A Writer's Choice

The human spirit cannot be conquered. This is an undeniable truth. However, one always has the option to quit.

I went off the booze a long time ago. Didn’t touch the stuff for five years. Then, just as quickly as I stopped, I took it up again. I felt like I could handle it, that I could be responsible and enjoy a little in moderation. The problem is that I’ve never really been about moderation. I had to learn to make choices.


Becoming a great drinker isn’t for everyone. Learning to drink is like falling off a bicycle. Just when you start going, you wobble a bit and then you do a header on the concrete and skin the crap out of your knees…

But if you’re going to be really great, you get up and do it again. Soon it becomes easy. Soon you can’t live without it.

I hear people talking about writing in the same way. If you look around on this site, you’ll even see where I’ve done the same thing: ranting about the need to give everything up, to focus everything on the writing life, to give it your all and leave nothing on the table.

Hard to deny that it feels romantic when you’re writing this sort of rant. My journal is full of such chronic writing and I can recall quite clearly how happy I felt as I laid down each line, empowered by the idea that I was really getting to the core of the work.

The thing is I wasn’t getting to the core of anything. I was just setting myself up for the next fall. All that anger and passionate rage just turns in on itself. Next thing you know, I’m raving about the destruction of life in service to art. One trigger leads to the next and soon enough you’re a long way from where you started and you’re in trouble.

Last night, I had this ice cream flavored with Makers Mark. Boy, the stuff sure tasted good. I can taste it now in fact. This is a trigger with a capital T. It tells me many things about myself that I’d rather not face, but I made a choice.

If you’ve never been a drinker, it can be difficult to understand what wanting a drink means to someone like me but I’ll try to explain:

Wanting a drink isn’t about a glass or a bottle. It isn’t even about what you drink. It’s about a hunger that you already know you won’t be able to satisfy because volume isn’t the point. It’s about dedicating yourself to the destruction of your life.

Once you learn this simple fact, you have a choice to make: do you drink or do you live? If you choose to live, you have to learn to avoid triggers and if you fail you have to recognize them for what they are and set them aside before the next one falls into place.

Many writers struggle daily with topics that lead to more suffering. Some of the best choose to show us how to navigate through this Hell. In the end, we arrive with our spirits buoyed by life.

What’s your choice? And more importantly, how will you recognize the triggers that may cause you to slip?

23 thoughts on “A Writer's Choice

  1. Interesting parallel. I think there is something to “having to write.” At the same time, that’s not necessarily what being a good writer is–I think that might be part of what you’re getting at (maybe? or am I reading things I want to read into it?). On the one hand, the more committed we are, the easier the commitment is. I keep falling and falling and falling like your bicycle illustration. On the other hand, when we see it purely like that, we don’t necessarily become good writers. We become these people that look like good writers. We become more concerned with the image than we do with the writing itself, with the hard work of making our way through messy words. Writing is sometimes more like changing diapers. Day after day after day. And doing laundry.
    Except that while laundry doesn’t bring me joy (not naturally, at least–I have to do some Mary Poppins finagling for that), writing does.

    Heather’s last blog post..The Mailbox

  2. “Wanting a drink isn’t about a glass or a bottle. It isn’t even about what you drink. It’s about a hunger that you already know you won’t be able to satisfy because volume isn’t the point. It’s about dedicating yourself to the destruction of your life.”

    That might be the single best articulation of alcoholism I’ve ever read. Well done.

    Writer Dad’s last blog post..Sink or Swim

  3. @Katie Thanks. It’s part of the choice and my strategy for shutting down the triggers cold.

    @Heather I guess I’m responding to those folks who write things like “I must write or I will die” or pursuing writing to the exclusion of everything else in life. Writing makes me happy too. In fact, it’s the only real reason I can come up with for doing it. ๐Ÿ™‚

    @WriterDad Thanks for the kind words. Looks like your latest post is a nice dovetail to this one. Sink or Swim… Sometimes you just have to jump in and go for it!

