O & P are for Optimism & Pessimism
There are two quotes that come to mind when I think about the coin that holds optimism on one side and pessimism on the other.
The first is from Hunter S. Thompson, "He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man." This epitomizes the motivation of my alcoholism to a tee. Being a man has been painful for most of my life. From the childhood traumas of being raised by an abusive, alcoholic father to my inability and unwillingness to create healthy, lasting relationships my life has seen a lot of fear, misery and heartache. It is no wonder alcohol would seem like such a magic elixir. Something that creates an almost instant sense of ease and even euphoria seems like nothing short of a miracle. Immediate positive reinforcement was definitely the key to this alcoholic's heart. And so it went. Any ambitions or interests I had were now coupled with and ultimately crippled by alcohol. I always wanted to be a writer in the likes of HST, Kerouac or Bukowski. I think a pursuit of alcohol became a substitute for a pursuit of adventure; a pursuit of life. There was this genuine feeling that if I simply drank like my idols their success would become my success. That did not come to be. I was simply putting a patch on the pain and pretending to live life all the while trying desperately not to feel anything. In the throes of my youthful consumption I never looked toward the logical conclusion of these lives I looked up to: suicide, cirrhosis and cancer. Although that last one is not a direct result of alcoholism I cannot imagine the lifestyle leading up to it did Bukowski any favors. So I got rid of the pain as best I knew how. I drank.
It wasn't until quit drinking that I was able to flip that quote on its end. "He who makes a man of himself gets rid of the pain of being a beast." My friend Steve said this one drunken night many years ago. I forget the context but it has stuck with me ever since. Making a man of myself has been a work in progress. I still come up short some days but those momentary struggles pale in comparison to the pain and suffering I so often felt in active alcoholism. I tackled the beast. I continue to soothe him and learn what makes him tick and to harness that energy into positive things now. Where once I was cruel I try to be kind. Instead of hiding in self made chaos I now try to have spacious order that frees my mind. The transition hasn't been easy and is still on going. I know the beast still lives inside of me but the more I work on being a better man the more I can learn to live in harmony with the parts of me I hope to never revisit.
The other quote is from Chuck Palahniuk's Invisible Monsters. "When did the future go from being a promise to a threat?" This too feels so deeply connected to my experience of alcoholism. In the early days my drinking seemingly had no consequences. Some misspent money and a slight hangover were the only cost. What was at first fun and easy quickly became a cycle of drama, headaches, anger, fear and overdrawn bank accounts. To think of the future as something of a threat was simply another reason to drink. Everything is fucked so have another. It never occurred to me that anything I did was causing the horrible outcome of my future or that I had any power to change it. The promise of my potential was always thwarted by my drive to imbibe, ingest, snort, smoke or huff whatever I could. The guilt and shame of constantly wasting my life only perpetuated the wasting of more of it. I lost jobs and destroyed relationships. I alienated friends and left countless dollars on the bar top. I was constantly on guard for the next person who might fuck me over never realizing it was me every single time.
When did the future go from being a threat to a promise? I would like to say the day I decided to quit drinking but that was only the start. I didn't see or truly feel any of the promise of potential until a couple of years into sobriety. It took that long for the fog to clear and for me to begin repairs on the two decades of self destructive behavior. I am still clearing rubble out of some parts of my life and imagine it will be a life long thing. In its place I have built a real foundation for positivity and success. Things that I never thought possible and seemed they were for someone else now seem available to me.
It is an oversimplification to say that optimism and pessimism are just two sides of the same coin. For an alcoholic like me I have to stand that coin on its edge and wend my way through each and every groove as it flips endlessly in the air. I am always clinging to hope rather than relenting to despair. I am still learning new lessons and retraining my brain to work in ways that serve me better. I fall pray to all the dark human emotions from time to time but I now have tools and confidence that if I apply those tools I don't have to be a threatened beast but rather a man with promise.