I wrote this post as a rather candid and personal post for Facebook, but I thought that there may be some value in sharing it with strangers. So my apologies for the wall of text, and lack of media; it’s just not that kind of post. And no hard feelings if you don’t make it through, but it’s here if you want it. Much Love — Michael.
It has been 2270 days since I last had a full, unrestricted Florida license, amounting to six years, two months, and a few days. It has been one of the most difficult things I’ve put myself through, but it has also been one of the most illuminating and impactful factors in my entire life. If you know me well, you’ll know that I believe self examination is the finest journey in life. The OG Greek philosopher Socrates once said “the unexamined life is not worth living”, and I’ve come to feel the truth of that idea.
If you care to come along with me for a few minutes, I’d like to share some of what I’ve learned, in the hopes that maybe some of the pain that I’ve put myself through can help you learn and avoid the potholes and pitfalls I failed to see. While alcohol is certainly a major theme (and I implore you to read on if you’ve ever questioned your relationship there), much of it is simply about what it is to be human.
First, I have to let my insecurities fly, touch on why starting this process of outward expression is so hard for me, and why it has taken me so long to get started. In short, I think I suck, or at least, I’m fairly unremarkable. While I have come to recognize that I seem to carry myself with a confident calmness now, my self esteem is not nor will ever be all that high. I’ve accepted this as part of who I am as a human. So I suffer from a kind of imposter syndrome, questioning why the fuck anyone would ever need to hear what I have to say. But I recently discovered a flip side to that coin that has forced me to push on. Should I give in to feelings of inadequacy or irrelevance, perhaps I wind up holding onto a piece of information, an idea, a hope that could have helped someone else, slightly nudging their path towards the better.
The idea of sounding like a fool suddenly becomes far more tolerable when the alternative is failing to help someone in need.
I’m far from perfect, but I am finally meandering along the path of growth. Many days, my depression, a kind of heavy blanket of empathy that feels more like lazy than sad, wins out. I think authenticity requires humility, so I lay it bare for you here. I’m doing okay, but often, I’m just doing okay. I no longer think this precludes me from trying to help others.
So none of what comes even close to preaching. These are simply a collection of ideas and reflections based upon my own unique and limited experiences, and nothing more. But I suspect some of my experiences may run parallel to some of yours. I do not believe I know better than anyone else, and I certainly do not and cannot know what’s better for you, only you can answer that. But perhaps I can give you some nuggets that help you with just that. And that seems like a great spot to dispense my first idea:
Everyone’s experiences are their own, and we have no idea the story of another. We have all been told (far too many times) that we shouldn’t judge another until we walk a mile in their shoes, but I actually think this is inadequate; better that we shouldn’t really judge anyone, ever. We should simply experience them, and give or withdraw our energy and attention as we see fit.
For a mile is not nearly long enough to know someone’s whole story: the childhood with misguided parents or relatives; an adolescence where they were left to discover the world on their own terms; hardships and failures, many of which were not in their control. Good days & good people, bad days & bad people. Shit, I barely know my OWN story well enough to judge myself, what right do I have to look with judgment at anyone else?
I discovered the power of this idea fairly recently. When I encountered strangers who treated me poorly, beyond what most all of us agree should be accepted, I found a question or two that helped me move through those moments, largely undisturbed: how did that person get here? What has happened in that person’s day, week, year, and life that made that kind of behavior to another sentient being acceptable to them? Instead of being hurt, or being angry, or mocking them (something my old self was both quite fond of and regrettably quite good at), I learned to approach these situations with a kind of somber curiosity.
Something interesting happened when I left that space: I was able to both find a kind of unconditional empathy for that person, and I was able to move through that moment with my own psyche relatively undisturbed. Not only was it possible, it became easy. My life became better, my ability to preserve my emotions saving many days from disturbances of life.
Being empathetic to someone that’s an objective asshole doesn’t mean you have to be “soft” because you can use the idea of consent and boundaries to limit that person’s ability to continue to interact with you. A pause for that empathy in that I do not know their story quickly turns into a desire to remove myself from their story, certainly until they are willing to self examine and grow the parts of them that make this detestable behavior acceptable.
