Breaking The Bottle: Finding Belief In My Self

IMG_0487I’m beginning to think that there really aren’t enough hours in the day. At least, not enough hours to do what I want to do.

Perhaps, if I procrastinated less, that I might find more time.

Interesting thought.

Will have to pursue it later.

I’ve been trying to write more regularly, which is good. Writing is like any other habit: it has to be done repeatedly and regularly in order to become a habit.

I’ve tried journaling many times over the years, but, it’s not a practice I’ve been able to turn into a habit. I’ll stick with it for awhile, but, writing over and over on the same theme (“Well, I should write something, fill up the page, but I don’t know what to say.”) gets old. I have had more luck with making notes in a notebook — writing down quotes I hear, thoughts that pop into my head, various beginnings to pieces I want to write; I’ll write a sentence here, a paragraph there, rather than trying to force myself to write 3-5 pages in a journal everyday. Journaling brings out the rebellious streak in me: “Ha! Here’s one page, that’s all you’re getting from me!” Notes are better. There’s no forced time, no forced length. I get the thoughts out of my brain as they happen, rather than trying to remember something until I’m able to write it down. And, I can flip through my notebooks — yes, this is why they are called notebooks! — when I need inspiration for something to write about.

I’m finding it easier to write without listening to that inner-critic voice. It’s tough sometimes, because it’s always there, wanting to correct what’s just been written, or saying “yeah, right, who’s going to want to read this?” But, I’m discovering that it’s easier to ignore it than it used to be. (Though, to be perfectly honest, this may have to do with the anxiety medication, since the critic voice is often the anxious part of you, worrying about if you and your writing (or whatever art) are good enough. The anxiety medication seems to have silenced that Critical Voice. However, I don’t recommend them as an option to writer’s block. Mental health medications have enough other side-effects that one good side-effect doesn’t make it a wonder drug.)

My problem is that I want it to be perfect the first time through. Which I’ve always thought was interesting, because I’m not a total perfectionist. It’s a selective thing. I think there’s a fine line between perfectionism and being anal. I’m too sloppy to be anal. I think the perfectionist thing relates to things I’ll be accountable for. Like work. I want everything to be done perfectly as I do it. Same with writing. It’s got to be perfect as soon as it hits the page. But, it’s selective enough to not worry about the clutter on my desk, or the fact that I don’t alphabetize my spice rack.

When I was in school, all my papers were thought about ahead of time, and usually written the day before they were due. The thoughts and ideas had been floating around in my head for days, and when I finally sat down to write, I knew what I wanted to say. I wrote it from beginning to end, proof-read it for spelling and grammar (just in case), and that was it. I never, ever rewrote a paper. Rarely would I change anything about it other than spelling or punctuation. And, I got A’s on every paper I wrote in college. It’s the writing from the heart and soul that’s tough, the creative, or the thoughtful seem to require a ton of effort for each and every word that makes it to the page. It’s like each word weighs some incredible amount, and your mind struggles and pushes and pulls to get it out through your fingers and onto the paper. I’m not sure writing is ever effortless, but, I like to think that it can get a little easier with practice.

The best part of writing though is filling up a page. Regardless of whether it is good or not, there is an almost Olympic Medal Winning thrill every time I fill up another page with writing. It’s the victory over the blank page. Sometimes that empty piece of paper just sits there and stares at me, challenging me, daring me to fill it up with words. With each and every page I manage to fill up and turn, I feel as if I’m throwing my head back and maniacally laughing at it “Ha Ha! You thought you could defeat me and stay blank. Well… I showed you who’s the daddy, didn’t I?!?!” It’s a wonderful moment each time, then it’s followed by a heady crash to the ground as the next page is then empty, issuing forth the same challenge to be filled. I really do understand why so many writers become depressed, suicidal alcoholics.

scotchsplashWhen I was drinking, I wrote, and when the writing was good, I felt that it was because the alcohol relaxed me, made my mind more open and creative. When I quit drinking, I stopped writing — I chose to stop drinking, I didn’t choose to stop writing: the words just stopped coming. I began to fear that if I was sober, I’d have to give up my dream of being a writer, because I couldn’t write without drinking. I didn’t want to go back to drinking.

After the first week of sobriety, I began to think of things to write about, and I found that I could write for a few minutes at a time. It was a reassuring feeling. After a month or so, I was able to write a few pages. As I dried out, my brain started feeling clearer than it had in a long time. The creative part of my brain, at least. The depression didn’t go away, and, the sobriety made the anxieties resurface — those parts of my brain didn’t feel better. But, creatively, my thoughts feel much more energetic than they have in years. It’s why I started focusing on a blog for my photography, why I started a poetry blog, why I make myself try to post something on each blog every day. That’s why I have been making an effort to write more. The posts may not be the most interesting thing ever, but, it reassures me, it lets me know that I don’t need a drink to write, or to take a photograph. And, getting the instant feedback a blog provides, having people click a button saying they like the post, or writing a note to say they liked it, gives me even more reassurance that drinking is not the key to creativity. (Almost the opposite, really — in the six months I’ve been sober, I’ve made more blog posts than I did in the last six months of drinking — so, that illusion of being a writing genius is just that: an illusion.)

I’ve wanted to be a writer for many, many, many years. I have finally come to the realization that unless I physically put words onto paper, whether it’s typing them, or handwriting them, they aren’t going to show up. If I were a self-help guru, I’d say something like, “For the words to show up on the page, you have to show up at the page.”  But, I’m not a self-help guru.  I’m just a guy, who loves — and struggles — to write.

