I haven’t had a drink for a year today, April 15th, 2017.
Alcohol, that is. Of course I have been drinking fluids in that time. Though, probably not enough water.
I need to drink more water.
I just requested a cup for water with my Chipotle burrito. Sacrilege.
When I made the decision to abstain, I had my doubts as to how long it would last. After all, I had tried this kind of thing before.
From 2010 to 2012, the gradual decay of the love, friendship, and marriage with whom I had considered the most important person in the history of humanity, and a soul mate for life lead to an obscene amount of drinking. It was mostly, if not all therapeutic. I had found a way to escape the constant awareness that the end was approaching, and that there was no reversing course.
In 2013, shortly after the inevitable divorce, I made it my goal to last an entire year without imbibing a drop. Beyond my awareness for how much I was overdoing it, I worried that the extreme life change, loneliness, and confusion about the future would lead me to push it even further. The constant ideas of self-harm were another concern. An unfortunate effort to eliminate my sadness forever, would be very probable with a sufficient blood alcohol concentration.
I sought mental health assistance, but drew the short straw as far as psychologists go. Her form of therapy amounted to just agreeing with everything I had to say, telling me that there really wasn’t anything wrong, and to just go on with life as I have been. I discontinued my visits to this odd, professionally derelict woman within a few weeks. I understood that although my ego considered her my favorite doctor of all time, there was healing to do, and there was little reason to believe that she could provide a successful path to recovery. Looking back, it wouldn’t have mattered which psychologist I was seeing, though. I wasn’t really serious about improving.
In spite of an absence of professional help, and a liquor store being located only one-hundred yards from my apartment, I cruised through six months of sobriety with ease. I would walk past the store en route to my favorite Thai restaurant, not feeling the least bit compelled to even take a peek in their window.
This made me arrogant. “How could I be an alcoholic if I’m not even tempted? Should I really compare myself to real alcoholics? The people who are really struggling; homeless and begging for money to get their next cheap bottle of Phillips or Windsor? No. To do this would be to exaggerate my weakness, and to trivialize their struggle. I understand that I was planning on maintaining an entire year, but I haven’t had a single episode of desperation. Six months are plenty.”
I decided then, without consultation with friends, family, or medical professionals, that the idea of my being an alcoholic was laughable. I had proven to myself in that limited time that I had the ability to drink in moderation.
I wouldn’t be totally reckless or irresponsible though, I had a plan. I would keep track of my activities in a log – number of drinks, the amount of time between them, and on which days I indulged. I would also use a scale of 1 to 10 to rate my level of inebriation, and of craving between occasions.
I remember my first sip after the drought. White Zinfandel in a box from the aforementioned store across my parking lot. The first taste was intense, like a kiss from a former lover – cold and bitter to taste, but welcome and warming inside. Nostalgia in a plastic cup (and I’m well aware of how white-trash it is for me to be drinking box wine from a plastic cup).
It only took one plastic-imitation wine glass full of this bagged substitute for quality drink and I was feeling it. Hard to believe, half a year before I would slam three beers just to get the day started. I felt somewhat disappointed in myself for becoming such a lightweight.
The self-designed prescription plan was short-lived, however (you’re shocked, I’m sure). About one week into carefully recording and analyzing the data, I tossed the notebook in the kitchen drawer and didn’t give it a second thought.
My increase in volume and frequency was far from gradual. The box of wine was soon deplenished, and a trip to the store for a six-pack of beer was made. Then, over the next week, a six pack became a twelve pack, to a twenty-four pack, and on to my precious vodka.
As time passed from 2013 to 2016, I increased my dosage to almost three 1.75 litre bottles a week – this in addition to the beer, the amount of which I can’t even recall. I indulged almost daily, and mostly alone. I didn’t trust others enough to be vulnerable in their presence, and had no confidence that I would be pleasant company.
A slight aberration:
My days off of work in late 2015 were the time to get crazy. I would have four shots down within an hour of waking up. If there was an event or gathering of friends or family after 2 p.m., I knew I would have to cancel, or just skip the event without notice, because I would be too far gone to attend. This was my first red flag that something wasn’t right. “Maybe things are getting a little overboard,” I thought. “No worries, I’ll just have another shot and forget about it.”
