Drunk Dialing

I overheard some cute young thing giggling about having had maybe a TAD too much to drink the other night, and calling someone who may or may not have been her boyfriend.

I had to think back a bit…more than a bit, really, because a) my twenties were KIND OF a long time ago, and b) I haven’t been drunk since I was 31 years old. I had to think back and recall if I’d ever engaged in “drunk dialing.”

I mean, it’s entirely possible that I DID, and I just have no recollection of it, and my friends and loved ones are just too nice to tell me. But my friends and loved ones have never had any problem with telling me about the times I puked in their cars, crashed into their living room furniture on my way to the floor, or otherwise behaved in very unladylike ways. I can’t imagine they’d hold back on any phone calls I placed to them at drunk o’clock in the morning.

I seem to remember wanting to call people, but some odd sense of self-preservation would kick in, something that told me that no matter who I was to these people, not a one of them would be any too pleased to be hearing from me. Now, this same sense of self-preservation never stopped me from drinking myself into churning melancholia, but it did spare me the humiliation of slurring sweet nothings into the phone.

What I DID like to do was write. I have some very terrifying notebooks of stuff I thought was amazing and brilliant when I was completely scuttered. I would write in this crazy, upended Gothic scrawl, and cry because I was so very moved by what was pouring out of me, unhindered by the inner editor I’d managed to drown in bourbon. Drinking slowed the chattering in my head long enough to get it out on paper. Because I was also quite mad, and I romanticized the madness along with the drink, as so many of us tend to do.

Those of us addicts who also possess any sort of artistic bent frequently labor under the delusion that we can’t function without our substances. We are more of, and in, the moment when we’re intoxicated. Add mental illness into that mix and some of us really don’t want to surrender our version of reality.

Here’s something I tell people who start in with that “I play/write/paint better when I’m altered” – Jack Kerouac might have done a lot MORE if he hadn’t died, at age 47, of bleeding esophageal varices caused by cirrhosis. Without going into graphic detail, it’s a pretty horrific way to die. Is it worth putting your body through that just to have something that might or might not get published? MAYBE your output is better because you’re drinking or using, but frankly I think you’re cheating yourself. The stuff that I wrote when I was drunk? 98% pretentious crap. The other 2% was somewhat decent material that I found a place for in the work I didn’t have to chemically coax out of myself.

A funnier anecdote – a sober friend of mine is an architect. He would get blunted and hit his worktable and come up with TOTALLY GENIUS DESIGNS that he’d look at in the morning while saying, “What. The. Fuck.”

I guess what I’m driving at here is this pursuit of lowered inhibitions. We want to be able to say the things that don’t come as easily when we’re sober. The problem is that what we set out to say very seldom comes out as planned. If we’re lucky, it’s something we can laugh about, like the girl I overheard yesterday. Make it a habit, though, and we rob ourselves of genuine communication.

4 thoughts on “Drunk Dialing

  1. The idea that creativity is fueled by substance abuse is the more resilient the less it’s proven true. Dylan Thomas, one of my poetic heroes, died at 39 of (among other things) alcohol abuse and self-neglect – but he struggled to write for most of his adult life, composing most of his great work before the age of 20 (not coincidentally, before his alcoholism took hold)- and his best-known monument in the US is the White Horse Tavern in Greenwich Village.

  2. Your story about the architect reminds me of the time I took dexamil to stay up all night to write a paper on “Riders to the Sea” that was due the following day. I spent the whole night drawing an intricately detailed map of the Aran Islands. Finally fell asleep at 5, woke at 7 with the same wtf reaction.

    Most of the writing I did while drunk was cringe-worthy: sentimental, sloppy, trite, and awful. There’s a fair amount of beat generation writing that was too, much of it unpublished but read to cringing audiences in North Beach cafes. I think Kerouac wrote powerfully in spite of the drinking, not because of it.

  3. Oh yep, I drunk dialed. Had some conversations I remembered, some I forgot, some I never knew I had. Can’t say my life is better for making any one of them.

    And the pages and pages and pages of drunken penned genius? Rubbish. I can totally relate to the “What. The. Fuck.” was I thinking?

    I have to agree with Susan above. So many of our creative geniuses are “in spite” of’s, not “because” of’s.

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