Saturday, October 3, 2015

Almost 4 years.

Two days from now will be my 4 years soberversary. I'm writing now because I have a couple of minutes that I might not have tomorrow or the next, and I wanted to do my annual "yep, still sober" post. After I write this, I'll probably go and read my previous posts and do some thinking.

I'm really, really happy to still be sober. I have my frustrations, and I've had my struggles with anxiety and depression, but I am still convinced that no matter how hard things have gotten, they could always have been made worse by taking a drink.

So, here I am today: I'm still with my amazing and huge-hearted partner, going on 7 and a half years now. I'm working at the same gym as I was this time last year as a personal trainer, and I feel like I'm settling in. I had a reasonably successful season with my rugby team, finally finding that comfort zone where I can socialize with a bunch of drunk post-match rugby people without feeling like a dork. I had one of the best summers I've had in recent memory where everything lined up to provide a relaxing and fun season. I paid for that summer with a few weeks of anxiety that I was able to manage without feeling too miserable, and with a paycheque that doesn't even come close to paying my bills let alone my tiny mountains of debt, but was worth it and I would do it again.

So, what is four years of sobriety like?

For anyone keeping track, I definitely still do feel nostalgic for alcohol from time to time. I have intense sense-memory experiences of a cold beer or the sharp burn of whisky or vodka, the bitter/sour tang of wine. Not often, but I do. I expect that won't ever go away.

I spend some amount of time doing the hypothetical "would I drink if...?" game. Most recently while watching a mediocre thriller about a bunch of strangers trapped in a house and told they have to kill each other. Before the killing started, they found a liquor cabinet and had a bacchanalia to live in denial of their predicament for a while. So, if I were trapped by a psychopath in a situation with no food, no escape, but a cabinet full of booze.....surely that situation couldn't get much worse by reigniting my addiction, right? With no hope for escape, and only misery ahead of me, why not dull the pain with some self-administered anesthetic?

So is it hope that keeps me sober? If it is, that's a dangerous place to be, I think. I know that I experience depression, that I have been in situations where things seemed hopeless (even though they clearly were not), and I have reason to believe I could end up in that headspace - or even worse - again, just because of a quirk of brain chemistry.

I need more than hope to keep me sober. Not because hope isn't useful, but because it isn't always there.

I think - and I'm not sure of this, I'm making it up as I go along - that my sobriety is borne of pragmatism. I don't know if I'm a pragmatic person, but the idea of being pragmatic appeals to me: just do what works, or if nothing works, do what fails the least. Simple.

And if I'm a recovering alcoholic trapped in a house with 8 strangers and told we have to kill each other to survive and there's no escape and there's a liquor cabinet sitting there and everyone else is drowning their fear and their sorrow and their anger.....getting drunk won't help. Eventually the booze will run out (it always does), eventually I'd be left in the same spot I was before, but with a gross and moldy mouth, a headache, holes in my memory, and a now -revitalized need to drink. Even without hope of a rescue, even without hop[ing being clear-headed would let me take advantage of a slim chance of escape, staying sober is the better choice.

Right?

Another "game" I play, "what would happen if I accidently drank?" This is an anxiety thing that comes up, where I'll think I taste alcohol in my drink, or I'll worry that a friend who doesn't know how seriously I'm taking this sober thing will spike a drink at a party and I'll end up accidently buzzed. What then? Will my life fall apart?

I don't have much of an answer to this one, except that I can expect it would be hard, but that I would have to use all the will and determination that I used to quit this time. I don't know if I could do it another time, but I hope that I would try. And so...that means I need to keep my skills sharp. I need to remind myself WHY I'm sober. I need to always be convinced of how important it is to me.

Those are things from "what is life like at 4 years sober".

But also, I do feel like I'm growing up. Right now I do have a low-level bit of despair that unless something changes, my best case scenario will be that I pay off my debts before I die. No savings or cushy retirement for me at my current pace. But hey, drinking wouldn't help with that.

There's that idea that we stop maturing, that our brains stop maturing, when we begin to drink. Setting aside the accuracy of it, let's imagine that my 4 years of sobriety have caught me up a little bit. Instead of having a teenager's brain, now I've got the brain of someone in his 20s. That's a big difference there.

Hmm. I guess I've written a lot without really saying anything. But, my goal was to mark this anniversary, and I've done that. 4 years, still sober, still think it is the best thing I could be doing. I'll end this post here, and hopefully anyone reading this will take care for themselves and their loved ones, and I will see you all next year, or maybe before that, who can say....

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Three Years

Today is three years after my last binge and my last drink. I'm still sober. I haven't updated in a long time (almost a year, in fact), but I'm glad I remembered my account info and password, because this blog helped me get through the first year, and because even though I'm relatively open about my alcoholic status, I can say things here that don't quite feel appropriate anywhere else.

