I drink too much.

The way I know this is because I often spend Sunday in my living room with the shades drawn, unable to do much more than watch movies and play around on the Internet. Also, my insides hurt.

The problem with stopping is I don’t feel like it. Well, on Sunday I tell myself I’ve had enough, and I abstain until Thursday or Friday, but then one of my buddies calls and says Let’s go, man and by then I’m feeling well enough to start the cycle over again.

I’ve never felt a craving for alcohol, or a thirst, not the way I’ve heard it described. I’m just bored. I didn’t even start drinking until my 30s. When I read literature on alcoholism, it explains how alcoholics have difficulty feeling pleasure because they’re addicted to the dopamine high they get from drinking. Regular activities that normally induce pleasure don’t cut it anymore, not compared to alcohol. But the thing is, I was already bored before I started drinking.

In college I tinkered with screenplays and finished a few, and several years ago I found an agent. He took my newest script and convinced a well-known producer to buy an option on it. I remember the joy I felt when my agent called with the news. Alcohol never made me feel like that. Ever. So I do know I’m at least capable of strong emotions. But it’s not like I get a call like that every week, you know?

One of the things I hate most in the world is fishing. Because of all the waiting you have to do. My screenwriting career is like a fishing trip where I got a bite on the first cast and then spent the next four years staring at a cork. A cork that doesn’t move. That doesn’t even wiggle.

And what do fisherman usually do while they’re waiting for a bite? Why, they drink, of course. Ask any angler and he’ll tell you…drinking is half the point of fishing.

This is my first post on this site and I feel funny writing about something so personal. I tinkered with other ideas but I kept coming back to this. I know it’s a very whiny essay about a problem for which the solution is obvious: stop drinking. But what I wonder is why I should stop. Why should anyone stop doing something they enjoy?

Recently I had been out drinking, and at the end of the night I was far too drunk to drive my car home. I called a cab, but after thirty minutes it still hadn’t showed up, and I fell asleep in my car. Sometime later I heard a knock on my window and saw a cop standing there. I had no idea there was a law where being drunk in your car and having possession of your keys carries the same penalty as actually driving your car under the influence. This seems pretty harsh to me, since the whole idea of DUI laws is to keep drunk drivers off the road. Anyway, my license was suspended, and I ended having to go to a class with a bunch of alcohol and drug offenders. The terrible experience of being in that class is the subject of another essay, but the reason I bring it up now is because one part of the course involved a series of questions the student should ask himself.

Is my work suffering because of my alcohol consumption? Has anyone besides me been adversely affected by my drinking? My family? My friends? What sort of penalties have I faced as a result of my arrest? Et cetera.

In my case, other than the sheer embarrassment of being taken to jail and having to sit in that class, the only penalties were monetary. My family doesn’t know anything about it. I was married once but I’m not anymore, and I don’t have any children, so the only person affected was me.

You could make the argument that my quality of life would be higher if I didn’t drink, or that I would live longer, but I guess what I’m asking is why those things are necessarily better. Almost everyone would agree they are better, but everyone used to believe the Sun orbited the Earth, too. Just because it’s the prevailing opinion doesn’t necessarily make it the right one.

I suppose living a good and honest life should get me to Heaven, but I got sick of listening to my priest and the Pope condemn homosexuality, so I stopped going to Mass. And besides, if you’re looking for examples of healthy living, the Bible isn’t really the place to turn.

Substance abuse of any sort carries consequences. I know this. The thing is, I see abuse around me everywhere. I see people taking painkillers recreationally. I see them addicted to prescription sleeping pills. And if it isn’t drugs, it’s food. If it isn’t food, it’s television. In fact I wonder if television isn’t the most destructive substance of all.

These problems are particularly bad in the United States. Here we are, the land of opportunity, wealthy like few populations on earth, and yet we act as though we’re miserable. More than 70 percent of us are overweight. In 2008 the World Health Organization surveyed legal and illegal drug use in 17 countries and found Americans led the world in marijuana, tobacco, and cocaine use. Interestingly, countries with far less stringent drug laws also experience far less use. Although it turns out our alcohol consumption is fairly mundane compared to plenty of nations in Western Europe.

