…and I’m an alcoholic. I am: bibulous, crapulent, intemperate. When I am dead they will say of me: he liked his drink. Or more poetically (hopefully): he was insatiably thirsty. But I do not consider my love of the bottle (those voluptuous curves, that slender neck, that pouty mouth) a sickness or a weakness. It is not a condition to be remedied or an addiction to be overcome. I am resolutely romantic when it comes to my passion for alcohol. Drinking is the cure; life itself the debilitating malady in need of that cure.
J gamely tries to reassure me that I am not an alcoholic. Make no mistake about it: I am. But after years of trial and error, I have a system in place. During the week I drink relatively little. Several shots, ponderously sipped, to help me slip more smoothly into sleep. Most days it works. If I didn’t drink, it would take me hours to fall asleep and I would feel even more wretched the next day. At weekends, I drink far more but the ultimate aim remains to secure a good night’s sleep. Exhausted from writing all week, I crave immersion in the temporary oblivion of vodka. Drained from my hyper-consciousness, vodka is the most effective medicine to sterilize my misery, to distill it into pure, liquid form: warming, numbing, fortifying.
From time to time, that most emotionally combustible of substances flares into madness or spills over into moroseness. This can be a cause for regret but not something to be ashamed of around my small circle of friends. Like the suicidal school wall told Charlie Brown’s sister, Sally: “Love me, love my rubble.” Besides, I took steps to ensure that it happens as rarely as possible by quarantining myself from the world and those who densely populate it. I only drink in the company of people I feel wholly at ease around. Moreover, furthermore, all crapulent deeds thereof are regulated by the provisions of a charter we drew up (see For My Old Friend, H).
The same passions are regurgitated from mouth to mouth, generation to generation. This farce we call freedom, this mass production we call individuality. Late one evening H sends me a few desperate electronic dots and dashes: “Wife, etc.” I appreciate the sparseness of the sentiment. We cast out verbs, dangle baited nouns. Angling for some fishy sliver of meaning. Hoping to reel in scaly revelation. We are called to water because it is the source of us, the weight-bearing form that momentarily relieves us of the gravity relentlessly bearing down on us. Liquidity in all its free-flowing forms is pure enticement.
There is immense relief when the vodka is freely flowing come the weekend. I have made it, panting and gasping, through the America-sized trail of Monday to Friday. I have blazed and pioneered my way from one coast to the other to arrive, panting and gasping, at the ocean. Vodka is lapping against my lips, it is rolling against the shores of being. Each sip is a wave gently washing over me. It effaces my footsteps from the sand. In my small and loving circle of people, it relieves me of the exhausting demands of having to pretend to be a man.
You will never catch me lying in a puddle of vomit or running down the street in my underwear or spontaneously getting married at a Las Vegas wedding chapel (on second thoughts, the latter sounds like something I would like to try). I do not indulge in excess for the sake of it, but drink with a sense of philosophical seriousness and in the spirit of religious devotion. Even at my drunkest, where language has seemingly dissolved into noise, and I am at danger of being swept out to sea as I wade around the shallows, frothy roaring waves crashing all around me, there is still a kernel of epistemological sense in the base of my skull. In other words, I know painfully well what I do.
Alcohol is well and truly exhausted as a plot device in films. The grizzled detective who drinks a little too much for his/her good. The teenagers who get wasted and do dumb shit in the name of fun. The essentially decent guy who turns into Dr Hyde once the genie is out of the bottle. And, in recent years, endless meetings of support groups. Confessions of abominable behaviour. Tokens for good behaviour. Proud announcements of lengthy dry spells. Round of applause. Thanks for that, Jim. Who’s next? It almost makes me want to drink just thinking about it.
Instead of demonizing those who drink more than the officially recommended intake (and they are legion), perhaps an honest, thoughtful word or two about why we humans are so prone to addiction, why addictiveness, and the myriad legal and illegal forms it seeks out, is an essential ingredient to being human. Self-righteousness, I have observed, seems to be especially addictive. How I miss the steady drinking of 1970s television shows and films. The unashamed daytime drinking. The incessant sploshing of whiskey into a tumbler. The unapologetic use of alcohol as a much-needed pick-me-up, tonic, boon.
Of course, those who get violent or abusive when they drink should seek help. But for the rest of us, can we be spared this inverted moral condemnation? I do not have ‘inner demons’ or ‘issues’. This earthly life is demonic enough, thank you, there is no need for me to fabricate fictitious monsters to do battle with. As for staying dry, I am about 70% water so that is out of the question.
There is a wine bar in Vilnius by the name of In vino veritas. It is the kind of place that outwardly self-satisfied people feel at home in. They swipe away at their expensive, made-in-China-by-cheap-labour phones with confident swishes of their index finger. They delicately hold the stem of their wine glass like it was the peduncle of a pretty flower they had just picked. More corks popping. Plates of overpriced cheese and bowels of bad olives dressed in honey get got. More laughter. More looking at phones. More flirting. More wine. More blurry lines. More In vino veritas.
Again, we dislocate reality by deflecting cause onto effect. I would like to propose a new and not very pithy apothegm. I do not know Latin so it will be in English: In life, mendacity, falsehood and duplicity.
One of my favourite sounds in the world is the seal of a new bottle of vodka snapping open with a clean crack. Followed by the discreet sound of that holiest of spirits filling the shot glass: plop, plop, plop. Thankfully, there is no voice in my head whispering at me, stop, stop, stop. That said, man out.