Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Not Perfect

I have a post sitting in draft form about gambling, because that is something that I am NOT addicted to, but lots of people are, and I'm curious as to why that is, but I haven't been able to tease out a proper line of reasoning yet, so it will stay in the draft files for now.

What I am writing about today, though, is how I kind of, on some level, expected to be perfect. Like, okay, maybe not perfect, but once I realised that alcohol was having negative effects on my moods and behaviours, it was inevitable that I would imagine an alternate, alcohol-free me, who through the simple act of remaining sober becomes a paragon of virtue and stability.

I mean, if booze makes me lazy, careless, rude, flaky, angry, and lethargic, once you remove the booze I am then automatically energetic, detail-oriented, polite, reliable, level-headed, and a real go-getter, right?

Well....apparently not. So, this is a hard thing, realizing that as a sober person I can be mean, I can hurt peoples' feelings, I can blow off responsibilities. It's true that I am doing less of these things. I think I am a better person to be around over all, but I'm not perfect.

It's because quitting drinking is the first part of what I'm supposed to be doing. If my life is a road, heading towards some destination, drinking was a detour off that road, that just plunked me back at the start. I've stopped taking that detour, and that's great, but all it does is shows me just how long of a road I've got to travel to reach my goals, and on that road are other detours, and potholes, and rough patches with giant speedbumps.

The second part of what I'm supposed to be doing is learning how to be an adult human. I read somewhere that alcohol inhibits our ability to learn new skills and to develop emotionally, so by my calculation I've got about 15-20 years of growing up to do, and growing up that much in a short period of time is hard.

But it is worth it!

Because, even though I am sometimes not patient, I am MORE patient than I used to be. I'm heading in the right direction. I feel like I'm acting like a smarter person, making better decisions, and dealing with life's problems in ways that are more effective. I mean, when I left the house for work this morning, all the dishes were done: how often could I say that, before?

Unlike last month, the distance between 4 months sober and 5 months sober is going by incredibly quickly. In a few days I'll reach that landmark and then will be a stone's throw from having been sober for half a year. Overall I feel really good about how I'm doing. It's hard, sometimes, realizing that I'm not always a good person, and not having alcohol as the scapegoat, but if I want to actually be a good person (I do), it's crucial to know when I am behaving poorly, so that I can learn and change from the experience, and while it's hard to do that now, when I was drinking it was impossible.

So, maybe I'm not perfect, but I'm fine with that. I'll settle for "Work in progress".

Friday, February 17, 2012

The last first drink

I've been struggling with blog posts this week. I have a draft here that is basically about how much I love chocolate since quitting drinking. But that's it: I now love and crave chocolate. I am still not drinking. No insights, no thoughts as to why that is. Therefore, no blog post.

Instead, I've been wanting to talk about some points in my history as they relate to drinking. I imagine that most alcoholics can trace their love affair with booze along some path or another, with landmark events that seem significant in hindsight. First drink, last drink, first relapse....so here is the story of my first relapse.

I quit drinking because of a violent, final fight with my then-boyfriend, so in effect, I ended two relationships at once. I broke up with the boyfriend and I broke up with booze. I'll write about that some other time, but basically I was quite shaken at how events happened, and since both myself and the boyfriend were ridiculously drunk that night, and because of our shared history of over-drinking, it made sense that maybe alcohol was the problem.

I made it 11 months, and secretly believe that quitting drinking when I did (about 8-9 years ago) might have been the best decision I could have made in my life. Then, 11 months later, I made another decision that effectively cancelled it out.

In my months sober, I moved out on my own, started at the gym, and joined rugby. Rugby, frankly, was a surprise. It was the moment when I realized that adults can discover new passions, that intense, insane dedication and love to a new hobby or interest is not something that only happens to kids and teenagers. I love rugby. I do not know what I will do when I decide I am too old to play. Best not think about that.

I managed to play rugby for 3 months or so while maintaining my sobriety. I think that while I was sober, I had a lot of the same experiences I'm having now: the joys of remembering my nights out, the physical health, but also the weird drinking dreams, and that persistent fantasy that I could probably control my drinking if I wanted it enough.

By November of that year, I was planning a relapse. My time spent sober had been great, the reasoning was, but I just needed a cooling off period. I was stable, now, having recovered from my break-up, and had a whole bunch of new friends in my rugby club, and one or two drinks on occasion might be just the thing to make everything perfect.

Rugby is a social sport. The saying I learned that year was something like: "Soccer players are gentlemen on the pitch and hooligans off it, while ruggers are hooligans on the pitch and gentlemen off it." The "3rd Half" of a rugby game is a bunch of dirty, sweaty guys chugging beer in a variety of entertaining ways. Not everyone on my team drank, and I'm sure only a few of them are struggling with alcoholism, but beer was a part of my first rugby experiences.