Quoting statistics about substance abuse doesn’t excuse my own. But it does make me wonder what it is about the United States that makes her citizens so desperate to alter their own perceptions. Why isn’t the real world good enough? What exactly are we looking for?

The drugs are only going to get stronger. One day, reality television and video games are going to overlap, and I have a feeling what emerges will be the strongest drug of all.

Maybe then I won’t be so bored anymore.

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THOMAS PHILLIPS is a screenwriter living deep in the heart of flyover country. During the day he's a bleeding edge thought leader who reaches hungrily for low-hanging fruit. You can find him on Facebook and Twitter. He also just published his first ever short story on Amazon.com.

23 responses to “Cheers!”

  1. Zara Potts says:

    Welcome, Thomas – and cheers.
    This is a hefty topic and one that doesn’t have any easy answers. In NZ, where I live, there is currently a debate going on about a 17 year old kid who was slightly over the limit and crashed his car – he’s being pilloried by the community for his actions. I can understand this to a point – but I also mindful that EVERYBODY makes mistakes. EVERYONE has done something they are not proud of, or wish they could reverse time and not do again. I don’t think shaming someone for their actions is helpful at all. Particularly when you are young and an action such as this could have major ramifications on your future life. Sometimes, it takes an event like being busted for DUI to realise why you shouldn’t do it. We learn by experience and we should have compassion for people who make one mistake – the majority of whom will not make that mistake again.
    Obviously those who continue to repeat their actions and who do not take any kind of learning from their mistakes are a different beast entirely. I find it hard to have any kind of compassion for repeat drunk drivers or for those who kill or maim innocent parties in their desire to drive while drunk. Perhaps zero tolerance is the only sensible option. That way everyone knows that they cannot drink at all if they are going to drive and that would maybe help clear up any confusion about what level of alcohol is acceptable.
    I have never been a drinker – it upsets my stomach too much – and so I am fortunate not to have had to deal with anything like this. I do, however, have very good friends who have found themselves in situations like yours and they have been shocked at their experience that they have completely changed their habits.
    Good on you for being brave and sharing your story. I wish for you many days of excitement so that the boredom abates and you can get through your days without the need for a drink to liven things up.

    • Thomas Phillips says:

      Zara,

      Thank you for the thoughtful reply. You might be interested to know that in the WHO survey about drugs, New Zealand was second place in both cocaine and marijuana use. But NZ was distantly behind the USA.

      I realize the risks of alcohol consumption, and especially the risks of driving when you’ve been drinking. Especially because in that situation you are putting others besides yourself at risk. That being said, many people at one time or another have made decisions they regret. As you say, someone who learns from those mistakes has found something positive from a dreadful decision. Someone who keeps making the same mistakes is another thing entirely.

      It’s a strange thing to knowingly choose to do something inherently unhealthy. But to quote a great actress we unfortunately lost today, “The problem with people who have no vices is that generally you can be pretty sure they’re going to have some pretty annoying virtues.”

  2. Slade Ham says:

    Welcome aboard, Thomas. I agree with you on pretty much all of it. Society says people should stop drinking, and under most circumstances with normal people, they should.

    I don’t ever look at things that way. I drink because it’s around and I too am bored. Period. And I like the taste of Irish whiskey. I can also go for weeks without a drop, I get up at 9:00 on most mornings, and I’ve never screwed up a show or missed a gig because of it. It doesn’t affect my relationships or my friendships or my family.

    Some people would argue that fact, but it’s only because they’ve been on the receiving end of globs of honesty that I would’ve eventually gotten to sober.

    So why stop? You shouldn’t. I wouldn’t. Not until there’s a much much better reason than “because everyone says you should”.

    Fuck ’em.

    And sláinte.

    • Thomas Phillips says:

      Thank you, Slade. I’m not a big fan of being told what to do. Unless my behavior is infringing upon someone else’s rights or well-being, I don’t really think it’s anyone else’s business.

