On staying sober

Dear M,

The worst thing about being a wasteoid is you wake up one day realizing you could have been a better person.  For me this has happened dozens of times, and the last time it happened was well after I got sober.  It was also the worst time.  I picked up a paper and found out, to my dismay, that people who drink a lot before 25 have handicapped themselves, and probably permanently.  I'll leave you to guess when I did most of my drinking.

To a guy like me this is devastating.  You tell a dimwit his IQ dropped ten years ago and his fish eyes just glaze over.  Who cares?  But what this means to a writer is he missed out on a new perspective.  A whole view on life has been flushed down the drain; a new series of eurekas were tossed in the trash bin; and I've been wandering through life, for perhaps a whole decade, with much less to write, with dumber things to do, and with God knows how many inferior choices I've made. 

They say this about alcohol -- and what about ecstasy?  And acid?  And mushrooms?  And coke?  What about the hashish and benzos and syrups and meth?  You pile these things together and you've got a new man entirely -- perhaps with whole brain sections running on fumes; glands blown well out of function; organs creaking along on the verge of collapse.  To have discovered life itself after 24 -- religion and manhood and family and great books and philosophy -- to have discovered all of this after you've thrown part of yourself away, well after you've missed all your so-called "spare time," so far after you knew what you'd be, is one of those cruel tricks played on us by our comical God; and if there is no God, then one of the great ironies churned out of an unfeeling universe -- perhaps worse than giving an animal on a dying planet self-consciousness.

I can only dream about the dreams I might have dreamed.  I could have started a business or written a few books or maybe made my own cult.  I could have railed against a thousand other authors and a thousand other bad thoughts.  What a wasteoid finds out is that he wakes up one morning and rails against himself.


PS: Salon Magazine has a "slightly different" perspective: that, so far from debilitating individuals and races, pot smoke has given some aborigines and other hunter-gatherer societies what Salon calls a "pygmy work ethic."  They say the pygmies (and I quote) "smoke to increase their courage on a hunt, dance better, increase their vital force, or to increase their work capacity when working for Europeans" (emphasis mine). This idea I believe is the work of cheap drugs.

Benjamin Franklin also writes in his own autobiography -- not to be missed, by the way, both for the prose and the wisdom it delivers -- he writes, I tell you the truth, that when he ran a printing shop his workers would show up boozing, and continued boozing throughout the day, and maintained it was their boozing that allowed them to work well: a common practice in Anglo-American society of that time, and one that probably lasted from the Middle Ages.  Franklin disagreed with them.  He had them clean up one day and, to their surprise, the business suddenly became viable.  We've gotten a lot more done ever since, but work itself has been ruined.

PPS: I realize after reading this essay that it makes me sound like a mess, but this impression is a long way from the truth.  Somehow, by either my own efforts or a stained-glass-and-burned-toast kind of miracle, my body and I are not only chugging along better than we ever have been, but I seem to be doing better than most of the people around me.  A strict diet, as you're more than well aware of, a consistent exercise routine, plenty of sleep and a daily two gallons of water, the practice of manhood-slash-philosophy and moderation in drinking have all combined to make me healthier, stronger, wiser, happier, and hornier than I've ever been in my entire life; and my complaint isn't so much that I'm a mess, but that I could have very possibly been a god.  The drugs in all probability could have killed me, or made me a dunce.  But I escaped, and I thank God every day for it, and on days I don't believe in God I wink and point at myself in the mirror.

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