Which leads well into the next reflection: we all must be willing and active in our own growth. It’s so important, and it will only change your life for the better. I don’t think you have to be as in love with that idea as I am, but at the very least, sit with humility, and find ways you can improve yourself and how you interact with the world. Do it for yourself.
I think every person who is able should have a therapist. It’s not a place for the “broken”, its simply a place for the imperfect, much in the same way that a gym exists. We can only do so much without some help by well trained minds, and the tools they recommend. If you have health insurance, most plans cover sessions (mine is a $20 co-pay). If you do not, consider a resource like OpenPathCollective.org, who uses income based criteria to help you find a therapist in your area. I used that for a number of years, and it was $60 for an hour session. Even once a month can be transformational. I hope one day to run a nonprofit to bridge the gap between desire and access.
We know we have to take care of our bodies, but our brains are no different. In fact, I think being mindful of habits (diet, exercise, hobby), taking care of our brain can have a far more holistic impact than just the body. Opinion, not fact.
Do not be afraid to reject cultural norms. One of the brains I love most in this world happens to belong to my wife (ain’t that something), and she once gave me a quote that remains as the best thing someone has ever said to me in the scope of philosophical thought.
I was riffing, half heartedly and comedically, on horoscopes, and the ancillary rock people. I proclaimed confidently that horoscopes are simply a set of made up bullshit that people give meaning to despite there being nothing concrete underlying.
She hardly paused and replied, “Isn’t that how you feel about everything though?”
I was dumbfounded, because she was exactly right.
Look around you, wherever you are, right now. Approximately 99% of everything you see is just some made up bullshit. We made it up. We’re making it up as we go along. It’s self justified, but it’s no more real or valid than looking to the stars for patterns and meaning. And listen, the evidence based, Bill Nye raised, science loving guy in me recognizes there are some limits to that statement, but it’s more true than most of us care to admit.
Money, commerce, chairs, advertisements, cups, paint, clothing, embarrassment, shame, all just shit we make up on the fly. Don’t believe me? Travel the world and see how different our cultures are, and how little is truly universal. We all eat. We all sleep. We seem to have some capacity for love no matter what. And we all tell stories, many of them to ourselves.
It’s all made up. It’s all up for discussion. Culture has a way of blinding us from that truth by making us believe that the current way is the only way, the right way, the good way. All bullshit, all just making it up as we go, and trying our best.
I love this, and it is a large part of who I am. I think our current economic system is absurd. I think our current political system is a dying relic. I think the default position of monogamous relationships is outdated and even harmful (but I respect those who live their best life in such arrangements). I have long loved counter culture, and it’s of little surprise that I am oddly comfortable in polyamory. Culture is just a set of options that our ancestors signed us up for, but it is by no means binding.
The point is that you do not have to do something, believe something, or act a certain way just because “that’s how its done”. To be free means to saunter beyond these made up lines and experience life on our own terms. If you take anything from this, may it be that. Walk your own path, and be willing to dig down and question if your motives are your own, or the invisible hand of culture keeping you on an often comfortable, well worn but sometimes decrepit path. Weird thing about a clear path: its mostly just a strip of barren death with fresh, vibrant life teeming on either side. Perhaps Robert Frost was on to something when he called for us to walk the path less traveled.
And that idea of examining the power of culture and expected behavior takes us to tonight’s keynote issue: the booze!
I don’t often speak about my departure from alcohol at length for a very simple reason: it would not have helped me to hear what I have to say. I think that the single biggest requirement for change is the willingness to change, the admission that things are not as good as they could be, and to be willing to look at behaviors, choices, and options. In short, you have to walk these journeys yourself, and someone screaming at you of the dangers ahead will mean little if you’re enjoying the moment and have no mind to get off that path.
But what I miss with that are all the people who maybe have started to question the alcohol problem, those who have moments of self loathing, but maybe are scared to think of alternatives. Or scared to face what we think is the stigma behind admitting we have a problem.
But here’s a secret: we are not the problem in this equation, it is a specific drug that impairs judgment and allows for decisions we would not otherwise make.