      However, I have a friend who does feel that craving and he feels terrible about the physical dependency. He wants to stop but can’t. Not on his own.

      Then there are people who don’t even realize the consequences of their actions.

      Each of us has the blessing and burden of finding our own way through life. Every path is different. As long as you’re not hurting anyone else, I fail to see why one path is better than another.

  3. Joe Daly says:

    Gutsy first piece, man. Talk about making an entrance.

    On Sunday, December 18, 2005, I woke up and did what I did every weekend morning for many years- poured my first vodka. As I had done almost every day for the past five years, I proceeded to open and finish a bottle in a matter of a few hours. I had been a daily drinker for 15 years, knocking off a bottle of vodka a day, give or take. I was probably 30 pounds overweight, my blood pressure was through the roof, and the only thing I gave a shit about was when I was having my next drink and how I could enjoy it in peace and quiet. Oh, and I hated joggers. Fucking show-offs.

    The last thing I remember that day was my girlfriend walking into our house, seeing me and asking me how much I had to drink. I pointed to the three empty beer bottles (I hated beer and never considered it drinking, but it was all I had left) on the counter and passed out.

    The next day she woke me up (I was on the floor) and asked me that question that she had asked me many times, for many years. I always answered either “no,” or “mind your own business.”

    On that day, December 19, 2005, I heard myself say “yes” for the first time.

    I had to say “no” for many many years before it got bad enough to say “yes.”

    Maybe someday you’ll stop and maybe you won’t. Just make sure you know who to call for each of those decisions.

    In the meantime, welcome aboard and congrats on an unflinchingly candid essay.

    • Thomas Phillips says:

      Hi Joe,

      You’ve got a lot more guts than me, man. Making a life change like that must be one of the most difficult things anyone can do. Pouring a vodka in the morning, drinking a bottle a day–it’s hard for me to fathom that kind of drinking, even though I’ve occasionally had my moments.

      I’m honored you took the time to tell me your story. Congratulations on finally being able to say yes. And thank you for your kind words.

      • Don Mitchell says:

        Thomas —

        Some of your piece is a good description of me, back in the early 80s. I’m behind what Joe wrote, especially the “maybe you’ll stop and maybe you won’t.”

        Maybe that life change will be hard and maybe not. Usually it is. Sometimes it isn’t. I quit boozing in June 1986, early in the month, when the woman I was crazy about (see my TNB piece “Trolling”) did the only good thing she ever did for me, which was to say, “It’s me or booze. Make your choice,” and I chose her. My years of “this shit’s bad for me” never led to my quitting, except for the bullshit “gotta cut back, gotta cut back” that never did a damn thing. I had to put it down in favor of something I wanted more.

        I don’t talk about how it worked for me too much because I think my experience was unusual. When I quit it was as if a switch had been flipped. I never wanted a drink again, not once, and that’s been true through all sorts of personal shit, a couple of busted marriages, you name it. I kept booze around the house, didn’t care who drank in my presence, never wanted any of it, ever. Oh, and I didn’t replace it with any other substances except for my old friends caffeine and sugar.

        So, anyway. You may get to the point where you decide something else is worth more to you than booze. Or maybe not. The thing is, only you will know and I think — as in Joe’s case, and in mine — when you know it, you’ll know it.

        I guess Joe and I are talking about you and booze, and not what you wrote about America and substances of all kinds. I’m no missionary and I don’t think Joe is, either, so just take us for what we are — a couple of guys who read what you wrote and it made them think about how they went there and came back alive.

        • Joe Daly says:

          Don-

          Amen, brother. The only thing I’m competent to pass on is what happened to me, and I know you’re the same way. Telling me what to do or what not to do, even to this day, has always been a surefire way to land on my “Pay No Mind” list.

          Thomas-

          Thanks for the comments, man, but I assure you, guts had nothing to do with it. I didn’t stop drinking because I wanted to- my options had all run out. At that time, I would have given anything to be able to keep drinking like I used to, back when it was fun.

