A statue of Prometheus
A statue of Prometheus

Prometheus, An Eagle, and an Alcoholic Human

Paul Kiernan

Did Prometheus ever get to the point of looking forward to the eagle’s arrival?

I am missing the eagle today.

A long time ago, Prometheus crept toward the holy fire and stole one spark. He then hid that in a fennel stalk and brought it down to earth. He gave man fire. Fire to warm himself, dispel the darkness, cook his food, and become more like the Gods.

Man rejoiced; the Gods, in particular Zeus, were pissed.

Zeus bound Prometheus to the Rock of Ages in chains and caused every day for an eagle to come and eat part of the chained man’s liver. For eternity, this went on. If you believe in that sort of thing, it’s still happening to this day.

We have Prometheus to thank for all our technical advances and life because he made the ultimate sacrifice and brought the property of the Gods down to his little clay creatures he created and breathed life into. Thank you, Prometheus.

My Question

Did Prometheus ever get to the point of looking forward to the eagle’s arrival? Did he, chained to a rock, alone, lonely, lost in his own thoughts, ever reach a point when his despair and loneliness became so heavy that he looked forward to the eagle arriving? Yes, he knew the pain would come; he knew the awful ripping of his flesh and the tearing of his liver would come, but did time with another creature, with something to focus on besides his situation, his loneliness, get to the point of overshadowing the pain. Prometheus looked ot the sky, saw the giant bird’s silhouette on the clouds, and thought, here comes company.

Eternity is a long time, and in that time, perhaps he got used to the pain or was able to block it out and just enjoy not being alone. Enjoy the brief company of this enormous bird. Maybe they struck up conversations. “Hello, eagle, how are you today?” he would ask, and the eagle, at first, would say only, today I am hungry and then rip the man’s flesh and pull out a chunk of his liver.

But as time went on, things could have changed. The eagle could have paused and said, honestly, I am so not in the mood for liver today, but a job is a job. As more time passed, perhaps the two, Prometheus, the thief of fire, and the eagle, the henchman of Zeus, found common ground, and they spoke as friends. Maybe.

I bet they did. I bet they did because, even though I am not chained to a rock, my liver is being eaten, so to speak, and I am forever chained to the rock of addiction.

“Creative people see Prometheus in a mirror, never Pandora.”
David Brin
A man walking an empty side street at night lit by amber neon light

I am an alcoholic

That’s a bit of truth about me. And, in the month of February, where I have been writing blogs about putting down the screens and trying to connect on a more human level, allowing for vulnerability and authentic human connections, it seems strange that I would hide this truth and not use it as part of this series of blogs.

Addiction is human, and we can get addicted to screens. Yes, like tobacco, alcohol, or drugs, screen time can be addictive and, like its partners in destruction, cause families to fall apart, relationships to explode, jobs to be lost, and more. So, this month, the topic of addiction is not far from the theme I’ve been writing on. So there.

I am sober six years now, and like anyone fighting addiction, it has not been an easy journey. One is never cured of an addiction; one has always got to keep it in check and pay attention to sneaky ways it tries to creep back into your life. Being vigilant is part of handling an addiction. I have been doing this for six years.

Writer’s block

Over the past month or so, I have been gifted by the heavens, the universe, with a severe bout of writer’s block. I have spent hours staring at the screen, hands hovering above the keyboard, waiting for the words to pour out in sentences and paragraphs, and nothing appears on the screen.

In my old days, I would step from my desk and grab a nice, heavy tumbler. Thick-bottomed, smooth-sided, and in, I would drop one cube of ice and three to five fingers of good bourbon. And I would write. I have no idea if the writing was good, but that didn’t matter; I was drinking, and I was free of blocks. Free of all hindrance as I drank and wrote and drank and … wrote … drank and … drank. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t writing; I was drinking. And drinking was good.

"I like the little things. The way a glass feels in your hand, a good glass - thick, with a heavy base. I love the sound an ice cube makes when you drop it from just the right height.”
Leo McGarry, The West Wing

And then, one day, drinking was not good. Drinking was sapping my energy, grabbing all my attention, and messing up my life. I would spend half my day hungover, and as soon as the clock, digital or analog, showed five pm, I would spend the rest of the day drinking.

Five pm was just a random time I told myself was the acceptable time, in polite society, to start drinking. I didn’t rub shoulders with polite society; in fact, I didn’t rub any part of my body with any society. Even when I was in a bar, which was often, I found a seat at the far end of the bar, usually in dim light, and I would drink alone.

