Years ago, when i was still drinking, on a Friday night much like tonight, my kids and i were in the living room watching TV. Suddenly and without the slightest warning, a loud crashing noise, like a body falling from a hiding place, tumbled out of the bathroom. We all looked at each other, unsure. We were the only people in the apartment.
i ran to the bathroom to find a shelf my father had hung months before over the door was now on the floor. The paint cans it had once held had opened during the fall and vomitted their oily white lacquer all over the blue walls.
i stood there in a daze for the longest time, just staring at the devastation, incapable of understanding. Here was a disaster that was in no way my fault. It was not the result of a binge and i wasn’t even the one who’d placed the shelf. A bad thing happened that i could not have foreseen or prevented no matter what i’d done.
This event crystalized a general apprehension i’d always felt vaguely lurking in the dark places of my mind. Except now i had a word for it. The Shelf of Damocles was the term i assigned to all of the bad things that were waiting to besiege me when i least suspected. i feared the shelf and the omnipresent threat it represented.
Last week, after i noticed i’d stopped waking up suicidal, i also realized the Shelf of Damocles no longer hung over my head. Yes, of course bad things will continue to happen to me for no reason– i have not yet mastered control of the universe (though i haven’t given up trying). But i’m not afraid of bad luck anymore.
Because there is no problem i can have that sobriety cannot solve .
There was a time i would wake up in the morning and the first thing i would do was put my feet on the floor, my elbows on my knees and my head in my hands while i let the sadness wash over me, drown me, pull me deeper.
i would start off my day on the wrong side of the bed, no matter what side it was i woke up on.
Today, i realized i don’t do that anymore. This sadness that was my “default” position is so far in my past that i’ve forgotten about it. Mind you, i don’t jump out of bed with a song in my heart—i’m not insane—but i get off on the right foot and keep putting one foot in front of the other.
One of the many great things about being sober? The darkness fades so much, i sometimes forget how lost i was.
Today at lunch i poured myself a glass of wine. It was the weirdest thing.
Those of you who read this blog regularly know that in “Yeaman” a bottle of wine waits patiently on the tables of the restaurants where i have my business lunches 3 times a week.
Usually i have no problem ignoring it and will even pour a glass for others at the table before setting the bottle down and forgetting it. Well, today i poured a glass for 2 of the 3 clients i ate with… and then poured one for myself without even realizing it!
Now, i wasn’t tempted to have a single sip because my life is immeasurably better now than when i was a drunk, but it goes to show that old habits are hard to shake.
P.S. Concerning my previous post, this situation was all the more ironic in that, when i met the clients i lunched with, i explained i’m a teetotaler! Eyebrows were definitely raised…
Last week i went to the office Christmas party. i’ve been working in the same company for 20 years and at the beginning i loved the annual excuse to get trashed, then i grew to hate the Friday hangover so severe death seemed the only cure so i stopped going altogether.
This was the first one i’ve been to in sobriety and the results were mixed.
- i was less comfortable than i’d hoped
- i ate way too much as i nibbled when i would have sipped before
- Several people went out of their way to let me know how glad they were i’d showed up (everyone knows i’m sober and in AA, so they’d expected me to blow off the party again)
- i felt more comfortable when my coworkers started getting drunk
- A drunken Irish girl vaguely flirted with me by daring herself to see how many Mince Pies she could fit in her mouth at one time
In a couple days, i’ll be flying out of Yeaman to spend around 10 days with my family. In the past, i felt a need to stay trashed throughout the entire holiday season. i believed the only way i could support the holidays was if i was leaning against it with a glass in hand. Now, i understand my drinking is what made the holidays so stressful.
To all my readers, thank you for your support this year. Your presence on this blog and in my life has made sobriety more fun than it should be 😉 .
May next year see your dreams reachable and your challenges surmountable.
Here in Yeaman, the drinking age is 18. My son turned 18 Friday.
Obviously, this presents some concerns for me. My parents are big drinkers, my mother’s parents were alcoholics and my father’s father was what he called a “skid row bum” (though my paternal grandfather eventually sobered up with AA). If drinking is hereditary, my son is stuck with used, hand-me-down genes.
He had a party at our apartment at lunch time (he lives with me while going to college and doesn’t have class on Friday, as opposed to me, who never has any class 😉 ). He made lunch for 6 of his friends before meeting me later that evening for dinner.
During our meal together we talked about his party and he described his friends and showed me some of the gifts he’d received and we discussed the spaghetti carbonara he’d made. He didn’t mention what they drank until i reminded him that he was now of legal age.
“You know I’ve already had a beer,” he said.
“Yeah, there was that one weekend you ran away to go to a party and came back home drunk. And once, i saw a photo you were tagged in on Facebook. It was a party and i saw cans of beer but i also saw bottles of water and Coke and orange juice so it seemed pretty responsible to me so i didn’t say anything. i trust you.”
“Well, we had a six pack today for lunch. Each of us had a beer.”
“Do you think I’ll be like you?” he asked, and i knew he meant about alcoholism.
“You’re already not. The first time i ever drank alcohol, i couldn’t stop until i was totally drunk. You’ve already proved you can have just a little. Plus, with your school work, you know when you’re in over your head and you ask for help. You already saw what i went through with drinking, so you know what it looks like if you start to have the same problems. If that happens, i’ll be right here to help.”
