This is Spaceship Earth. It is, to the day, exactly as old as I am. We were both born October 3, 1982. We’ve been alive for 34 years, 10 months and 17 days. Earlier this year, I ran past it on my way to completing the very first marathon I’d ever run … a quite literally unbelievable feat for someone who was born with lungs that function at 53% capacity. The race took me 6 hours, 42 minutes and 25 seconds. Upon completion, I had a glass of champagne. I deserved it. This story is only tangentially about that.
Exactly half my life ago, some 17 years, 5 months and 8 days ago, I started a career which has been well documented — yet hidden in plain sight. It was an illustrious career, which netted me a great deal of satisfaction and joy. I am here today to announce my retirement from it. I’ve held a lot of jobs during that time — waiter, bartender, writer, musician, branding “guru”, marketing manager, mathematician, weatherman, sports columnist, podcast host — but none of them were my real career. I’m holding onto the jobs I still have. Today, I am firmly, unequivocally retiring from the sport of professional drinking. And, so I am clear on this, let me say the words that will haunt you, so that I may no longer be haunted by keeping them secret: I am John Gorman. And I am, in no uncertain terms, an alcoholic.
It’s almost my brand at this point, but, in case you’re new: I’ve spent the past year or so in a spectacular downward spiral. I am, by all metrics, less healthy and happy than I was in the Spring of 2016, when I was at my absolute pinnacle. The decline was so gentle, and the zenith so high, that I barely felt real ramifications even though I knew things were getting wobbly at the top. I still (thankfully) have my job. I still have (most of) my friends. And only very few people pointed out to me that I had “changed.”
But I, myself, could tell what was happening. So I went running for answers. I traveled the country, hoping to find them. I visited old friends in old cities. I visited ex-girlfriends. I saw baseball games. I saw concerts. I drank in dimly lit bars. I pillaged my past — the people and places and activities from it — to try and rediscover myself. Often, I didn’t find what I was looking for. Even if I had a helluva lot of fun along the way. This was piece and parcel of my life writ large — a never-ending party, a show designed to entertain those who dared to watch, at the expense of myself and my health.
In April in New York, on a very long, dimly lit night, I drank in Astoria with one of my best friends, and a woman I hadn’t seen in seven years. I had been cataclysmically drunk the entire weekend to that point, and I would continue to be right up until the morning after I’d returned to Austin. But, while at the bar, I said, frankly, “Follow me down the black hole.” I knew where I was headed, because I had already been there. Aided by cognac and fernet, I found I could be refreshingly candid with them, even if that meant being unusually dark and nihilist. And that was the easiest thing to notice: my darkness. That was new. That didn’t exist before — at least not outwardly. And that was my first warning sign that it was time for me to walk away. (The dozens of empty champagne bottles in my pantry that had been building up since Christmas of 2015 didn’t ring the alarm, but the inability to hide my sadness apparently was a bridge too far.)
My most recent ex used to compare me to Mr. Peanut Butter from Bojack Horseman for my relentless positivity. And, at the time I had met her, it was hard not to be clear skies and warm sun all the time. Everything was going my way: I was in the best shape and health of my life, my career was in the perfect spot, I had some money saved up, I had a ton of good quality relationships with friends and family, and I generally spent most of my day doing things I loved to do — music, writing, running, biking, reading and learning things. I did this, I think, because I had spent a good majority of the previous year sober. You see, I knew I had to stop drinking in the fall of 2014. And I had.
I was already out of control by that point, a man so enamored with whiskey and gin that I’d blacked out on my 32nd birthday after making out with five women — none of women were the one I was dating at the time, and, frankly, she was probably the greatest woman I’d ever dated, and, yes … she left me for good the following day — and, to quote an observer, I spent a solid hour “flopping around on the ground like a dolphin out of the sea.” I quit then. And I mostly didn’t drink for over a year thereafter. I did it without broadcasting it to the world. (Mostly.)
But I remember the day I re-started in earnest — it was the day I met the woman I couldn’t bare to be without. It was an innocent sidecar on our first date, on November 8, 2015. We broke up the week before I went to New York. And, yes, I went to New York because we broke up. I drunkenly cancelled the trip I had planned for us to go to Cuba, since that was no longer in the cards, and used that money to fly to the concrete jungle where dreams are made of. And, for the first time, I was forced to reconcile with who I’d become while making peace with a past that, while wonderful, was tinged with regret. I met an ex-girlfriend to see Waitress. I met another one at a dive in Brooklyn, where I sucked down Tito’s and Soda until I was blue in the fucking face.