So, my last year has seen some changes, all of them good. I'm a certified personal trainer now. I lift weights for fun and I help other people improve their health and be more comfortable in the gym. There's a lot of sales stuff in the job, which is a constant struggle because I am not a sales guy, but I do well enough to keep a full schedule, so that's nice.

Still with my adorable long-suffering partner. We've been together for 6 years and change now. I am convinced that if I had kept drinking we would not be together today. There's this scene in an early Simpsons episode where Maggie is briefly adopted by the Flanderses, and at the climax she has the choice between the Flanders family, standing in a field with rainbows and butterflies, and the Simpson family, standing in a feotid swamp with grey skies and reptiles lurking about. I feel like if I look at my life with and without booze, there's the same divide.

Obviously the foetid swamp option is the one with drinking.

This year I finally felt strong enough as a sober guy to try my hand at rugby again, with mixed results. The summer brought me into contact with some of my old teammates, all of whom drink like fish. It was strange and uncomfortable...there are people from that time that I can still hang out with and there are people with whom I have absolutely nothing in common. At one point, I gave offence by refusing the round of drinks someone had bought. I mentioned I was not drinking and he said "Oh, I do that from time to time, it really helps make the buzz better when you start drinking again." I mentioned that I wouldn't ever drink again, and he said "Oh, well, you're young." So, I won't be calling that fella up any time soon.

So, those sort of moments come and go. The most common thing I notice about the guys who are still drinking is how much even just 2 or 3 years has aged them. Gonna brag a bit here, and it's mostly genetics I'm sure (my own parents look great), but I'm 37 and people often - like daily - say they think I'm ten years younger. If I were still binge drinking 4-5 nights a week, I know that wouldn't be the case. This whole paragraph is irritatingly smug, but I won't erase it. So there, Internet. I'm smug about being 3 years sober and I'm not ashamed to say it.

Somewhere out there on the web is an article that says it takes about 3 years of sobriety for an alcoholic's brain to return to completely normal functioning, and that's where I am now. I have a normal functioning brain. That makes me laugh, because there's precious little that's normal and functioning about me.

I still get insane cravings for booze. All summer I would almost be able to taste an ice cold beer on a hot day. I vividly remember the acid-dryness of red wine. When I gargle with mouthwash I'm reminded of the vodka burn. I wish I could say I knew I will always be strong enough to say no, but there is no certainty. And the fact that I'm not certain is exactly the reason why I have to always stay sober. There is exactly one drink standing between me and ALL THE DRINKS. So long as I can see that one drink for what it is, I should be in good shape.

Being sober is the best thing I've ever done. I wish it were different. I wish my major life accomplishment were better than "somehow I eventually learned how to avoid making all the worst possible choices," but...it's also a damned hard thing to do, too.

Something I say to myself and my clients a lot: it's what we do on our worst days that gives us what we enjoy on our best days. I say this to remind people that going to the gym when you feel terrible is the only way to make sure you go to the gym all the time. Being sober on the terrible days is how I will stay sober on the good ones.

I hope everyone out there is staying safe and finding joy where you can. If you're trying to get or stay sober, I wish you all the best. It's hard but it is worth it. For some of us, it is the only way to live.

Take care,

Marc

Saturday, October 12, 2013

2 years, 7 days

I meant to stop by on the 5th to mark my 2 year sobriety point. But I'm depressed and anxious, and busy learning that I don't need alcohol to fail at things. School is a bust right now. I had a slow, quiet meltdown during the 2nds semester and the end of term passed with me managing to not submit a single assignment to any course, and right now I am still too paralyzed by anxiety to do anything about it.

The straw I'm grasping at now is that I'm going to start learning how to be a personal trainer, like at a gym. I've been on the sober road and the fitness road for the same length of time, and it's clear to me that one hinges on the other, and so I have a hope that working in that industry will be fulfilling to me while also paying rent.

I think about this blog a fair bit, as well as my Zombunist blog (which will see a revival here, as the host I moved to is now defunct), so maybe I will start posting more. I'm working part-time these days, but I feel that I should start treating my home office like a home office, eg, with a schedule and daily responsibilities and so on. Should that happen, I think having a weekly blog post (or bi-weekly if I split time between here and Zombunist) will be a part of it.

In sober news, well, still sober. I managed to quit weed for 8 months (January to August, with 2 "relapses" while on vacations), then started smoking a lot of it hardcore until about 2 days ago. I haven't decided yet if I'm quitting again. It wreaks havoc with my life, though not as much as booze ever did, so I need to either manage my use or avoid it all together. I am in serious denial about how difficult it is for me to say no to pot. When the subject comes up, I get snippy, which is a sign to me that I'm not being honest with myself.

