My First Taste of "Enlightenment"
And subsequent quest to discover the freedom of drunkenness without drinking
There I was, a senior in high school at a stranger’s house, talking, joking, and laughing with classmates I’d only seen in the halls. Usually painfully shy, I was talkative, outgoing, and playful on this brisk fall evening.
I could be myself without the usual fears, anxieties, and inhibitions. I felt alive and animated. Spontaneous too. When I was hungry, I opened the refrigerator. But before I could see past the mustard and relish, a hand pushed the door shut. “What do you think you’re doing? This isn’t your house, and this isn’t your fridge,” said the voice looming overhead.
For as long as I could remember, the terror of expressing or revealing myself was too great a barrier for a shy, awkward kid like me. But this evening, I was free to be me, whoever “me” was. I felt exuberant like never before—light and happy, uninhibited and cheerful. I even talked to a cute girl.
The freedom from self radically differed from my usual anxious self as if surreal, a dream. If this was nirvana, I wanted more of it.
Too bad I was drunk at a house party in a Minneapolis suburb.
“I feel sorry for people who don’t drink. When they wake up in the morning, that’s as good as they’re going to feel all day.” — Author unknown
My Quest for Freedom Without Drinking
Most mornings, I awoke feeling heavy and sluggish. School was boring, and I wouldn't say I liked homework; friends were the only thing I looked forward to.
But the morning after the party was different. I was excited about life! It was as if the good feelings from the night before continued to the following morning. I knew then that I wanted to experience the emotions I felt at the party repeatedly. “How can I have that much fun without drinking alcohol?” I thought. I vowed to find an answer.
I leaped out of bed, joy and excitement coursing through my body. I couldn’t wait to tell my mom about my discovery. “Mom!” I said excitedly. “I had the most amazing time last night! I was at a party with friends, all joking and laughing. I even talked to a cute girl!”
“That’s great,” she said reservedly.
“I was drinking, and well, I guess I was kinda drunk,” I said. “But I had such a good time that I want to learn to have that much fun without drinking.”
My mom looked concerned.
“No, no, no, don’t worry, I’m not planning to become an alcoholic. It’s just that I’ve never had such a good time before! I want to learn how to have that much fun without drinking alcohol.”
My enthusiasm did little to convince her.
Drinking For the First Time Went Differently
A year earlier, the outcome was very different when I got drunk for the first time.
“Dude, you wouldn’t believe it,” my friend Chris said over the phone. “This guy just stashed a case of beer across the street from my house. We’re gonna drink tonight!”
“What do you mean some guy stashed beer across the street?”
“Yeah, he got out of his car, hid a case of beer in the woods, and drove off. I saw the whole thing and think I know exactly where it is.”
“Some guy just happened to stop in front of your house and hide beer in the woods, and you just happened to be looking out the window when he did?” I asked.
“I know. It doesn’t make any sense, but that’s what happened.”
“How many beers are there in a case?” I asked enthusiastically.
“I don’t know, I think there’s like twelve or something,” he said.
“That’s awesome! How crazy is that?!”
Chris Robertson, Kalle Ahl, and I drank enough beers to get drunk that evening. Liquored up, we wandered down to the gym two blocks away because, well, what goes better with alcohol than heavy weights?
Spotting the girl who swiped my card gym card, I drunkenly walked toward the counter where she sat. With the small talk of “Hi” out of the way, I got right to the point and professed my love for her. She was embarrassed, and my friends were embarrassed for me. They ushered me back from where we came before I could further humiliate myself.
On the way out, I turned the lights off and on until a maintenance man walked toward us. “That’s enough, boys. Time to go home.”
Drunk Without Drinking
A local farmer named Emil Muhlhausen taught my nutrition class in tenth grade. With short hair, a big brown belt, corduroy slacks, and a peace necklace laced over a ribbed, avocado-green t-shirt, Emil looked like a cross between a character from Woodstock and Star Trek.
Nutrition fascinated me, and I wondered if good health could provide the lasting joy I sought. I read books like Eat to Win and began following a diet of skim milk, complex carbohydrates, and little sugar. Ultimately, changing my diet failed to provide the fun and excitement I felt at the party.
I read self-help books thinking that lasting happiness could be found through ideas. I read How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie, The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale, and Dress for Success by John T. Molloy. I learned to use people’s names, think positively, and dress well. Sadly, none of the ideas relieved my chronic fears and anxieties.
Years later, I turned my attention to the body and mind. It was then that things started to make sense. At first, it was slow going, but the more I learned and practiced, the more everything came together.
I learned of the powerful connection between the mind and body. I discovered that all the emotional pain I had suppressed over my lifetime was stored in my body, now manifested as physical pain. I came to understand how clinging was the source of my sorrow. I realized I had no idea who I was, what I felt or wanted. My anger and rage stemmed from the repeated wound of not being seen as a child. I noticed there never is or was a self.
I Like Being Me
Today there’s no other person I’d rather be than me. I feel no desire to trade places with anyone. I like who I am and see that wanting to be other than me is a fantasy. More profoundly, I now feel whole and feel a deep sense of freedom from the crippling imprisonment of self-preoccupation.
Even if I were to have twenty million dollars, it would change my life little. Sure, I would splurge on a few luxuries like eating out more often or getting an occasional massage. Other than that, more money would offer little, if any, additional ease or comfort. Certainly not enough for me to trade the effortlessness of freedom for the struggle for more money.
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