Why This Book?
“Writing is a lonely job, unless you’re a drinker, in which case you always have a friend within reach.” —Emilio Estevez
I’ve been writing song lyrics and playing guitar in hard rock bands since 2007. We mostly play our own originals, but once in a while, someone tosses out an idea for a cover song. One day Eli, a former band mate, bassist, guitarist, and all-around cool dude, suggested a hard-rock cover of “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover” by Paul Simon. We played around with it for a while and it never took off, but I got that song stuck in my head, bad, for weeks. Hold that thought for a minute.
I go to Unity of Chattanooga, a sort of church for people who don’t do church, volunteering a little time to do sound and camera work on Sunday mornings. Unity of Chattanooga’s ringleader, Jon Scott (titles such as minister or pastor don’t quite fit this guy), is a spiritual heretic on a mission to help people recover from their messed-up religious indoctrination. In 2019 he added a theme about taking care of our bodies titled “Do You Have the Guts to Change?” The first topic he brought up on a Sunday morning in January was about loving our livers. I have no clue why he started with the liver, but there it was. Now hold that thought, too.
The next Sunday, Jon asked the congregation if anyone had experienced any thoughts about the topic of loving their livers. Unable to keep my mouth shut, I blurted out in a loud, steady voice that I had discovered that there must be fifty ways to love your liver. That got a good laugh, and Jon said, “Man, you need to write a book!” I didn’t take the idea seriously initially—first because I was already working on another book, and second because I didn’t think I’d be able to come up with fifty different ways. That same evening, while sitting in my easy chair with a book about writing books (The Art of Writing a NonFiction Book by Bryan Collins) in one hand and a glass of wine in the other, I had an idea. If I could actually come up with fifty different ways to love my liver by drinking less, I would write the book. I started writing a list of ways using Evernote on my iPhone. Within a few days I had my list. The thought of writing a whole book was daunting. Luckily, I’d recently read another book called So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport, in which he describes meeting an entrepreneur (for drinks) who handed him a dare. Cal talked about writing a book, and this guy told him, “Don’t just talk about it. If you think it would be cool, go do it.” That’s one of the best reasons for doing something that I’ve ever heard.
Initially, I planned to keep the topics bite-sized and lighthearted, like Jon Winokur’s Zen to Go, only about alcohol. As I got into it though, and started getting some feedback from friends, family, and editors, I realized that I still had a lot of work to do. Just writing the first draft and getting editorial feedback took a year, and I’m glad it did. A lot happened during that year, which not only gave me a bunch of ideas, but helped me work some more things out for myself. This has been a self-help project for me that I hope will resonate with you. This book is about working toward and maintaining moderation in drinking and enjoying alcohol more mindfully and responsibly. You might be able to apply some of it to other addictive or potentially addictive habits.
I don’t have a PhD or an MD, and I’m not a doctor of any kind. You could tell if I were, because I’d say so in big letters on the cover of this book. According to my various counselors and doctors, however, I have ADHD, severe Generalized Anxiety Disorder, PTSD, and Bipolar II on my list of credentials, so I bring you that perspective. I’m just a guy with experience and ideas. If you think you might need professional help, then go get it, okay? I’ve been doing this for years, and it always helps. Incidentally, all of these “disorders” that we have can also be superpowers when we learn how to harness the energy in them and put it to good use.
I’ve grouped the fifty ways into three categories, with the aim of making it easier to locate material relevant to your life at any given moment. The first part is about making deliberate positive changes in our lives, especially improving our minds. I lead with this because many of us turn to heavy drinking as a coping mechanism. We try to drink away our pain, our fears, our memories, our faults, our regrets, our disappointments, our insomnia—you name it. Until we get at the underlying problems, the real ones, wresting any lasting control over our drinking will be an uphill battle.
The second part is about loving, appreciating, and caring for our bodies. Whatever our age or condition, we can still improve our physical strength and health. The time to start is now! The better care we take of our bodies and brains, the better we will feel, and the more capable we will be of improving ourselves in every way.
The third part contains some simple awareness and control practices specific to drinking that I hope you’ll find useful. I divided them as best I could between things to practice at home and things to try when we’re drinking socially. These are all tactics I’ve tried personally and have found to be effective on some level at different times. Keep in mind that they are only for managing our behavior. If we want lasting success, we need to treat the underlying causes of problem drinking—by using, for example, the methods described in the first two parts.
I’m not advocating drinking or not drinking, just throwing some suggestions out there. As you read, think back to your own first experiences with alcohol. What has compelled you to drink along the way? How has it impacted your life and the lives of others over the years? Bring that awareness of your relationship with alcohol to this book. If you think you’ve tried everything and not gotten results, read on. I hope you’ll find that some of the following Fifty Ways work for you. Cheers!