Drinking in Moderation: A Case Study

UFOSometimes I get it into my head that if I stay busy doing stuff, that will keep me on the straight and narrow vis my addiction issues – primarily around eating.  But I know that is really not a solution at all.  I played those games for a long time with alcohol and drugs.  In fact, one of my last drunks occurred by following exactly that logic.  I had been working on a writing project for about two weeks.  I had amazed myself (and others) by my enforced abstinence from drinking during the entire period.  I told myself, and rightfully so, if I had one drink, I would be shot for at least the rest of the day, and perhaps longer.  The project I was working on was critically important for me to complete.

I reached the final day of my enforced sobriety.  I knew that if I worked about five hours that day, the project would be complete and I could drink all I wanted, having proven to myself that I could in fact abstain if need be.  Therefore, surely I could not be an alcoholic, went my logic.

So that final day, I got up, drank a pot of coffee during the first couple hours of work, comfortable that I was nearing the successful completion.  I had just a few hours more work to go.  I decided that the pot of coffee had put me a bit too much on edge.  I had three bottles of beer in the refrig, certainly not enough to be too much of a distraction from my work.  I reasoned I was entitled to a small celebration.  I quickly drank the three beers, and all thoughts fo the project were gone.  So . . . you can guess the rest of the story.  The last thing I remember was walking down the street to the liquor store.  I woke up the next day about 8:00 AM with my head throbbing, and realizing that once again I had blown it.  So much for another attempt at demonstrating to myself that I was somehow different, and not an alcoholic.  I never did finish the project.

I continued drinking for another 4 or 5 months after that event.  I made no attempts to limit or control my drinking during that time period.  I knew what I was, I just had to make a decision what I was going to do about it.  When I made that final decision, not drinking was the easiest thing in the world – the living life on life’s terms was the hard part I had to learn.

Moderation has never worked for me with alcohol or drugs.

A Second Chance at Magic

IMG_0825New Orleans is my favorite city in the world.  I lived here for a couple of years in the 1970s during some of the absolute worst of my alcoholism.  It was then that I learned that, yes, you can hallucinate with alcohol.  I remember running down the street one Mardi Gras night chasing my brain that had left my head.  I could not stop running because I knew if I did, I would never find my brain again.  Amazingly, I still had another near decade of drinking and drugging yet to do!

Over the years since getting sober, New Orleans has taken on a different role.  Here is where I have come for “retreats” for reflection.  Typically I stayed in a hotel with no phone, tv, or internet access.  I simply walked the streets for a few days, writing, reading, and thinking.

On a very hot August evening during one retreat about ten years ago, I was leaning up against the closed gates of the Lafayette Cemetery No. 1.  I tried to find the wall I used to lean up against drinking myself into oblivion after climbing over the gate with a bottle of wine all those years ago.  On that August night, someone came up behind me and asked for money for beer.  I turned to see a young man who could have been my mirror image from the 1970s.  We went back and forth for a bit.  I told him I would not give him any money, told him my story of the cemetery, and offered to go to take him to an AA meeting.  He told me why AA would not work for him, thanked me, and he turned away.  I then heard his voice hustling some others, but when I turned back, he was gone.  I never was quite certain if this was a sober hallucination on a sweltering evening in what I describe as the most magical city on earth.

Fast forward to 2014, this weekend we drove a truck down from Memphis packed with my wife’s 18 sewing machines, hundreds of bolts of fabric and stuff, as she starts into her next phase of life, in which I will have the monthly 4-day weekend until I join her full-time in less than two years. (Shameless plug for her new store.)  So yesterday, after unloading the truck, I road my bike all over my favorite city in my typical retreat of today.  Interestingly, and perhaps somewhat prophetically, when I stopped for coffee and to watch some videos on my iPad for the MOOC I am taking called How to Change the World, I nodded off to sleep!

I am grateful that recovery has allowed me a second chance in my favorite city in the world.

Without Change There Is No Change

Change1In my recovery, primary addictions I deal with are alcohol, mind altering drugs, and nicotine.  The common reckoning of success is either I consumed or I did not consume the substance.  And with that form of reckoning, I am successful in my sobriety/abstention from these addictions.

Over the years, two other addictions I continue to face are compulsive overeating and workaholism.  I am not someone who wants to get “holy” as it were, and achieve some altered state nearing perfection in all that I do.  For me, that is a certainly a losing battle, as my family and friends will certainly attest.   But I also know that for those issues, like food and work, that continually manifest themselves in the same way as did alcohol and drugs – escape and not dealing with life on life’s terms – I am compelled to address them.  As I often share with others – if I am as satisfied as I want to be with my existence, then there really is no need to change – but I cannot complain about that existence either.  That seems to be the key.

And without change, there is no change.  I learned that very early on with alcohol and drugs.  I made radical changes in how I deal with life.  I need to keep in the forefront of my understanding this basic fact in all aspects of recovery.