He seemed relieved after that, and we had a fantastic evening together.
That i’m worried abut my son’s becoming an alcoholic is normal. That he’s worried about it is reassuring.
When i was in university i didn’t wash my sheet during my senior year. At the end, it was a mural containing the stains that painted the story of my life.
Now, i make my bed every morning. i do the laundry weekly, iron my shirts on Sunday night and clean my sheets every other week.
When i was drinking, everything was a big deal. Cleaning was huge deal. Writing was a huge deal. Following through was a deal so huge there was no point in even trying.
In the past, everything was such a big deal in my head that i couldn’t even begin to begin. Now, because i’m not afraid to start, i understand that chores and articles and friendships are molehills and not the mountains i’d made of them. One of the things i’m grateful for in sobriety is that i can start things.
Being “right-sized” is not just a question of putting myself in correct perspective, but the life around me as well.
Alcoholics understand better than most the concept of the double personality. There’s the person we know we are, and then there’s The Other, the spirit who takes control and does things we never would.
Reading this review of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, i learned that Tolkien understood, too.
“1:10:56 There is an argument to be made that the Ring is a symbol of addiction. The whole internal debate Gollum goes through over the ring sounds like an AA meeting.”
i checked out the film at that point and found the following debate between Sméagol and his alter ego, Gollum.
[Nighttime, Frodo and Sam are asleep. Gollum is crouching in a corner by himself.]
We wants it. We needs it. Must have the precious. They stole it from us. Sneaky little hobbitses. Wicked, tricksy, false!
No! Not Master.
Yes, Precious. False. They will cheat you, hurt you, lie.
Master’s my friend.
You don’t have any friends. Nobody likes YOU…
[Covers his ears] Not listening. I’m not listening.
You’re a liar and a thief.
[Shaking his head] Nope.
[Starts to weep and whimper] Go away.
Go away?! [Cackles] HAHAHAHA!!
[Weeping and in a small voice] I hate you. I hate you!
[Fiercely] Where would you be without me? Gollum. I saved us. It was me. We survived because of me!
[Resolute] Not anymore.
What did you say?
Master looks after us now. We don’t need you.
Leave now and never come back.
[Louder] Leave now and never come back!
[Growls and bares his teeth] Arrrgh!!!
LEAVE. NOW. AND. NEVER. COME. BACK!
[Sméagol pants and then looks around.]
We… we told him to go away, and away he goes, Precious! [He hops around in joy and does a little dance.] Gone, gone, gone! Sméagol is free!
Nice summary of the last 22 months of my life…
Everyone knows that every Friday my work has an all-you-can-drink cocktail party. When i was drinking, Friday was a regular reminder of what kind of binge drinker i was because no matter how many promises i made to myself, my wife, even my kids, i always got sucked back into the eddy of “just one more”. After that came phone calls and apologies and walking unevenly home and the only thing buoyed me other than the beers i always stole from the office and carried in the deep pockets of my trench coat was the knowing that when i stumbled late into wherever i was supposed to be that there would be some more alcohol there.
Last night i made plans to eat some fast food and see a movie with my 17-year-old son. To meet him at the restaurant, i had to leave work at 5:45 (the cocktail party starts at 5:30, unless you start at the all-you-can-drink wine lunch)—i left 5 minutes early. i did not try to pound as many beers as i could fit into 15 minutes only to end up unable to tear myself away from free booze and calling him with promises i would make it up later. i did not stand him up and i did not let him down.
After our fast food dinner, as we sat waiting for the movie to roll, i realized all i’d done was make and keep an appointment with my son, something most (non alcoholic) people take for granted. It’s such a little thing and yet it is really such a huge thing when i think about it. And i do. A lot. And i’m not the only one.
PS i hate the title of this post but like it too much to change it. Just so’s ya know.
i love the above picture: it’s the epitome of procrastination. Basically, it’s the short version of “It was easier to put this piece of paper here than empty the dishwasher. I’ll do it later–unless you want to first.”
Procrastination is one of my biggest character defaults. Alcoholism complimented that very well because i could hide behind the bottle to escape doing what needed to be done. Some of my procrastination (like with cleaning) was borne out of laziness; most of it, though, was fear based.
i was afraid of taking mail out of the mailbox, and then i was afraid of opening the envelopes once i finally did. i was afraid to answer the phone and the doorbell would send me into a near panic. i was afraid to do most anything because i knew that if i did it, there was a chance i would fail. So it was easier to not do anything at all. Until it wasn’t.
One of the main reasons i attempted suicide in January 2011 was linked to financial problems. Those troubles originally sprang from—and then were exacerbated by—fear-based procrastination. Like a drunken ostrich, i was burying my head in the bottle hoping my problems would evaporate. In the meantime i was afraid to check my bank account, scared to open mail from my bank, and petrified of picking up registered letters from my landlord at the post office.
In sobriety, i’m learning 1) to recognize procrastination the moment i tell myself “i’ll do that later” and to do it right away, (2) that “rigorous honesty” means confronting real life on its terms and dealing with it as best i can, 3) avoiding an unpleasant action is far worse than doing it.
“Emptying the dishwasher” with consistency means my dirty dishes don’t back up and mess up my kitchen.