Toby Keith: A Philosopher For Our Generation

I’ll never be ashamed to quote a bad writer with a good saying.

Seneca, On Tranquility Of Mind, 11.8

I’m starting to question my reality. I was forced to endure a country song I’ve heard a 27garbage_600thousand times and actually took something from it. Toby Keith’s song “Ain’t Much Fun” has imparted some wisdom on me. Mr. Keith (because I know you are reading), I respect you as an artist, being one myself. I like country music, but I am a purist. While I can’t say I particularly enjoy your lexicon of work, I will say thank you for this song.

The premise of the song is of a man getting sober and returning to real life. Chores, the “honey-do” list, the everyday routine of life. It’s very tongue in cheek, but the reality of it is, well, my reality. I don’t get to go out an party all the time, drinking away my problems for another day and time. I can’t go to work and drink the whole time (I’m a musician) and then come home and do it again scot-free. At this point, why would I? Things creak and cramp hard enough in the morning without a hangover.

I know that a fear that many people in recovery have is how to cope with being sober. One question is whether they will get boring, whether they can have fun sober. It’s tough, but it can be achieved. For me, it is not so much a matter of boredom, but it is strange learning how to do things sober that formerly were tasks you I drunk. I keep finding myself in little scenarios that the last time I attempted them I had alcohol in my system. Most of these tasks were not improved by alcohol, but I had convinced myself that the alcohol made them more tolerable. I had created this alternate reality, one where I “had” to drink to tolerate everyday life.

The lyrics are admittedly funny. I find myself in the opposite predicament. I’m always going to be fun. I’m a fun-loving person. What’s not fun is realizing how one-sided my life has become. A fundamental element of alcoholism is the loss of control, in your life, environment, surroundings, conditions, etc. I’m noticing this in my own home. I feel a sense of chaos that I have let fostered by not being present in my faculties. Granted, it’s very hard to respect someone who has lost respect for themselves. When I try to get cooperation at home with cleaning and just keeping the house in a nice living condition, the general sense of ennui is palpable. But let me look at why. It’s not a lack of motivation, it’s a lack of effective communication.

I can’t relay any information drunk. I get angry and allow my emotions to temper my delivery. I would come home and start working and just stew, like adding more coal to a steam engine. My pressure would build til bursting. That level of anger is unusable. It makes those who are the victim of it unable to take it seriously, especially if they know you have been drinking. Consequently, angry speeches are ineffectual speeches. Therefore, I lost credibility. I see every day that I have to improve my communication skills. That’s difficult enough without liquid social inhibitors! In other words, it is hard to create a good team with an ineffectual leader.

Sobriety has created so much freedom and clarity, states of being that I had lost behind a shimmery gossamer of alcohol. But freedom is not without its fair share of pain. Seneca compared the lecture-hall (learning and growth) to a hospital. To use the example provided by Ryan Holiday in his book The Daily Stoic, it’s like going to physical therapy. At the time, very little seems therapeutic; getting the torn ligament or knee replacement working correctly can be a long and arduous process or repeated poking and prodding. But over time, it heals and mobility improves.

I’m fairly certain I have strayed from the path of my original topic of intent. Perhaps that is what happens when I start by using a pop country song as my case study. I think the conclusion I have drawn is that a sober life is not a boring life. It’s a life that I had been missing out on by masking it with alcohol. Self-realization and examination are often lengthy and difficult processes. Sober life is exactly what you make of it. It can be as boring or exciting as you make it. That is a choice to be made. Take your newfound freedom and grab life by the horns.

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