Booze, Religion, and the Misfortune of it all…

I insist on hanging out in bars. It will ultimately be to my detriment and part of me knows this, but still- at times, I am unable to help myself.

I neither feel good or bad inside the all too comfortable confines of these establishments, I’m just “there”. I rarely go to any that are within my home zip code- preferring instead some kind of anonymity. I’m not sure that the effort pays any dividends for it is painfully clear to all within the place that, upon my arrival and then demeanor, a non-drinker; more specifically, a recovering alcoholic is within the midst of an otherwise good time. But, I can say that if I were to go to my former haunts, the chances of my actually starting to drink again, due to peer pressure and out and out memories, would be far too great. I can’t really have that, and besides- to drink or start drinking again is not what I’m after. Actually, it’s the last thing that I’m after…

What I am after is to try and find a part of me that left a long time ago. In short, I’m no fun … I’m not a fun guy to be around. I used to be… I used to laugh and cut up, and really put on a show. I used to be fun to be around, at least that’s what I heard. Then, I quit drinking and things got all serious and stuff. So, even though I don’t really want all of the negatives that go along with a life in the bar-room, there are certain things that I miss, and to catch a glimpse of that former me in the mirror behind the bar is a treat.

I usually order a Diet Pepsi or a cranberry juice and soda- mixed carefully in a cocktail glass, music_rowwith the little straw and a wedge of lime. I don’t usually fuck around with appetizers, because they seem to place an intent on ordering even more food and drink. As it stands, I am content with nursing the juice for as long as is possible and besides, it doesn’t mix well with most entrees.

So- I’m a faker. A poser sipping goddam cranberry juice, usually at the end of the bar or a corner table.

Essentially, I am a victim of my own psyche- I kicked the physical addiction to booze 13 years ago. Yet, the psychological addiction is so firmly entrenched and active in my life that I fear at times I shall never lose it.

And so, in order to just feel like I’m on some incredibly fucked up “even” keel, I make a trip to a bar or nightclub once every 6-12 months. By the way- I do NOT fit in. I’m a wall flower. For starters, I’m married, a good kind of married- which means I’m woefully out of place around single people or unhappily married folk. So, that’s the overriding factor that affects the entire evening. In the end, I spend a few hours, maybe $5-$10 bucks, and leave. At that point I’m as empty inside as the day I left the last A.A. Meeting I ever attended. Nothing to offer. Nothing to give as proof that I have succeeded. I’m a failed project- a terribly flawed individual. I am still, after all this time, locked into the mindset of alcoholism- even if, perhaps especially if- I do not drink.

In a way, and also in part because I started drinking so young, I kind of relied on the “alcoholic me” to navigate my formative years, and then… BOOM- before you know it, I would be sitting in a dark paneled boardroom somewhere, sipping hard liquor “on the rocks” from a square glass during some important meeting… But, since I failed at drinking, I also by default failed at what I originally considered to be a successful life. Hence, the emptiness that can never be filled.

If I were to take a drink; well, that would ruin the whole story. Besides, I would never be the drinker I once was. Age and sobriety have pulled caution back from the wind, and I know the processes of quitting and withdrawals. There would be nothing left of it which could be remotely as pure and unfettered as it once was. No innocence to lose, nothing to break… it’s all been too far gone, and anything of consequence was lost or broken long ago.

A while back, I took a day trip to Sandy Hook, KY, which is the hometown of the late country superstar Keith Whitley. Keith left us in 1989, at the age of 34, from the consequences of alcoholism. To this day, the story remains somewhat unclear of the events that actually transpired, leading to his death; but none can deny that a longtime use and abuse of alcohol played into whatever else might have occurred. I had been a fan for so long, and with all the parallels that I perceived, I knew that at some point I would make the journey and pay homage to one of my heroes. And so, with a heavy heart, I pointed the pick-up east, and struck out in search of whatever remained of Keith Whitley’s memory. I also hoped to find what that legacy had to do with me.

