It is not my intention in this post to condemn those who responsibly imbibe using their favorite intoxicants, as I know that a high-stress environment can make attractive the relaxing powers of, say, a tall glass of Johnnie Walker Red on the rocks. I am rather interested in dissecting the persistent fiction that talented artists - especially writers - can somehow tap into creative realms that would otherwise be locked away, all by finding the right chemical assistance.
Hunter S. Thompson. Truman Capote. Dorothy Parker. Arthur Rimbaud. Ernest Hemmingway. Jean Stafford. The history of literature contains countless examples of brilliant writers whose dependency on intoxicants is intertwined with a romantic air of degeneracy, and a twisted mythology exists that links creativity and the consumption of drugs and alcohol.
As I write these lines, I have not tasted an alcoholic beverage in nearly six years. I say this not as a moment of pious boasting, but as an acknowledgement that my own drinking career started to become one of addiction. I am blessed that I am married to a woman who has extensive experience with addicted family members, and who early on saw that my love of liquid relaxation was both excessive and unhealthy. She insisted that I get honest about my behavior, and I consider myself fortunate that my period of self-abuse was relatively short in both duration and physical damage.
Yet a part of me also recognizes that I wholeheartedly bought into the writer-as-conflicted-drunk mythology, not only justifying my own regular inebriation, but also as a rite of passage, or a badge of honor in the mythical fraternity of chemically-fueled writers. We writers drink, I told myself, because we need a vehicle to transport us to that creative realm that is otherwise difficult to reach while sober.
Of course, the fact that I was unpublished, and that my literary production consisted of dozens of unfinished pieces of ho-hum material did not stop me from perpetuating the myth each night. I liked to pour a tall tumbler of vodka to help me unwind after work, a glass that reached ever-higher levels as my body - as though it were equipped with the liquid equivalent of air cleaners - developed increased tolerance.
Since embarking on a healthier lifestyle, eschewing intoxicants (save caffeine) in favor of deep breathing, long walks, and meditation, I have achieved a modest level of success as a writer and academic. More importantly: I realize that alcohol and chemicals at best offer only a temporary route to the relaxed state of mind conducive to creative thought, and that intoxicants act as a duplicitous chimera, luring a person into a downward spiral of self-destruction that has delivered many folks to loathsome consequences.
I cringe when I see continued efforts to keep alive the destructive fantasy of the tortured alcoholic writer, like the Johnny Depp portrayal of Hunter S. Thompson in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. An entire new generation of budding writers gets to worship the bottle, the needle, and the coke spoon as holy relics in the quest for inspiration. Moreover, the talented-but-debauched Thompson can inspire a fresh cadre of imitators to view him as an literature icon, as opposed to an unstable and chemically-dependent recluse whose obsession with altered states meant that many of his writing projects remained unfinished at the time of his 2005 death from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
So enjoy your favorite intoxicating pastimes, dear readers, and imbibe responsibly. Just avoid the deceptive song of the Sirens that is the myth of chemical creativity, a seductive serenade that has lured many writers to rocky shores.