I am against all hero-worship in principle, and on the outside I’m very dedicated to preaching this gospel. But like most of those shouting from their soapbox, I am hypocritical to the core. I’ve certainly always had heroes, and still do. I tend to follow their example like some Christians follow Christ, with a blind zeal, hoping they will guide me to eternal happiness. Those whom I hope would deliver me to paradise are creative types who live on the edge, outside of the norm, no fear of death, all while producing profound and moving art in any form. “Stoned. Ripped. Twisted. Good people.”*
Funny thing about looking up to these individuals. It is a lot easier to follow the example of their wild lifestyles than it is to emulate their creative efforts. “I will be great writer, and/or musician, and/or painter, and I will get to it first thing tomorrow. I mean, I’m basically there already, I just haven’t gotten around to displaying my genius. So right now, time to slam some Scotch and observe my heroes accomplishments for ‘inspiration’.”
As I’ve discovered, seeking inspiration can be a convenient excuse for lazy, cowardly inaction if one allows it to be.
In early 2016, I was romantically rejected by somebody I really liked. It came as a total shock to me considering what a sexy, smart, stud I was in my own mind.
I became extremely defensive.
“How could this have happened? I’m great! She must be crazy. All of the signs were there.”
Suddenly came the moment of clarity.
“Who am I, really? Where am I? What am I doing here?” My manufactured reality began cracking at it’s foundation.
I perused my photographs from the past couple of years. My depressed, sullen look became completely obvious. I was also overweight. Holy hell, I was overweight! I dusted off my old scale, and had a look: “215 lbs! No! How haven’t I noticed this before… oh, right.”
Recalling past conversations, I realized that I was very mean, and not only to those who deserved it. (Let me be clear, there were those whom I was mean to that earned it).
If you are reading this on Facebook, there is a chance that I have been unnecessarily hostile in my conversations with you, and I sincerely apologize from the bottom of my heart, into the rest of eternity. On the other hand, if somehow somebody I don’t like is reading this, let me say with totally clarity and sober intention: fuck off, and stop reading my stuff. Thanks, asshole.
Finally, after much reflection, the foundation gave way and my reality came crashing down.
A deep depression kicked in, along with breathtaking embarrassment.
I once again made the decision to eliminate alcohol from my life.
I was planning to conquer this demon on my own. “Why should I get help? I got this. Plus, the last shrink I saw was a joke.” I texted a great friend about the news of my plans, and she vehemently demanded that I seek professional assistance. With some resistance, I finally complied.
This time around was of night and day difference. Both my psychologist, and psychiatrist were serious, knowledgeable professionals with the wealth of information and brutal honesty that I needed to recover. With their help, I was able to identify the genesis of my impulse to pick up a bottle – fear of reality, hatred of boredom, excuse making for pervasive unhappiness, and the inability to let go of past trauma. They encouraged me to take the initiative and find healthy ways to address these factors, and to find a substitution for the previous remedy in the form of productive hobbies and interests.
Simply not drinking was just as easy this time around as it was in 2013. No real cravings and no issues with being around people who were participating. One difference this time was that I understood how this lack of difficulty can make me overconfident. The real task came in finding the courage to actually confront the previously listed challenges in my life, instead of cowering from them by resorting to an opiate.
I felt that the demand for a new interest, and my need to lose weight could be satisfied with regular exercise. My goal as of the last week of April was to get from around 215 lbs, to 170 lbs before the end of summer. With the absence of alcoholic drinks, consistent vigorous activity, and healthier eating, I somehow achieved my goal on the last week of August. It was a hell of a win for me, and a huge confidence booster.
I also began reading more, writing, and even drawing a bit – nothing serious, just sketches and brainstorming. I’m now playing more guitar, and even trying to learn the piano. I am finally committing myself to creating artistically. I have even learned how to be a more focused, witty, and thoughtful asshole to people who deserve it, kinder to those who deserve respect, and how to differentiate between the two.
