I remember it quite vividly —at least the first part of the night. I was settling in to start on a piece for an album I had been tasked with reviewing, tequila and soda with lime in hand, joking with my roommate that “I was a drinker with a writing problem”. Brendan Behan’s quip was my adopted credo in such instances, particularly when people would start to give me that worried, knowing look that says “are you sure that fifth glass is a good idea”? Which, of course, it rarely ever was. By the end of that night I had passed out with my laptop still open, a page of unusable gibberish staring back at me. That morning I started to realize that my credo was failing me, and after turning in a fresh, albeit hangover fueled version of that review later in the week, I wouldn’t revisit writing again for nearly four years.
I always had a rather active artistic side; growing up I was an avid painter, jewelry maker, seamstress, and stylist, but writing always came most naturally to me. I enjoyed it, and I felt that I excelled at it. I could articulately express what I wanted to say and when I didn’t have access to oils, could paint a picture armed solely with a robust lexicon that seemed never ending. As an angry kid with a wayward upbringing, drinking and drug use seemed romantic to me, almost on the same level as my own depression. I started to realize that my own fevered thought process could better be brought out with a little liquid courage, as not only was I too terrified to reach out to others with what I had to say, I was afraid to merely utter it to myself.
After toying around with the idea of trying to write professionally for some time, I started to write for a couple music blogs at around 24. I had managed to land a job working as a paralegal and needing a creative outlet, decided that marrying my love of extreme metal and writing made the most natural sense, and was a productive way for me to get my artistic fix outside of my nine to five. Everything I was led to believe about creative professionals seemed to be peppered with the understanding that drinking and creativity go hand in hand, so of course I ran with that cliché and clung to it above all else I should have been holding dear. Alcohol loosens inhibitions, so it would make sense that many artists would choose to imbibe so as to let their creative juices flow more freely (or just temper the demons attempting to stare them down), and I felt that I was no different. I’d joke that I was “white collar by day, leather jacket by night”, laughing only to myself as I’d get progressively more wasted, writing about Gorguts and Wolves in the Throne Room by myself in my bedroom until the words started to melt together in front of me. I developed a system where I would write until I passed out, and then make edits upon waking so that I could submit a piece that was actually legible. This didn’t always work; when my drinking had progressed past the point of problematic and into more pathetic territory, I’d received my first rejection, with my editor saying something along the lines of “this is just… bad”.
My shame was applicable everywhere in my life at this point, and now it was overshadowing the one thing I had always enjoyed, and felt confident pursuing. That confidence had all but dissipated, and I now felt nervous to simply open a Word document for fear I’d just continue to embarrass myself. I wasn’t ready to stop drinking, so instead I put aside my creative outlet. I’d read of famous authors drinking themselves into an early grave, and started to relate to some of the more sordid and depressing anecdotes that led up to them, only I was kicking myself for being too far gone to include writing even a few sentences into my regimen, let alone a novel or screenplay. My new best friend and partner in crime was forcing me further into isolation until it was just the two of us and after a while I not only stopped writing, I stopped trying in general. I would go on to lose that job at the law firm, the trust of friends and family, and finally a place to call home, all while I was drinking away the core of who I was. What was once an exciting romance had turned into a waking nightmare and a new spin on what I had always understood to be a toxic relationship. My muse, my friend, and my savior had been slowly sinking a knife deeper and deeper into my back, so patient and meticulous as to convince me it was all the while a comforting hand, simply massaging away my troubles.
It took me a while to finally get the hang of being sober once I was finally able to stay that way after countless attempts. It had become such a large part of my life and who I was that without it, I felt as if I was operating with a phantom limb. After passing the one year mark it occurred to me that I should start writing again. Of course it had occurred to me countless times before, but the dregs of shame I still felt surrounding it kept me from the keyboard and muddling in my own thoughts, largely alone. Not quite ready to revisit the world of music journalism, I thought it was a good idea to write about what I knew most intimately; dual diagnosis. Putting myself out there in this way has been at times difficult, and sometimes even painful, but I’m chalking it up to the newness of the ordeal. I had mastered going out with friends sober, going out with strangers sober, cooking, cleaning (seriously), and even having sex sober. While some of these have been harder to deal with than others, one trend is constant throughout; I am now present in my own life and can address each situation with a clear head. This aspect alone has made writing, while different, more fulfilling and challenging.
Because I’m not working with a clouded mind telling me that whatever garbage I’m churning out is award level stuff (think drunk texting your ex at two in the morning and thinking it’s a great idea — same deal), I can actually assess what I’m typing out and grow from my own mistakes. This was not something I was able to do in any area of my life while drinking, so sure as hell this phenomenon did not apply to my writing back then. I have spent some time going back and reviewing old pieces both published on the sites I wrote for as well as my own personal blog from the time, Small, Drunk, and Bitchy (yes… yes, I know). I could not for the life of me recognize who this person was, nor what in the world they were talking about. If anything, I could track how much worse I was getting with each piece that I came across — both in the content of what I was publishing, and the progression of my illness.
Fortunately, not everyone suffers from these demons. More power to the writers out there who can enjoy a glass of wine while thoughtfully working on a piece, but that was not, and could never be, an option for me. But I have realized over time that just like everything else in my life, there is absolutely no reason I shouldn’t be exploring my artistic side uninhibited by booze — in fact, I’d argue that I now have even more of a reason to continue the journey. Not only am I back to writing, I’m painting again, and am just starting to teach myself digital animation. My productivity level these days surpasses anything I used to not even just accomplish back then, but strive for. My drive and perseverance have strengthened to the point of not being to recognize the person I am today, except now I count that as a blessing as opposed to a shameful curse.
These days I try not to kick myself for not accomplishing enough in whatever arbitrary time-frame I might have previously set in place. I push myself to do better instead of telling myself that I just can’t, only to drown my own twisted logic until I can produce something I can convince myself is passable. That’s no way to write, and it sure as hell isn’t any way to live. Putting down the bottle not only helped me put my life back together, it helped to remind me who I once was and what I had lost in myself. Shame no longer has a home in how I write, but for the first time in years, I do.