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May 2011: East to Joshua Tree

Criss-crossing the 150-degree Mojave can be hellish if you’re hungover

"'O-beer-thirty' came every afternoon and I typically didn’t taper off until the wee-wee-hours of the morning."

For the past twenty years (fifteen drunk, five sober), my workplace has been the Mojave Desert.  Unbelievably, I used to walk around under a blazing, 115-degree sun, enduring killer hangovers. I spent many a night in bars, motels, and campsites, always working toward tomorrow’s hangover.  I’ve frequented bars in every town from Lancaster to Landers, Barstow to Banning, Palmdale to Palm Springs and from Needles to Neenach. 

I usually didn’t drink in the morning or during the day, but “O-beer-thirty” came every afternoon and I typically didn’t taper off until the wee-wee-hours of the morning.  While camping, of course, I drank liquor all afternoon, took sink baths in rest stops, dismissing anxious looks from suspicious rest stop patrons. Dinner often included a six-pack (or two), a bag of corn chips, and a candy bar (or two) for dessert.  I stayed in roach motels, rubbing elbows with the scum of the earth, hookers and drug dealers knocking on my door at all hours of the night. My brain cells that weren’t baked in the sun like gooseberry pie I pickled in the evening with alcohol. 

In the Mojave, ground temperatures can climb up to 150 degrees, and if you’re not wearing sunglasses, the sun bouncing up off the reflective white sand can sunburn your corneas. My sandpapered eyelids were habitually scratching up and down over bloodshot, alcohol-soaked eyeballs. On a typical August day in the Coachella Valley, you can drink two gallons of water and (maybe) urinate once, losing most of your water through evaporation. I was so dehydrated,  often times I could not drink enough water to either evaporate or eliminate.  I’d need to stop a dozen times, huffing and puffing my way up the steep, boulder-strewn mountainsides of southern California deserts, hangovers getting heavier with each step.

During the day, I harassed employees in the office for failing to achieve my overachieving work (so-called) ethics. I was short-tempered and directed temper tantrums at employees, surreptitiously criticizing them for failing to meet unrealistic standards which fluctuated from high to low because of my cyclical superiority and inferiority complexes.

In the field, I surrounded myself with drinking buddies who walked with me all day and drank with me all night. I had home-bars-away-from-home in every town, where I’d drink with strangers whom I confused for friends, sharing my misery with old drunks getting older by the drink, habitually occupying the same designated barstools. They’d wave me over and we’d sing along to country music lyrics celebrating adultery.

My outdoor workplaces typically required that I drive 100 miles east to Joshua Tree or 100 miles north to Ridgecrest.  My favorite destination was east to Twentynine Palms where,  after a day of walking the desert, I’d get a fat blue quart of beer, followed by another in Yucca Valley 30 miles to the west, then a quick stop at the Mule Lip Saloon in Lucerne Valley 30 miles further west for several icy cold schooners of beer, and finish with a cold fatty for the final 30-mile drive to my mountain home. The fact that I was drinking and driving never occurred to me, except when I saw police cars. I spent half my time looking in the rearview mirror. 

My favorite form of consumption, though, was the “beer-and-a-bump” method. Shooting bumps (shots of liquor) got me where I wanted to be while sipping beer allowed me to hang out all night. But that, as they say, was then, and this is now. 

I still walk 15 miles each day in oppressive heat.  At 52, I still keep up with a 22-year-old employee (who also happens to be a sponsee), even in August.  I’ve come to realize, in the absence of pain these last five sober years, that most of the suffering I endured during fifteen long, hot years getting drunk in the sun, was self-induced.  I’ve learned that there is no virtue, whatsoever, in enduring self-inflicted pain that can be completely avoided by not drinking. I haven’t taken a sink-bath in years, nor have any hookers or drug dealers recently knocked on the doors of the motels I frequent these days. I’ve exchanged a thousand barroom happy hours for thousands of truly happy hours.

In working several Fourth Steps with two different sponsors, I’ve come to believe that, then and now, I tend to surround myself with people who provide me with what I need.  That used to be drinking buddies, who provided familiar company and substances.  Now, it’s you guys in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings who provide solutions to problems and demonstrate how to live life on life’s terms. 

In working my Ninth Step, I apologized to several former employees and made living amends to three by continuing to employ them under very different, much improved conditions.  I (mostly) keep my temper and (mostly) allow them to work out their issues amongst themselves, rather than butting in.  Where I used to take advantage of friends, I now try to engender an advantageous workplace that is beneficial to us all.

Today, I have a home-away-from-home group in Ridgecrest and a mobile-home group at the 6:30 p.m. men’s stag, “It’s a Better Deal,” in Yucca Valley.  Twentynine Palms is still a favorite eastern destination.  In fact, I just had a business meeting there the other day at 10 a.m. I left at 4:45 a.m. and fellowshipped with alcoholics at the Joshua Tree Fellowship Hall at their daily 7 a.m. Attitude Adjustment meeting.  On my way home at 5:30 p.m., I made happy hour at the HUG (Hesperia Umbrella Group).  On any given day, there are dozens of meetings in the 30 miles between Lucerne Valley and Wrightwood, including Apple Valley, Hesperia, and Victorville. This is where I’ve spent some of the happiest hours of my life. 

An antiquated, traditional spiritual says, “I’m using my Bible for a road map.  The Ten Commandments tell me what to do.”  In truth, for me these days, “I’m using my meeting schedule for a road map. The Big Book tells me what to do.”

—Ed L.,Wrightwood, Calif.

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