I learned long ago that reading about writing is not that helpful, because all you really learn is that there is no right or wrong way to write (and I use ‘write’ in the action sense, not in the grammar, style sense). Every writer has a way that works for them. Some outline plots, some use note cards, some use legal pads, some use notebooks, some use pencil, others have an expensive pen — it almost becomes superstitious, like having a lucky bowling shirt, or playing the same lottery numbers over and over; using a Cross pen, filled with blue ink, and a yellow, lined, legal pad becomes your mantra, and the belief becomes “I cannot write with black ink on white paper.” Writing, or any other art really, is about belief in yourself — and, if it takes a yellow legal pad to do so, well, so be it. Holding onto a belief that you need a yellow pad to write is a much better belief than thinking you need a couple glasses of Scotch in order to write.

After years of trying to decide between loose-leaf paper, a three-ring binder, and blue pens; or spiral notebooks and pencils; or WordPerfect or Word; my laptop or my iMac, I’ve decided that what I need to choose is belief in myself. Not in the paper, or the pencil. Not in college or wide ruled paper.

Belief in myself. Believe in My Self.

I love watching words appear on the page, and now I am at a place where I am beginning to make writing a habit, where I know and believe that the words are not going to magically appear one night while I am sleeping. It takes action — from me, to get the words on paper.

Strangely, blogging has been the key. When I started a blog, back when Live Journal was the place to be (in 2004) I had no idea what I was doing. Mostly I wrote crap. Whined about work. Made fun of Anna Nicole and George W. Bush. My audience was two or three people I worked with.

I didn’t blog regularly — I’d have periods where I’d post daily, then other periods of long silence. I moved to Google’s Blogger for awhile. Finally, I migrated over here, to WordPress. (Ok — confession: it was because WP had better blog templates, and I didn’t have to mess with any kind of coding — ease of use has always been a selling point for me.)

Little by little, year after year, I began to realize that there were people out there who would read the things I wrote — especially the things that were less whiny about work, and more thoughtful and meaningful. The first time a stranger leaves you a comment, telling you that what you wrote inspired them, or touched them, the belief you feel in yourself is multiplied by a hundred, a thousand. For me, I felt as if I’d won a Pulitzer Prize.

Somewhere along the way, the alcohol began to get in the way. I could still write some things that were thoughtful and meaningful — just not often. I couldn’t find the ideas in the sea of Scotch and Whiskey that filled my head. I couldn’t find the ideas.  I couldn’t find the emotion.  I know some people become highly emotional when they drink — they become your best friend, they cry about how wonderful you are.  Not me.  I’m more stoic and silent.  At least, when drinking alone, at home.  So there was less and less writing of anything that had more than just a hint of emotion.

Sobriety is an education in seeing your world in a new way.

My demons are still here, still wailing and screeching, but, they did that even when I drank — the drink didn’t really silence them, it just made me not care what they had to say. Sobriety is teaching me that I can listen to what the demons are saying, and that I can silence them by writing about them; that my photography can silence them by letting them see the beauty that’s around me; that teaching myself about poetry, and learning to write poems helps me express my thoughts in even more ways, silencing the voices even further.

I’ve learned that giving something a voice — whether it’s through words or photos, gets it out of my mind. The whispers of the demons don’t like the light of day, and writing about them, for all the world to see, takes away much of their power, because the whispers then reside on the page, not in my head.

Being sober, letting my creative voice speak, has given me strength, after many years of feeling useless, worthless, and pretty much not good for anything. At the risk of sounding sentimentally cheesy, I want to thank each of you that’s clicked “like” on one of my photo posts, or who has written a comment on one of my long-winded posts — each like, each comment has helped me find a little more belief in My Self.

Breaking The Bottle: Part Cinque

I had planned on writing and publishing this post yesterday, the 14th, because, when one counts time by the week, yesterday was an anniversary of sorts.  A 13-week anniversary.

But, here in the Denver area, it was a chilly, gloomy day, with snow flurries happening on and off all throughout the afternoon.  It was one of those days where one feels like they should do something, but, ultimiately one succumbs to the gloomy, chilliness of the day, and one does not do something after all.  Or, more honestly, one does things of little consequence: listen to music, make the rounds of one’s favorite websites, eat.

So, the post didn’t get written.

If one counts time, in the more typical way, by going by the same day of each month, as in the 15th of each month, today is the anniversary day, the 3-month anniversary.  Granted, we think of months as 4 weeks, so it makes it seem as if I’m celebrating a 12-week, rather than a 13-week anniversary, but, time is a strange thing, and, in the grand scheme of things, the difference of a week isn’t a big deal.

Before continuing, it should be noted that the coincidence that I wrote the First Part of this series of posts a year ago today is just that: a coincidence.  As I was looking back over the previous four parts of this series of posts, I noticed that the first one was published February 15, 2012.  If you know anything about me, you’ll understand that I’m not organized enough to plan a year in advance.  It’s simply a coincidence, one that I’m actually happy happend.

On February 15 last year, I wrote a post that began like this:

I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised that I’ve ended up being an alcoholic.
johnnie-walker-old-scotch-whiskyI’ve been addicted to lots of other things in the past: sex, when I was in my teens and twenties; gambling, when I was in my twenties and thirties.  So, why not alcohol in my forties?  It’s not as cheap as the sex addiction, but, much cheaper than the whole gambling thing.