I still have drunk dreams, though not very often. At my lowest points I've certainly been tempted. But so far, I've been able to remind myself that I have no control, and that the only reason I ever do want to drink is to get drunk. And once I'm drunk, I'm a timebomb.

These days I'm questioning everything about myself and what I want. I don't know what I want. I'm not even sure that what I've wanted in the past even makes sense. I don't even know if any of this ("this" being my life and what I do with it) matters. I've got no purpose, and I feel like even if I had a purpose I would not be equipped to take on the challenges involved. This is not a fun place to be.

But. Still sober. Let's see what my 3rd year of sober adulthood brings me.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Time and Sobriety

I'm still here, and still sober. Things are going well. Sometimes it doesn't feel like they are, but that's a matter of perspective. I'm in school now, I have a part-time job that I can handle, I start meeting with a psychologist tomorrow to get a handle on my anxiety, I'm in better shape physically. I'm doing okay.

I think tomorrow marks 18 months of being sober for me. I've also been truly sober (no pot) since January 1st 2013...my New Year's Resolution (one of them, anyway) was to give up pot for a year. This is the longest I've ever gone since my childhood without being intoxicated. It feels good. I want more of it.

I've had some crazy nightmares where I find myself drinking, I wake up horrified and ashamed, once the dream was so real that I was sure I had been drinking and just blacked out. These dreams are unsettling, but they remind me why I'm doing this. No matter what, no matter how long I stay sober, I know that I cannot handle even one drink. Those dreams are an alternate-universe version of me, a universe where I fail more than I succeed, and what's worse, a universe where I've given up on trying.

I'm lonely, but it's a good sort of lonely, I think. I'm using this time to figure myself out, to build up my foundations that were shaky or never built to begin with. I like being this kind of lonely, most of the time. But it's still a loneliness...I still find myself longing for people who understand what I'm feeling and what I'm going through. These sober blogs are the closest thing that's come to that (since I don't do groups). I want to find a bunch of weight-lifting buddies, actually, because there's a lot in the fitness community that's affirming for a sober lifestyle...but it's hard to find my niche, because drunk or sober, I'm an oddball. Also, I've got issues with straight jocks, on account of my having grown up a gay nerd....natural enemies in the grand scheme of things (though I know there are exceptions out there).

I wonder why I'm feeling so melancholy while I write this?

I'm in a new and different phase of being sober, though, from my first year. I know that I can't ever drink, and that's not as important-seeming as it once was: there's so much more to life than booze, which I always knew but never really felt before now. And I have a new perspective on time...I guess not washing away memories with alcohol every other day helps to show just how MUCH time there is, really.

My first ex and I had dinner the other night, for the first time in almost 10 years (I should say here that things are lovely with my current boyfriend....almost 5 years of being together now, and I'm very happy with him, as happy as I could ever imagine to share my life with someone). We ran into each other on the street, he told me that he is going in for heart surgery, and asked if I'd like to have dinner with him (no nefarious scheme involved: he is engaged to someone). I think he wanted some closure, and while it's been a while since I felt I needed anything from him, I did feel like it would be fitting to see how he is.

The 4 years that we dated, we drank. We drank like fish. He introduced me to the "Texas Mickey", and we polished one off of whiskey between the two of us in a weekend. We were late to his best friend's dad's funeral because we were hungover. We celebrated the beginning of the year 2000 by getting wasted and having a HUGE fight over Babe 2: Pig in the City. The night we broke up, he threw a glass vase at me that shattered all over the floor, and punched a hole in the door of our apartment before I called the police on him.

We only glossed over the fact that I'd been sober for 18 months. He was still drinking, and he assured me that he never drank that much these days. Maybe not....but in other ways he hasn't changed much. He told me how at his last job he got so frsutrated that he punched a hole in the office wall. He kept saying how much he'd changed, how he had things figured out, how I wouldn't even recognize his life....he said those same things all the time when we dated 10-15 years ago. He has a big heart, but he always seems to be stuck in a loop, where he is always learning "so much" about himself, but it's always the same lessons.

I'm painting a terrible picture of him, and at least some of it must be because I feel comflicted about our relationship, and about some things about myself. Have I changed? I think I have....but how do I know? I feel like I'm more mature, but am I in the same loop? Am I any better?

My sobriety is based in a few different motivations. There is a part of my being sober that comes entirely out of a survival instinct, and I think my first year of being sober was guided by that, a fear that my drinking would lead me to death, either of myself or of all my dreams and my self.  Now, though, there is also a desire to be a better person. I want to do right by the people I love and the people who love me. I want to contribute to society in a meaningful way. I want to be a good person who can be proud and happy with the way he lived. I am in a new stage of my sobriety. The questions are bigger, but they are good questions. I'm willing to stay sober and figure out the answers to these questions, because I have a feeling that it will be so very much worth it.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Sober at the Gym

Still sober, at 14 months.