Positive vs Negative; Solution vs Problem

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The world we live in has much that is good and much that is bad. Each day we can seek out the positive or the negative. If we choose to dwell on the negative, then that is what we will experience. But if we dwell on the positive, then that is more likely what we will experience. – Mark Allen Zabawa

 

The above quote is from the Hazelden daily reflection for today.  Although I find truth in the glass is half full vs the glass is half empty mindset, a refinement or elaboration of that point for me is whether I am living into the problem or living into the solution.  In recovery, I find that the negative does not go away unless it is addressed – it cannot be ignored.  This seems true with the Jungian concept of the shadow or dark side of our individual existence.  Which all brings to mind one of my favorite poems by the Sufi mystic Rumi:

THE GUEST HOUSE

This being human is a guest house.

Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes

as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,

who violently sweep your house

empty of its furniture,

still, treat each guest honorably.

He may be clearing you out

for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.

meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.

because each has been sent

as a guide from beyond.

        -Rumi

Gratitude List

luminoussunriseToday ten things I am grateful for (in no particular order):

  1. another day in recovery
  2. a spouse, family, and friends with whom I have a true relationship
  3. a sense of purpose in my career
  4. the opportunity to give back for what I have been given
  5. enough material resources that I do not “need” anything
  6. music
  7. living into the solution and not dwelling in the problem
  8. the possibility of putting myself in another person’s shoes before acting
  9. content with where I am today
  10. looking forward to the future process.

And perhaps the bonus is that knowing that today the AA Promises have all come to pass in my life of recovery.

There Is More Than One Recovery Tool

wolfLast night a friend was over to the house and we talked some about addiction.  They noted that they just did not do well with alcohol, that addiction was a familial issue.  They decided they were just not going to drink.  They also noted that they were not going to go to AA or Alanon because they had done that in their teenage years, did not like it, and found the folks to be very judgmental and rigid.  I recognize this can be an issue in AA meetings.  I don’t push people to AA if something else is working for them.  I know that with 30 years of sobriety, I find that the “bleeding deacons” tend not to respond to whatever heresies I might throw out because, well, it has worked for me for 30 years!   I also noted to my friend that since getting sober there were times when I did not attend an AA meeting for five years.  These days I generally plan to attend one meeting per week, but I have not been to a meeting in about one month.

The night before I had a two-hour Skype with a friend and colleague who sometimes I see once a year, sometimes more regularly.  We are planning for some projects that will bring us together a bit more for the next year.

About three years ago I got back together with my “best friend” from high school that I had not seen in over 35 years.  We hit it off perfectly and we now see each other for an evening’s reflection about every six months or so, when we are in the same general area as we live some 8 hours drive apart.

This list goes on . . .

. . . I don’t take the inconsistency as a fickleness on my part toward relationships or recovery.  I know that to deal with my addictions I must be in sync with a recovery path every day.  Sometimes that synchronicity is through AA meetings, sometimes through talking with others, sometimes in writing this blog.  I know that a blog will not keep me sober or abstinent anymore than an AA meeting will if I am not truly seeking a solution.  I very well recollect many years ago sitting in an AA clubhouse or in the rooms of Nicotine Anonymous, savoring the effects of the drug would bring as soon as I could plan my escape from the meeting.  What I enjoy is that over the years I have acquired a bunch of tools for recovery that work well in different situations.  Which tool do I need today?  A screwdriver? Hammer? Pen? Book? There are a bunch.  But what I also know is that if the tool I have picked up is not working, I need to put it down and pick up another.  I am grateful today for the ability to choose.

Being True to True Self

imageI have taken Meyers-Briggs type personality tests for some 30-odd years (see Jung test lists at this link for examples).  I consistently come out INFP or INFJ.  In the more distant past, I would review the characteristics of my type, and think “I like this” or “I need to work on that” and so forth.

Less than 10 years ago, I was in a job that just was not working – I was pretty miserable.  I loathed going to work every day.  In a gesture akin to grasping at straws, I took an online Meyers Briggs test again, and once again came out as INFP and reviewed the characteristics of my type.  But this time, I also saw there was a listing of suitable and unsuitable careers for my personality type.  The unsuitable career list contained everything that I was doing on my job at that time.  The suitable list contained job types that I had done in the past with great satisfaction or performed then as a hobby or in an avocational capacity.

I immediately saw the resolution to my dilemma – I was trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Within six months I applied for and was hired at the position I hold to this day – with great satisfaction.

What I find particularly interesting about this story is that I am certain that when I took the Meyers-Briggs test in the previous 20 years, the favored/disfavored career listing was also available, however, I did not notice that information until about 10 years ago.  The saying that  When the student is ready the teacher will appear seems relevant here.

As well, though seemingly intuitive, why did I take the tests for 20 before I considered accepting my true self?  If the test has any validity, I should not read the results as “I like this” but “I don’t like that” and instead see the type as “This is who I am.”

I also think about how this being true to one’s self is truly a process and not a single event.  I am grateful that being in recovery allows me the opportunity to travel along that road.