Confessions of an Alcoholic Part 5: Bobbing Up and Down the River

“The Drunkards” by James Ensore

“If the river was whiskey and I was a duck,
I’d dive to the bottom and I’d never come up,
Oh, tell me how long have I got to wait?
Oh, can I get you now, must I hesitate?…”

— Hesitation Blues (If the River Was Whiskey), Traditional

9 months and change now, heigh-ho.

It’s only slightly concerning to me that the sight of a whiskey bottle on the shelves behind a bartop still manages to make me salivate like Pavlov’s dogs hearing a bell. The glow of the brown liquid within, highlighted by the lights above or below, is as divine to me as a burning bush.

“Come no closer!” warned the bottle to Moses.

There’s something so satisfying about the taste of whiskey first splashing against the tongue. It’s a harsh taste initially, especially with cheaper varieties. After the first drink, the bite lessens. Suddenly, it’s as easy to tolerate as water. It glides down the throat, nestles in the stomach, finds its place in the blood. Everything is warmer, lighter, easier. Your head feels like a balloon, liable to fly away and never come back lest you maintain your grip on the bar. At the same time, gravity seems to increase tenfold — keeping upright becomes a herculean effort.

Sleep comes easy enough, the weight from the bottle pulls you deep into the mattress, assuming you make it to bed. Morning arrives, the downed drink seeks its vengeance. Your head pounds. Cottonmouth and an inclination to gag make existence miserable. You drink water but the taste still remains, as if your tongue has been permanently coated by a layer of rye or bourbon. Two pain pills and a carb-heavy meal pull you back into functionality, you go about your day.

Then, you spy another bush — bright orange flames.

“If the river was whiskey and the branch was wine,
You would see me in bathing just any old time,
Oh, tell me how long have I got to wait?
Oh, can I get you now, must I hesitate?..”

I’ve been out and about with friends and strangers, surrounded on all sides by burning bushes. So far, I’ve been able to maintain my tolerance. It’s annoying as all hell to be informed that a bar either has one less-than-ideal brand of non-alcoholic beer or that I’ll have to settle with Coca-Cola (or a Shirley Temple, if I’m feeling frisky). Alcohol and the inhibition that comes along with it is crucial to many for social activity — in vino extroveritas. Thankfully, I’ve never required booze to tolerate (or be tolerable during) social activities. If anything, booze served as a detriment.

A few years back, at the height of my boozing, my friends staged a quasi-intervention regarding my behavior on the drink. They claimed that they would tell their friends, the new crop found on their respective college campuses, that I was a great guy with lots of charm and a great sense of humor. Yet, when the time came and they met me at a party or night out, I was five sheets to the wind and often falling prey to my less moral inclinations regarding the opposite sex. Even at my worst when it came to drinking I never overstepped any boundaries in that regard — I was just swimming upstream and flailing, so to speak.

I was insecure at a younger age, unsure if I was attractive or even worth a speck of attention. Even as I got older and I received plenty of the latter, I tended to rely on booze as a bowling alley bumper of sorts, a convenient excuse for any missteps or social faux pas.

“Pardon me, Miss, the whiskey’s talking.”

I don’t mean to toot my own horn or anything but I’ve been no stranger to that other comforting vice — the one that isn’t contained within a bottle. My dates found my attitude toward drinking endearing, even humorous. I was old-fashioned in this way too, yet another quality that leads me to self-identify as a relic.

My favorite cocktail is an Old Fashioned. I’ve never claimed to be subtle.

We’d go to a bar, I’d keep an even pace — drink for drink. At some point, after the drinks had done their work, we’d both acknowledge it and opt to head back to one of our places. These cases were often the few times I was able to moderate myself — some incentives are more powerful than addiction, I suppose.

“I looked down the road just as far as I could see,
A man had my woman and the blues had me,
Tell me how long have I got to wait?
Oh, can I get you now, must I hesitate?..”

Whiskey is without a doubt the drink I’ve had the hardest time abandoning. I was saved by the discovery of non-alcoholic Guinness when it comes to beer but I’ve yet to try a non-alcoholic version of whiskey. Apparently, they exist, one I heard about costs $30 bucks a bottle.

The relatively cheap cost of booze is one of the main reasons it's such a popular vice and, consequently, a widespread addiction. You don’t need to be rich to drink. Hell, being rich probably means you’re less likely to rely on the drink. The times I was light on cash, as I’ve often been due to my admitted failings in the fiscal responsibility department, were the times I felt most inclined to plop myself on a barstool and drink my fill.

Booze makes the ails of society and oneself easier to tolerate. It’s the sanding of worries, the disarming of anxieties, the demilitarization of blues. The halting of hesitations.

How long have I got to wait? Can I get you now, must I hesitate?

I was born in Alabama, I’s raised in Tennessee,
If you don’t like my peaches, don’t shake on my tree,
Oh, tell me how long have I got to wait?
Oh, can I get you now, must I hesitate?…”

If life is a lazy river, Huck and Jim cruising down the Mississippi, I’ve spent most of my life struggling to get back on the raft. I’d wake up soaked, confused, and bewildered, wet as a dog. I’d shake my clothes dry and make a note of how awful it is to wake up in such a sorry state.

I’d cruise for the rest of the day, make note of the trees lining the shore and the plentiful fish swimming along the wake of the raft. I’d get jealous of those fish, creatures without a worry or care in the world. They get to swim to their heart's content, no worries or blues weighing down on them. I’d jump in after them, dive down and chase them as they fled. I’d swim for a few hours until I got tired, then struggle to get back on the raft.

Wake up and repeat — ad nauseum.

The worst times are the times when I didn’t want to get back on the raft.

I wanted to dive to the bottom and never come up.

“Got the hesitation stockings, the hesitation shoes,
Believe to my Lord, I’ve got the hesitation blues,
Tell me how long have I got to wait?
Oh, can I get you now, must I hesitate?..”

I maintain a relatively insane sleep schedule now. I try to go to bed as early as possible, usually managing around 10 or so most nights. I aim to get up around 5 or 6 and finish breakfast by 7. This regiment was inspired by someone I spoke to during the early stages of quarantine, she said she did it so she could exercise in the morning before work. I started doing it so I could read before my shift started, as well as to ensure there was more overall sunlight in my day.

If I was still drinking this would obviously be much more difficult to maintain. I still make sure to enjoy nights out and the activities that don’t exactly coincide with my abnormal sleep schedule but I do my best to wake up early every day regardless. I don’t know why I find it so relaxing, even rewarding. I was always something of a night owl, especially before I was diagnosed and properly medicated for ADHD. Now, I wear myself out early instead of being bundled with unfocused energy throughout the entire day and night.

I think the key to my sobriety is finding something that I enjoy as much as I enjoyed drinking. In my case, that happens to be the tranquility of early morning — a period of time I was a complete stranger to for the most part previously.

It’s hard to appreciate bird songs when your head feels like a jackhammer is trying to burrow out of it.

I’m this far along already, suppose I’ll just keep on the same path — hopefully one free of burning bushes.

“Tell me how long have I got to wait?
Oh, can I get you now, must I hesitate?”

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Dylan Rice

Dylan Rice

Agitator, banned-book list hopeful, failed-politician, suit-wearer, soul music-fanatic.