Whiskey and Milkshakes Don’t Dull the Pain by David James

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I contented myself with whiskey, for medicinal purposes. It helped numb my various aches and pains. Not that the alcohol actually reduced the pain; it just gave the pain a life of its own, apart from mine.- Haruki Murakami

Dealing with the death of a child is difficult enough.  Make that death a suicide, and for many, the pain becomes unbearable and they look for ways to cope.  When I talked about dealing with depression at a recent Community Forum, I talked about the signs of depression and how eating too much or too little, as well as the abuse of alcohol and drugs, can play a role in the battle to dull the pain.  For me, I turned to whiskey and milkshakes.

As a staff, we were excited when they opened a Chik Fil A in front of the school.  Now we had access to decent fast food within walking distance. Their salads sustained me on days when I forgot, or was too lazy, to make my lunch.  It was easy for me to walk over during my conference period, grab a salad and store it in the fridge in the coach’s office until lunch. Unfortunately, it also meant I was within walking distance of their milkshakes, one of my biggest vices.  After Peyton’s death, their milkshakes became a crutch for me.

The days and weeks after Peyton’s death were a fog for me.  I worked, coached, picked up my daughter, and went home. Some days I don’t remember, others, I don’t want to remember. After particularly bad days (and there were a lot of those), I would swing through the drive-thru and buy a shake, usually a large cookies ‘n cream. It became almost a habit. It got to the point that when I picked up Emmy, she would look in the cup holder to see if I bought a shake that day. For a while, I bought one almost every day. It helped me ease the pain as I escaped into the cold, frosty goodness.

One day, I stepped on the scale and realized that I had been eating my feelings. It wasn’t just shakes, but other sweets and fatty foods that gave me momentary release from the pain. I knew what I had been doing, but never did anything to stop it. I knew exercise would have helped, but I chose to go the other way and ate and ate and ate. Maybe it was comfort in a full belly or that tired feeling that helped take away my anxiety. Regardless of the reason, I knew it was time to make a change.

The rational part of my brain told me to get off my ass and exercise, which I did. Once track season was over, I used my downtime to run, or I took Earl the Fat Corgi for walks. The emotional part of my brain told me that the exercise was helping, but not enough, and if I wasn’t going to drown my pain in milkshakes, then I needed something else. Enter whiskey.

I have never been one to down shot after shot. In my younger, dumber days, I was not above taking a slug straight from a bottle to prove just how stupid macho I was, but I never developed a taste for hard liquor until later in life. I began with vodka chilled and moved on to brown liquors, particularly whiskey.  I developed a taste for single malt Scotch and single barrel whiskey. I also learned to appreciate sipping rather than shooting it. I discovered that it took a while for me to down a couple of fingers of my favorite brown water either neat or on the rocks. Often I would take my drink to the back yard where I could sit by myself and be alone with my thoughts. Unfortunately, when those thoughts turned to Peyton, the drink went down a little faster in order to dull the pain. Whatever brief respite I got from the emotional pain would vanish soon enough, and the pain would be back, often with a vengeance.


I finally decided I needed to concentrate more on ways to deal with my pain that didn’t make me fat or kill brain cells. First of all, I went back into therapy. I know this is not something I can go through alone. I tried therapy once, but felt that I had gotten as far as I could with that therapist and stopped, but as time moved on, I realized I needed more. I threw myself into my writing, especially my blog. It gave me not only an outlet for my pain but also a platform to call out what I see as problems in how our society deals with mental illness and suicide, especially in schools. I also escaped into books. The writings of Brad Thor, Brad Taylor, Ace Atkins, and others allowed me to not only escape into another world but to also hone my own style as a writer. I submerged myself into Netflix, especially DareDevil, Jessica Jones, The Flash, Arrow, and Peyton’s favorite The Walking Dead. When I spend my time hoping Pike Logan will save the world, or will Quinn Colson keep law and order in Tibbehah County, or who Negan was beating up during the season finale, I don’t delve into the pain.

I made the mistake of letting my grief get away from me the first time. I don’t plan on allowing that to happen again. My heart and my liver can’t handle it to begin with. If I take care of myself physically, it actually helps with the mental aspect of recovery. Yes, there are times I spend too much time reading or watching TV, but the alternative is worse. I still grieve on a daily basis. Not all days are good, and not all days are bad. On the bad days, I try to find a constructive way to take away the pain. I read, write, or watch. It’s not perfect, but I know by now that whiskey and milkshakes don’t dull the pain.


‘Whiskey and Milkshakes Don’t Dull the Pain’ was originally written for Peyton’s Heart. David writes over there regularly about suicide, the impacts of it, and how we can better respond as a society. Check out his site for more. 

3 Responses

  1. Rebecca Huff

    Beautifully written. I can relate. After my son’s sucide I found myself drinking more as well as my other adult children. I am a recovering alcoholic /drug addict. It has been a year the first of June. I came out of my fog a month ago and feel like I am getting back on track. With help and sites like these I am dealing better. I know the pain never goes away. I still have many more issues to deal with but at least I am sober and dealing with a clearer head. And can also help my other children. Thank you for sharing. Prayers for you and your family. ♡

  2. Vicki Nimmo

    I put away a lot of bourbon this winter after my husband’s suicide in October. I now only drink it on occasion. I understand that feeling all too well.

  3. Julie Harris

    You are in my heart and prayers.