I haven’t mentioned this alcoholic thing before, you say?

True.

Maybe this is my A.A. meeting, then.

Hello.  My name is John.  I’m an alcoholic.

Now we’re up to speed.

I talked about how saying I was an alcoholic made me immediately feel the need to clarify that I wasn’t that kind of alcoholic, the person who drinks throughout the day, who’s main source of caloric fuel is alcohol, and the carbohydrate from the grain.  For months before, I’d struggled with the idea that since I wasn’t a hardcore alcoholic, then I wasn’t really an alcoholic, which meant that I didn’t have a problem.

Of course, I did have a problem.  Trying to justify the fact that I wasn’t like Those Kinds of alcoholics meant I had a problem.  The fact that I drank most every night meant I had a problem.  The fact that having an empty bottle of alcohol filled me with such anxiety until I made it to the liquor store to get a new, full bottle to have in the cupboard meant that I had a problem. The fact that I didn’t really sleep at night, that I was more passed out than sleeping, meant that I had a problem.

It didn’t mean much to me at first, when it was wine: a half bottle one night, the other half the next, because keeping an open bottle of wine longer than that leads to bad tasting wine.  (Besides, wine is healthy for your heart, right?) Then it became the whole bottle, because, as everyone knows, wine is best in the first few hours of the bottle opening.  So, I didn’t have a problem.  I was just a thoughtful wine snob.

This, of course, becomes expensive, especially when you’re buying $15-$20 bottles of wine.  So, there had to be an alternative that would be just as enjoyable, and not as expensive. I didn’t have a problem with drinking, I just had to watch my budget.

Frugality does not a drinking problem make. That’s what I told myself.

So, it was gin at first.  Gin and Tonic.  G&T.  One of life’s truly wonderful creations, especially when it’s made with a good gin, Bombay Sapphire, for instance.  But, ultimately, this turned out to not be much cheaper, as one drinks more, and one has to buy not only the gin, but the tonic as well.  It’s also a hassle, trying to make sure one always has enough tonic to get one through the evening.  Tonic, like wine, goes flat quickly, so, in order to drink it while it’s fresh, one must consume the bottle quickly, which means adding more gin.  I didn’t want the tonic to go to waste.

I was thoughtful about waste; I didn’t have a problem.

Eventually, my journey led me to Bourbon, which is cheap, then Whiskey, then Scotch.  The benefit of Scotch is that one doesn’t need a mixer.  One can just add some cold water from the filtered water container in the fridge, or, one can simply drink it As Is.  As my need for the drink became more and more intense, my denial of the problem became just as intense.  I can’t have a problem, I’d say to myself, since I don’t drink the entire 1.5 liter bottle every day, like Those Alcoholics you see on Intervention.  I’m only drinking 1/3 to 1/2 the bottle every day.  So, I’m fine. I’m not one of them.

But, I was.scotchsplash

I had a problem.

I was an alcoholic.

Finally, I made the plan to quit:  it was my New Year’s Resolution for 2012–to quit.

In my first post, I talk about how I tried quitting, starting New Year’s Day 2012, but, didn’t make it more than a few days.

I wrote three more posts over the course of the next two months, about why I drank, and how the alcohol controlled me.

Then I was silent on the subject for the rest of the year.  It seemed pointless to me to keep talking about something I was wanting to do.  It seemed to be a better idea to quit, than to just keep talking about wanting to quit.

I made a few half-hearted attempts during the summer, but, I kept silent on those too, as it felt like I was a failure, and I didn’t want to sound like I was whining.  As a result of my failed attempts, I drank more, to minimize the pain I felt about not being able to quit.  There were a few nights where I did become one of Those Alcoholics I was so sure I wasn’t, but, when one does consume the entire large bottle of Scotch in one evening, well, it’s tough to hold yourself aloof.

I am pleased to inform you that for the second time in my life, I kept a New Year’s Resolution (the first was in 2004, when I quit a twenty-year smoking habit).

November 15, 2012, I had my first day of sobriety.  I haven’t had a drink since.

Thirteen weeks and one day, or two months, depending on how one counts.

It wasn’t easy.  The first day was ok. I’d had a few days here and there, for whatever reason, where I hadn’t had a drink, so I knew the first day would be easy.  Days two, three, and four were the worst.  I felt as if I had a bad case of the flu, though I had no temperature.  I alternated between hot flashes, and chills.  I slept sporadically, ate voraciously. For about six or seven days, my insides trembled, sometimes so intensely that it made me ache.

Making it through the first week was the most difficult.  Each day it gets a little easier, though, the craving is still there, much the same way I still have a craving for a cigarette, even after nine years.

Just one drink, I say, I can handle one.

But, I don’t try.

I can’t claim full credit for doing this on my own.  Julian gave me love and strength every day.  On the third or fourth day, when I was feeling physically bad, I asked him to tell me again why I was quitting.  He said “Because you love yourself, and you love me.”  And those words have been more than enough to get me this far, and, I believe their power has the strength to keep me sober, today, tomorrow, and for each day after.

The last few weeks I’ve also had a bit of medicinal help: clonazepam; it’s an anti-anxiety medication.  (Interestingly, when I mentioned at the beginning of the year that I was having to wear a heart-monitor for two days because of a variety of symptoms, which I thought were related to my heart, the symptoms have disappeared.  It was anxiety.  Panic attacks. Some of it is of course my own panicky anxieties, that go with my depression; some, according to my doctor, is probably related to alcohol withdrawal)

I am finally beginning to feel physically, and mentally, better; feel more like myself.

