The Foundry held the dubious distinction as Boulder, Colorado’s coolest nightspot. It was a sprawling, brick-walled, high-ceilinged former theater filled with mostly ornamental pool tables. It was a regular haunt at the peak of my drinking career.
One night in the spring of 1998, I went there with my buddy Drew. It was a sausage-fest, littered with hapless guys in baseball caps, nursing their drinks complaining about the lack of women.
This night occurred during my halcyon drinking days. I had recently returned from a bicycle expedition from Boulder to Seattle to Portland, Maine. I left a pudgy faced, thin-limbed boy, I returned a chisel-faced, strapping man. To exploit my new appearance, I started going out all the time, getting the attention I had longed for, but never received, in my adolescence. And whereas my previous intoxicant was marijuana, a substance I used to smother my libidinous urgings, I was now drinking bourbon, which gave those same urgings megaphonic volume.
So there I was in this charcuterie, 21, handsome, cocksure and reaching a sweet-spot with my bourbon buzz.
At the time, I possessed special vision to filter out all men and see only potential amorous targets. Using this vision, I spotted 3 profoundly attractive girls sitting in a one-sided booth at the back-left corner of the Foundry’s main room. These girls were dressed up and intimidatingly hot. Yet no guys were talking to them. It was probably because they were so hot and the position of the booth. The half-booth would have made any suitor like a contestant on American Idol, auditioning like a chump in front of 3 harsh judges.
I was wearing my favorite pair of Carharts (great pants for the adventurous drunk) and a purple, short-sleeved button-down that was barely buttoned. I got my bourbon-and-coke (“easy on the coke,” I begged the bartender), I saw these Sirens, told Drew to follow me and I walked right up to them. I did not ask for permission. I did not look if there was any competition. That night, I was the one to beat.
My words were butter. I said all the right things. I had two of the girls move so I could talk to my favorite one, Shannon. We waxed about how lame Boulder was and many other things. We connected. I barely had to ask for her phone number.
I would screw the whole thing up. I ran into Shannon at the Foundry a couple nights later. I was wearing the same clothes because I had been on a bender. I walked up to her, blotto, reeking of whiskey. She said, “you’re totally drunk.” I replied a confessional, “yesh, I am.”
The unfortunate conclusion of the story is not my point (a fortunate conclusion for Shannon, of course). The point is that when I approached these women, I experienced myself in a new, powerful way. Sure, I was totally buzzed. But it was me. I was the guy who walked up to them. I was the guy who silenced all of his doubts. I was the guy who went for what he wanted.
The trouble was that my power depended on liquor. It was soon thereafter revealed to me that liquor was an unreliable power-source (this was shortly before my motorcycle chase/accident).
I’m an alcoholic. Abundant experience bears out that I cannot consume small amounts of alcohol. Because of this, I quit drinking 11 years ago. But like Churchill said, “I have taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me.” At the time, I needed to realize that that power was in me. Booze made that realization possible. I didn’t just realize that I could hit on women (though like many of us, that was a major issue). I realized that I was capable of living fearlessly. I found later that the fears were quieted, not removed. But in that quiet, I experienced something akin to real power. I used this experience as a proxy in my sober life. I have since learned how to soberly do all the things I thought I needed to be drunk to do. I can hit on chicks (when not in a monogamous relationship, honey). I can go into foreign situations and talk to strangers. I’ve even been known to dance.
I go out to bars and parties about 4 or 5 times a month. When I do, I see many guys and girls drinking and having a good time, flirting, talking freely, meeting strangers, playing, dancing, enjoying music and so on. But there’s something Pyrrhic about these victories. I get the sense that they wouldn’t be doing these things if they didn’t have a drink in their hands (or in their bloodstream to be more specific). Drinking is like a 3rd world power-plant, sometimes its power sputters or gives out. When that happens, conversation turns into yelling, contemplation becomes gibberish, dancing becomes falling and flirting becomes sexual aggression.
I will not insinuate that all people who drink are alcoholic like me. Far from it. I stay away from diagnostics as a policy. I have many friends who are regular drinkers and my choice to not drink is not an issue for me or (I believe) them.
What I will do is submit some questions for people who drink, have quit, want to quit or should start—i.e. people who are so stuck up they should get something to loosen them up.
- What positive things have drinking shown you is possible in yourself? How might you leverage these experiences of yourself into your sober, day-to-day life—in your relationships, work, etc.? How might you “live drunk” when not drinking?
- What seems possible with alcohol that seems impossible or difficult when sober? Is this true? In other words, is it the alcohol or you who is making this thing possible?
- If you were drunk right now (assuming you’re not), what would you do? Choose something and do it now. (Note: these should be fearless, not reckless or harmful activities only)
- If you are not a drinker, what positive attributes can you imagine drinking might lend your personality? Choose a tangible step to take toward living drunk and carry it out now (no drinking necessary).