There was nothing like a good buzz at 3 in the afternoon on a sunny summer day—or snowy winter day, or rain, or meh. Just the good buzz was all I wanted. Being in control in public, but free from social anxiety and able to converse with strangers and not be too obnoxious. That was my public goal. Then, when I had enough public life, I would head home and start the serious drinking. Alone.

This was the pattern. Finish work, stroll to the bar, have a few drinks, then go home and finish the job. I soothed myself with the facts that I never missed work because of drinking; I never got in an accident, never missed an audition, never showed up to an audition drunk or buzzed, never rehearsed or performed drunk or buzzed. I was in control.

Except for the fact that I wasn’t.

One day, in South Carolina, doing a production of Dial M for Murder and drinking three-quarters of a handle of bourbon nightly post-show, I stopped and asked myself, do you think it’s possible not to drink every night after the show? I answered myself, I don’t know, let’s see.

Thus began my journey to sobriety.

Back to the eagle

So, how are these two, Prometheus and his eagle and Paul and his bourbon, connected?

Here’s how. I questioned if Prometheus ever started looking forward to the daily arrival of the eagle, even with the knowledge that the eagle would rip his liver out and leave, only to return to repeat the horror. I ask that question because I feel as if I am in the same boat or on the same rock.

Part of addiction, the disease, the sickness that takes over, is the fact that you are never cured. You can be sober for 39 years, and one day, suddenly, you find your right hand is occupied with that heavy glass, that one ice cube, and the sweet amber fluid that is both a familiar friend and a mortal enemy. But, like Prometheus and the eagle, you welcome the glass to your hand, the liquor to your lips because it is familiar, soothing, and you understand it.

Right now, few things in my life make sense. I have recently lost family members, the world feels uncertain, the war in the Middle East is troubling, the political landscape is ugly, and I cannot seem to write a decent sentence to save my soul. And because of that, my guard is down. My defenses are weak. I am casting about for something to ground me, make me feel in control, safe, okay. And all of that makes me miss my eagle.

My eagle isn’t a giant with a razor-sharp beak. My eagle is liquid in that familiar heavy glass with one cube of ice. I know if I start drinking again, my liver, much like Prometheus, will eventually be ripped to shreds and bring about my death. Prometheus, being a demi-God, didn’t have such luck.

I know that drinking would be a huge step backward, and I’d have to start again; today is day one of being sober. That would be heartbreaking after saying today is day 2,190 of being sober. I know that drinking is not my friend, is not good for me in any way, and yet, today, I am missing that eagle. The weight of the glass, the waft of bourbon, the taste, and the ultimate soothing effect it would have on me.

A woman in a coat and hat, standing on a wet beach at low tide, watching birds fly

Human Help

Connecting this all back to the writings of this month, I will wrap this up by saying I have friends. I have human friends, flesh and bone, sweaters and pants, who I can call and say, hey, you know that bottled eagle that was my constant companion for so much of my life? I am missing him today. And my human friends will say, I’m coming by, or meet me at the pier, or just talk with me. They will support and empathize with me. I will open the path to a human connection, and I will get one. Not an AI connection, a human, or several humans who will listen and care.

The screen can be helpful in this situation if it points you in the direction of humans who understand and help. But sitting alone, chatting with an AI bot, that’s not going to get it done. That’s not going to keep me from opening my window, placing the liver-scented candle on the sill, and waiting for my eagle to return. In that case, only the human voice, human touch, human understanding, forgiveness, and empathy can help.

Summing Up

I share this story because I realized it is easy for some people to walk away from screens, and for others who may be addicted, it’s not so easy. I share this story because when talking about getting back to human, it helps to know that the person writing all that is human. I share this story because I have been espousing authenticity. I share this story because it is who I am and what I am going through right now. Saying, step away from the screens, step outside and meet people, break your routine, and leave your comfort zone is easy to say but much more complicated to execute.

I am an alcoholic. I am six years sober. I am always a heartbeat away from pouring myself a drink. I am always wondering where my eagle is and if today is the day he returns to my life. I know it will hurt, I know it has the potential to destroy me, and yet, the addiction is such that I would welcome the pain and destruction so that I could have that glass of control.

Addiction is not easy, and it is not something to be ashamed of. If you feel you’re addicted to alcohol or drugs, there is help. Contact the SAMHSA National Help Line by calling 1-800-662-4357. You are not alone, and the eagle will never be good company.