  4. I think this was well said. I mean, obviously it is, or I wouldn’t be commenting. OK, maybe I would, but it would be a vicious rant! Haha, just kidding. But seriously, this made me think … and think, and then think some more. How many times have I got on a writing kick and then crashed? How many times!? A lot, and I’m sick of it. Dang it all–I hate it! But thus is life. It seems to come in waves, and you ride a wave for a bit, as long as you can, and then it’s gone. You’re left to thrash around in the tide pools. But have no fear, the wave returns! That’s what we live for, I guess. For the wave to return.

  5. @Ryan I like that metaphor. So here’s a question, “Who’s making your waves?” ๐Ÿ˜‰

  6. Hey, that’s not fair. I get to put forth the metaphor, you get to interpret. That’s just how it is. Sorry.

    Who’s giving you urges to write? Is that created by yourself? Or an outside force?

  7. Thanks Jamie, et all; I can apply this somewhere else. And I will. In particular the “who’s making your waves?”

  8. I’m coming out of self-imposed internet exile to echo Writer Dad’s sentiment. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more succinct, truthful description of alcoholism.

    I’m with you on many counts — I’ve had to shut down most of my internet related activities because I wasn’t writing and wasn’t able to see or admit that all the time on the internet was the biggest reason why. It wasn’t the day job or my other commitments.

    I’m back on a roll and the writing has been great, but this will continue to be a struggle. And on that note — I’m going back offline again…

    Lisa Kenney’s last blog post..An Important Announcement for My Colorado Friends

  9. @Ryan LOL! And Deb stole it! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Anyway, my urge to write is as old as the sea. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t prefer to express myself using the written word. I suppose this is saying something because I’m pretty extroverted. Some things may be better left unsaid, but unwritten? I’ll challenge that one each and every day.

    But if I had to pin it down to anything in particular, I’d say it was just the way I’m made.

    @Deb Go Deb! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    @Lisa Glad you recognized a trigger. The Internet is a big magnet for a lot of us (including me). Thanks for taking the time to comment and best of luck keeping the Foundling Wheel groove going!!!

  10. “What’s your choice? And more importantly, how will you recognize the triggers that may cause you to slip?”

    I’ve been staring at these 2 sentences trying to figure out why they bother me so. My choice – the answer to that is the picture perfect way I wish things to be. The second question brings to light the cold reality of how things are – because of my choices. Answering honestly requires a pretty harsh evaluation – but you also summed it up perfectly.

    “In the end, we arrive with our spirits buoyed by life.”

    I can only add my humble thanks.

  11. @Phyllis You’re quite welcome and thanks for sharing. My picture perfect image changes from time to time, usually in a positive way based on my choice. Usually positive, but not always. What can I say? I’m a work in progress. ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. “Wanting a drink isnโ€™t about a glass or a bottle. It isnโ€™t even about what you drink. Itโ€™s about a hunger that you already know you wonโ€™t be able to satisfy because volume isnโ€™t the point. Itโ€™s about dedicating yourself to the destruction of your life.โ€

    Writer Dad said almost the exact statement I was going to make after reading that paragraph. Profoundly beautiful and eloquent.

  13. @Kala Jun You’re welcome. Glad the post had the desired effect. ๐Ÿ™‚

    @Sam Thanks!

  14. Came across this by following a trail of links, and it was so apt, although I think not quite in the way you intended. I am fighting an alcohol problem and last night succumbed and am feeling all sorts of guilt today, but I think this will help me get back on track again.

  15. I hope it helps, Jenny. It’s all about taking it one day at a time.

    P.S. Try to leave the guilt behind, that’s a trigger for a lot of people.

  16. Jamie, I read this one and subscribed. It’s vulnerable and expositional!

    Writing for me, now, is difficult, as I’m required to do it to establish authority. My industry is riddled with hoaxes and pathetic liars, and I desperately struggle to put in some words that reflect truth and reality.

    It’s a secondary kind of self-expression, writing. Though it allows me to hone my first expression: movement, writing also forces me to examine more closely, just how important and difficult it is to communicate.

    The existential nature of your vulnerability demonstrates your growing wisdom and aching heart. I hope you choose life; death comes to us all, there’s no need to seek it.

    Steven’s last blog post..Three Great Drills That Build Self-Defense

  17. Thanks, Steven. I appreciate the kind words. I’ve definitely chosen life over death.

    I know what you mean about your field. The same applies in the world of writing. So many people say they have the answer but the answers really come from within.

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