I once worked with a girl who told me a story. She had met a guy, and they had quickly became a pair with all the excitement of a new relationship. He was new to the area and was couch surfing, so she proposed the he could crash with her until he figures it out. It was an arraignment that served all parties well, in the excitement of new romance. A few weeks in, she got quite drunk, they got in a fight about nothing, and she threw all his shit into the yard. That’s a pretty big deal when you have no place to go on short notice.
He took his things and left, and that was that.
She was saddened by the loss of possibility, of hope, of what might have been. But it struck me as odd that she seemed oblivious that she didn’t cause this. Not her traits, nor her values, nothing about who she was as a person. He liked all of those things, by any account. She consumed a drug that impairs judgment and decision making, and due to that, she did things she could not take back.
Not wanting to preach, I simply asked her to reflect on the idea that her relationship with alcohol had cost her a shot at this new love.
Is it worth it?
Listen, this is not some high horse bullshit. I blew past so many red flags that I just assumed that’s how the sky looked now — bright red. But it’s that experience that kind of hints at my warning: alcohol is sneaky.
More, abuse is near expected. Even those who moderate can often be egged on, and with all due respect, how fucking weird is that? The default cultural position is “it’s okay to get dumb drunk with some regularity”. Does that exist with any other substance? Use is great, recreational use is a fun thing I remain fond of. Mind altering things have a way of changing your perspective, and a change in perspective can nearly always be a learning experience. But when abuse becomes the norm, we can slip into a state where disorder is hidden behind frequency.
Think of the term “alcohol use disorder”, close your eyes, and tell me what you picture. Perhaps a grizzly man sitting on a bus stop bench asking for help for his next beer; maybe a slurring divorcee neglecting her own house or family. And with those images, it’s easy to conclude “well I don’t have a disorder, I’m doing just fine!”
The DSM-5 diagnostic tool states that substance abuse disorder is “patterns of symptoms caused by using a substance that an individual continues taking despite its negative effects”. It lists a series of 11 criteria, you find find them here: https://www.gatewayfoundation.org/addiction-blog/dsm-5-substance-use-disorder/#:~:text=According%20to%20DSM%2D5%2C%20a,taking%20despite%20its%20negative%20effects.
I’m going to put forward a few questions, and notice if any make you adjust in your seat: have you ever had poor work performance due to drinking the night before? Have you missed days entirely? Do you think it’s likely, or possible, your career would be in a different place if not for those days? Has there ever been a relationship lost due to drinking? A relationship that was perhaps deteriorated prematurely, or accidentally, due to things said or done while impaired? Have friendships been lost, people that have left you behind? Have you ever found yourself not invited to an event, but you’re not sure why? Do you measure your consumption compared to others that you can clearly observe are living through some negative consequences from their drinking?
Three alcohol related arrests in 15 months is pretty hard to ignore, admittedly. But all the steps leading up to that were actually really easy to ignore.
Because alcohol is so accepted — and more, consuming pretty large quantities of it is so accepted — we seem to downplay the negatives as the “cost of being social”. Hangovers, low bank accounts, broken relationships, all of it really get looked past, because, really, what choice do we have? Especially true in certain industries; as it happens, hospitality and real estate are both pretty wet. There’s a joke loan officers have “You’re not really an LO until you have 2 DUIs”. That shit was way funnier 2 DUIs ago.
And listen, there are millions of people that enjoy that particular drug just fine, and I recognize that. All the power to them, I’m certainly not one to turn my nose at mind altering substances.
But I know there are millions of us that, in some way, struggle, and think there’s maybe no better way. Or that leaving it behind is more negative than dealing with the shit that we’ve learned to deal with.
But there are those cultural expectations coming in: are they real?
My break came 5 months into being alcohol free: my golf buddies, a sport that in America seems to have a six drink minimum, kept offering me beers. They kept forgetting I had gone dry. Far from making it harder to turn down the offer (which may be an experience not as common with others, admittedly), I realized that they forgot I didn’t drink. That my identity, then, was neither fun drunk guy, nor boring sober guy. They didn’t care. It literally did not register, for months. The golf invites kept coming. I still went out and partied with my friends just fine. THe only person that felt weird about me not drinking was me.