          Like Don said, your piece was powerful and it evoked some very vivid feelings and experiences, which I was compelled to share because… well, that’s what we do here. We’re writers, after all.

          Rock on- I’m looking forward to seeing more of you around here.

        • Thomas Phillips says:

          Don,

          That sounds like a good way to put it. Choosing something else. Sometimes I get tired of feeling hungover and I don’t drink for a few weeks, even a month or more, and it doesn’t bother me when I see other people drink. I can have liquor in the house and not even think about it. But then I get bored and finally start up again, and it doesn’t take long before I’m back to the same habits again.

          I really appreciate the straight dope from you guys. Pun intended. As Joe pointed out, preaching only makes me close my ears.

          Joe,

          Thanks again, man. Writers share. I like that.

    • Gloria says:

      I think it’s wicked cool that you told this story, too, Joe. Kudos, friend.

  4. Becky Palapala says:

    As another TNB contributor and I recently discussed regarding our respective attempts to quit smoking:

    What is the inherent value of (only maybe…perchance) prolonging one’s life if the thing necessary to do so necessarily make’s one’s life less enjoyable?

    We spoke partially in jest, but it’s a valid question.

    As I was saying to someone else yet, it crosses paths, theoretically, with debates surrounding human euthanasia, for example. To what degree is it a person’s god-given right to make his/her own decisions about the quality of his/her life and health and, provided all the facts are in, make a plan and carry it out in peace?

    The most popular argument people make against allowing people to fuck up their lives and health as they please generally and inappropriately centers on federal fiscal concerns and is, almost without exception, painfully, embarrassingly weak.

    That said, the nature of alcohol, especially, is such that the odds of you eventually, actually, and directly harming someone or actually fucking up your own shit in a significant way increase exponentially with every day you continue to use in a certain way. So the route you’re running, if you prefer a perspective other than a moral or emotional one, is actually a numbers game. A formula with predictable results.

    Math has a nasty way of defying negotiation, though there’s always a margin of error. Maybe you’re the exception. Maybe.

    Like so many things, where you’re at is less important than where you’re headed. The trick is whether or not you know where either is, how aware you are of the reality of your situation. That is, ARE all the facts in?

    • Thomas Phillips says:

      It’s a valid question: whether to live a long, boring life or a short, exciting one. For most of human history we were forced to accept the latter. Now that we have more information we can prolong life, but for what, exactly? The pursuit of more information? Answers to the big questions?

      Your last question is a valid one, indeed. I don’t know if all the facts are in. And even if I did, I’d be trying to parse that information with a brain that could very well be compromised by the substance it’s attempting to understand.

      How, then, to find objectivity?

  5. dwoz says:

    You know, there’s really nothing better after a long hot work day, than to come home, reach into the fridge, pop the top off a cool tall bottle of composted yeast excrement, and quaff it down.

    yeast.

    leavening for bread, the staff of life.

    leavening for the soul, the raft of life.

    It’s God’s plan, don’t tinker with it.

  6. Reno Romero says:

    Thomas:

    Welcome to the TNB house. I hope you find it a pleasant experience. Okay, this post: like many have already mentioned this was and is a gutsy (and ballsy) piece. You mentioned some details of substance abuse that only those that have “crossed over” know about. You mentioned never having a craving for booze. Another insider thing. Most people think people who drink have a craving for that stuff. This is not the case. Sure, some do, but a lot don’t. I’ve met many people who hate the taste of beer (or whatever they partake in) and find it foul. What they don’t find foul is the feeling it delivers. I know this firsthand. I think beer tastes like shit. It also smells like shit. Back in the day when I used to drink beer by the vat I would hammer the first few beers so I could get a quick buzz so I didn’t have to labor through the nastiness of it all. In the rooms of rehab we hear about “triggers” (like the sight of someone knocking back a scotch and water) and the addict frothing at the mouth for a drink. This never happened to me. Craving a double cheeseburger. Hell, yeah. Root beer? You bet. But root beer doesn’t get you high. Beer does. That’s the problem and was mine. Perhaps, like Joe mentioned, you might stop or maybe you won’t . There really is no mystery. Until then keep writing. Great write, Thomas. Thanks.