My darkness was suddenly front-and-center. I was confronted with it, with nowhere left to turn, because how can anyone escape themselves. I was now completely unhinged, detached from time and space and reality. I turned my drinking — as I often have, but never to the extent that I did now — into a cloak of invincibility; shielding me from consequences for my actions. Now that my tank of fucks left to give was dry, I didn’t have to give any. I started behaving … erratically. Drinking more, and more often, than usual. On an average night, some five-to-six nights per week, I would put away somewhere between 10 and 20 shots of alcohol. This has been the case for the past year. That’s not a misprint.
I was losing interest in things I once loved, and taking a liking to pursuits that could kill me if I did them long enough. Pursuits like finding my way to the bottom of a bottle — every day, many times per day. I also began numbing myself through sex, Netflix, rich foods, travel and experiences. And those were all great, because, well — what isn’t great when you’re hashtag living your best life? My behavior was Instagrammable. When I would tell people “all I do is drink until I black out, smoke until I can’t breathe, eat pizza until I can’t walk, and fuck anyone and everyone,” people complimented me on my fierce independence and brash silliness. And although I was broadcasting my sadness and self-cruelty to the world, no one seemed to get the message.
And, when those wells of distraction had run dry, or I couldn’t muster the energy to go out into the world, I began to mindlessly scroll my social media feeds — not even for the sake of connecting with people or commenting, but merely to pass the time. And I fell into a rut. And even more drinking. The quest to find the answer for the darkness became an imperative, and, arguably, the actual answer to the darkness itself. I was becoming sick and sad, cynical and weird, lazy and fearful. The walls began to close in — and then they collapsed.
I spent a morning that lasted all afternoon holed up in a hotel room in Phoenix, pounding bottles of champagne and staring into my phone hoping the meaning of life would magically appear. I was paralyzed, crippled by fear and darkness and anxiety. What’s wrong with me? And I began to think with a very specific, urgent purpose. I was going to lean into this feeling and find my way out.
I reasoned, with unusual clarity, that at the root of my drinking and my suffering is a pathological desire to not be alone. To be wanted, needed, validated and rewarded. This checked about 80% of the boxes: My steady stream of “content” I put out on my Facebook feed. My inability to say no to smoking or drinking if someone asks me to, my pathological willingness to take on more work, go to more events, and do more favors than I can realistically handle. My propensity for flirting with almost everyone. My insatiable messiah complex. My hyper-sensitivity to criticism from friends, peers and lovers. But that did not quite cut to the root of it. The question I then proposed: why can’t I be alone?
Initially, I thought I did not like myself. But as I reasoned objectively, that wasn’t always the case. There were times when I *did* like myself very much. 2015 was a prime example. In fact, I can look back at most of my life and say, yes, I was someone I would find interesting, and decent to hang out with. But I realized I felt that way in times when I was very busy — being with people, experiencing new things, accomplishing goals, performing well at tasks, making and creating. And I like all those things about me. But baseline?
I then went to baseline. I decided to drown myself in … myself. And more champagne. I ghosted social media for two weeks. I went off-grid. And I was, unsurprisingly, miserable. But I kept thinking. And kept listening. It was quiet on the outside — and loud as hell in my head.
In the midst of that quiet, that’s when I heard it: My hyper-critical, rude, caustic and abrasive internal dialogue. The voice in my head that kept directing me: You should be doing something. You shouldn’t be 34 and single. You should be farther along in your career. You shouldn’t be such a whore. You shouldn’t drink so much. You know you shouldn’t be smoking that. When are you going to get off anti-anxiety meds? Why are you so fat? Don’t eat that. Don’t drink that. That’s bad for you. You’re unhealthy. You’re weird. You’re lazy. You’re careless. You’re a fuck-up. You’re going to ruin your life. You’re going to die. No one will remember you. No one’s going to love you. You’re nothing. You should kill yourself.
And that’s when I learned. Everything I do is an attempt to silence, or escape, the impossibly cruel and exacting voice inside my head. Sometimes this manifests itself in a good way: Travelling, pouring myself into my work, learning new things, creating music, writing, rock climbing, other novel experiences. These only temporarily silence the voice. But, at my core, I realized that’s why I drank. To shut the mouth of the asshole who lives inside my head.
I swam back up to the surface and took a deep breath. There would be no deeper insight. I finally understood why I am who I am. And, the way I’d been coping with it, was not respite — it was fanning the flames.
Let’s talk for a minute about what being an alcoholic is really like. I sleep on an un-made bed, with no sheets on it, sheets that are balled up in a laundry basket, covered in cat vomit. That’s if I make it to bed. Most days I black out on the couch, watching Cold War documentaries for the sake of self-edification and yet almost nothing stays with me overnight. I mostly wake up wondering what year it is.
I started smoking a pack a day, for whatever reason, as if it’s not stupid enough to smoke anything at all while I — again — have 53% of a human lung. Imagine being born with COPD and then being like “nah, fuck it, I don’t care how I die, so I might as well die in the most obvious way possible, as soon as possible.”