For those who are thinking about attempting the same, do it! If the thought even crosses your mind, it is time. Actually, it was probably time a while ago, but there’s nothing we can do about that – move forward.
I mentioned my mentality that I wasn’t homeless and begging for booze money, therefore I couldn’t really be an alcoholic. This is bullshit reasoning, of course. If our lives are being negatively affected in any way by drinking, it is time to stop. The catch is that you’re seriously unable to notice how much damage you are doing until you have taken some time away from it… so I actually suggest that everybody take a month out of the year to avoid it all together. This will help you determine your actual position in reality, get your bearings straight, and determine a satisfying path forward.
There’s no such thing as a “high functioning alcoholic.” This is a lie that alcoholics tell others to get them off of their backs, and one we tell ourselves so we can continue poisoning ourselves and destroying our futures. Like any addict, alcoholics are great at manipulating their appearance to convince others that they are some kind of exception to the rule.
Identify and concentrate on addressing what is causing you to abuse yourself with your behavior, not the behavior itself. Addiction is the byproduct of a deeper issue that has to be remedied before any sustainable positive effort can take place.
Beware, it’s fucking boring! So fucking boring. Prepare for it, and get used to it until you find an interest to take its place.
Don’t go it alone, get professional assistance. This does not indicate weakness, it indicates intelligence and superior strategic thinking. It’s not the least bit fair to the people you love to lean on them for any extended period of time, let the professionals take care of that.
Do it for you! Self-improvement for somebody else’s sake always fails. I have no explanation for why this is, and have always thought that it should be the most successful method, but the opposite is true. Just do it for your own sake.
Don’t be surprised when people you thought really loved you disappear. In the moment, it is really difficult to understand who is only around to make their self-destruction seem acceptable. There are also any number of people who only associate with you because your misery and lack of self-respect makes them feel better about themselves. The worst of them will attempt to impede or reverse your efforts at self-improvement for their own selfish reasons. These poisonous devils are humanity at it’s worst – and dissociating ourselves from them is unfortunately the most aggressive action we are allowed to take under the law. These can be the people who are closest to you, and it is awful. Be strong.
Keep on Keepin’ on:
But anyway, back to myself:
What is the appropriate amount of celebration for my just not being a tanked up, pathetic junkie, and coward, for an entire year? I feel that some personal celebration is probably acceptable, and may even serve as motivation to keep up the fight. Originally, I wasn’t even going to acknowledge the day. I intended to treat it as any other, and move on – not unlike the silliness that is the celebration of my birthday.
I was profoundly, inconsolably depressed this week as a result of this impending anniversary. I was overcome by the thought of how much time I had wasted, and how little progress I have made in the past year compared to what I had hoped for the day I quit.
So why even try?
Because, fuck it. Why not?
I’m not anywhere near where I thought I would be in life at this point, but who is, recovering addict or not? There will be highs and lows, wins and losses, but it’s getting better, and will continue to do so. And if anything, this is to be celebrated.
So I raise a cold glass of water to the friends and family who have decided to stick around, and to those who I haven’t had to get rid of. Thank you for your patience, thoughtfulness, and deep hearts.
And here’s to another boring, but hopefully productive year of the dry.
* – Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Good hell, I wish I could think of a better name than “dream journal”. Maybe I can put some Rainbow Brite stickers on this, and hide it under my bed.
I don’t often recall my dreams, maybe only three to four times a year. The ones I am able are typically very vivid and detailed. I will be opening a new section of Musings called, Dream Journal to keep track and share.
Morning, April 3rd, 2017-
I enter this dream driving a company van, during a shift at my current employer.
“Another sunny, beautiful afternoon wasted on the clock, and in the company of inconsiderate and inattentive fellow travelers,” I thought. “I feel disgusting right now. I need a haircut and a shave. And a shower would do me some good.”
While stopped at a red light on Franklin Ave at 280, I saw two of my female friends walking on the sidewalk to my left, in my direction.
“What the hell are they doing here,” I thought. “I hope they don’t see me, I look like shit and can smell my own ass.”
