5/21 Drying Out

I have always had a complicated relationship with alcohol and drinking. This time, I decided on Saturday, May 11th, that I was done with alcohol, again, for a bit. Besides a small indiscretion for the Unbound Book Festival in Columbia, I had spent the entirety of the month of April alcohol-free. This hiatus joined a string of past attempts to clear my head and purge a growing dread. April ended, then my classes concluded, and I joyously resumed drinking. Untethered by boundary, I forsook restraint. By the time I met up with my friend Sean on the Roaring River in southern Missouri to camp and fish, I think I had pushed it to a limit.

We gave it our best the first night on the river. Gulping Busch Light and chain-smoking around an open fire so close to the sound of the river on the rocks that it soothed my edginess and perpetuated a release from the confines of a month's temperance. I did not feel hungover that next day, just a little slow. But, my heart palpitations returned. My palpitations cause a flutter. It feels as if my heart has skipped a beat. In 2021 I went to the emergency room because they were so disconcerting. Admittedly, I had a lot going on that year and I think the stress triggered it. I went to a cardiologist, I wore a monitor, and they said that I was fine. Even with the doctor's assurances, the flutter made me uneasy.

But, the river was magical. We fished in perfect weather; hovering between almost cold and almost hot. The river talked to us all day. We barely caught any fish, but what we did catch we filleted, cooked, and ate. We enjoyed ourselves so much that there was apparently a missed borealis right above our heads.

Driving to Little Rock the next day, I thought a lot about my life and where I had gotten to – specifically with the graduate program I was completing and the dedication I was pledging to a craft I had given lip service my entire life. I had spent most of April really considering my relationship to alcohol. I wrote a great deal about it. I wrote about working hard and seening those efforts rewarded. I feel no longer in the business of chasing obliterative freedom.

Roughly when I was coming to this conclusion, my phone notified me that a new record by the Chicago band DEHD was available. One of the band’s songwriters, Emily Kempf, is an absolute badass of a rocker. She is so young and so powerful, so tattoo-covered, so embodying of the ecstatic joys and vibes she peddles, and strangely so sober (I think). It felt like a sign. I believe in signs in the way that I believe we make our own. You interpret the world around you as it happens in real time, and occasionally you come to the conclusions that you need. This was that sign.

So, I stopped drinking and I have not yet missed it; not like I did in April. I don’t know how long this will last, but I know that the last four mornings I have woken up and written 900 words a day. I feel that I am getting closer to understanding the relationship. I feel that I can see where the joy was sitting at a bar with a Stag and a shot of Jim Beam. I get it. I know that joy is still there, still waiting for me. But, I think, at this moment in my life, that is not something I need. I am fine taking a break from it. I feel like there is something just on my heels, something I am going to not try and not call mortality, but it is pushing me forward and driving me to try more.

Who knows, next week I may be back here hungover. But, somehow, I don’t think that will be the case.