Anyway, that year we went to New York on a tournament, and, knowing that there would be free and cheap drinks, that I would be surrounded by friends and fellow-ruggers, and that it was in a new environment so could not possibly link alcohol to anything familiar back home, it seemed the perfect time for a planned relapse.

So, on the big boozing night after all the games were played, I lined up my drinks, let my buddies know what I was doing, and let loose!

Nothing disastrous happened (to me: there are naked pictures of several of my club-mates from that trip). I do remember, though, that I felt disappointed...I had been expecting that my abstinance would have lowered my tolerance, so that the drinks I lined up (8 or 9 beers, I think) should have gotten me completely wasted, but by the end of the night I was still not drunk enough. You know, I should have taken that as clue number one that the relapse was a mistake.

If you are a drinker like me, you know: there is no such thing as "drunk enough" and there will never be.

Anyway, I think my drinking had slowed somewhat after that, but before too long (I wasn't keeping stats, but lets say within 3 months anyway) I was back to bingeing on the weekends and drinking what I could get away with on weeknights. I also had quit my job, lost my apartment, moved back in with my ex (who was still my ex), and had begun the long, depressing, horrible Lost Years of my life, where I was depressed, anxious, drank too much, did not hold down jobs, was suicidal, ultimately homeless, and only barely came back around to "myself".

If I hadn't started drinking again, would any of that have happened? I certainly would have made different choices. Depression and anxiety would have been there, sure, but I would have handled them better. Who knows where I would be now?

Obviously there's no answer to that, but I need to remember my own history as a cautionary tale. At 11 months sober I believed that I could handle alcohol in my life, and that was a mistake. It took me almost a decade to recover from that mistake, and I don't feel like I can just go around and waste another decade because I wanted to get drunk.

So, here's hoping that I have now had my LAST last drink. Because I will never be drunk enough: it's harmful to even try.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Thinking outside the box

There is a box of wine sitting in my fridge at home.

It's mostly empty, and was left there by a friend about a week and a half ago when my boyfriend had people over. In the old days, there is no physical possibility for a box of wine to remain inside my fridge for a week and a half. True, in the old days you could check and see a box of wine in there every single day for a week and a half, but in those days it is extremely unlikely that it would be the same box of wine. What you would have seen was three or four different boxes of wine as they replaced the original.

This box of wine is the same one. The exact same one. No replacements. It's just sitting in there, maybe a quarter full, waiting for someone who does drink (not me) to come along and imbibe.

The last few days, that box has been bugging the HELL out of me.

I'll be strong, and to tell the truth, whether I relapse or not has very, very little to do with the contents of my fridge. I am a 2 minute walk from a wine store, a 5 minute walk from a beer store, and a 10 minute walk from an "anything with alcohol content" store, plus about a billion bars and pubs. Also, my credit card is completely paid off and I have money in both my chequing AND savings accounts. I am probably in the best possible condition for me to arrange a giant bender as I will ever be. Shame, really. I guess this is the paradox: when I'm drinking, I can't afford to drink, and when I stop drinking I can afford anything I want, including drinking!

But back to the box....a few days ago I lifted it out of the fridge, not to drink it, but because I was curious. I wanted to know how full it was. It was depressingly light...if I were drinking, it would not have been enough, not by a long-shot. The boxes hold, I think, 3 or 4 bottles' worth of wine, and I'm pretty sure I can pack away three quarters of a box in one night, if I'm determined. The box in the fridge probably has about two or three glasses worth.

A day after I checked the contents, I saw a mostly-empty glass of wine on my boyfriend's computer desk from the night before. I actually had to stifle an impulse to just gulp it down - one harmless little swallow. I can even taste the sour tang of day-old wine right now, and feel the warmth in my face and belly. Mm-mm.

I hate to think it, but I'm worried that, for whatever reason, I might be in relapse territory. It's time for me to think very, very hard about what that would mean. A huge part of alcholism is the denial, and I think that I'm at least partly in denial about how difficult not drinking really is for me. It's incredibly seductive to think that I could have a little binge (Ha! "little binge!") and then just hop back on the wagon. One of the blogs I read (Immortal Alcoholic) talks about an end-stage alcoholic who has refused detox, because he wants to be healthy, but not stop drinking. I completely understand this. Man, I feel this. If I could be simultaneously sober AND drunk? All the time? Man. How awesome would that be??

But that's fantasy. Reality is that if I take one drink, that is the first step down the road to losing each and every single one of my dreams and goals, hurting people that I love and who love me, and giving up on a real and well-lived life. I'm not ready for that, yet.