“Hey Benson,” they hollered as they waved. “Oh, God damn it” I thought as I waved in return. One began walking towards the van. “No, no, no,” I thought as she approached. Leaning in through the window, she gave me a hug, and we exchanged casual pleasantries. “Cool seeing you!” “You too,” I said. As she and our mutual friend walked away, I wondered if she could smell my ass too?
Suddenly, I was standing in an industrial work yard, in a broken down neighborhood that has been the imaginary setting for two previous dreams of mine in the past 15 years.
I was surrounded by worn scaffolding and rusted scrap metal. The sunlight seemed to die against the cracked, decaying facade of the cinder block building to my left. The windows that weren’t broken, were opaque with grime and dust. No pavement, just a gravel floor below, adding to the general ambiance neglect and decay. A lot of hard hours and wasted opportunities had been spent here by worn out working class heros.
I knew somehow that I was uninvited, and unwelcome, but I also understood that I had a purpose for being there. Whatever the reason, it was so obvious to me in the dream that I needed not really think about it in any detail – I therefore now I haven’t a clue.
Shortly after observing the grounds, I hid behind a 15 foot high, rail-transport storage unit with the top removed, which appeared to be full of solid industrial waste. It was important that I not be discovered.
The sound of some type of vehicle in the near distance appeared to be moving towards my position. Pressed flush against the bin, preparing to peer around the corner to take a look at the vehicle, my concealment suddenly began to rise from the ground behind me. In near panic, I dove towards an adjacent container, which was positioned at a thirty five degree angle against the aforementioned bland cinder block facing, and slipped into a nook at the end closest to the wall.
The airborne bin I had just abandoned was now traveling at about two miles per hour in the direction of my right. After all fifty feet of it had passed, I was able to see the vehicle that was transporting the unit. It was a 1969 Dodge Charger, with oversized tires, orange bodied, and otherwise similar to “The General” from The Dukes of Hazzard. Similar, in save the number decals on the doors, and symbol of defeat on the roof. This machine was moving all of the fifty-tonne storage unit on it’s own, by way of a forklift rigged to the front end like a snow plow, which in my dream, did not seem the least bit unusual or impossible.
As I was admiring the Charger, from behind me I heard “can I help you?”
“Fuck, I’m busted,” I thought, petrified.
I turned to face the voice.
He was an older man in his late 50’s. Short, slumped, and well used by life. He was wearing a faded grey labor uniform with pale blue vertical stripes. The name patch over his breast pocket was unintelligible. When I attempted to read it, my eyes would lose focus, and the letters would blur the same as censored images are typically obscured on television. In these first moments he seemed drowsy and unreasonable, the embodiment of failed dreams and forced apathy, asleep at the wake of his own past desires.
“Yessss, I umm,” I mumbled without confidence.
“You our repairman,” he asked in a gruff, half hearted voice?
“Um, yes Sir! Yes I am,” I replied.
“Great, follow me,” he said.
I trailed the limping, broken soul across the length of the yard to what appeared to be a residential mobile home trailer, repurposed for commercial office use. It’s west side built into the notorious wall.
Messages, as blurred as the name on the old man’s name patch, were written on construction paper of various colours and taped to immaculately clean white walls. The space appeared to double as an office and a break room, unpartitioned. Aside from the walls, the area was only somewhat well kept, and clearly worn by time. A nicked and stained white plastic table, with separated sections of a newspaper strewn atop was near the entrance on the left. There were three people present in addition to the old man and I, presumably employees. A mixture banter between the them, both work and non-work related, supplied both ambiance and a much needed break of awkward silence between the old man and I.
The unswept tile floor of the office was at a constant thirty five degree incline from the entrance to the only other door at the opposite end of the office. As I followed him up the ramp, I became increasingly apprehensive about my cover story. “Please be a simple fix,” I thought…. “Wait, what would that help? I’m not capable of fixing anything.“
“It’s in here,” he said as he opened the door to a pitch black room.
After a deep breath, I crossed the threshold to meet my fate, whatever it may be, almost stumbling down the three creaky wooden steps to the floor.