I have, to the best of my knowledge, slept with over 200 women — 30 in the past six months. I do not know why. Maybe to beat back the inescapable loneliness. Actually, only for that reason. Had I been capable of loving myself, I probably wouldn’t need so many people to love me.
I’ve gotten too drunk on two dates in the past month — both of which were with people I actually, truly, adored, and still do. There were no second dates. Imagine, being able to find love and punting on it because fernet shots are so much more desirable than potential life-long companionship.
My house is a certified sty. Dishes piled on the counter-top. Nacho debris littered all over the rug. I should probably be vacuuming instead of writing this. I’m not. Imagine, coming home, wading through a pile of bottles and bullshit, and thinking “nah, that’s fine. The minefield is just the price I pay for living with myself.”
I have eaten five meals this week. Three of which were (full, large) pizzas. One of which was a pasta salad that had been sitting out at room temperature for 24 hours, but, I didn’t have the self-discipline to throw it out and eat something else. Imagine being so in the realm of not giving a shit that you willingly say to yourself “there’s definitely bacteria in this and this smells like dead squirrel, but, fuck it, I’m hungry and this tastes fine.” I’ve lost 10 pounds in the past six months, subsisting only on carbonated liquids that range from IPA to bourbon. Only eating when my body was literally craving a vegetable. (BTW, if you ever think, “Fuck, that salad looks delicious,” you’re probably farther down the path of an unhealthy lifestyle than you think you are.)
And so, now, here I stand: at the precipice, staring into the abyss, and realizing the time is now to turn the car around before it careens over the cliff. 17 years, 5 months and 8 days was just long enough to be at the peak of my powers. Or, more accurately, to be actively sabotaging me from being at the peak of my powers. I plan on spending the next 17 years, 5 months and 8 days — yes, until I am literally 52 years old, should I make it that far without dying from what I’ve already done to myself — sober. I am calling it a career. And, while, it had been a helluva ride to be sure, I want to stop the coaster and head to another amusement park.
I am, currently, drinking — one last set of drinks. Yes, I’ve written this drunk. I started at noon with a 512 IPA — the beer that I drank when I wrapped my car around a tree. I continued with champagne — the drink I never loved until I met the woman I thought I’d finally found everlasting love with, the one who I, inadvertently, drove away because my personality changed so very much after I began guzzling alcohol like it was oxygen. I, then, stopped at a bar to enjoy a shot of whiskey and a shot of fernet, just to say goodbye to the two spirits that put me in the highest of spirits. And, now, two beers: Avery Brewing Company’s Maharaja, the first craft beer I was ever given for free, the one that kickstarted my writing career (I started as a beer blogger), and La Fin du Monde, which is my favorite beer of all time, and which literally means “The End of the World” in French. It feels apt. Tomorrow, I go to the doctor, and I talk to her about the things I’ve done and where is left to go from here. Who knows what comes next.
Most people only write about getting sober after they’ve been at it a while, and it’s an inspirational story about self-discipline and perseverance. This is not that. This is a story about being the very bottom, holding onto the last blade of grass before you fall off the face of the Earth. This is a story that, while disjointed, and poorly written, is as accurate and raw of an account of where I am today as any of the most articulate theses I’ve written in my many years of writing. Actually, more so. This is, truly, me. Unvarnished. Unedited. Finally present. I am a fucking mess. A fraud. Not a failure, no, there is no such thing, but someone who can no longer be trusted to fix things on his own. Maybe I was never that person. I do not know.
I mention Spaceship Earth because on the day I ran by it, at the pinnacle of my athletic career, I was 205 pounds (I typically tip the scales at about 170) and drinking and eating myself to death. The night before, I had unpacked a bottle of champagne, and pounded it to fall asleep that night. I did this at 9 p.m. I needed to be awake in six hours. I ran that marathon hungover, sweating out booze as I ran through every excruciating minute of those 26.2 miles. I did it as a sort of penance, but also as a sort of call-to-action: “If I can do this in the state I’m in, what can I do if I actually tried?” I thought about that for a while, and realized I’d never truly tried at anything. The only thing I’d ever put my heart and soul into was the relationship I started drinking again for. Everything else has been a happy byproduct of just being alive and good at whatever the fuck I was doing at the time.
I don’t know what trying feels like. I don’t know what happiness feels like. I, increasingly, don’t know what sobriety feels like. I don’t know what I feel like. And, to be clear, now I want to know. I’ve spent half my life drinking — nearly every day, some days more than others — and now I wish to stop. This is my letter of resignation. I do not know what the future holds for me. I am scared. I am lost. I am unsure what my next career will be. I can only hope that it leads me to a place that isn’t where I am right now, because where I am right now feels like the literal Fin du Monde. And at 34 years, 10 months and 17 days old, that’s just too goddamn soon to say goodbye.