Like Bacchanalia, the so-called Hemingway ethic was an easy mythos to throw oneself into, lazy college days spent churning out drafts in the little pub across the street from the Language building. We partied hard, wrote fast, and bullshitted with the best of them. By the time graduation rolled around and I’d read all of the books, knew it was all bullshit, it was too late, because that’s simply how addiction works.
Give-or-take a few teenaged indiscretions, I was a late drinker, and I thought that offered up some level of protection. I had years on my peers, a decade or more of catching up to do when I returned to University to finish my degree at the age of 27. And I surely made up for lost time. The creative writing program was angling to gain national notoriety, and for a moment I was its golden child, the one proclaimed by faculty and my peers most likely to succeed. Like a tipsy award-winner I thanked alcohol for a good chunk of my success, and held court in my little corner booth, the one with the low light and accessible outlet. Anyone knew where to find me, blissed out with a pitcher of cheap beer, cigarette hanging from my lips and fingers just flying. Out of my mind, quite literally, running just fast enough to keep my ever-intrusive inner voices at bay.
Grad school went equally as well, though the low-res format and the natural post-grad dispersion of irl friends led to more time drinking alone. Sure there were a few times I found myself recycling an old story or poem from my undergrad, but hell, obviously they held up, right? They still earned me praise. I drank my way to blackout through my residencies, but sold a chapbook just outside of graduation and knew without a doubt that my fate was coming to fruition, it was just a matter of time before I made the bestseller lists.
“First you take a drink,” Fitzgerald said. “Then the drink takes a drink. Then the drink takes you.” I remember cheering the first time I heard the quote: yes! Let the drink take us! And when I awoke last week, lying in my driveway covered in puke and tears, I thought maybe I’d gotten it wrong way back when. Yes, I thought, it’s finally got me, hasn’t it?
I knew it wasn’t working anymore for a while, though, didn’t I? When’s the last time I actually sat down with a drink and got any meaningful work done? The novel lies in pieces scattered around my office. The memoir sits half-drafted on my hard drive. A dozen aborted chapbooks sit stacked inside my desk. Then the drink takes you.
I don’t know how to quit drinking. I’ve tried everything over the years, it seems, if half-heartedly. I don’t know how to work through my demons besides to put them into words and toss them into the light, and standing here at five days sober I haven’t even been able to talk about it besides to the very nice intake counselor for the Intensive Outpatient Treatment Program I reached out to last week.
And now you know, too.
I’m scared. All I’ve ever been good at is making up stories, and this endeavor is supposed to take the sort of honesty that drunk me mocks as hopelessly romantic. Weak. Absolutely uncool. For years now I’ve swathed myself in those priestly robes of Dionysus, and then danced so hard that they’ve grown smoky, tangled and heavy with sweat, and getting myself out of them is going to be a job. How to tell those closest to me that fun-loving Jake is going sober? I don’t know what that looks like yet. But maybe I can write myself there.