7:39 AM – Embarrassingly late. It’s difficult to do this with the sun tripping through the window and my dog nipping at my feet. But, here it is.
“Writing a first draft is very much like watching a Polaroid develop. You can’t – and, in fact, you’re not supposed to – know exactly what the picture is going to look like until it has finished developing.” – Anne Lamott
I’ve never considered myself a person to keep many secrets, so there’s no reason to start now.
I had my last drink February 25, 2013, nearly two months ago. I was not a full-blown alcoholic, meaning I did not deal with physical withdrawals after laying it down, but alcohol had a full-time presence in my life. I drank beer daily. I wrote about beer more than any other topic. I read about beer. Thought about beer. Talked about beer. Structured most of my social and private engagements around beer. Allowed beer to develop my calendar of events, deciding for me where I went and with whom I went and how long I stayed and how I would get home and even if I would chance going at all. Beer began as a hobby and became a constant.
By the time I laid beer down, beer had no flavor to me anymore: it was all, no matter the brand or the style or the IBU / ABV counts, the same 12 ounce wash of dullness. In such constancy and excess, the mystique, even the beauty, was lost.
On February 25, I chose to live a beer free life for a prolonged season because my relationship to beer had switched roles somewhere along the way. I was no longer the one consuming the beer – the beer was now consuming me. Beer consumed my finances, my mental capacities, my creative energies, and my relational resources and confidences. Beer consumed my mornings and my evenings, even on the rare day when I skipped a beer. Beer consumed my physical health, eroding away at my intestinal tract and keeping me locked in a mysterious (and, often times, awkward) bondage of pain and uncertainty and medications. Beer consumed my identity, allowing me to remove labels I had spent years building inside myself – writer, reader, editor, creator, morning aficianado, amateur herpetologist, friend of the order Hymenoptera – moving into their place labels of beer nerd, beer geek, beer writer, guy who leaves parties early, guy who doesn’t show at all. Beer consumed my convictions, causing me to feel so blase that my feet refused to stand hard on any yes or any no. Beer consumed my conscience, my spirit, my ability to feel the shattering or soaring emotions that once drove me to pray or to write with total abandon. Beer consumed my ability to communicate because beer had become my first language, and the cloud hazed over my mind left me unable to engage anything or anyone other than the recliner in my guest room propped in front of my Sanyo Volkswagon-Bug sized television set, spinning through media my mind was far too consumed to consume meaningfully. Beer consumed my sleeping and my waking, knocking me out and keeping me down.
Two weeks after I emptied the last bottle in my fridge, I confessed to a friend that beer had taken more from me than it had ever given. I still feel that way, even as the summer blows in a Texas heat so worthy of secession from southern latitudes that our parking lots hope for ice chests and bottle caps and lawn chairs to litter and cool down their asphalt skin. Honestly, I might miss beer in July. But I only need to remember what I fed to beer, what beer consumed, and it’s easy to walk away. I only need to remember that God has spoken things about my life, about life in general, and I want to agree with God’s promises and see them to fruition.
I write all this today in response to Anne Lamott’s suggestion that writing a story is like watching a polaroid come into focus because, incidentally, most of my life feels like a drying polaroid, as well. Without alcohol in my physical or financial or calendared systems, many new and true things are coming into focus, into feeling, into the foreground. Just two nights ago while washing dishes I listened to a comedy record I dearly loved this past winter and, suddenly, I did not think it was very funny. Now I’m oddly uninterested in reclining endlessly in the dark of my guest room staring at our VW bug of a TV. Without the booze, I feel free to take longer walks with my dog, read more pages in the evening, engage in more conversations with actual eye contact. I will be interested to see what else seeps into clarity over the next few months. It’s still too fresh to know where it’s all going and what will come into view. These polaroids are still drying, as are many of the counties in the state of Kiki Malone.