After a few more precarious steps inward, the old man grumbled “Here, this will probably help.”
As he flipped on the lights, I realized that I was standing inside of a large garage. There before me, not five feet away was a classic, tan matte finish muscle car, similar to a 1970 Chrysler 300 Hurst.
“Nice,” I whispered softly. “Okay,” I thought. “What in the hell does he want me to do now?”
“This is the one that needs it,” the old man spoke from somewhere behind me.
I turned his way to be awestruck by a gorgeous, 1960 Pontiac Firebird – glossy forest green with a subtle glittery shimmer, and leather interior.
“Oh no,” I thought. “What is he going to ask me to do with such a beautiful thing?”
“So, the door squeaks,” he said, demonstrating the awful sound by slowly swinging the door back and forth, open to nearly shut. “Probably gonna need some new brackets,” he said pointing to two sets of hinges that were attaching the door to the vehicle.
“Oh, okay,” I said to him. “I’ll get right on it.”
The old man then nodded at me, and then left the room.
“This should be simple enough,” I thought. “I’ll just take the bolts out from the vehicle side, remove the door, then remove the brackets from the door. Then I’ll put the new brackets on, reattach it to the vehicle, and boom! Job well done.”
“Wait, with what‽” It suddenly occurred to me that I didn’t have any tools.
“Maybe I could ask if he has any?” I thought to myself. “But what kind of repair person shows up without any tools? I’m screwed.”
“I could just be honest and tell him I’m not his repair man? No, then my cover will be blown for sure?
“Well, here goes nothing,”
The muscles in my forearm tensed, and sweat formed on my forehead as I entered the office and approached the old man.
“So, I’m sorry to ask, but do you have any tools I can use?”
“What? Tools? You don’t have any tools?” He said with a confused look and crooked head.
“Yeah, um…” I mumbled, looking for an escape.
“Wait, who are you?”
V Day message:
This can be a tough stretch to get through for those without romance in their lives.
It’s your choice of course, but I invite everybody reading this who is without a partner for this celebration, to LOG OUT from all social media starting today, Sunday, through Wednesday the 15th.
We deserve to give ourselves a break from being bombarded by posts displaying our friends’ often oversold bliss. It just reinforces the depressing constructed ideal that we are incomplete without somebody in our lives in this way. Even if it is bulls**t, enough exposure will probably have a negative effect (at least it does on me). Not that we aren’t happy for them, we just don’t need to see it every other post on our timeline.
Instead, take this time to reflect on your great qualities, talents, and remind yourself that you don’t need anyone else to validate your worth.
This is not a call for those who are celebrating to tone it down. Broadcast your celebration loud and far if that’s what makes you happy. We will congratulate you later.
For those of us who have experienced this holiday in the past, remember how it never lived up to expectations, and how badly you couldn’t wait for it to finally pass.
Happy YOU day, my beloved singles.
A HOPELESS ROMANTIC
Freshman year. High school, 1995.
Too young for a driver’s licence, and living so close, I would often walk to school for my morning commute. The most direct route of travel took me through a heavily wooded area known by smokers, skippers, and fortunate fornicators as “The Path.” Being that I qualified for none of these, my time there was limited to a swift pass through, eyes down and praying that trouble wouldn’t come to call.
She was a freshman as I was, and a regular on The Path. Her time was mostly spent smoking, and tolerating the interchangeable-older high school boys’ attempt to pressure her for more private company. With a smile and flirtatious tone, she taxed these hopeful fools for her time and patience with what may have amounted to a carton per semester. Complimenting her tempting tone were piercing eyes that would send a frigid and refreshing wave down my spine. The tips of her fine flowing hair seemed to melt into the distant scenery while dancing on the wind. I was rarely fortunate enough to suppress my insecurity for a careful glimpse, and needless to say, I had a strong desire to completely experience her with all five senses.
Our encounters were brief but cordial. Every morning as I passed, I was sure to greet her with a good morning or a hello. She would only offer a short reply in kind. Until…
“What’s up!” She said excitedly.