I’ve had several friends and older relatives who were recovering alcoholics, and, I know from them that my drinking problem is not over.  I’ll always have that.  What I have now is a drinking problem that is under control.

I can live with that.

(If you wish to read this series, the parts can be found here: Part The First, Part Deux, Part Trois, Part Cuatro.  No, it’s not a drunken mistake that the parts are numbered in different languages.  I just feel that we always count things in order in our own language, and I wanted to be different; because I am different, and count things in order, in a variety of languages seems different enough to suit me.)

Breaking The Bottle: Part Cuatro

It is an easy thing to do, spending time in thought. Spending time observing those thoughts is not quite so easy. Not sure what I mean? Try this: try to think two thoughts at the same time.

If you try hard enough, you can do it, though there seems to be a more active thought, carried on in that part of your brain where most thoughts reside, and, the second thought is more passive, more of an awareness of the first thought, it’s independent of the first thought, but it responds and reacts to the first thought. It resides it that back part of your mind, where thoughts lurk and swirl around without much form, though, every now and then, one forms and moves out into the stream of the main area of thought, that area that I call The Voice.

The Voice is that constant stream of images, thoughts, words and sentences that then become the chatter in my head. The Voice is what I use when I talk to myself, when I reflect, when I daydream. The Voice is me, though it doesn’t always sound like me — sometimes it sounds sillier, dumber, more foolish; other times it sounds more wise and mature than I am. The Voice is that place where I think the thoughts I should, and, it’s a place that sometimes embarrasses and frightens me with thoughts that seem almost as if they came from someone else. The Voice is what tells me what is right, what is wrong; it’s the voice that shouts with moral indignation when I do something wrong, and it tempts me to stop doing what’s right — the proverbial Angel and Devil on my shoulders.

The Observer is that other area in my head, the part where a thought may echo around in the Nothingness that is there, yet, it’s not really an area of Nothing, for it supports words, images, fleeting thoughts — things can live there a long time before they coalesce into something tangible and move out into the area of The Voice to be given a voice. The Observer is the place I associate with my writing. It’s the place where ideas are born from all the random thoughts that are hiding in the shadows. The Observer captures words, images, thoughts that The Voice is having, and takes a snapshot of the things that spark its interest, keeping the images safe, until they meet another image, another thought, another idea, and emerge as something new for The Voice to talk about. The Observer is also that place where we send things to be filed away, to wait until called for.

The Observer is the part of my brain that I’ve been relying on a lot over the past few weeks. I’ve been using The Observer to take notes about the thoughts it overhears while I’m drinking. It seems to me that I need to understand my thought process when it comes to deciding to have another drink, and, more importantly, I need to understand why I chose to start drinking more than was good for me.

I’m still trying to figure my thoughts out, though I’m not obsessing about them (quite frankly, I’m probably not obsessing about it simply because it’s tough to obsess when one is on Prozac). I am not sure I’ve found a reason, or reasons, why I’ve let alcohol become such a force in my life, though I’m beginning to discern some things that make sense. I have, however, discovered just how deceitful Alcohol’s Voice can be.

Alcohol’s Voice wasn’t always there, but, as my choices included more and more alcohol, Al’s Voice unpacked its belongings and moved into a corner of my brain. There, Al discovered the Lost Voices, the Voices Of Addictions Past: The Voice Of Endless Indiscriminate Sex, The Voice Of Tobacco, The Voice Of Gambling — voices that had been triumphed over, but still held power in their knowledge of the patterns of my brain. Al’s Voice learned quickly how to speak The Language of John.

Al burrowed deep into my mind and discovered the easiest weakness to exploit: my ability to rationalize and justify most anything. While most of us can justify our way to doing something, I have turned this ability into an art, often to my detriment. Take, for example, the time I ran away. I was in my late-20s, and unhappy with the relationship I was in, and, more importantly, I was unhappy with myself. Running away to Start Over, to make a Fresh Start, seemed the most rational thing I could do. So, I loaded up my little Honda, taking only those things that were most important: clothes, treasured books, all my music CDs. But, since I was making a new beginning, this could mean a period of time without much money, so, it took very little justification to get me to spend a thousand dollars on more books and CDs to take, to keep me going until I was On My Feet. It made sense then, and, if I’m honest, it still makes sense now, the shopping spree, not the running away. Al found this weakness, and, slowly began his work.

(to be continued…)

Breaking The Bottle: Part Trois

(Part The First, Part Deux)

My name is John. I’m an alcoholic.

So begins this Meeting for one.

I’ve made progress on my journey towards quitting, though, it’s not been as successful as I’d hoped to be by this point. I had cut down, and was at the point where I was able to make a full-sized, 1.75 liter bottle of scotch last for a week, rather then 3-4 days.

Then I took a bit of a backwards slide. I was back at the 4-day point.

I’ve learned a few things, that should help me as I go forward. I learned that I don’t always react to things right away — it seems as though I’ve got a delayed reaction time for dealing with things.

I’d committed to stop drinking, to cut down gradually over a period of several weeks before stopping cold turkey. The first two weeks went very well, even though mom was in the hospital for four days. The next two weeks went well.