Judging from the blogs I've read, it's about at this point that a lot of ex-drunks decide to take on some giant challenge, usually physical in nature, like running a marathon or entering a triathalon, and I guess I'm falling in line. I want to be a bodybuilder.

So, okay, maybe that's a little bit out of left field, but I've always been "into" muscle. My parents got me a weight set to use in high school, and I've had a gym membership my whole adult life, though whether or not I used the membership depended on whether or not I was hungover. Last year, one of the reasons why I wanted to quit drinking was that I've always wanted to be in better shape, but I knew that drinking was keeping me from doing that. At the time I quit drinking I also made a commitment to go to the gym as consistently as possible, and, with a few ups and downs, I've managed to do that.

Right now, I'm 30lbs lighter than I was this time last year, and I've lost about 8 inches off my hips and 7 inches off my waist...I'm not shaped like a barrel anymore, and I feel like I've barely been trying. I've also started learning about the bodybuilding lifestyle, and the more I learn the more I realise: I want in.

For me, a huge part of getting and staying sober is setting up positive routines. A lot of these are physical, so excercising regularly, eating well, getting enough sleep (and these are the key factors in bodybuilding). I've seen that when my routine is disrupted, my mood goes downhill, and thoughts about self-destructive behaviours like drinking creep back in. What has always pulled me back, each time that I've felt myself slide, has been getting back to the gym. In all honesty, the gym might as well be my AA, my "higher power", because when I go it's an hour or so completely free of worry or angst, and just getting the blood pumping improves my mood pretty much for the whole day.

The trick to sobriety and to bodybuilding is the same: consistency. To be sober, I have to be sober every day. To build muscle, I have to eat well, sleep right, and excercise regularly. With both, you can't rely on history or hopes for the future to succeed, the only thing you can do is make the right choices in the moment, and let the past and the future take care of themselves.

So, I've hired a personal trainer (hired him in September, actually...and he's great), I'm reading what I can, and I'm setting goals, and maybe, in 3-4 years, I might actually find myself on a stage in some amateur competition.

This year, the second year of my sobriety, is going to be a big one: I'll be in school full time, I'll be working towards this new goal, I feel like year two is the year to dream and act big, and to take on giant challenges that I could never have dreamed of when I was drinking. Any of us who've been sober know that your world opens up when you look past the bottle, and now is the time to find out just how huge my world is now. Where are my limits? I don't know, but I'm excited to find out.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Super Brain

Still sober. Most of the time, this isn't even a big deal. Having made it through a year has shown me that I have everything I need to stay sober. I've survived the seasons, the holidays, the annual ups and downs, and managed everything without a drink. Now I just have to keep doing the stuff I've been doing, using what works and discarding what doesn't, and keep it up. It does take energy to live a sober life, but it takes MORE energy to live a drunk one, so I'm ahead of the game.

In general, though, there isn't much to say. I plan to keep this journal forever, because my life will always have moments where the difference between drinking and staying sober seems interesting to me, or moments where I'll need to let out a primal scream to the internets about frustration. One day I'll tell my mom something about my drinking, maybe, and I'll blog about that. Or when I visit my step mom who likes her wine very much, I'm sure that will inspire an entry or two. But in the meantime I don't have much to say.

Oh, except that I think being sober has given me a super-power: incredible intelligence. Not really, but I've been feeling somewhat smart lately. Part of it is that I had my final exam for a psychology course I took over the summer, and got a 95% on it (and I finished it in 25 minutes - 80 multiple choice questions, with time to review), but just in general I've been feeling more bright, a little more swift in my thinking. I like it.

I heard somewhere that it can take about 4 years for the brain to completely recover from prolonged alcohol abuse: it takes that long for the synapses and support cells and connections to get to a place where the brain works just about as well as it would have without killing all those brain cells. If so, I've had a full year of my brain rewiring itself, growing back where my drinking had pruned it. I've also been more physically active and eating more healthfully, which also have a positive impact on cognition. It's been a subtle change, but I like this new me. I'm better able to understand complex things like relationships, I can see other peoples' points of view better, I'm better equipped to handle anger and frustration and - especially - boredom.

Who knows how much this is just psychosomatic, a placebo effect where I feel smarter because I want to feel smarter, but I like feeling this way, and I intend to enjoy it.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

2000!

As an added bonus, yesterday I crossed the "2000 page views" marker. I know that's nothing on the internet, but it made me feel good to see the numbers creep up.

And the rest of yesterday went fine, I don't know why I was making such a fuss. The boyfriend and I shared a toast, and then later on I went over to a friend's house where a few of us hung out and watched TV and talked. It was nice.

And that's all I have to say for myself this morning. Happy Canadian Thanksgiving, everyone!