“A man takes a drink,
the drink takes a drink,
the drink takes the man.”
The word “alcohol” is said to come from the Arabic term “al-khul” which literally means “Body Eating Spirit”. It’s the source of why many drinks are called “spirits”, and also, it’s the origin of the English word “ghoul”, which is an evil spirit or phantom that robs graves and feeds on dead bodies. The current Arabic word for alcohol (ethanol) is الغول or al-ġawl – properly meaning “spirit” or “demon”.
Just let that sink in for a second.
There will always be a divide in the timeline of my life. Before drinking, while I was drinking, and wherever I am now, in recovery. Not as much like distinct chapters in a book, but more like actors on a tv show, where they swap out someone new to play the role of the exact same character.
They look alike, but they’re still so very different.
Without sounding over dramatic (who, me?) I look back on Drinking Shawn like an entirely different person; a man possessed and obsessed, pushed down and out by everything he was pouring into himself. It’s like watching a slow, sinking car that somehow found itself in the middle of a lake. It doesn’t sink all at once. It just gradually fills with more and more water, until eventually, it’s consumed and just disappears into the dark abyss below.
Gone, but still there.
And there were casualties. Parts of me that never made it out alive and parts of me that weren’t strong enough to swim back to the surface, tangled forever in time beneath the unbearable weight of my addiction. They’re still there, in the murky depths, like an underwater homage to when my life drove straight off the road and into the lake.
As though I wasn’t driving at all.
I became an unwitting passenger before I got locked in the trunk. I traded my keys for just one more drink, for just a little more numbness, for someone else to please drive for me because I couldn’t stand to stare at the road ahead any longer. I contorted myself into shapes and positions I didn’t think possible, just to escape myself for a little while in whatever blackness I could get in trade from all my hungry ghosts.
They stood there by the open trunk while I willingly crawled right in and let them drive.
And they lined up to crawl inside me with their big bellies and tiny throats, their miniature mouths never able to take enough in to fill themselves up. Their mouths the size of a needle’s eye and their stomachs the size of a mountain, always hungry, always wanting more, all my hungry ghosts just nibbling away at me and everything I offered up to try and keep them satisfied.
I was already dead; a feast for the ghouls I poured down my throat every day.
The ghouls that feed on the bodies of the dead, and that was me.
Alive, but not.
Living, but dead.
And they could smell it.
They could smell me.
They lined up, one by one, to swim in my wine glass and dive down my throat to the pit of my stomach where my sorrows were stowed.
They lined up for their feast like vultures above, circling and waiting for me to collapse, eaten away from the inside out, still pouring thirsty demons to my depths, hoping to feed all the hungry ghosts inside.
And that’s what Hell feels like.
Forever feeling unsatisfied. Feeling bottomless, like an echo that grows weaker until it disappears into absolute, infinite nothingness.
Again, and again, and again.
Hell is when all your hungry ghosts stop trying to fill themselves from flasks full of spirits and glasses of ghouls, and they start to feed on you, instead.
I didn’t turn to drinking intentionally.
I didn’t consciously fill myself with evil spirits and surrender my life to an unquenchable thirst. I didn’t decide one day that I preferred to die slowly, eaten alive from the inside out. I didn’t even notice that I was sinking, or that I was locked in the trunk of a car I was no longer driving until the water began pouring in and I was well on my way down, far below the surface, beneath the unbearable pressure with no way out that I could see.
All I ever wanted was to feed my hungry ghosts.
To keep them quiet, so I could sleep.
And yet that’s where I ended up, at the bottom of the lake like a sunken, sad version of myself, warped in a way only things underwater can become. Haunted and possessed by the very spirits I summoned to spook away the ghosts that lived inside me.
Escape has been a slow process; a gradual exorcism of one demon at a time. It was finding morsels of just the right size that I could feed to the ghosts bit by bit, and finally appease them with what they had been craving all along: closure and acceptance.
All my years of trying to drown them away only filled me with more spirits to expel.
And they have left me, one by one, in between the lines of letters written to my dead, finally saying all the things that were left unsaid. They have left me in the space between myself and the mirror, finally learning how to look myself straight in the eyes, again. They have left between my fingertips and loosening grip on everything I clung to and tried to hold. The’ve fallen from my hands along with all the guilt and remorse that I carried far too long.
Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win.
– Stephen King
If Hell is eternity spent trying to fill an insatiable and bottomless void, then sobriety is the chance to finally fill yourself up and be full.
To no longer allow yourself to be eaten alive from the inside out.
To swim back to the surface, wiser and lighter than ever before, no longer weighed down by so many demons disguised as drinks.
To finally fill the space that all the hungry ghosts have left behind.
To have the courage to no longer consume what consumes you.