Reflections on 10 Years of Sobriety

     Technically, I will not have an official decade of uninterrupted sobriety until Saturday, March 10th.  However, I think I can confidently say that I am unlikely to start drinking again over the next three days, and at this point in my life I don’t have a great deal of free time to sit down and write.  I originally started this blog to share my past experience with substance abuse, and from there it has sort of bounced around.  But it seems fitting to take a look at the past decade in a brief summary.  Hopefully something I share here will help someone find a solution that has been eluding them.
     My own journey toward real sobriety started with an interview I read in an online magazine in 2008.  I had previously been able to abstain from alcohol and drugs intermittently, but inevitably I would succumb to the notion that I was probably just going through a phase.  That never ended well…a fact that I seemed to forget every time I started up again.
     The above picture is a cast photo from the play, “Bill W. and Dr. Bob,” circa 2004.  It is the story about the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous.  I had a small part as an alcoholic lawyer who was on his last legs.  It was an easy role, because my own life was also falling apart.  I was extremely drunk during every performance.  Someone from the cast would invariably have to wake me up during the intermission.  That’s me on the far left, intoxicated.  I don’t recall taking this photo.  I couldn’t even recall taking it when it was emailed to me 14 years ago.  When I managed to stay sober for subsequent acting jobs, it became clear that I was actually a barely mediocre actor.  Probably because I rarely did any of the work required to become a decent one.
     I was a functional alcoholic.  Generally I was able to hold down a job, participate in creative ventures, and maintain relationships (for the most part).  But I took a lot of risks.  I am not an intrepid person by nature.  Under the influence of alcohol, however, I was extremely reckless.  It is hard for me to understand why I was never arrested for DUI, public intoxication, or worse.  I was lucky to some degree, but since I never suffered any legal consequences, the avalanche kept growing.  There was nothing to stop me.  I fell asleep at the wheel…got lost on foot at night in a dangerous neighborhood…was threatened by a drug dealer…nearly ruined a short film that the director had poured his life savings into.  I was an “edu-tainer” for elementary school programs that featured drug and alcohol prevention strategies.  During the vast majority of those presentations, I was either hungover or still intoxicated from the night before.
     As my alcoholism deteriorated, the material aspects of my life somehow managed to improve.  I paid off debts, secured more interesting and better-paying jobs, met my future wife, and moved into a comfortable apartment.  But, internally, I was falling into a black chasm.  An eternal fall.  That feeling you have during a dream in which you have lost your balance on the edge of a cliff, and your mind is trying to decide whether or not you’re dreaming.  That feeling generally became the only “emotion” I was capable of experiencing.
     As I sat in the little office room of our apartment on March 9, 2008, something happened.  It was a beautiful southern California day.  I was finishing up some music composition for a show that seemed to be gathering momentum.  It was the first genuinely good day I could recall having in a while.  Why not have a couple of beers to celebrate?  Surely most of my previous problems with alcohol had been merely situational.  Things were really looking up now.  I could enjoy a nice cold one like a regular grown-up, right?
     By the 3rd bottle, a heavy darkness began to settle over the room.  The sunshine became dull.  The work I had been doing all morning ceased to be important.  The falling sensation began to gain speed.  “This is never going to get better.”
     I do not know exactly what motivated me to take the following step.  I am a natural isolator.  Especially with a few drinks in me.  But I was overcome with a compulsion to reach out to someone whom I had never met.  We would be doing some work together in a few days, and I had no way of knowing how he might react.  Here is the text of the email I sent to him, edited to protect anonymity:
