Am I An…Alcoholic?
Updated: Jun 30
I’m an alcoholic? Me? A high-functioning, highly motivated, high-fiving alcoholic?
You tell me. I mean, that pandemic thingy was a pretty good excuse—suddenly I’m not touring, no performances where I need to be present. I’m home, forced to create, get myself into writing mode. I’m a bit of a cliche that way—a writer who needs a few drinks to loosen up the brain, to get all loosey in the sky with diamonds if you know what I mean. And it works, dammit.
The sound of the cork popping out of the top of my favorite bottle of whiskey is intoxicating enough to get the creative juices going. And now the bottle’s open, so let’s go with it, shall we? A hasty pour into my favorite glass, the one with the old English “B” on it. The bottom of the “B” marks two ounces, a little more than one drink, but who’s counting? There’s writing to be written!
I can smell it before it reaches my lips, but I’m not even tempted to waste any time sniffing about the glass, pretending I know anything about its bouquet. I’m anxious for what’s coming; the velvet wave that rolls to the back of the tongue then slides down the throat. It ignites the chest, where it spreads like a firework across a July night sky. It warms the upper body from chest to fingertips even before it settles into my empty stomach. And when it does make its way down, a slight pinch in the pit of the belly aggravates then soothes a hunger pang. I skipped lunch for this beautiful bit of pain and pleasure that is much like the butterflies whose wings not only flutter but pound your insides during a first kiss.
Within a minute or two, I can feel it numb my brain just enough to pick the lock of my imagination.
And by the way, just now writing about it made me salivate. Just creating this little blog now makes me want to have a drink.
That makes me an alcoholic, right?
Fortunately, my bourbon is locked up in a safe. You see, I’m smart about it. I bought that snack safe—meant to lock up one’s treats to keep one faithful on a diet—a year ago. My treats are a bottle of bourbon and a bottle of vodka. (I’m smart enough to know that when I no longer consider bourbon and vodka treats, I’m in real trouble.)
You may need a little more information to assess my being an alcoholic, so here’s the bourbon safe routine: The morning after a hefty night of drinking, I place the bottle in the container made of thick, NASA-grade plastic, put the lid on, set the timer—with a choice of days, hours, minutes, seconds until it opens—push the lock button, and a count down of five seconds begins. I now have five seconds to change my mind and abort the mission. As the five seconds count down, I’ll hear voices in my head—a little bit of my macho uncle, a smidge of Frank Sinatra—questioning my manhood, so ABORT ABORT ABORT kid, what the hellyadoin’?! I ignore those two boozehounds just long enough for the little knobs to pop out of the sides of the lid that will secure it to the container. And when that click happens, there’s no going back.
I congratulate myself on a job well done. I will now abstain from alcohol for the next 3 days, 7 hrs, 42 mins, and 59 secs! (I’ll only pay attention to the seconds on day three.)
If I’m feeling particularly confident, I can add more time to the timer. At least I think I can. Sadly, I’ve never tried to add time; why would anyone do that?
The safe won’t allow me to subtract time. Even if I take the batteries out and put them back in that damn timer will stay right where it was before I tried to cheat (this I’ve tried.) So that’s it, I’m stuck. In a few days (3 days, 7 hrs, 41 mins, and 12 secs to be exact), I’ll be as dry as a church mouse in the pocket of Elliot Ness!
Oh sure, I can always go to the liquor store and buy another bottle, but when I’m hungover the next day, I can’t lock up the new bottle because the safe is already locked, so I’ll have no choice but to dump the remaining devil liquid down the drain. And that gets expensive.
While the booze is locked up, everyday activities like giving the kids a bath will make me wonder how to make bathtub gin, and wouldn’t a gin martini be nice for a change? After the bath, I’m watching Wonder Pets with my little scamps, and all is well and good until that goddamn gerbil eats the celery stick and I’m thinking about a Bloody Mary. Help me, you pint-sized problem solvers—how do I get my bourbon safe open? This is seewious!
