HALF WILD is about sobriety, kind of. The same way I couldn’t call myself an alcoholic, I won’t call this a sobriety book. Anyone who has ever quit anything knows all too well that it’s never just about the cessation of the thing. It’s about what drives us to the precipice, and what we discover beyond it.
“Sobriety journey” implicates a single antagonist and suggests that removing said antagonist will resolve the conflict. Since drinking was less of the problem and more of a symptom, cutting its head off simply revealed a thousand more snarling heads. This book is about how, after conquering what I perceived as my antagonist, I found before me an escalating array of tests and traps. On the other side of alcohol I found self-loathing, deep rejection, and existential fear. I exchanged kinetic warfare for a battle of emotional attrition.
So, sure, I can call it a book about sobriety for marketing purposes and like all marketing it will be overly simplistic and lacking in nuance. The whole story is deeper, and less convenient. The excerpt below shares a taste.
An excerpt from HALF WILD
After a year sober, I lost the drive to drink or prove myself, numb out, and hide behind a woozy veil of hops and bourbon. But I couldn’t help but feel like the alcohol had not fully left my system. Even though drinking didn’t leave me down and out, it left me haunted. The ghost rattled her chains to distract me from how far I had come. I learned to live with her.
Every now and again, I will go to sleep and dream that I am drinking again. When I wake up, usually feeling a little guilty and panicked by my imagined transgression, I will feel relief that it was just a dream, and I will soothe myself by opening the app on my phone that shows me how many days it has been since I quit drinking. Almost every time those drinking dreams happen, I am on or near some significant anniversary, like a 6-month mark or a day that ends in two or three zeroes.
I heard someone say in a meeting once that the dreams are just what happen when your brain decides to “clean out the attic.” They are your subconscious flipping through old scrapbooks, stepping into the nostalgia of a bygone life, and asking if you want to keep those relics, or let them go.
It’s like looking at old pictures. Only the good times got documented for posterity, and that was what appeared when your brain did the audit to bring them back up to be processed. Drinking dreams showed the romance of a glass of champagne at a wedding. They skipped the hot cigarette breath of the groomsman copping a feel on the dance floor.
The same went for how I thought about drinking. My perspective changed after quitting. I could see the bait-and-switch techniques more clearly. There was always a touch of romance at the beginning, an intention of artistry like a fine red paired with a succulent steak. But on the other side of the intention, when the artistry failed to reveal true inspiration, it was a story of searching, chasing, and taking it too far until there was a rottenness of desperate overdoing like teeth stained purple and breath turned rancid by too much cabernet.
I had spent the better part of a decade trying mostly in vain to extend the romance, dancing on the edge of overindulgence for as long as I could before falling off. And I did fall off. Often literally. When I stacked that loose ankle on top of high heels and danced in the swaying embrace of too many spirits, it usually rolled and dropped me in the middle of wherever I was. I shrugged off the shame of a bad night like a major league pitcher shakes off a botched close, taking the L and moving on. By 5pm, when the soreness dissipated from my ankle and I had put in another respectable workday, amnesia set in. I dusted myself off and got back on the mound, standing in the buzzing lights of the liquor store, weighing my options.
Herein lies the rub of all rubs.
I drank to avoid my feelings. So, when I chose to deliberately sit with the feelings I had chosen for years to stifle, numb, and avoid, what I encountered was not some sweet and easy journey of self-acceptance. The path was paved with broken glass that shredded my feet and left bloody footprints all over my life. When I stopped drowning my thoughts and feelings in a bloody mary oblivion, I had to look myself square in the face and figure out who the hell I was. When you stop deluding yourself, it’s like waking a sleepwalker. They will try to punch you in the face. I sat in the hot soup of my own psyche with the escape hatch welded shut and began to recognize the extent of the lies I told and the masks I wore. I began to see the cumulation of mental energy I wasted just trying to keep up with myself. It was panic inducing.
Even after a year sober, I was as anxious as ever. I wasn’t being rocked by night sweats and shame-overs, and I wasn’t wracked by fear and guilt because I’d let strangers into my house, lost my keys, or shattered the screen on my phone, but I still couldn’t get through a day without feeling that pulse-quickening fear that sent me running for home. Sobriety wasn’t the end-all-be-all anxiety-knocker-outer I needed it to be.
I had stopped the bleeding, but I still needed to address the wounds. I set out to dismantle the patterns of behavior that had me hiding and lying to myself. The damage was in the years I spent living out of alignment with myself, afraid to look within, unsure of how to prioritize my voice.
I used to use alcohol to turn down the volume on my loud thoughts. Without the booze buffer, everything got a little louder. Freshly aware of everything around me, my natural anxiety hit a new high. I had forced myself to get comfortable with uncomfortable situations by drinking my way through them. I drank through the insecurity of college parties, the loneliness of solo travel, the awkwardness of friends who only sort of get you. I used booze as the lubricant to twist and contort myself into an image of who I thought I needed to be, and what I found was an unhappy person who wondered why she felt misunderstood as she routinely failed to understand herself. I needed to address and deconstruct those patterns of thinking, which meant sitting with them, confronting the tough emotions I didn’t know how to feel. It meant learning to unravel and actually listen to the inner voice that had been quietly asking me for years to tune in by ringing in my ears and churning in my stomach.
I cry a lot more now. The old me didn’t know how. She was locked up like a mollusk. Sometimes, the right blend of vodka and vermouth would bring it out of her, but she wouldn’t learn much except to avoid vodka and vermouth. She never let me go deeper, so I had to meet her more than halfway on the battleground of my heart. I had to push past her reservations and give her a big hug and start asking if she could let me go.