There was a night, about three weeks after mom’s hospital visit, when I started drinking more. It was as if all the tension, all the fear, all the frustration, all the myriad of emotions that I didn’t take the time to experience while mom was in the hospital suddenly, unexpectedly, broke through the carefully constructed wall in my head, roared through my heart and mind, sucking me down into the swirling black hole in the center of the emotional whirlpool. It seemed that the only way to calm the surging waves was with another drink.

Then another.

Then another.

That helped. The thoughts are less panicked, more coherent, but, still not making too much sense.

Another drink.

Things are coming together, but, they’re things I don’t really want to think about.

Another drink.

Feeling better. The serious thoughts are drifting away. The panic is gone. The emotions have lost their hold.

Another drink.

Thoughts are scattered, which is the desired result.

Stream something on Netflix, and fall asleep.

I think that this was really the first time I’d paid attention to my thoughts while I was drinking, since, it seems, that the purpose of drinking alone, late at night, is to get away from thoughts, not to try and follow them. This was both good and bad: good in that I saw how important my thoughts were when it came to the power they had in my choice to drink; this was also a bad thing, because as someone who is naturally curious about most things, and who has a need to understand things on more than a superficial level, this gave me permission to indulge in some extra drinking for a few more days, an experiment if you will. (I prefer to think of it as an experiment, rather than an excuse to drink more — though, even though I think of it as experimentation, I’m well aware of the fact that it was more of an excuse.)

Over the next few nights, I started paying attention to the thoughts I was having while drinking. It was rather educational. I don’t think I knew that I could come up with so many petty, silly reasons to justify having another drink:

  • The show still has 45 minutes left.
  • I’m not feeling all that tired yet (even though I really am tired…I’m just not that tired.)
  • There’s not much left in the bottle anyway.
  • Well, I’ve already had more than I should, so it’s too late to stop now.
  • Who’s going to know?

Lame, huh?

I also learned that how I fix the drink makes a difference — if I’m enjoying them too much, I drink too much. My drink of choice is Scotch or Irish Whiskey. The best way is to drink them “neat,” (plain liquor, nothing added), and, my next favorite way is to fill up the glass with lots of ice, then with the liquor, that way it’s cold, it’s watered down, which I allow myself to think that watered-down drinks mean I can drink more, plus, it has the added benefit of having ice cubes, and I’m a big fan of chewing ice cubes. Really, it’s the perfect beverage for me — alcohol and ice. Heaven. Having a drink, with two shots of liquor, then filling it with filtered water from the fridge makes the drink slightly cold, and, as I fill the glass to the rim with water (it’s a good sized glass), it makes the scotch taste watered down, and isn’t as enjoyable. This helps, as I don’t find as much pleasure in the taste, so it’s easier to stop when I hit the limit I’ve set. I’ve given up the Irish Whiskey, because I’ve realized that Irish Whiskey has too much magic, and it’s a spell that I can’t break when I try to limit myself. The magic is too strong, and it pulls me along until I’ve nearly reached the point of passing out. Give me a bottle of Tullamore Dew, or Bushmills, or Jameson, and I’ll consume it like a kid drinks Kool-Aid. So, I’ve sworn off that. Easier to break the habit with something that has less hold over me.

As I finish this week, I can happily say that I’m back on track. I’d decided that St Patrick’s Day seemed like a good day to have one last day where I didn’t count drinks. Since Sunday, 18 March, I have stuck to the limit I set myself, a limit that is less than what I drink when I’m not counting. My goal for next week is to stick to the same limit I had this past week, and, when the week is done, cut down again.

The tally for the past week: 3 drinks, 2 shots each.

The goal for this week: 3 drinks, 2 shots each.

I’ll check in next Sunday with an update.

Breaking The Bottle: Part Deux

(Part The First can be read here)

My name is John. I’m an alcoholic.

Saying it for the second time isn’t as awkward.

Though, there’s still the voice in my head that shouts at me to add the caveat: “but, I’m not that kind of alcoholic!” The voice says to explain that I’m not the kind of alcoholic that drinks from morning until passing out at the end of the day. Why I have this need to differentiate myself from this Other Kind of alcoholic, I don’t know. Or, maybe I do know. By trying to remain Different, by saying I’m Not As Bad As Some, by trying to qualify it, I’m doing nothing more than trying to deny the problem, or, at least, minimize it’s importance. I suppose there’s also a bit of vanity involved, that, somehow, being a certain type of alcoholic is okay, and being another kind of alcoholic is not okay. My body betrays me though. In making me feel so bad after three days of not drinking, in making my body ache, by making my head hurt, by telling my body to feel like it had been beaten and thrown around, my body was telling me “John. You have a problem. You’re an alcoholic.”  So, I have no choice.  I have to listen to what the body tells me.

I had thought of going to some sort of alcoholic support group (A.A., Al-Anon, etc.), as I assumed that it was the only way to quit. Some say you can’t quit without A.A., while others have found other ways to quit and regain control of their drinking.

I can’t bring myself to go to a support group.

Not out of shame.

Not out of embarrassment.

Simply: I’m not a group person. I do better on my own.

