Friday, September 07, 2012

Alcohol Amnesia

Another unedited excerpt of Wrecking Ball

Alcohol Amnesia

My bouts of devil-may-care destruction were usually episodic, much like the construction of this book. For a time, they were a regular part of my life. Barely old enough to buy alcohol, I found a drinking buddy who was a friend of a friend. Before I realized how dangerous the combination was, I took a tranquilizer prescribed to me for anxiety and mixed it with alcohol. Within ten minutes, I lost consciousness.

I was told later that I’d collapsed in the bathroom. But that wasn’t all. In my stupor, I’d managed to kick out several panes of glass installed in the door to the outside. This was severely out of character for me. I wasn’t violent by nature. If anything, I was too passive for my own good. I’ve been in two fights in my life, both of which were spectacularly unexciting.

I can’t throw a punch to save my life and about all I can really do is kick. For someone my size, I really don’t know my own strength. A few years back, I was told by doctors to institute a regular exercise routine, including lifting weights. Now, I am even more physically imposing, though I rarely think to use it for my own benefit, in matters like self-defense. In my mind, I see myself as small of stature, more feminine than masculine.

Fights require the ability to hold significant anger for a long while. Anyone who knows me realizes that while I can have fits of temper, they pass after a few minutes and do not return. I’m wired more like my father that way. My mother quietly seethes, nursing a lengthy grudge for days on end. Should I be upset, I vent my anger, project it into the open, then move on to something else.

One of my first experiences with alcohol could have been much more destructive than it was. My childhood best friend had enrolled at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. I visited him one weekend, as I often did. Still in high school, I was several years underage. Part of a carload of young men, we, with great purpose and solemnity, entered the parking lot of a liquor store. I think I had $20 or $30 in cash on me at the time.

The oldest member of our group was purchasing alcohol for everyone, provided they could put up the money for it. I eagerly handed over the money. When asked what I wanted, I reflexively said vodka. I’m not even sure I had ever consumed the stuff before. I had never consumed hard liquor prior to that moment, most definitely.

Knowing me, I had likely gotten the whole vodka idea from a book or a movie. Perhaps I thought the taste would be less oppressive than other varieties. Whatever the case may have been, I surely wasn’t aware of how to drink in proportion. Liquor cannot be consumed as freely as beer, which sounds like an obvious statement. I wish I had known beforehand.

Dropped off back home, late in the evening, I concealed the large bottle of 100% rotgut in a backpack. I entered my room with great excitement. Breaking the seal, I began to drink it straight. This, the cheapest stuff of all was often advertised in the liquor store as “Alabama’s Most Popular”. I was never sure if this was because it was cheap or the other residents of my state had no conception of taste. The truth, I'm sure, lies somewhere along a spectrum of perception.

I wasn’t yet aware that minimizing the strength by diluting it with other liquids was a popularly desired outcome. Nor was I aware that these combinations had descriptive, specific names that kept bartenders in business. I learned with the first few chugs that I was no fan of the taste. My body seemed to repel it, throwing it back up into my mouth. But, like always, I was stubborn and resolutely swallowed it back. It stayed down this time.

I would have concealed the bottle had I’d known what I was about to experience. Instead, it sat perched on one of the speakers to my stereo system, out in the open. I was proud of it. An expensive CD player was incorporated into a vintage amplifier with two large speakers. The older portions had been inherited from my father. Due to their size and sturdiness, they served as a temporary space for the social dandruff of my life, most often the latest contents of my pockets.

The presence of the vodka bottle at least later informed my father as to precisely what was wrong with me. In those days, many culprits were suspect. This could have been viewed as an impetuous suicide attempt. Before long, the contents of half the bottle were now in my system. Getting that much down must have required a heroic effort. Before I knew it, I blacked out.

I didn’t really come to for a couple days later. My father told me that I passed out in the bathtub, then vomited all over myself. Downstairs watching television, he must have heard the weight of my body collide with the bathtub. Or, he could have simply been checking on me as he’d begun doing, especially since the first couple of hospital stays. Much later, I remember my father leaning over me. Do you know what happened to you?

I may never know how and why I ended up in the bathtub. The result, regardless, was a severe case of alcohol poisoning. It was worsened by the fact that I had yet to develop a tolerance, any tolerance. Afterwards, I lay on a black portable mattress on the floor, naked, but covered by a thick blanket. It took three days to fully recover.

I felt terrible. I’d never had a hangover before then, but this was far worse than a heavy night’s drinking. I assume my father had stripped off my clothes and had cleaned me up. Because of this experience, it was years before I ever drank hard liquor again. I stuck to beer from then on, but my youthful indiscretions were only moderately chastened.

I would later be known to consume an entire case of beer by the end of a party. Though I pushed my body farther than I would now, I always consoled myself by noting that I wasn’t the most self-destructive person at the party, or around the table. We formulate many self-serving rationalizations in such situations. Most people I've encountered can relate at least somewhat.

Alcohol consumption did not become a daily routine. I usually drank to escape myself and my worries, but only on weekends. The link between bipolar and alcoholism is strong, but this was one problem I thankfully skirted. I lived for parties and the possibility of available drugs in those days because they provided numerous opportunities for conversation and hooking up. This was a normal part of my development and maturation, as it is for most at that age.

Booze has been forever associated in my mind with depression. Like many, I drank to lower my inhibitions, and express myself without fear of social censure. My associations are now overwhelmingly negative. Alcohol is a depressant, after all. Pot made me euphoric and talkative. Amphetamines encouraged hyperactive and highly social behavior. Psychedelic mushrooms turned my life into one hugely amusing joke.

Later in life, I drank most heavily when I’d have to return once more to my parents’ house. Usually, another job had fizzled out and almost assuredly with it a previously promising relationship. I’m sure that sounds familiar by now. This is the leitmotif of much of my early to mid-twenties. I drowned my sorrows often because I didn’t know what else to do. I haven’t touched a drop in probably five years, because three of my medications specify that alcohol consumption is forbidden. But in those days, I ignored sound medical advice.

I don’t write about depression as much as I do mania because it doesn’t make for compelling reading. What is there to say, really, about a dishearteningly consistent inability to bathe, dress oneself, and even prepare food? The preliminary stages usually involve solitary wanderings, both physical and intellectual, seeking to escape oneself and one's lot in life. By the end, the bare minimum of daily living is all one can do.

Mania is always different and exciting. There’s nothing especially interesting about lying in bed, begging for death. The milder forms had me reaching out for sympathy and attention. I was the typically creative, melancholy teenager who randomly asks others to read his self-pitying poetry. I was seeking confirmation of myself as worthwhile, mostly.

During football season, many a game was spent alone in the same room. I’d have driven myself to the convenience store down the road beforehand, purchasing my typical case of cheap beer. Drinking for the buzz, not the taste, I would soon grow so numb I could barely watch the action. Friends were few during these lonely times and I was grieving another false start. Each time, I swore I’d never inflate my hopes that high again. It had been my fault for daring to dream I'd finally make it.

Afterwards, my father would count empty glass bottles, expressing strict, but genuine concern for my well-being. I learned to throw them away at once, concealing them under garbage in the large grey trash container the city gave every resident for routine waste disposal. These were my dark times, where I was reaching out for ballast wherever I could find it. Extended periods of isolation have a way of strongly changing perceptions of other people.

Though it didn’t seem like it at the time, I was going to find a way out of my blue funk.

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