On a table in the back left corner of my kitchen sits two half-empty bottles of bourbon, one three-quarters full of shitty whisky, a bottle of vodka, three of tequila and other assorted rums, gins and spirits.
I’m worried there isn’t enough. Not for tonight; not for the weekend. There’s plenty for that. I’m worried I don’t have what I need to get through the rest of my life.
I don’t. Soon—as I’ve done 600 times since I turned 21—I’ll walk up the street to the liquor store and spend 35 or 55 or 75 dollars, purchasing just enough alcohol to get me until when I need to buy more.
Then I’ll go do it again.
That’s what I do.
Being a drunk isn’t about drinking. There’s so much more. It’s about being slightly hungover on a Tuesday, because it’s Tuesday and you’re slightly hungover every Tuesday, since Tuesday is no different than Friday or Monday or Wednesday or Thursday.
The mornings are all hard. You always resist getting out of bed because although you have the slightly uncomfortable feeling of needing to pee, enduring it is better than sitting straight up and handling your headache. But each morning is nice, too, because it lets you know it’s only 12 or so more hours until you can start drinking.
How to Be a Drunk, Step 1
Have rules, because rules are what separates you from the alcoholics, those flailing drags on society, from everyone else who is frowned upon by everyone else.
It doesn’t matter what they are and they should be arbitrarily enforced. Rules aren’t there to control you, but to tell other people you have rules, which means you can tell them you don’t have a problem. How can I? I regulate myself.
David’s Drinking Rule #1: Tell people you don’t drink before 9 p.m.
This originated from owning a dog. Whenever I crack open a beer before I take her out, I know she’ll get a shitty walk, because I never stop at one or two or three. Instead I come home kinda drunk, and in lieu of her usual half-hour stroll, she gets a quick lap around the block to pee. But I liked how it sounded when I said it to people. They respected it. So though it’s for her, it’s really for me. It makes me look good. Makes me look like I have it under control.
David’s Drinking Rule #2: Don’t go to happy hour.
This relates to having a dog, which makes it more of a corollary of the first rule rather than it’s own distinct one, but it’s in here because it needs to be said. The people who go to happy hour are the ones who have a real problem. The ones who weren’t happy at 4:45 but are at 5:05 thanks to a discounted domestic beer and a momentary respite from e-mail? That strikes me as having an issue.
Those are my only two rules. That and I don’t drink gin anymore. Sure, if someone orders me a gin and tonic, I won’t refuse, and if there’s gin in the house, I’ll have some, but I don’t buy it on my own accord.
How to Be a Drunk, Step 2
Keep believing your life pivoted on several moments long ago, ones you can’t go back and change. Those set you down this irrevocable path. It doesn’t matter if future events rendered them inherently meaningless. Let those times give you reason to despair when you need to. Your parents’ split; a rejection from a bucolic New England university; the move you never made on a college crush sophomore year. It could all be different.
This is not to say you are depressed. People so often mistake unhappiness, disappointment and self-loathing with something larger. That’s not the case. It’s just nice to have sadness. For it to be there. Life’s most beautiful moments come at 12:30 a.m. on what’s technically a Wednesday but is still really Tuesday, when your roommates have gone to sleep and you’ve turned off the T.V. and you’re down, deep into your couch, with the stemless wineglass you filled a third of the way with bourbon resting in the pit between your chest and your stomach and you’re thinking about her or him or this or that, even though her or him or this or that hasn’t been on your mind for days or months or years. It really isn’t even about her or him or this or that, it’s just about needing it to be about something so it doesn’t feel like it’s about nothing. But then you take a big gulp or brown bourbon and sigh and feel a little better for the slightest of seconds. Those are the moments to live for.
It’s about making yourself sad so you can feel happy.
How to Be a Drunk, Step 3
Spend most of your 20s too hungover to eat at the majority of family events. A fancy brunch at a new restaurant to celebrate your sister’s acceptance into the Peace Corps? That one I remember not for the food, but for twice excusing myself to the bathroom to puke. Just so I could stop sweating and squirming in front of my family.
I don’t know what I did the night before, except that it was only getting drunk for getting drunk’s sake.
Christmas lunches were the most awful. My mom would spend several days prepping for the first time our family was together in ages. Such an important day to her and I’d be up getting tanked until four.
If you want to ruin that, lie down on the couch after nibbling a bite or two of her cornbread stuffing and half a slice of honey-baked ham. Be too hungover to sip the Cava she purchased—your mother, who never drinks but bought it because she knows you like to. When no one’s looking, move to a couch in another room and nap (it feels so good) until your mother, rightfully livid, tells you how ashamed she is.
Leave earlier than everyone else. Feel a joyous rush when you shut the door behind you and realize the ordeal is over. That feeling dissipates on your drive back, though, and by the time you make it home, you feel pretty awful. Wallow or pour a drink.
How to Be a Drunk, Step 4
Always have one last one before going to bed. Put the bottle back but then rethink it. The drink you have in your hand could be bigger. Add a splash as you think back to the morning, when you thought the hangover you had was because of your final drink the night before. Shrug. You have your reasons. You’ll chug a ton of water before you go to bed. You don’t have much to do in the morning. Just enjoy that last drink, since it is your last drink. If you didn’t have it, then would you know it was time for the night to be over?
