I vividly remember my first drink.
It was 2000 and I was sixteen. My band had its first show coming up, and we were nervous and arguing over pretty much everything. Then our exasperated drummer (whose name was also Nick) made a suggestion: “I heard that alcohol makes bands play better.”
What came next was typical and predictable of teenagers – we rooted through my parents’ liquor supply, poured a bit from each bottle into a single container, then passed it around. I don’t think any of us consumed enough to get drunk, and I’m not sure if it had the desired effect on our music, but we enjoyed the experiment.
This launched a period of booze-fueled experimentation that lasted more than a decade. Alcohol, marijuana, mushroom, LSD, MDMA, cocaine, speed – I dabbled and indulged in a little bit (or a lot) of everything. I partied. I enjoyed spiritual awakenings and brushes with the law. I cheersed to the good times and drank away the bad. I’m sure I worried my mother.
And I enjoyed every minute of it, even the times when I was low or broke or afraid for my sanity or involved with the police. It was an adventure. It was exciting. It was fun. It was something like living in Steinbeck’s Tortilla Flat. It was exhausting.
But suddenly about a year ago the charm began to wear off. My drug use, I realized, had essentially tapered out of existence. And alcohol was steadily losing its appeal. Today, after more than ten years of almost daily drunkenness and debauchery, I find myself spending more and more quiet nights at home alone, drinking tea and reading.
There are a number of reasons for this.
I’ve never had addiction issues when it came to drugs. Alcohol, however, has been my constant companion.
It’s something that my friends and I joked about. I referred to it as “the Great and Unquenchable Thirst”, which often got a laugh, but when it dawned on me that a lifelong alcohol addiction was a very real possibility, it stopped being funny.
Self-reliance is extremely important to me, and I don’t want to be dependent on anything.
When I was younger a hangover was strangely fun. It was this fuzzy-headed excuse to go get Bloody Maries and laugh about the previous night.
These days hangovers make me want to stay in bed forever. The Bloody Mary lifestyle was enjoyable when I was a kid, but my life is filled with a lot more responsibility at this point, and I need a clear, motivated head.
On the note of clarity, that’s something that I find increasingly valuable as I get older.
When I was younger, drugs and alcohol helped to fuel my writing. These days they hinder it. And beyond my work, I appreciate the ability to navigate life with a clear head more and more. It gives me a stronger understanding of myself and the world around me.
In the past my health didn’t concern me all that much. But as I’ve aged, I’ve come to realize that I might have another fifty, sixty, or (god help me) maybe even more years ahead. Over the course of that time, I want my body and mind to be as capable as possible.
Simply put, drugs and alcohol are expensive. When I was younger that expense was worthwhile, but these days I have other uses for my money.
I still love going out and having a wild time now and again, but the repetition of party after party has lost its appeal. I crave novel experiences, and I’m about as comfortable with drugs and alcohol as a person can be with anything. They have nothing new to teach me.
I should mention that drugs and alcohol have legitimately taught me a great deal, and they have brought me experiences that I wouldn’t trade for anything.
Allow me to let you in on something – drugs aren’t bad. They are tools, and properly used these tools can provide relaxation, experience, creativity, perspective, social cohesion, and even enlightenment. But, like a hammer, if used improperly they can bash your brains in.
There are civilizations all across history that have known the value of drugs. Hallucinogens in particular have been tried and tested tools used for everything from consciousness expansion to social bonding to addiction treatment. (Aldous Huxley’s Island offers a great example of how they can be incorporated into a modern society in a benevolent manner.)
But drugs and alcohol don’t have much more to offer me anymore, beyond the occasional social lubricant, and even that is losing its luster.
So instead, I have begun filling my time with other, healthier endeavors:
- Eating well and exercising
- Drinking tea (so much tea)
- Reading, writing, and researching
- Learning new skills
- Enjoying quiet time for reflection
- And again, so much tea
I’m not saying that I’m quitting drinking altogether, or that I’ll never take drugs again, but I am actively changing my relationship to these things.
Really, it’s all about becoming increasingly mindful about how I spend my time, which is something that each of us should learn to do as we get older.