When I found out, back in 1989, that I was HIV+, I went to a support group. At the time, it seemed the thing to do, since, at that time, the only treatment readily available was AZT, and no one knew for sure how well it would work, or even if it would work for long. In 1989, finding out that you had the virus that caused AIDS was not much different from being handed a death sentence. In 1989, if you were infected, you were either newly diagnosed, sick, or dead. Long-term survivors were unheard of. So, yeah, a support group seemed to be the thing to do. In 1989, being a gay man with HIV made you an outcast, made people say and do cruel things to you. So, yeah, a support group seemed like a good idea. Being in a group of people who were having similar thoughts and feelings, was, for a time, helpful. Once the initial shock wore off, once I was able to stabilize the ground under my feet, the usefulness of the group became less and less obvious to me. I began to be frustrated that people weren’t getting on with their lives, that they became more and more dependent on the group, rather than less dependent. I finally realized that we all process things differently, whether it be how we process logic, or how we process grief and trauma, we all do it in different ways. For some, the group is a temporary haven, while others make it their life. Some of the people who I met when I first went to the group were still going three and four years later. The group helped when I needed it. I was able to leave when I was ok.

For dealing with my drinking, a support group doesn’t seem to be the answer for me. I don’t feel the need to be around others who can relate to the struggle, I don’t feel that I need to feel like I’m not alone. I’ve known more than my fair share of alcoholics (recovering, and otherwise), and, though I’ve never really talked with any of them about their drinking, it’s given me the knowledge that there are others out there who can understand the craving for a drink. I’ve read plenty over the past few months about alcohol and treatment, and there seems to be no shortage of opinions on how to go about it. I’ve gotten more from reading about it than I could get in several months of meetings.

Amazing thing, this here internet thingy. You can read about anything, you can read lots of various thoughts and ideas about any subject, you can read blogs about other people’s experiences, and, you can put your own experience out there for others to read. Perhaps, in 1989, if the internet had been around, I might not have gone to the HIV support group.

It’s worth repeating: I’m not a group person. When I was in school, I hated working in groups — I don’t interact well with groups of people I don’t know well. In my workaday life, I try to avoid groups at all cost. In times of crisis, I don’t feel the need to be surrounded by groups of people offering reams of advice and platitudes. So, the idea of going to a group for this problem doesn’t fit with who I am.

I’ll be honest and admit that there’s a sense of embarrassment about going to an alcoholic’s support group. Standing before a group of strangers, admitting your problem, and telling your tale — easy to see how that can be embarassing. There’s another kind of embarrassment too: a sense of not being alcoholic enough, of seeming to be some wimp, with a small problem that he can’t take care of himself, and is infringing on our time, infringing on those of us with a bigger problem. Yes, yes, irrational, I know. But, there it is, again, that sense of trying to convince myself that I’m a Good alcoholic, not a Bad one. It really bugs me, this elitist snobbery of mine. I need to get over it. Alcoholics can have a few drinks every day, or they can drink a bottle or two a day; in the end, an alcoholic is an alcoholic. What I’m learning is that it’s not about how much you drink, it’s about loss of control (can you stop at just one or two? can you just say no?), it’s about a set of symptoms: do you crave it; do you spend a great deal of time thinking about your next drink; do you have an increased tolerance, needing more to attain the same effect; can you stop drinking for a few days without withdrawal symptoms; are you drinking alone, to avoid suspicion; blackouts; hiding your alcohol; failed promises to quit or cut down; always able to find an excuse to drink (stress, a bad day, an argument, etc.).

I hear you thinking, wondering which symptoms I have. I’ll make it easy for you. I’ll share my secrets: I don’t know that I’d go as far as saying I crave it, but I do want it.

I don’t think about my next drink when I’m not drinking. While I’m drinking one drink, there are times when I’ve started thinking about the next one.

I do have an increased tolerence — there was a time when two glasses of wine was enough to make me feel that I was almost too drunk, and now, I can drink a dozen shots of scotch before I feel too drunk.

I’ve mentioned that I felt withdrawal symptoms.

I drink alone, at night, after everyone has gone to bed. Not to hide it. I’ve not kept the fact I drink a secret, though, I guess I did keep the amount of drink a secret from Julian for awhile. No, I drink when I’m alone, at night, because I enjoy the silence and solitude. I never drink at home during the day.

I don’t hide my alcohol often. Three or four times, when I got carried away, and didn’t want Julian to see how much I drank.

I can always, always find an excuse. We’d be here all day if I listed all the excuses I can come up with.

I’ve broken many promises to cut-down and quit.

I return, then, to the beginning: I’m an alcoholic, and I choose to wrestle my own deamons, and quit drinking on my own.

The book “A Million Little Pieces” by James Fry is called to mind.

Yes, there was a big bruhaha (damn, I love that word!) when Oprah got all bent out of shape at the guy when it turned out that his book wasn’t 100% true. Yes, I agree that the book should have contained some sort of notice that the book mingled fact and fiction. Fine. Oprah forgave him. So should you.

If you’ve not read “Million,” I strongly recommend that you rush right out and buy a copy (or, if you’re living in the 21st century, turn on your Kindle or Nook, and get it now. The book is over-the-top, it’s raw, it’s brutal, it’s unsympathetic, and it’s got to be one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read.

The One Minute Synopsis:

Addict almost dies, goes to rehab, finds the traditional methods unhelpful, and finds his own cure, within the words of the Tao De Ching.