On the way over from Lexington, I took U.S. 60 east and then down though the hills, going south after Morehead, KY. It was a sunshine filled Sunday morning, and the old time gospel preachers filled the airwaves of my radio. In these parts, whether it is Sunday or not, you are most likely to get either rock solid country music or rock solid preaching. Both are outstanding, in their own way, inasmuch that neither one is diluted in the least. I have learned from those in Eastern Kentucky that at least three things are NOT to be diluted: the Gospel, Country Music, and Moonshine Whiskey. These… these are pure and they remain pure, at least while in this region.

At any rate, the minister from “take your pick” Baptist church rambled on about the expected damnation of most folks, if they continued on their sinful pathway. I automatically included baptism3myself in his list of the damned. Also, for his benefit, I pretended for a moment that Jesus and Hell and all of that actually exist. I figured if I was going to listen to his heartfelt sermon, I should at least try and play along…

As the gently rolling hills gave way to the steep cliffs and shallow streams cut into the bedrock below them, the preaching grew stronger and eventually hit a fever pitch. Before long, the service was being closed with an invitational hymn, “Pass Me Not Oh Gentle Savior”, on page 308. I listened as those in the congregation audibly wept and trudged down front, collapsing at the altar and hoping that God would cleanse them of all sin… If only it were that easy.

This country is infused with an ethic of hard living and an even harder notion of salvation. In the end, we either accept the salvation and the penance that comes with it, weeping before the feet of the Lord; or we gather up whatever humanity might be left about us, and run fast and far, trying to untie and undo the work of the zealots. Ultimately, one repents and dies … or he runs from it and dies. Either way, he dies, or something within him dies, leaving a shell of what once was.

Keith Whitley, at

I suspect that Keith had heard enough preaching in his lifetime, and decided to run. In that time, and with his talent, bluegrass music was his ticket out of those hills. I’m unsure if he turned his back completely on the Lord, at least not publicly. However, by the tone of the Baptist minister, it doesn’t matter much. If we make the choice to turn away, that is choice enough, and one that will provide the leverage needed to cast a soul deep into the hellfire. You see, according to the gentle pastor- when we die, God will wonder “what shall I do with you”? “Are you worth my time, are you worthy to enter my kingdom”? At that point we either stride through the pearly gates, or go directly to our just reward in hell. According to the minister, “not very many are worthy of God’s time and will certainly wind up in hell”….

Well, that’s just lovely. I guess I understand why people run, especially when it’s put in those terms. They run because in doing so, they are running towards the only thing they recognize- which is the humanity that we are born with. But, as it happens, humanity is inherently sinful, and not worth God’s time or effort.

I too had preachers in my youth, and was told about hell. I didn’t see any good way around it, and didn’t really care for it. So, I turned and walked at first. Then, in good time, I ran as fast and as far as I could. Just like Keith, I looked at what lay behind me and considered what might lie ahead. I chose to try and live within my humanity, simply because it was MINE and I was tired of people in the church trying to take it from me. They were trying to take me- to take me from ME!

I suppose that, in some way- both of us- and all who choose the path of humanity, try to retain and then get back as much of their humanity as possible before it’s washed away by our choices and the time which flows along with it. I suppose the difference in how healthy or un-healthy we remain lies in how far and hard one chooses to look back. We all do it, we all spy on our former selves… and the former self will always be waiting there, in the shadows. Eventually, it will catch up with you; it will destroy all in its path to do so; how long we last is only dependent upon how long and how hard we choose to reminisce. Perhaps I’ve lingered too long in the shadows, casting about for memories that are no longer there.

I am haunted by a former way of life that still beckons me home, and even though that home would now be unrecognizable. But, it still is there- just beyond the distance. Even more, I have begun to understand the consequences of looking back, and of trying to feel some semblance of the normalcy that once was. That normalcy is the sum of all that we fear and all that has withered throughout time. That normalcy- our humanity, is all that we ever were– and and all that we will never become.

It is there, hiding in the darkness beyond what light we see. It will always be there. It can’t disappear. But, the thing is, the longer and harder you search for it- this lost self and perceived normalcy- the more elusive and dangerous it becomes.