“This email is unrelated to the upcoming (music) show.  It may even seem too personal or just generally strange, and for that I apologize in advance.  I don’t know if there is a God or just random chance, but I’m going to go out on a limb.
I understand that you had some problems with alcohol while you were with (a band). And I read an interview in which you stated that you had been clean and sober for 15 years.
I have struggled with alcohol for most of my adult life.  I have tried everything to stop.  I spent some time in AA, worked most of the steps, and I guess I just gave up.  I don’t know.  I guess the only reason I am writing you is because I have been praying to whatever figment of the imagination of whatever God there may or may not be for some kind of solution.  And the only thing that keeps coming into my brain is, “Maybe you should tell (this person) what’s going on.”  That seemed ridiculous to me, because you and I have never met, and I didn’t want to seem like some nobody musician who is just trying to get chummy with someone who was in a legendary band.
But the same thought keeps coming to mind.  I know where AA meetings are.  I can’t seem to go.  People I knew in AA call me.  I don’t call them back.  I isolate.  I hide.  I pretend that everything is just fine.
Again, I really have to say that I’m sorry if this seems nuts and it makes you feel weird being in the band this month.  I just don’t know what else to do right now.
Frankly, it just doesn’t matter that you were in (a band) in regards to this email.  I just keep hearing the same voice that tells me to tell you what’s going on.  If it was a voice that was telling me to tell the bum at our dumpster, or the minister at the church down
the street, then I would do that.  But I’m not hearing that advice.
The writing is on the wall.  I’m perfectly functional.  I run 20 miles per week.  I have a beautiful girlfriend, whom you will meet at rehearsal.  I have a great family.  I have every opportunity in Los Angeles just waiting for me to grab it.  Friends.  Love from
others.  An audience.  Employment.  Enough money to pay the bills.
And for the past week, every day, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about why it would just be better to be dead.  And whether or not I should bother to write a note.  To be clear, I wouldn’t be writing you if I was actively planning suicide, because I would be busy planning suicide.  I’m too much of a pussy to take my own life.  So I hang out in some sort of limbo. Drinking just enough to try to shut out the resentments and fear, but not enough to get caught by people who are checking up on me.  And I keep praying.
And hoping that one day actual sobriety will be appealing to me.  Because now I can’t stand drunkenness or sobriety.  And I hang out somewhere in between.
I’m going to send this now.  I may regret it.  But I know that if something doesn’t change I will end up like my grandfather — dead in his mid-50s.  From the same thing — a total inability to admit that we are completely powerless over alcohol.
— Adam”
     Almost immediately, this person responded with a willingness, if not eagerness, to help me.  A total stranger.  For the first time in my life, I decided to let someone else do the driving.  I couldn’t drive anymore.  Whatever he told me to do, I did.  I didn’t question it.  I didn’t modify it.  As a result, I never picked up another drink.
     Things are very different now.  Sobriety doesn’t necessarily make life easier.  There have been moments during which the situational aspects of my life became dramatically worse than at any point in my drinking career.  Life is hard.  But I have a toolbox that I use to solve problems now.  A toolbox that was passed down to me, and that I pass down to others.  My wife and I address difficulties together, as a team.  I am able to be present for my young children.  I very rarely worry about what happened yesterday.  I don’t get everything that I want, and that’s okay.  I have learned to let go of things I can’t control (most of the time).
     I am not going to live forever, but I am probably not going to die from alcoholism.  There is a solution…
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The Funhouse

