I don’t know when I had my first drink with friends. Maybe I was 14? Or 15? I do remember a chilly autumn day. We were standing around in the playground by the tennis courts, passing around a cheap bottle of Mohawk Blackberry Brandy. It was sweet and it went down easy. It spread a warmth through my chest. And after a while it made my lips tingle with numbness.
I felt myself taking a deep breath that day. I was relaxed. All of the sharp edges of life blurred just a little bit. We huddled together, smoking cigarettes and laughing.
I was hanging out with bigger kids. They were 16, 17 and 18. They knew this feeling much better than I did. They drank a few times a week. They got together specifically to drink, pooled their money together and sent the oldest looking guy in to the liquor store. It was the actual activity: drinking.
Blurring the edges. Easing the stresses. Forgetting. We were avoiding our feelings, whatever feelings they might be, because we hadn’t yet learned how to feel them, or how to deal with them. We were anesthetizing our growing pains. We were hiding from our human frailty. We were following in our father’s footsteps.
For some of us it became a crutch, a habit. For some of us it became a life-long addiction to wrestle. And for a couple of us, it became a death sentence.
Those of us who could handle the alcohol, who could manage the effects, learned to dose ourselves. Only drinking on the weekends. Only at social events. Only when we were stressed and really needed it. We built upon the behaviors we had learned when we were young. Self medicating.
‘I don’t have a problem. My relationship with alcohol isn’t unhealthy. I can control my intake. I can choose to drink just a little to tone down my social anxieties. I can drink a little more to relax my brain. I can drink just enough to let loose and have fun. Or I can have a few more, and completely numb myself.’
But alcohol doesn’t only numb the anxiety, the stress, and the pains of life, it numbs everything, including the joy. It covers up all of our emotions, and dulls everything down.
How can we remember what it was like to be young, and emotional, and to feel things deeply? How can we deal with deep feelings any more, if we conditioned ourselves to drink through the stress of our feelings when we were younger? If we learned to numb ourselves even before we learned any other way of coping?
I don’t ever want to be numb again. I want to feel all of my feelings. None of them are good or bad, they’re just feelings.
1000 days ago (this coming Sunday) I decided that I might never drink again. Not because my drinking was out of control, by societal standards. Not because I had a problem, by societal standards. But because my path toward mindfulness led me to that decision. I wanted to live fully. I wanted to deal with everything directly. I wanted to feel everything again, good, bad, or indifferent.
It has been a rough couple of years for this body of mine. A year-long cancer scare that turned out be actual cancer. A couple of surgeries. Coming to terms with the new shape of me. But I’ve dealt with it all head on. I was mindful, I was deliberate, and I was sober. I deeply felt all manner of feelings. And I’m so grateful to be here to feel them all. Grateful and overjoyed!
Earlier this year a song by AJR was being played in heavy rotation. Every time I heard it I thought back to my young friends huddled together in the playground by the tennis courts, sipping on Blackberry Brandy until our lips went numb. The chorus goes like this:
‘Won’t you help me sober up?
Growing up, it made me numb
And I want to feel something again
Won’t you help me sober up?
All the big kids, they got drunk
And I want to feel something again
Won’t you help me feel something again?
How’s it go again?’
That’s what mindfulness and sobriety have done for me. They’ve reminded me how it goes, again.
Cheers! To a thousand days!
Listen to Sober Up by AJR