Once I realized that no one cares, that the social cost of not drinking was mostly in my own head (it exists, for sure, but not to the degree that I and many others fear), the appeal of impaired judgment fell off sharply.
I promise you, from the bottom of my heart, no one cares if you drink or not. (Never talk in absolutes, there are always exceptions: I suspect a sommelier would prefer a partner to share in their passion.) The only people who have ever pressured me to drink are people who I can objectively see have their own battles going on. It takes some time, but changing this behavior (moderation or abstinence) is your own journey. Don’t let the perceived expectations of others fool you. People have been wildly supportive of me, and after a short time of adjustment, I rarely miss it at all. Moments come, and they pass (Watermelon hefeweizen?!?!? The FOMO is real sometimes, but it passes.)
Turns out, I didn’t like being drunk all that much. I prefer stuff that takes my mind into being more perceptive, not less. Just my experience, but the more people I talk to, the more I find that anything beyond “buzzed” seems to have at least as many drawbacks as benefits.
All my experiences, but perhaps provide some context for you.
I hope something in here has helped you. If you’re still here, fucking THANK YOU so much, from the bottom of my heart.
An announcement for you: this post also begins a time of me trying to engage in the deliberate act of writing. I’ve long yearned for it, and longer still been aware I think it’s well in my wheelhouse, but I’ve let self doubt stop me.
I’ll share the greatest hits on my personal profile, but if you’d want to follow me elsewhere, I’m on Facebook, the ‘Gram, Medium @MFrancisWries. While up to this point I’ve done political commentary, I think I’m moving in other directions. (But, it’s election season, and our country is doing some weird shit, so. I think part of being authentic is speaking out on what we find critical, and thus I have to sound some alarms. But it won’t be all of that, it’s all exhausting.) Would love to have your attention there as I push past the insecurity and drive to just help people on their journey.
Finally, for those who have made it this far, thank you. I appreciate your attention more than you know. Please know that all of my musings are meant to be not a lecture, but a conversation. I’m simply trying to open that floor for the exchange of ideas, be it with me, or in your own circles.
Thank you to all of those who helped me through the past 2270 days. My friends that drove me to countless shows, festivals, venues, wherever I wanted to be included. I am lucky to have missed few events due to my self imposed immobility. Specifically, my RageBae who made sure not a festival or weekend was missed at a point isolation may have been dangerous for me.
My best friend from the homeland for sharing his own journey, and being with me a world a way for much of this time. I love you man, and am glad we’ve remained close all these years.
Finally, and with every part of who I am, thank you to my incredible wife. She took a hell of a bet — a bet that I, a student of odds and probability, recognize as having a deeply negative expected outcome — and I’m so excited to pay off that bet. I lost my license for 2270 days about 81 days after we had first met. Imagine staring down the barrel of dating a new person, living 100 miles away, who will be without a license for at least 5 years. Bad bet, baby. Terrible, no good bet. But she saw something in me that I had not yet even really seen glimpses of. She believed this was something (as I did, albeit something that I had thrown away), and she pushed all her chips in. There are few things I’m more proud of in my life than getting TO this point with my human, my wife, knowing I now have the distinct pleasure and privilege of being forever driver.
And, if I may, with nothing but playful love, the pleasure and privilege of not having to be her passenger.
I love you, wife. Thank you for believing in me when no one else did. I would not be where I am today without you. I shudder to think of that path.
And with that, my last nugget for you: when life gets good, all of the past becomes worth it. It’s easy to say “I wish I would not have gotten 2 DUIs”, and certainly it’s been a ride I’d like to roll back in a lot of ways. But I would not be the man I am today without that path. And I would not trade where I am today for anything. Perhaps it was all right where I needed to be all along.
Be kind on yourself. Believe in yourself. Know that you will prevail, and a day will come where, even for a fleeting moment, you’ll really truly believe that you’re where you should be. And in that moment, hopefully all of the pain, self inflicted or otherwise, finally has context and purpose.
A year is longer than it seems, and a lifetime is way shorter than it feels. It’s never too late to start, but the sooner, the better.
A fruit juice, mocktail, Kava, NA beer cheers to each of you, and onward on this journey.
Kindness wins, tell your friends.