Don’t let the mirror determine how you feel about yourself on any particular day.  All mirrors are funhouse mirrors.  They distort what you think is an objective image of yourself, and then feed on that day’s sense of self-worth.  It can quickly devolve into a fiery crash if you’re not careful.  For example:

You didn’t sleep well last night.  Money stress is lurking around the mind’s back alleys.  You had an argument with your spouse before work.  Negativity is a magnet.  The day’s first look in the mirror is going to send staples and knives in the direction of that magnet.

“Why are you so fat?  You look ridiculous in these stupid clothes.  Great, another gray hair.  You look like Tales From The Crypt.  Is that cancer?”

You are destined to carry that image of yourself into the rest of your day as it plays ping pong with the other stressors in your life.  It will impact your interactions with co-workers and loved ones as the inner-dialogue negativity magnet continues to pick up needles and rusty nails.

“Glad to see Julie is wearing shorter skirts to work…the kind that whores wear.”  “Oh, I see.  The Keurig machine is out of water.  Again.  Thanks honey.  It’s obvious you want out of this relationship.”

The day becomes unproductive as the negative distractions pile on.  Another night of lost sleep.  Another barbed remark toward your spouse.  Another look in the mirror in the morning, and you’re in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the fattest, ugliest, most unlovable human being ever born.

The mirror is a reflection of everything that is going on inside.  You cannot see yourself objectively.  While a look in the mirror may seem like a clinical evaluation about whether or not your new diet is working, it can easily and destructively become derailed by a culmination of regret and worry.

For some tips on how to escape this cycle, see https://ificandoit.blog/2017/11/07/recovering-from-life-pt-3/

 

 

FINDING YOUR FINISH LINE

As I struggled for 5 minutes to remove my mud-caked compression socks after completing the Spartan Beast, I had to ask myself why I do this.  Most of my body hurts today, and a 7 year old groin injury has become a fresh wound once again.  I really had to spend time pondering what I’m getting out of it.  Ultimately I’m glad I signed up, but why?  I’ll never finish in first place.  It’s expensive.  Preparation takes a lot of time, which I don’t have.  The skin gets cut and mud is ground into the cuts.

It must be some kind of visceral reaction to all of the things I was incapable of at one time in my life, either due to inability, or fear.  I couldn’t run for 5 minutes without coughing up tar from the previous night’s cigarettes.  I couldn’t complete big projects out of fear that it might create expectations in other people.  I was always looking for the exit.  From everything — relationships, jobs, responsibility, life.  If I had any goal at all, it was to feel as empty as possible.  Negative thoughts were unbearable, and positive thoughts were fleeting and undeserved.

There is something symbolic about crossing a finish line…a kind of reset.  It is easy to get overwhelmed by feelings of inadequacy and doubt if a day isn’t going smoothly.  Things that I don’t normally care about become more prominent.  Not having a Lamborghini, for instance.  I don’t care about cars at all.  Never have.  But if I’m having a bad day and stop next to a Lamborghini at an intersection, a whole series of voices start chirping in the background.  “You would have one of those if you had made better choices.”  “You know he’s driving to a giant house that has a resort inside of a bowling alley inside of a movie theater.”  “The lady in the passenger seat thinks you are staring at her.  You should roll your window down. ‘I’m not staring at you, I’m staring at a reflection of my own insecurity!'”  HONK! from behind me.  Really?  Another Lamborghini?

A 14 mile hike through a western movie landscape isn’t conducive to that kind of wasteful self-flagellation.  At times it requires precision focus on the next step in front of you.  While we don’t always realize it, all of us are trying to get to a place in our minds that enables us to experience only what is happening right now.  It is, after all, the only thing that exists.  Meditation is the ultimate mind training to get to that place, but it isn’t always easy to get there.  At least for me.  These races achieve it by proxy.  That’s really what it is I guess.  Five hours of living in the “now.”

 

 

 

What Is This Anyway?

sleeping drifter

At 27 years of age, I was a broken-down mess of a human being.  This is a picture of me when I was 53.  Now that I am 42, things are quite different.  Rewind 15 years ago to a typical day:

10am — Wake up.  Coffee.  Cigarettes.

10:30am — Vodka.  Cigarettes.

11am — Take a look at my list of things to do.

11:30am — Nap.

1:30pm — Wake up.  Coffee.  Cigarettes.

2pm — Vodka.  Cigarettes.

2:30pm — Edit my list of things to do.  Do none of them.

3pm — Buy more vodka and cigarettes.

3:30pm — Fast Food.

4:30pm to 10:30pm — Wait Tables.

11pm — Vodka.  Cigarettes.

Sometime — Pass out.

While I occasionally did some interesting things, this made up the bulk of my life for about 5 years.  I was physically, intellectually, and emotionally ill.  It is doubtful that I would have made it to 40 at that rate of deterioration.  Sobriety was an insurmountable obstacle.  I could feel my body decaying from the inside out.  I tried to stop.  Couldn’t stop.  Tried to cut back.  Couldn’t cut back.

In 2008, I got some help.  I couldn’t do it on my own.  If I live to see March 10, 2018, I will have been sober for 10 years.  My life is very different now.  I am starting this blog as an effort to help others who can’t see their way out of the dark room that I was also in.