    • Thomas Phillips says:

      Thank you, Reno. I never much cared for the taste of alcohol, either. Like you mentioned, I’ll often down the first few drinks in a hurry to get the buzz going. I especially don’t care for sipping straight alcohol, because I don’t appreciate the flavor of it.

      As I understand, some drinkers develop a physical dependency on alcohol, whereas for others it’s more of a psychological thing. I suppose it doesn’t necessarily matter if you keep drinking beyond the point of safety.

      I’m craving a double cheeseburger right now. Thank you, sir.

  7. Thomas, you really struck some universal truth when you wrote these sentences:

    I know it’s a very whiny essay about a problem for which the solution is obvious: stop drinking. But what I wonder is why I should stop. Why should anyone stop doing something they enjoy?

    I’d say this essay is the opposite of whiny. It’s brave and ballsy, and perfect for TNB. Welcome, I look forward to the next one.

    • Thomas Phillips says:

      That’s very nice of you to say, Robin. I imagined anyone who might respond would simply suggest I get help. I didn’t expect people to honestly share their own experiences. Thanks for the warm welcome.

  8. Great first piece. I can’t believe you really got a DUI for sleeping in your car. That is one bored cop if you ask me.

    I used to wonder if I was turning into an alcoholic. But I came to the same conclusion as you: I was just bored. I don’t need alcohol. Half the time I don’t even want it, but if someone calls me to go out I always say yes because, well, it’s something to do. I’ve recently tried to give myself a workout addiction to give myself a more positive way of wasting my time. It’s better than Reality TV anyway. And, thank you for pointing out that TV and video games can be just as much of an addiction as any substance you can put in your body. Everyone wants to jump on the anti-smoking, anti-drug bandwagon, but nobody wants to admit that watching TV is just as much about escaping reality as any substance abuse.

    Looking forward to more from you,

    Becca

    • Thomas Phillips says:

      Hi Becca,

      Television is the worst, I think. It doesn’t inflict much physical harm, other than maybe contributing to a lack of physical activity, but I think it makes us dumber. Not the medium of television but the content. And on a macro scale, the delivery of a shallow, sound bite messages and bad theater to an entire nation. I think too much of it makes us passive and less critical thinkers. What is worse? A smart alcoholic or a sober person who thinks life should be served up in neat little conflicts that get resolved in a half hour? I wonder which one contributes to more discontent and divorces? Of course that’s another essay entirely.

      Good luck with your workout addiction.

  9. I remember in high school workshops or assemblies that one of the symptoms of alcoholism was “do you drink alone?” (Pulls a sad pitying face). I always thought people who stay home and miserably drink alone deserve a medal. At least they are not driving around drunk causing trouble for the other motorists or reeling around on some road trying to “help the tow truck via hand signals” as the tow truck driver pulls the drunk driver’s car out of a ditch. We need to look at people who isolate themselves while drinking as a good thing, not a bad thing.

  10. Erika Rae says:

    Hell of a first post, Thomas. It does indeed seem like Americans have a thing for altering our reality more than other countries. As a culture, we barely even look at the reality of killing an animal to eat its meat, having really only been exposed to the neat little cutlets under the plastic wrap. We’re pretty sanitized as a nation. I suppose it would follow that we have a natural dissatisfaction with the realities of this life and would seek it elsewhere. Interesting insight. Welcome!

  11. Interesting that I’m drinking my first beer in two months as I read this post.

    What I don’t understand about alcoholism, and I guess why I’ve never worried about being an alcoholic, is how folks can be undeterred by hangovers. I hate them. Especially now that I have a child and don’t have the luxury of lying around chugging water, napping, and eating pizza the next day. I very rarely let myself have more than two drinks when I drink. It just isn’t worth it.

    This was a bold first post, Thomas. Nicely done, sir. (:

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