The American Heart Association recommends no more than two drinks a day or 14 drinks per week for men, but that’s just a license to save up, isn’t it? I mean, if I don’t drink for a few days (3 days, 7 hrs, 36 mins, and 34 secs to be exact), then somebody owes my liver a few extra rounds this weekend!
If I’m an alcoholic, I’m definitely a high-functioning alcoholic because I can get things done. By the way, does that mean I function ‘high’ or that I can do a lot of things when I’ve been drinking? Actually, both of those are accurate.
But here’s the thing, I don’t want to do things while I’m drinking. I don’t want to do chores; I want to fantasize about doing chores! I want to make big plans, map out short-term and long-term goals, and tell my partner all about them. Then, I’ll be reminded of what I said a few days later. Of course, I’ll have no recollection of it, but I can’t let on. So here we are at Lowe’s, buying all of the materials for the zip line that of course is safe and the whole family will use it and never get sick of it. Like the trampoline.
Someday, when our house and yard look like the Clampetts moved in, my partner will tell me to only talk about such things when I’m sober. And also say that I listen best when I’m sober because I’m not just waiting for the other person’s lips to stop moving so I know it’s my turn to speak.
If there’s no one around to talk to I, want to put the headphones on and listen to the music of my youth, marveling at the production of the record or the fantastic guitar solo a song has. Or I want to get lost in a great lyric—decipher ambiguous phrases in songs like Whiter Shade of Pale.
We skipped the light fandango
Did cartwheels ‘cross the floor
I was feeling kind of seasick
The crowd called out for more
The room was humming harder
As the ceiling flew away
We called out for another drink
And the waiter brought his tray.
HELL YES! That’s what I’m talking about. This dude is at a party, man.
And so it was that later
As the Miller told his tale
Her face at first just ghostly
Turned a whiter shade of pale.
…tragedy? Whoa, that’s pretty deep. Buzzkill. Something happened, something awful. There’s remorse in his voice there. A lesson to be learned, but what is it?
This is the part of the story where I tell you how much I missed because I was drunk from 1992 to 2004, right? Close calls while driving buzzed, or a myriad of other bad decisions. The list goes on and on.
But no, this is the part of the story where I decide that I really hate that I’m enraptured by something that has such a grip on me. The fact that I know I need it is enough for me to say, yes, this one thing, this one little vice I have, is the last holdout from my bachelorhood. The last bastion of my youth.
Drinking takes me back to a time when my band was starting out—all of those shots sent up on stage, the post-show drinks when we all talked about what would surely be, mapping out our short-term and long-term goals. The celebration after signing a record deal, doing shots with bands we were touring with. The liquor endorsements, the bottles of booze written into our contracts, fresh bottles before and after the show. The bottles on the tour bus help make the drive from Albuquerque to Denver seem a little shorter. And then, off of the tour, hosting parties in my new condo, playing the big shot.
These days, alcohol rounds all the edges. It reminds me of when aches and pains were of the heart, not the knees, hips, and lower back. Disappointments were devastating back when we were young because the expectations of youth are so very high. And when the highs came, they were high. The highs were higher, the lows were lower.
There are fewer disappointments now because life has taught us to expect less, to be happy just to ride along in the middle seat; not really all that bad of a place to be. And although sometimes we want to stick our head out of the sunroof and feel that blast of air that wakes us from our suburban sleep, we are mellowing with age, like good bourbon.
Actually, I wouldn’t know if bourbon mellows with age, because you know, why would anyone just let it sit there. Drink it already!
So, am I an alcoholic?
I really want to know what you think. It’s your turn; tell me your story.
I’m sober at the moment. It’s when I listen best.
Brian Vander Ark is the lead singer for the band The Verve Pipe. He wants to hear what you think. To hear his version of "Whiter Shade of Pale," subscribe to the Rockstar Reinvention YouTube Channel for the premiere of the video Friday, July 2.
Cover photo: Brian Kelly