Listening to Johnny Cash’s ‘Hurt’ this morning, I was reminded of the terribly low opinion I once held about myself. His line, ‘Everyone I know goes away in the end’, used to ring horribly true when I drank. In a bizarre way, I sought comfort in the fact that I was, apparently, stuck fast on a predestined road to misery. I was so accustomed to disaster and disappointments that it hardly occurred to me that life did not, in actual fact, need to be that way at all.
The thing about heavy drinking is that it results in a loss of control over one’s emotions, sensibilities, intuition, honour, pride, dignity and integrity. It slams shut the door on personal growth and emotional maturity. It consistently prevents an optimistic outlook from emerging, and instead encourages a warped, negative default position in response to life.
I would routinely push away the people who were close to me, the ones who tried to break through the defensive barriers I’d built. I didn’t believe that I deserved to be happy and so I sought a bleak existence, one that was filled with reinforcements of my poor self-image. And when my behaviour was rewarded with the loss of yet another relationship, I would retreat into my comfortable world once more – one inhabited by just me, alcohol, and self-pity.
It didn’t take me long, once I put down the bottle, to realize that things aren’t really like this, not in the realm of alcohol-free living at least. As soon as you become in control of your life and develop emotional reactions that are appropriate to a given situation, when you begin to understand yourself and learn exactly what it is that will make you happy (and unhappy), and when you start to appreciate that your actions really do influence those around you thus determining the trajectory of your relationships – then life becomes reasonably straightforward.
It becomes possible to clear out all the crap and get started on creating a better, brighter future for yourself. Self-sacrifice is no longer a meaningless concept, forever out of reach because of an overwhelming desire to escape your reality. The booze-fuelled, nightmarish situations melt away and everyday life is simplified, predictable.
There’s nothing magical about this process; it just happens when the brain is no longer being regularly soaked in a mind-altering, toxic substance.
Johnny Cash was married to June Carter for thirty-five happy years, his life transformed for the better by his decision to quit drinking and other drugs. He found true contentment with his best friend and love of his life because he was able to give himself fully to her as opposed to the bottle. He left behind a son who loved him and millions of adoring fans all over the world. He died with his integrity and his dignity intact, and with the knowledge that he’d done his very best to be the best he could be. I am inspired by Johnny Cash.