On Drinking – Present Day

There’s a dial in my head that’s been turned all the way to “information absorption” to the detriment of information dissemination lately. I had a rather heavy night out (read: “I drank really heavily”) a while back, and it sent me into a small downward spiral, and my inner critic had a lot to say when I handed him the mic.

He asked what the drinking was worth to me. Is it worth making friends with people whose names I can’t remember? Is it worth the hundreds of dollars I could have saved that night and the weeks of catching up on bills in the aftermath? Is it worth the multiple-day hangover and depression that inevitably follow? Or the lasting effects it has on my dog when I’m not willing or able to take him outside as often as I should because I can’t fathom getting out of bed? I think not.

About a decade ago, then chief drug adviser to the UK David Nutt, MD and a team of colleagues ranked different drugs based on nine different types of harm caused to an individual and seven types of harm caused to society. Alcohol was found to be the most harmful of all drugs (including heroin, crack, etc.) to society, and the fourth most harmful to the user. Dr. Nutt was fired from that position for saying that the government-sanctioned drugs were worse than the ones the government was trying to vilify – LSD, MDMA, and THC among them.

Much of alcohol’s harm to society is likely due to its legality, and the multi-billion dollar advertising campaigns encouraging us to raise a glass to whatever day it happens to be, or for no reason at all. There are, unfortunately, no juice bars selling small hits of Molly along with a kale smoothie – at least not that I’m aware of – but maybe that’s a much better way to hang out with your friends than having a beer together.

Don’t get me wrong – I love alcohol. I love the taste of it, the feel of it, the look of it – pretty much everything about it, actually. There are also plenty of studies saying that small amounts of alcohol can be good for your cardiovascular health, prevent kidney stones, safeguard against Alzheimer’s, and boost your social and sex lives. My problem is usually with the “small amounts” bit of those studies. When I drink, I fucking drink.

My friend called herself a “freegan,” meaning she only ate meat at dinner parties or when it was purchased for her. Essentially, she only ate it when she was socially called upon to do so. I think that’s the stance I’m going to take with alcohol going forward. If someone wants to buy me a drink, I’m not going to say no, but I’m also not going to ask for one or purchase one for myself. We’ll see how it goes.

Gandhi said, “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” I seem to have the thinking and the saying parts down, but there’s still some room for improvement on the doing. I’ll keep you updated.

No Foot Right

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My first year of college was spent at the California Maritime Academy – a paramilitary school for merchant marines (the military’s FedEx) – and it was paid for by the United States Navy. The plan: major in mechanical engineering, get college paid for in exchange for becoming a Naval Officer, then join Special Operations.

Though the campus was gorgeous and overlooked the San Francisco Bay (that was the view from my dorm room up there), I couldn’t bring myself to be okay with a student body of 850. My graduating class in high school had 800, and that’s not including the 400 kids in my year that didn’t pass, so I had grown accustomed to a certain level of anonymity. Also, it was about 80% men, and I like the ladies too much for that ratio.

Again, I loved and excelled in ROTC. My unit was composed of students from Cal Maritime, UC Davis, UC Berkeley, and Stanford, and we met in Berkeley for classes, drill, and Physical Training (PT) once a week. I loved my unit, and I maintained relationships with many of the people in it for many years.

I traveled with them to Reno to judge NJROTC units from Nevada. I traveled with them to Memphis to participate in an armed drill competition. I participated in field exercises throughout Northern California. I loved all of it, despite my characteristic comical whining.

Simultaneously, my roommate for my first semester away from home happened to be the coke dealer for the school. A conservative estimate would be about $10,000 of product in and out of that room while I was in it. Self restraint has never been my strong suit, so I took full advantage of its availability. On any given day, you could scrape about a half gram off the mirror on his desk for free, but with the Navy’s stipend and money from my parents, I was able to afford a fair amount. I’d snort as much as my funds and nepotism would allow, then I’d take six Advil PM or freebase Oxycontin to come back down far enough to sleep.

I was chasing highs in whatever directions I could at that point. I tried acid for the first time that year. I also bought about 25 pills of MDMA in one go, and did it with such regularity that I started to have bouts of inexplicable blindness where my vision would go completely black during physical exertion (not ideal if you’re training to be in the military). The only thing that limited usage was the weekly potential for randomized drug tests, and by some miracle I always passed when I was tested.

One night, my coke-laden prattling worried my step aunt who was the same age as me, and she told my parents. I was livid with her, but in retrospect it was the right call, as it allowed me the degree of separation I needed to survive my first year of college.

During the summer, I went down to San Diego to spend a month learning about the many things the Navy has to offer an aspiring officer. I spent one week learning about surface warfare that included a night on a ship, shooting guns off the side into the ocean, seeing a shell as big as my leg fired over the horizon, and watching a helicopter land on the deck. Then I spent a week learning about submarine warfare, and spent a night under the Pacific. Then I spent a week with the aviators and got to fly in an F-18 Fighter Jet with a pilot that had just been selected for the Blue Angels. Then I spent a week with the Marines shooting guns and physically exhausting myself in the most rewarding ways.

I loved each and every step of that journey, but I loved my artsy girlfriend and the allure of a debaucherous life more. I transferred to UC Davis, and opted out of ROTC. I abandoned the dream I had had for the better part of five years for something that I’m sure seemed very enticing at the time. I can’t recall my reasoning, but I can say assuredly that once I’ve decided something, I power forward.

I gotta say, that’s a much easier way to live when you don’t spend any time looking back. Damn pursuit of writing in my later years…