That’s why you always have it. It’s necessary. That’s why you never don’t. The last time you forwent one? Well, 45 days ago, but that was because you had the flu. Nasty strain. Before that? Fuck. Since you left for college? Maybe it’s been under 200 days without a drink. Definitely under three. Out 4,500 or so. That seems like too many nights spent drunk, but that’s what happens when a bender slowly devolves into normalcy.
How to Be a Drunk, Step 5
First dates are okay, I guess. I deal with them. There’s nothing like sitting across from someone you want to impress but feel like you can’t because of your drinking. If you do it normally, you’re on your third before they finish their first. But pacing—trying to pace yourself—is worse. Taking those small, tiny sips of beer that aren’t pleasurable. Alcohol was made to be gulped. The girl across from you can tell. She can tell. Watching you spin and twirl and finger your pint glass, raising it to your mouth then lowering it when you realize the level of liquid in your cup is drastically lower than theirs. How many times have you faked a laugh or pretended to need to interject, just so you wouldn’t take a sip?
At least you don’t drink before dates anymore. That was bad. Two, three, five drinks getting ready to meet someone; because the alcohol helped you be funny and entertaining and engaging. Everything a woman wants in a man.
Thirteen. My record was 13 drinks before going on a first date.
How to Be a Drunk, Step 6
Serving sizes are a lie. Sure, I guess a beer is 12 ounces. And drink whatever amount of wine you want. I don’t care. What I’m saying is 1 ½ ounces of whiskey isn’t a drink. A drink is whatever glass you have, filled halfway. Fuck it. Fill it all the way. I used to do that with pint glasses and Crown Royal. I was working a shitty shift, noon to ten. I’d come home exhausted, stressed and pissed, but that was only part of the issue. It was a girl and our ambiguous state and the oh-so-joyous feeling that comes from knowing we loved each other, just not enough to stop fucking each other over. Whatever. I’d also moved home from a year out west. Things could have been better. They were once the cup was empty. Downing all it made me think I could keep going. Doing that was the only way I knew to manage the constant perpetuity of everything in the world.
Then I would pour another one. Never as full as the first. Three-quarters or halfway. Some more ice. That was usually enough to do the trick, to send me stumbling to bed. If it wasn’t, I would measure out my last drink. Fill a shot glass twice with whiskey and pour it in. I don’t know why I would always insist on measuring my final round after downing so much so indiscriminately. Something about controlling my situation.
It’s not that hard to get to work at noon, but I was still once 90 minutes late. My boss asked me how long I’d been drinking, as if I’d woken up at eight to pregame my shift. He wasn’t joking. After I insisted I was only hungover, he let me stay.
That was the same month my roommates took all the liquor in the house and hid it from me for a week. When it returned, I opted for a smaller glass. Still do. But I’ve never stopped refilling it.
I wound up quitting that job two months later. I didn’t have any prospects and spent the next eight months unemployed. Surprisingly, I drank a lot less during that stretch. Since there was nothing to clearly demarcating when I had to be sober and when I could be drunk, I didn’t see the point.
How to Be a Drunk, Step 7
Justify it all away. You already have. Where you’re at right now. Your stagnant career. All your friends in love and married and with kids on the way.
No one knows what it’s like to be you and that’s the world’s only honest statement. But there are excuses everywhere. Take solace in that. Use them. People don’t get your genius. This job isn’t right for you. You’re only failing because you don’t care.
Justify the drinking; that’s a must. You like it. It’s not because of dependency or fear. That’s not a problem because it doesn’t exist. Don’t know what you’re talking about. No, you don’t have a problem, don’t have a problem at all. Plus, it’s not like you don’t have a plan. A plan for everything. To get away. Make it big. Leave this shit behind—every fucking one of you. It’s just a matter of time. Soon. Soon everything will be great. Everything will be great.
But until then, there’s always another bourbon on the rocks to be had. There’s plenty of time for everything else. The house which needs cleaning, the resume that needs padding, the woman who needs apologizing to? Do it later or don’t do it all. Do you really think anyone cares? Why save the world when every night you can be unencumbered from it? The people who want to leave their mark on this planet don’t understand how it works.
Keep your head down.
Eventually it will all be over.
How to Be a Drunk, Step Eight
Admit it: There’s nothing like a cold beer. Even in the winter. That crisp, refreshing, delightful feeling of taking you first sip? Love.
When I was 19, the summer after my freshman year, my best friend and I took jobs as laborers on a construction site. It was fucking hard and fucking demanding and we did it during the middle of the fucking night. Arrive at six, leave at four a.m. Before each evening, we’d pick up a case of beer. When we got off, all our friends would be asleep. So we’d find a cul-de-sac and crack open beers. Sit in my van and drink.
What I remember the most from those mornings was always my first sip. That’s what sticks with me from over a decade ago. We were hot and sweaty and spent, our muscles tired and legs aching. But each time, a first sip of beer would send those calming, tingling sensations through every bit of my body.
It was one random night, after a first sip, that I spoke something along the lines of this.
“This is so great. I don’t mean drinking. I mean beer. The first sip of the first beer after work. It’s the most perfect feeling, the perfect way to unwind. I know we’re drinking a lot these days, and that’s like college, but it’s about how good this first sip makes me feel. When I’m older, when I’m 30, one will be enough to unwind. Always have one, but only one or two. Not 10 or 20. Not when I’m older. And I won’t have a problem because that first sip will be enough.”
I reached for the case and cracked open another, having finished my first during that speech.