“Holy hell, she’s talking to me, I thought!” “Say something!” “Um, not much. Whats up?’” I said timidly. She began to speak, but I couldn’t make out a word. Every syllable sent my way obscured by panic. Unaware of my handicap, she continued to engage while I offered head nods and random facial expressions in response.
The human cigarette dispenser in her company was clearly frustrated by my presence. He made a passive-aggressive effort to communicate his discomfort by forcing an indifferent posture, taking prolonged drags on his cigarette, then releasing the chemical mix with a bothered sigh. As her and I continued, he then committed to a fake and exaggerated cough, followed by turning his head and peering into the middle distance. A strong performance, capped by dramatically flicking his cigarette to discard non-existent ash. This alone could have made my month, if not my year.
She was repeatedly glancing in the general direction of my lower extremities. I probably need not mention what I had hoped her interest may be, but I knew this could not be the truth.
“Oh no,” I suddenly thought to myself! “Is my fly open?” I gave a quick and subtle glance and was relieved to find that no, the zipper was fastened and secure.
My stream of consciousness began to accelerate beyond control.
“But what does she keep looking at? Maybe she is nervous to talk to me?” Her smile grew even larger. “What could this mean? Could she actually want me?” I began to sweat and hyperventilate.
Suddenly, she raised her leg and began pulling at the bottom of her blue jeans.
“Okay… I am not great at interpreting signals, and if this is some kind of hint, then I am completely lost,” I thought. “But what if it is? A quiet, shy, and unknown freshman like me possibly given the green light by one of the most sought after women in, and outside of school? This has the potential to be the greatest day of my life.”
“If she does like me, then what would dating her be like? No way to know for sure.”
“What will people think? I know what the guys would say: ‘Wow! You’re a god! You’re the man, Ben!’” “Party invitations, jealous women trying to get my attention, all of the great things in life.”
I was then suddenly overcome by sexual insecurity. “I’m a virgin, what will she think of my inexperience? My performance will certainly be mediocre at best. Will either of us even enjoy it? I’ve been told that my testicles would hurt, but why? Will it be romantic: candles, music, foreplay and such; or will it be thirty seconds of back-seat clumsiness, followed by ball pain and apologies?”
“How long will our love last? Would I be able to handle the pressure of so many people trying to take her away from me? My pride would certainly be under constant attack from older boys, and they’ll have cars!
“What if we make it through senior year? Will we go to the same college, or will we break up and go our separate ways? If we do attend together, will she leave me for a football player, or a law student? If so, will I ever find another like her?”
She continued to speak about who knows, and who cares what, as her words passed through me. “Why is she trying to distract me,” I thought. “I’m trying to plan our lives together?”
“What if we get married, where will we live? A condo downtown, a farmhouse out in the country? I think I would prefer a split level in the ‘burbs. White. No red. No… white.
“Will we have children? If so, how many? We should buy our house in an area with great schools. Should we encourage athletic participation, maybe music, or let them make that decision on their own?”
“Will they be born with disabilities, will we be able to handle it if they are?
“Oh man, I don’t know if I even want all of this!”
As the storm of thought apexed, I finally began to notice her amiable demeanor had shifted to a patient strain.
“YOUR – PANT – LEG – IS – TUCKED – INTO – YOUR – SOCK, BEN!!!”
“Oh… thanks” I mumbled, while removing my left pant leg from my sock.
“Well, have a good day” I said as I continued on my way, head down in embarrassment, stripped of pride and hope. I tripped over my own feet, nearly crashing to the pavement to boot. “Don’t look back,” I thought. “Just keep walking like nothing happened.”
The next morning I nervously made my way down the path hoping not to meet her presence. As I proceeded, heart pounding, I saw her near the end of the trail hustling another vending machine.
“Good morning,” she said warmly, before taking a drag on her cigarette.
“Good morning” I replied with a smile.
For a reason I cannot explain, anytime I hear Sophie B. Hawkins’ “As I Lay Me Down,” I am pleasantly reminded of this event. Nothing in the lyrics, nor about the artist, is apparently significant. Maybe just the spirit of the song triggers my memory. Or, maybe it’s just because it came out the same year… No, the other thing.