The thing is, I'm just starting to understand what my life as a sober person could actually be. I've spent so much of my life as an adult being a drinker that I'm realising now that I actually have no idea what I'm capable of. Certain ideas I have about myself - my laziness, my lack of ambition, my flakiness - might just be artifacts of my alcoholism and not even close to accurate about myself. What if I'm actually a hard-working, ambitious, reliable person? What would that mean?

Fact is, I don't have a reliable framework yet for thinking about myself as sober. I don't really know who I am. I've had plenty of time to figure out who and what the drinking Marc is, that's comfortable (-ish) and familiar. But thinking about myself outside of that wine box is strange and more than a little frightening. I don't know who he is, yet, but I have a feeling that he's better than the wine box me. So its worth it getting to know him.

Monday, February 6, 2012

My Name is Marc and I am....

...I am a recovering alcoholic.

For most of my adult life, when speaking about my inability to control my drinking, I would euphemize. "I'm a problem drinker," I would say. I would never say "I'm an alcoholic," except in a joking sort of way, with friends, when we're all talking about our last binge weekend, just before going out and buying another case of beer.

Take almost any point in the last 15 years of my life and ask me to take one of those "how much do you drink" quizzes, and no matter what the result (and the result was consistent: whatever the highest amount of alcohol consumed was, that would be me) I would find a way to believe that I was mostly normal, just my drinking was a little bit of a problem. Just a tad. My drinking just needed a slight tweak, and I would be fine.

It's a little bit amazing how I managed to believe this. If I was the one administering the quiz, I would give accurate data and then simply reinterpret the results. If it was someone else administering the quiz (eg, my doctor) I would falsify the data to reach a desired result. It's a little bit funny that even the made-up numbers that I gave my doctor were high enough that he was concerned about my drinking. I have no idea what he might have said for the real numbers.

Over the last week, though, I've stopped lying. I'm not lying to myself, and I'm not lying to those closest to me. I am an alcoholic. Right now, I am an alcoholic in recovery (such as it is), but I can no longer let myself believe that I am not an alcoholic.

I've so far told two people, both of whom know I'm not drinking anymore, my best friend and my boyfriend, and both conversations went pretty much the same way. I told them that I was an alcoholic, they both, in their own way, responded with "No you aren't. Sure you've told me you were concerned about your drinking, but it never really got that bad. Don't worry about it!" And I can see their image of the alcoholic, the homeless, scruffy, unshaved, unkempt man who smells and shouts profanity at random passers-by from the gutter where he nurses a paper-bag covered bottle. Nope, not me. Whew, glad that's settled.

But I've been ready for this objection, because I know things they don't know. So, I told my boyfriend how, when I had a big bottle of vodka in the freezer, I would sometimes buy smaller bottles to pour into the big bottle so that he would think that I had been nursing that bottle the whole week, and not that I finished it in two days. He had no idea. But now that he knows, he's a bit more accepting of the whole "Marc is an alcoholic" thing.

We went over some of my behaviours, and after a little bit, my friend and my boyfriend both acknowledged that there was a pattern, and so maybe the idea of li'l ol' me being a big ol' alky wasn't so far fetched.

I told my boyfriend about some of the blogs I've been reading, and how I do not want to put him through the same nightmare that others are going through. He's completely on board with me, and I don't think I can over-estimate how much his support means to me. Part of my progrerss will depend on my being truthful about my drinking and what I did to facilitate it, so this is a big step forward for me. I am an alcoholic, but I am in recovery.

Friday, February 3, 2012


There's a not insignificant piece of me that dreams about being drunk all the time. In a perfect world, this piece of me says, I could drink from dawn til dusk til dawn again. I would be wealthy, somehow. I would have a maid to clean the house. I wouldn't have to work. I would live someplace sunny, and each morning I would enjoy mimosas and "special" coffees, the hot afternoons I would sip beer, and at night I would enjoy the company of others while we partied into the wee hours...

A life free of consequence and responsibility, where I would be at liberty to enjoy all the intoxicants I could imbibe....

It's a sweet fantasy, but it has no actual bearing on reality.

The last few days, I've been reading Immortal Alcoholic, the journal of Linda, a woman married to an end-stage alcoholic. It is an amazing story, tragic and horrific but somehow inspiring and funny at the same time. Linda does her research. She is matter-of-fact. She knows how to get things done, and if she doesn't she knows how to find out.

Her recounting of her life, the challenges she's facing, and the details she provides about the nature of end-stage alcoholism are the perfect antidote for my drinking fantasy. Her reality, of living with a man who is disconnected from everything but the bottle, on the verge of one medical catastrophe after another, is the reality that I would inflict on my loved ones if I truly "lived the life" of drinking all the time.

This weekend I reach 4 months of sobriety, and I am going to do what I can to ensure that I go a lot longer.