Thoughts From The Shower

It’s true…I have some of my best ideas and philosophical debates in the shower. Today was no different.

Plato’s Allegory of the Cave is my favorite piece of philosophy. If you haven’t read it, you really should (just click here). The allegory can be summed up in a now-famous quote from Stephen Hawking: “The thing about smart people is that they seem crazy to dumb people.” Here’s the gist of it:

There is a person in a cave, staring at a wall with shadows cast on it. One of the shadows is a horse. Never having known anything other than the shadows on the wall, the person believes that the shadow is a horse. He believes this because that’s all he knows and has ever known. He has nothing to compare it to. But then the person turns his head and sees that there is a higher level of the cave behind him. On that level, there are statues, one of a horse, and there is a fire behind the statues, casting the shadows. The person has an “Aha” moment, and now understands how wrong he was to think that the shadow of the horse was the horse. But now he knows the truth…

Eventually, the person gets out of the cave and sees a real horse, frolicking by a pond as wild horses are want to do. Finally having reached a full understanding and knowledge of what a horse is, the person treks down into the far depths of the cave, excited to share his knowledge with his friends that still live there. Unfortunately, it’s impossible for him to convince his friends that real horses have mass, and color, and hair, and they make noises; for someone whose only perspective of a horse is that of a shadow, hearing about “real” horses would seem absurd. And so the person who has experiential knowledge of horses is thought of as crazy.

So, what does this have to do with beer?

Well, I’m glad I asked myself that question. Thank you, self 🙂

I was an alcoholic for much of my military career and continued to be after I’d gotten out. To put a little perspective on it, when I’d gotten back from living in Brazil for two years my general practitioner told me that I had the liver of a 60 yo alcoholic, but I was only 33. It wasn’t uncommon for me to tie off a 30 pack of Coors, or a 24 pack of Fat Tire, in a weekend, mixed with a few shots of bourbon. When I went to the bar, my tab was never under $50. Somehow, during that haze, I managed to develop a deep, rich new world, write a 150k word manuscript, get an associates degree and a bachelors degree in philosophy, and take my dog to the river.

But I was depressed. Severely. Dealing with PTSD from combat didn’t help.

Of course, I’d heard from psychologists and psychiatrists that alcohol was a depressant, but I thought they were just reciting what they were told to recite. After all, I had fun when I drank. It made me feel good for a moment. Sure the hangover sucked, and life between drinking was depressing, but that’s why I drank, to get out of those ruts. And it worked!

So I thought.

But I was in the cave still, staring at shadows on a wall.

What I didn’t realize, because I couldn’t, was that the alcohol was causing the ruts in the first place and that if I’d just stopped drinking, the ruts would become less shallow and severe. I didn’t realize it until I stopped drinking for about 6 months. Not a single drop.

The epiphany came when my girlfriend asked me about my general mood and nightmares. I felt happy, and the nightmare that I’d endured multiple times a week…it had been months!

I can’t express how impactful that moment was for me, no more than I can impart the knowledge of how insidious alcohol is, and why it absolutely cannot be abused.

My life now is happy. Sure I get sad and depressed still, that’s simply the nature of PTSD (and other combat-related issues), but the ruts are far less severe, and so much easier to get out of. I still love beer, but I no longer drink for effect, and neither do I drink every day or every week; when I do drink, it’s no more than two beers. I don’t need to gorge myself on alcohol in order to appreciate it any more than I need to gorge myself on a 20-pound hamburger in order to appreciate hamburgers. If every time someone at hamburgers they couldn’t stop eating until they were vomiting everywhere, I imagine a majority of people would find that behavior downright revolting. Let’s face it, no one watches hot dog eating competitions and thinks, “That’s so sexy!”

I wish Hume was wrong, and empirical knowledge could be gained through reason. But I can’t. No one can be taught to leave the cave. They have to do it themselves.

Anywho…those are my Thoughts From The Shower.

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