Blowing zeros and other happenings during 90 days sober

When a reporter asks at the end of The Untouchables what he’ll do once prohibition is repealed, Eliot Ness responds, “I think I’ll have a drink.”

My own prohibition was repealed just last week. September 22 marked the end of my three-month commitment to sobriety. For 90 days – including 70 on the road to Seattle and back – I limited myself to a single beer per day in a journey for spiritual clarity and awareness.

Now that I’ve reached my destination, a good reporter might ask: What’s next?

Well, I’m not exactly popping the champagne to celebrate.

I may have one beer. And that’s about it. It turns out that I’ve kinda liked my return to sober living.

The Departure

breathalyzer blowing zero

Mark it zero, dude!

When I departed on this journey back in June, I wasn’t looking for big answers. I simply wanted greater clarity and awareness – of my self and my surroundings – so that I could live in tighter alignment with my values. That’s integrity, Holmes.

As I said back then, alcohol and I have an unhealthy relationship. With alcohol in my life, I have less clarity and less serenity and less sensitivity to my emotions. I’m more likely to get confused, to bottle up my feelings until they boil over, and to just generally make mistakes.

I’m not talking about the dumb things we do when we’re drunk. I’m talking about the way regular exposure to alcohol and other chemicals affects you over time. It turns out that regularly pumping a depressant into your system fucks you up a bit. Who knew?

A 90-Day Journey

Sobriety led to one of the more memorable episodes of this third Meander.

After a day of rafting at North Cascades National Park, I volunteered to drive our van back to camp. When rangers at our campground spotted an open bottle of tequila in the passenger seat, I had to pass a Breahtlayzer to avoid a ticket. I blew zero (of course) and the rangers were cool enough to let me immortalize the moment with a photo.

It wasn’t until about 60 days into my Meander that sobriety really began to affect me. Fortunately, there weren’t huge emotional swings like on my first Meander when I despaired over crushing a duckling with my Subaru.

But there was emotion nonetheless.

On the drive from Mt Shasta to Lassen Volcanic National Park, I cried at the mariachi version of Mumford & Sons’ I Will Wait. I had listened to this song repeatedly while watching my nephews watch in Seattle, so I intuitively knew it’d cause a reaction.

Spontaneously, I found the song on Spotify and played it. My heart knew that I needed an emotional laxative.

After that, throughout the two-week trip from Lassen to Tempe, my emotions were heightened. But the peaks were flatter and the valleys were shallower. I experienced low-level loneliness at times. I looked joyfully forward to my return home. I was far too ecstatic about the twists and turns of Survivor reruns.

Again, this wasn’t the dramatic emotional roller coaster of the first Meander or my seemingly endless depression following my eruption seven years ago. And, you know what, I prefer this calmer, steadier manner of feeling.

Emotions good.

Chaotic mood swings bad.

My Companions on the Journey

To be honest, making it 90 days wasn’t all that tough. For the most part, people were supportive of my mission. I got zero peer pressure from old friends on a brewery crawl in Ballard. The ASU Alumni Association’s annual booze cruise in Seattle was a little dicier, but I expected it to be so.

After all, we’re Sun Devils, man!

Big thanks to Joe for serving as my accountability partner, to Stephanie, Astara, Wendy, and others for listening, and to my Seattle peeps for understanding why I wasn’t drinking around the campfire.

Henry David Thoreau said, “I believe that water is the only drink for a wise man.”

I don’t quite agree with that. I’ll continue to enjoy a beer from time to time.

But more than one? No thanks.

After 90 days of sobriety, I’ve decided that water – or a single glass of beer – is the only drink for a wise Matt.


Just coffee for me. Thanks.

Eyes, mind, and heart open to new experiences

I stayed at a friend’s house last weekend while mine was rented to travelers through Airbnb. Giving up my bed (or any bed) is a key piece of my plan to not go broke during the Meander. (What’s the Meander?)

On Sunday, with my day’s work done, I jogged toward Papago Park. The jog devolved into a slow, appreciative walk as I discovered a multiuse corridor stretching along a waterway from the city’s treatment facilities south to about Mill and Curry.

Moeur Park in Tempe

An unexpected pre-Meander meander through Tempe’s own Moeur Park.

The water flowed south through man-made waterfalls and hardscape built from urbanite. Mallards swam in pairs in riparian areas dense with reeds, palms, and mesquites. Walkers and bikers traveled along the shoreline while hobbyists played disc golf on an 18-hole course.

All of this is within three miles of my home for the last 12 years. I had no idea it existed.

This is the kind of fortuitous encounter I’m most excited to experience on the Meander.

When I visited Seattle two years ago, I fell in love with Mount Rainier and Olympic national parks. But unexpected moments defined the trip as well. I saw a four-our inning at a Mariners’ game, spent hours wandering downtown, and built light sabers out of pool noodles with a cousin I hadn’t seen in two decades.

Last summer in New Mexico, Taos’s art galleries and the natural wonders of the Jemez Mountain Trail didn’t disappoint. But I’ll also always remember stumbling into a free visual arts exhibition on a late-night walk around our hotel in Santa Fe.

This summer, I’m excited to trace the footsteps of Chris McCandless and to explore Yosemite, Yellowstone, and Crater Lake. However, I’m also excited to see what’s in Turtle Bay Exploration Park along the Sacramento River in Redding, Calif. I don’t know anything about it beyond the name and I’m not going to Google it before arriving.

I’m also eager for the conversations with locals that didn’t happen in Seattle because I was shy or in New Mexico because I was with my girlfriend. If I learn nothing more than how to connect with strangers even briefly, the Meander will be worthwhile.

The unexpected is why my itinerary is written softly in pencil. There are a few firm dates dictated by campsite reservations or friends’ flights. But, for the most part, I plan to not have a plan.

Eyes, mind, and heart open to new experiences.

My itinerary is very fluid. Know a can’t-miss spot? Got a friend with a couch? Let me know in the comments!