“in the pathless woods”: setting out (# 6)

There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep Sea, and music in its roar:
I love not Man the less, but Nature more,
From these our interviews, in which I steal
From all I may be, or have been before,
To mingle with the Universe, and feel
What I can ne’er express, yet cannot all conceal.

–Lord Byron

Today, on Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend 2018, I decided to make iced tea combining four bags each of Ginger Aid and Tumeric Tonic. This seemed like something I might enjoy drinking. Something that would prick up my taste buds and be exciting and and soothing at the same time. Something other than gin and tonic, white wine, or Bell’s Oberon. All of which would be prime candidates, if the past is the most accurate predictor of the present. But none of which I will be choosing to drink today.

So that’s how I happened to read the line of this Lord Byron poem on a tea bag tag, which just so happens to describe what I’ve been wanting. I want to get off the path I’ve been on and go someplace where I can hear my voice more clearly. Last Tuesday, I chose not to drink alcohol. I felt a cold coming on.I decided to experiment by not drinking at all while the cold ran its course. Same went for Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and, so far, Sunday. The last time did that I was probably still taking Dimetapp. It’s now day 6, and I can see the general direction I am headed. I am going to keep walking without drinking, and I will see what pleasure may be had in the pathless woods instead of on my somewhat pleasureless path.

Over the last few days, I have been reading about freedom from alcohol, including This Naked Mind by Annie Grace. The thing that stuck and scared me was a phrase about the homogeneity of alcohol. It was kind of a throwaway sentence, but it got me thinking about alcohol as a substance that produces predictable effects along a predictable timeline. It produces a predictable trajectory. This is true whether you think about a single episode of drinking (one, two, three, four, five, ad nauseam) or a habit of drinking that unfolds through time. Alcohol may be transformational–just like an acid bath!–but it is not magical or alchemical. It just does what it does, predictably.

I have long been aware that I rely on it too heavily to direct my experiences and my days. Only now do I find myself bored with the sameness of my life, which seems to have three simple settings. One: not drinking and thinking about the next time I will. Two: not drinking too much, but drinking more than enough to float through daily life. Rather than taking the edge off anything (like stress or boring tasks), this mode of drinking serves mainly to turn my natural impatience into irritability, and only sometimes leads to an interesting conversation.  And, lest we forget as we are wont to do . . . Three: getting riproaring, wild-hair drunk in high hope that anything could happen. What always happens: waking up hazy about the end of the night, feeling flat, shaky, and determined to appear totally together instead of shattered.

For someone who claims to like surprises, I am embarrassed to admit that I consistently chose to drink the one substance that guarantees there won’t be any surprises, or at least not any good ones. It has taken me almost 30 years of fairly exuberant, slightly more than social drinking to notice that alcohol makes monotony basically certain and disaster a distinct possibility.