The reason I find this work so compelling, besides the brilliance of the writing, and the sheer rawness of the story, is the fact that Fry refuses to be the victim, refuses to blame anyone but himself for his addiction. No, he doesn’t blame himself in some weird self-flagellating way, rather, he contends that even with the opportunities to blame others for his plight (his parents, his friends, life), he chooses instead to accept the responsibility for his choices. There were many reasons along the path of his life that he could blame, but, he chooses to say “I made the choice. I could have said ‘no’, others did, but, I chose to say yes to do drugs.” And, to me, that’s a powerful message.

A bit of a rant:

If you look at the reviews on Amazon, and do a bit of rounding up, you’ll notice that it’s almost a 2:1 ratio of people who give the book 4/5 stars, compared to the people who give it 1/2 stars. If you read the 1/2 star ratings, you’ll notice that many people lose sight of the point of the book and trash the book because of the fictional aspect that wasn’t disclosed (which, by the way, has been rectified: the book contains a disclaimer from both publisher and author). Google it, and you’ll find all kinds of commentary, both positive and negative. It seems to me that a good deal of the negative commentary is that the book was passed off as non-fiction, and that he fooled Oprah.

Don’t. Mess. With. Oprah.

There are critics of the writing, and the story, but, that’s true of any book. I doubt there’s a classic, beloved best-seller out there that doesn’t have it’s share of criticism. What I find most interesting about many of the criticisms is that Fry disdains the traditional addiction cures (A.A., Hazelden), and finds comfort in the Tao De Ching, a work written in the 6th Century BC, and is a fundamental Philosophy in Taoism. Many critics scoff at the idea of over-coming your addictions without the traditional methods, without God, without realizing your victimhood. Which, perhaps, is why it all appeals to me. I’m not fond of religion, and I am disgusted with the Victim Mentality. There are times when someone is a victim: rape, for example. But, this need to blame someone other than ourselves for every single thing that’s wrong with us, and everything that’s wrong in our lives, is just anathema to me. I’ve listened to people talk, read what they’ve written, watched their comments on Facebook and Twitter, where they portray themselves as victims of someone else’s machinations, and I’m appalled. I want to shout “Dammit! Stand up! Accept the fact that it’s you who made the choice, that it’s you who screwed up! Stop trying to blame everyone else for all of your problems and choices. There are times where it may not seem like it, but, we do have a say in all of the choices we make.” This is exactly how I feel when it comes to my drinking. I made the choice to start, especially knowing that I have an addictive personality.

I made the choice to drink. I make the choice to quit. I just have to find the way to keep on track, and, I think that publicly keeping track of my progress is a first step. I can tell my story in public, as one would do in a group, but, without the need to look people in the eye while I’m telling it.

And, I can make this a progress report of sorts: a tally, if you will, of the reduction in my drinking. Keeping track of it in my head allows me to fob off the voice that says I’ve had my share for the day; it lets me cheat. Setting it all down seems more practical, more realistic (yes, I know I can cheat, and write I’ve had 3 drinks when I’ve really had 5. But, I’ll try to be vigilant.

Lastly, and most importantly, I process thoughts better when I am writing them down. My writing may not be the best, but, in my brain at lest, I find that focusing on the thought and process of writing, my thoughts become clearer and more logical, and, I am often surprised by the answers I find within myself, sometimes unbidden, as the words and sentences of my writing flow onto the page. I think this is important for me, because I need to understand why I drink, and to understand the thoughts I have when I’m convincing myself to go have another. To quote the Tao De Ching: “Knowing others is wisdom; knowing the self is enlightenment.”

It’s time I got to know my Self.

Stay tuned for more…..

Breaking The Bottle (Part: The First)

I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised that I’ve ended up being an alcoholic.  I’ve been addicted to lots of other things in the past: sex, when I was in my teens and twenties; gambling, when I was in my twenties and thirties.  So, why not alcohol in my forties?  It’s not as cheap as the sex addition, but, much cheaper than the whole gambling thing.

I haven’t mentioned this alcoholic thing before, you say?

True.

Maybe this is my A.A. meeting, then.

Hello.  My name is John.  I’m an alcoholic.

Now we’re up to speed.

When I say that I am an alcoholic, I am immediately filled with a need to explain that I’m not a hardcore alcoholic, more of a Cinemax, soft-porn type of alcoholic: there are enough glimpses of what’s going on to get the idea without all the messy bits being on display.  It’s this burning need to qualify the statement “I am an alcoholic” that’s kept me from really admitting that there was a problem.  It seemed that if I could say that I wasn’t as big a drinker as other people I’ve known, who say they aren’t alcoholics, then, that would mean that I didn’t have a problem.

Here’s an example, a story of a lady I knew, a woman I’ll call Pam:

