that life is a gift. Glimpses of clarity leave me with more questions than answers but to seek purpose as opposed to hiding from it provides a degree of placidity we all yearn for. So, in my not-so-plain English: All that crap you’re afraid of dealing with, all that catching-up with a lifetime of wasted time that feels overwhelming to start out upon, all those emotions buried in your inner wreckage like gruesome decayed and dismembered body parts you fear to exhume and detangle, the truth about who you look like when the ugliness is wiped away – these fears are all worth facing. It’s the only way to find yourself again, and no matter who is on the other side is the person you are meant to be. Moreover, It’s the person you want to be.