On October 30, 2009, I quit drinking. But instead of just quietly giving it up and moving on with my life like a normal person, I decided to record it and post the process online, farting out a YouTube video every few months to create a kind of Behind the Music episode played in reverse (where the band starts out drunk and impoverished and slowly gets a record deal). This went on for the next two years and I'm going to spoil the ending -- there was no relapse and I'm still sober.
Anyway, I've gotten thousands of messages about these from people saying they've helped them, which is a weird place for me to be in. I'm not the helping type. I've always pictured myself as a guy that society just had to sigh and deal with -- a bug on the windshield that the wipers just can't quite get rid of.
But here we are, so let's enjoy this painful yet inspirational retrospective together.
#9. "I've decided I'm going to quit drinking ... for a while."
This video is hard for me to watch. I've had complete Internet strangers tell me that they had to watch it in chunks because it does get painful ... especially toward the end.
This is the night that I made the decision to quit drinking, and I'm buttfuck drunk. I start out the video on my seventeenth beer, and finish it with number eighteen. For ten excruciating minutes, I lethargically stumble over my words and try to explain why I had made the decision to quit. Again, drinking the whole time. It's not quite a David Hasselhoff moment ... but then again, I don't think anyone but David Hasselhoff himself can get this fucking drunk and still live.
Watching that, the hardest part for me isn't so much the messy rambling or the saggy drunk eyes ... it's a phrase I used, that, if you've ever tried to quit anything, you spotted right away. It's the Safety Net.
Specifically, when I said that I had decided to quit drinking, I added, "for a while." I did this twice. For people who don't have that addiction demon living in your skull, it may seem like an arbitrary difference in wording. But to someone like me -- and there are hundreds of them in my forum inbox -- it means everything. It's the addiction planning the relapse in advance. It's the addict laying down a soft landing spot so that later we can go back into drinking again and tell anyone who confronts us, "Well, I wasn't quitting forever. I was just giving it up for a while to see if I could."
Listen for it the next time you hear a friend say they're trying to give up alcohol or whatever their vice is. "I'm going to take some time to get this under control" or "Yeah I'm definitely going to cut back for a while to prove I'm not addicted." You see the irony -- if you can't give it up forever, then you're an addict. Otherwise it's like you're agreeing to get engaged but making sure to keep your old girlfriends' numbers around.
Hey, a dude has to keep his options open.
That video is my rock bottom, and it's there on YouTube for everyone to see. Not an actor portraying an alcoholic, followed by a montage over some upbeat, cheesy 90s music as he cleans up his life and proves to Jennifer Aniston that he's finally become a man worthy of her vagina. It's a real person in a real crisis, begging for help at the lowest point of his life.
#8. "I had what the doctors and I thought was a heart attack ..."
The first day without drinking was tough, and you can see it on my face like knuckle prints. You don't even have to pay attention to what I'm saying. Look how exhausted I am. Listen to me ramble at the end about cooking dinner -- I couldn't hold a thought to save my life, and my hands would just not stop moving. That fidgety, constant motion didn't stop for almost a week, and it annoyed the living shit out of me. I'm sure it annoyed everyone else, too, but at that point I could care less about what they thought. The only thing I was concerned about was making it through a conversation without stabbing someone in the eye with the ass end of an ink pen.
You have to remember that at the time, I was doing a shitty manual labor job, washing semis for a living. Which meant that not only was I dealing with the public all day, but my customers were exclusively truck drivers -- some of the roughest, most brash, hardest to please customers on the planet. Many of them were confrontational and aggressive, which is hard enough to deal with under normal circumstances. Doing it while going through withdrawal was bordering impossible.
But getting through that first day was a milestone for me. It was literally the first full day I had spent sober in several years. I wasn't sure I could do it. The mere thought scared the living fuck out of me, but this video marked the beginnings of the most dramatic positive changes I have ever experienced.
#7. "I can't really say it was a human figure ... it was like a huge blob ..."
Day 3 brought the hallucinations and flu-like symptoms, both directly connected to alcohol withdrawal. A ghostly blob in my bedroom, and the voice of my dead father:
When I mention that I hung a sign on my apartment door saying alcohol was not allowed inside, that was not a metaphor. It was an actual, physical sign. If you don't grasp the significance of that, imagine hanging a sign at your place that tells your friends they can't come in if they intend to do any of the friend things they're used to doing. "No Video Game Zone" or "All Freestyle Rapping is Forbidden Here" or "No Tattooing dicks on Steve." Think about how they would interpret that. Think about how long they would remain your friends.
#6. "I shit a moose."
The fourth day of sobriety was a huge turning point.
Not only was it the hardest, but it was the day that the world suddenly opened up. I was starting to see and understand things that my drunken mind was used to blurring out. I was slowly waking up, and for the first time in a week, my sense of humor was starting to peek its head out. That was an enormous step for me because I've written comedy on the internet off and on since the late 90s. It's one of the big parts of my personality. So, one of my big concerns was that I wouldn't be able to be funny once I removed booze from the equation. I had always written my articles while pants shittingly drunk -- since long before I wrote for Cracked.
This was, incidentally, also the day that I realized that when your body is used to twenty years of "the beer shits," it doesn't know how to react when you change fuel. It goes the opposite direction and turns all of your fecal matter into concrete. Or as I describe it in the video, shitting a moose. Antlers and all.
#5. "I didn't threaten anyone, I didn't kill anyone ..."
Addicts call it "The pink cloud." It's the wonderful, feel-good stretch of days that you get right when the recovery is paying off. The physical downsides of withdrawal are pretty much over with, and you start seeing the positive effects of sobriety: more money, feeling physically better, mind clearing up. This brings on a rush of positive feelings and optimism that, unfortunately, does not last.
Well, Day 5 found me smack dab in the middle of the pink cloud:
Man, that night and the next several were awesome. I could have taken on the whole world, and I let everyone know it at the end of that video. But, like the hallucinations and the shakes, the pink cloud is a symptom.
When that starts to disappear, that's when relapses happen. The return to some kind of normalcy feels like a descent back into bad times. You think you're slipping and you need something to get you back up to that high again. An alcoholic's mind automatically says, "Booze! Booze will get you back up there!"
Also, holy shit, I forgot how much I hated that cheapass Walmart futon. Anyone who owns one of those things is an asshole.