There are certain words which take on new meaning depending on the context.
Meters, units of measurement, become units of rhythm in poetry.
Somebody’s footprint in the snow may be as tall as a paper clip, while their web footprint is a wide coaxial network of virtual impressions, and their carbon footprint bores a new pin-hole in the ozone canopy.
You know the word perspective as meaning the way somebody sees in the world. In film study, it is a technical term for how objects are placed in a shot.
I write this to claim that the word thirst has a different meaning for the alcoholic and addict.
A type of thirst can be quenched—a common feeling. I played pickup basketball for a few hours on Tuesday and had to stop at the CVS for some Powerade. That’s a real thirst. I smack my lips but they don’t wet. It’s that dry swallow or chapped-lip smack.
That’s not the thirst I’m describing.
My first acknowledgement of the thirst came on a beautiful morning in Santa Monica.
I had been in California for a year, but never jived with the perpetual sunshine. Without seasonal depression or the weather as an excuse for my emotional doldrums, I had no option but to believe, rightly, that I was just a little off. I knew then I was a little off; I know now I was totally off my rocker—a real screw-loose clinical brand of crazy. In one week’s time, I’d be institutionalized.
That afternoon my roommates were away, I had that feeling: the I have arrived sort of feeling you get when a rare set of circumstances provide you with exactly what your exotic tastes require. (Further reading: Arrival) My exotic tastes were simple back then: leave me the fuck alone and let me drink and use how I please.
So when I woke up to an empty apartment and a full bar, I was feeling celebratory: the debutante or hall-of-fame inductee. I strutted barefoot around the shag carpet like it were the red carpet, mixing a drink, packing a bowl, cutting a line. I told myself I was working on a script; I only needed to reach that proper chemical balance that maximizes creativity.
When I sat down, the thirst came.
Not the dry-mouth thirst, or the sweat-pore thirst, but the twitchy, nervous, foot-tapping thirst. The subtle hand-shake thirst. The thirst to conquer all other thirsts, all other desires, plans, motives, and impulses. The thirst that sets the next drink up in my mind like it is a lighthouse beacon and I am a sinking ship. I’ve got to get to it before I drown.
I uncorked a bottle of red wine and drank it all the way down like a canteen in the desert. Every. Last. Drop. And what I know now that I didn’t know then was that I didn’t quench the thirst, I only appeased it for the moment. I shut it up and sent it to its room, where it would do push ups to come out of there stronger next time. I eased the nerves that twitched and tapped, but didn’t kill the impulse that makes them twitch and tap.
There is no quenching that thirst.
It’s like taking a garden hose to the grand canyon, expecting to fill it up. The thirst requires an alternative definition like footprint for the web or meter in poetry. It requires an exaggerated article like the way people say the Ohio State University.
So you could say, “No, I’m not talking about that thirst, I’m talking about the thirst,” and everyone would understand.
It’s the thirst that is a symptom of my larger disease. It’s the thirst that strengthens when I try to treat it as only a symptom. It’s the thirst that is unquenchable. It’s the thirst that requires my complete surrender to the fact that I have it in order to see it for what it is. It’s the thirst that tells me it doesn’t exist. It’s the thirst steadies my hand but expedites my death. It’s the thirst that will conquer everything that matters in life. It’s the thirst that in satisfying it, make us all the more thirsty.
It is the thirst that must be understood to break the stigma that addicts are criminals.
And it is the thirst that, I believe, can be replaced by God, or if you like, a higher power, or creator, or connection, or collective conscious, or over-soul, or Jesus, Mohammad, Buddha, Krishna, or anything that reminds you we only recover from the thirst together.