Pam likes to brag how she eats a healthy breakfast every morning, because she gets lots of vitamins.  For breakfast she drinks a very large glass of orange juice (the glasses she uses are large, iced tea tumblers).  That’s it.  What she doesn’t say is that most of the content of the glass is vodka, with just enough juice added to make it appear to be a glass of juice.  Some mornings, when she’s feeling especially healthy, she’ll have 2 glasses.  Sometimes she’ll have toast.  Not often though.  After breakfast is done, all pretense of drinking something other than vodka is put aside.  Between the end of breakfast, and the start of dinner, the glass is filled with ice, then filled to the rim with vodka.  One glass after another.  Dinner is the only meal she eats, though, she usually picks at the food.  At dinner, she drinks a vodka martini — this is really just the same drink, it’s just named differently.  If you’re out to dinner with Pam, which is most likely, because she doesn’t buy food to keep in the house, she orders her drink this way:  “I’ll have a vodka martini.  No Vermouth. A tall glass of ice on the side.”  The “martini”, when it arrives, is then poured over the ice.  After dinner, it’s back to the tall, iced-tea glasses filled with ice and vodka.  A few nights a week, for a change, Pam will “splurge” on a gin and tonic, though, the amount of tonic poured into the glass full of ice and gin is not even enough to mention.  Usually, by this point in the day, she’s not too coherent.  I remember spending a day with her, seeing how much she drank, and being stunned that she would be coherent until 8 or 9 p.m.  By eleven, Pam would be “asleep.”  Pam’s house was the hub, the meeting place for a select group of people, those who drank at least as much as she did.  More often than not, when one woke up at Pam’s, one would find five or six people “asleep” around the house.  At Pam’s house, if you woke up in the morning, and found that you were on the floor, or, better yet, under the dining room table, this, then, was worn as a badge of honor.  Pam was successful, she owned her own business (she painted houses, inside and out), did a remarkable job, was In Demand because she was good, and completed jobs on time.  By mid-afternoon, Pam would be more than halfway through a bottle of vodka, and she’d be up a ladder, painting window frames, and not get a drop of paint anywhere.

To recap: Pam existed on a small amount of orange juice, maybe some toast, a few bites of whatever was on her plate at dinner, and a bottle or more of vodka a day.  By her own admission, she drank a bit more than she probably should, but, she wasn’t an alcoholic.  And, to me, though I was always fascinated by the amount of liquor she could consume, the fact that she was successful at her job, that she always had jobs lined up months in advance, that people recommended her to their friends, that she drove better than many people on the road.  Well, I had to admit, that my first thoughts of her being an alcoholic were being challenged — surely an alcoholic couldn’t be that functional, right?  I know now that I was wrong. Pam was alcoholic.

Over the years, I’ve known many Pam’s — some who were close family or friends, some were coworkers, some just people met in passing.  But, they were all good at hiding it. They all claimed to not be alcoholic, so, how could I be one, since I don’t drink nearly that much.

That’s the lie I’ve told myself for awhile now.

I’m now willing to let go of the lie, and to share the truth.  I am more than a moderate drinker.  A moderate drinker would make a bottle of Scotch last longer.  (Again, the voice says “Qualify!”  The voice says “Tell them that you don’t go through a bottle of Scotch in a day, that it takes three or four days, usually.  Ok, so there were a couple of times, when I was really stressed, that the bottle only lasted two days.”)  I am more than a moderate drinker.

I’ve reached the place where Alcohol is no longer a lower-case word.

I’ve reached the place where Alcohol is a physical need.

My New Year’s resolution was to quit drinking.  I’ve tried quitting before, but, as soon as I’d made the decision to quit, that mischief-making voice in my head would start giving me all sorts of reasons why I couldn’t: “Wait until the weekend”, or “Wait until after such-and-such happened”, or, “Why quit? You don’t drink that much.” You’d think that having quit smoking, and gambling, that I could find the same resolve to help me quit drinking.  You’d think that since I found that resolve before, that it would be easy to find again.  You’d be wrong.  Maybe some people could tap in and find the resolve right away.  Me, I need to discover it, piece by piece.  I had found the determination and the steel to strengthen the wall in my mind, the wall to block out the mischievous voice.

In the days leading up to New Year’s, the voice was silent.  I became stronger and stronger each day.  New Year’s Day came and went with no sign of the voice, and I made it through the first day of my sobriety.  The second day came and went successfully.

On the third day, I discovered the treacherousness of the mischievous voice.  Oh, cunning demon!  It remained silent in my head, but, it managed to burrow around the wall, and spread its poisonous words to the rest of my body.  The demon voice couldn’t convince me to drink with words, so, instead it convinced my body to react in such ways as to make me drink.

The headache that was there constantly for the second and third day without Alcohol wasn’t bad, and, didn’t cause much concern.  I suffer from migraines, so this steady, constant, mild headache was nothing.

By the end of the second day, I started aching, my joints hurt, my muscles hurt, I felt, and thought, that maybe I was getting the flu.

By the end of the third day, not only did my body ache, not only did my head ache, but, my eyes wouldn’t focus, my heart was racing, I was sweating, and suddenly I had A.D.D., I couldn’t concentrate on anything: I couldn’t read more than a paragraph or two without my mind drifting off, and when I’d realize my mind was elsewhere, I’d have no recollection of what I had been reading, I couldn’t sit still, I was jittery and nervous.  The third night, I tossed and turned, my mind raced, and when I woke on the fourth day, I knew that I couldn’t do this cold turkey, that I couldn’t quit in the same way I quit smoking.

I spent some time Googling, researching Alcoholism, spending time talking with my doctor, and doing a great deal of soul searching.  Seems that alcohol withdrawal can be very serious, and that the DTs, once started, can be quite rough, since there’s not much too do once they’ve started.  The choices, then, were this: stick it out, and hope that the DTs wouldn’t be debilitating, take lots of prescription drugs that could help reduce the symptoms, though each drug has it’s own risk, or, I could enter rehab, or, I just just tough it out.

Here’s the dilemma: when you care for an 88-year old parent who isn’t able to remember things like taking their insulin, or taking their pills, or eating, entering a rehab program is not an option.  Leaving my mother alone for a week isn’t really an option.  And, who wants to take more drugs?

So, this is my attempt to do this on my own.

Stay tuned for more….