Thursday, March 29, 2012

When a grown man cries

So, here is a description of me:

I am 6', 260lbs, short dark hair, glasses (unless I'm playing rugby), often with a beard but currently just a little patch of well-trimmed hair on my chin, broad shoulders, thick legs, used to be "barrel-shaped" but 6 months of going to the gym and not drinking booze mean I am getting more triangle-shaped. 35, but on a good day I (hope I) look closer to 30. I have all of my hair and none of it is grey.

So, while I'm basically a delicate kitten, I look like a giant clumsy bear.

Which is why one of the funniest things (to me) about being sober is how much its turned me into a bit of an emotional cream puff. The latest example is watching an episode of How I Met Your Mother last night when one of the characters' father dies at the end of the episode, and here's me, this big, bearded guy, sniffling into my kleenex for a good fifteen minutes after the credits rolled.

But, the thing is, I'll trade that little crying jag for any of the drunken-binge-inspired sob fests any day. I suspect I don't "cry pretty" when I'm loaded off my ass.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


So, a few years ago I was diagnosed with social anxiety disorder. I knew I had it, because it was clear that I find social situations more difficult to handle than the average person. It leads me to avoid social situations. I don't enjoy meeting new people (I like people, but unless I have a "script", eg working in a customer service situation, I get anxious about what I'm saying). There are people who have anxiety worse than I do, and most of the time I manage. On a day-to-day basis, I can go to work, for example.

But every now and then my anxiety spikes. It becomes a challenge to even leave the house. At times it's been so bad that I haven't left my bed except for bathroom breaks. I've avoided the windows of my ground-level apartments, for fear that someone would see me. It's not fun.

There's a corollation between people who have a mental illness and abuse drugs or alcohol. I think it's called self-medicating, because the booze (or drugs) can provide relief in the short term, even though neurologically alcohol and drugs may actually make the mental illness worse. So, I might use a few drinks* when I'm out with friends to take some of the edge off, but my anxiety would be worse for probably the next week or so. Which means I have more motivation to drink.

Of course, even when I was drunk, the anxiety was still there. Which is why I much prefered to just get drunk when I was home, alone. The drinking would dull the anxiety, and because I was safe at home, I didn't have to worry about socialising with anyone. Also, booze at the liquor store is cheaper than booze at the bar.

Towards the end of my drinking, especially last summer, it was becoming clear that drinking was a failing strategy for dealing with my anxiety. I'm not sure if it was biological or what, but suddenly (I have no idea how sudden it actually was. I noticed it suddenly) drinking socially turned me into a passive aggressive paranoid asshole. I didn't like my friends, I didn't like myself, and I could tell that I was not a very fun person to be around. A few of us went on a camping trip and I was seriously a giant jerk the whole time. I was pissed off constantly, felt like all of their jokes excluded me, that they weren't listening to my ideas. I was miserable, and I don't think it's a coincidence that there are plans for a camping trip next summer that don't include me. I wouldn't have included me, based on how I was acting last year.

One of my hopes with not drinking was that it would help me get a handle on my anxiety and prevent things like that camping trip from happening again. I'm happy to report that socially I'm not so much of a misfit. I'm not angry at everyone anymore, and that's a huge, HUGE payoff.

The anxiety is still there, though. I'll feel it sometimes when I'm with groups. Sometimes it's just out-and-out fear, and sometimes it's a sense of...closing myself off, like the world is full of cotton and I just can't manage the effort to hear what other people are doing and just want to find a corner to myself. Sometimes, the happiest I am at parties is when the party is going on all around me and I'm left by myself. But sometimes the most miserable I am at parties is when it's going on around me and I'm left by myself. You can imagine how frustrating that is.

I'm experiencing some high level anxiety lately. I don't know how long it will last. I have 4 more days of work left, and I hope that that helps a bit. I'm worried that it will cause me to freeze when I renew my job hunt, which would be disastrous. I have an appointment with my GP soon, so I will probably bring this up...but since I will be unemployed and without a drug plan, I may just have to endure it until it passes.

*This is a typical alcoholic's dodge, by the way: there's no such thing in my life as "a few drinks". When I use that phrase, please substitute "a significantly large number of drinks".

Friday, March 23, 2012

Disappointment and Risk

So, one of the things about being sober is learning how to live with emotions. When I began on this path, I suspected that anxiety would be the hardest for me to overcome. I've had some form of anxiety or another for most of my life, usually it's "social anxiety", I get nervous and often try to avoid social situations. There's a picture of me when I must have been 4 or 5 years old, dressed in a Superman costume, huddled in my dad's lap at a school's halowe'en party. I remember that party because I was too scared to go and play with any of the kids. My mom still has that picture, and it's kind of hillarious: superman, huddled and frightened and needing his dad.

And don't get me wrong: dealing with my anxiety sober has been challenging, but it isn't the hardest, and I found that out last night.

I think I've mentioned that I'm leaving my job. There are a few reasons that I won't go into just now (but, hey, if you happen to be in a leadership position, maybe take some time today to acknowledge the hard work that your subordinates are doing for you), but I don't have anything concrete lined up, so for the first time in 6 years I will be unemployed.

Yesterday I found out that a job I wanted went to someone else, and that crushed me. It's the first time I've been disappointed since quitting drinking, and so the need to drink came at me as a surprise. And it's because this is what I've always done when things didn't turn out okay: I would make a bee-line to the nearest liquor store, load up, go home and binge and watch movies until I passed out. I don't have much practice being disappointed and sober.

So instead I went home, told the bf that I didn't get the job, and that I needed him to hug me, tell me it was okay, and that I could deal with this without drinking. By the time I asked him to say all that, I knew I wasn't going to drink, but I needed to hear someone else tell me, just to feel a little bit better.

So, it's the next day, and the disappointment is fading. I'm burying it under loads of "sour grapes" reasoning: the commute would have been too far, right? And it was more of a lateral move. I wouldn't have liked some of the people. Blah blah blah. I'm still disappointed, but there are other emotions moving in. Fear and uncertainty about my future, but also hope and determination. I'm stronger now than I've been in a long time, I have every reason to believe I'll land on my feet.

And next time when I have to handle being disappointed and I know I can't drink, I'll have at least had some practice.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Morning people

I'm not supposed to be a morning person. Even as a kid, I liked sleeping in, and the my teenage years took it up a notch: waking up at 3pm was not unheard of.

But this morning, as happens more frequently since I quit drinking, I woke up 30 minutes before the alarm, and since I try to get up at 4:15 so I can hit the gym before work, that means I basically woke up in the middle of the night.

But, I wasn't sleepy. I felt well-rested. Instead of lying there I just got up and made myself a coffee and breakfast and used the extra time to read some favourite websites and catch up on the news. It was nice.

While I was waiting for the water to boil, I thought about how this would have gone down if I were drinking. My mouth would have tasted gross. I would have been tired. I would have had a headache. I would have been sluggish, grumpy, and possibly still drunk. I would have been covered in sweat, and I would have kept the boyfriend awake with my loud snoring.

Oh! Here's a fun fact: because my snoring was so loud, my boyfriend and I have always slept foot-to-head, upside down to each other. For the last month, we've been sleeping with our heads at the same side of the bed. It's much better, because I can listen to him breathe. And he says he sleeps just fine.

Sobriety is good for relationships!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Changing While Sober

So, rushing headlong towards 6 months. Feeling optimistic. Life is sending me giant signals that sobriety is the best choice for me, and that's a good thing.

I skipped St Patty's Day, but I did get some partying in at a friend's birthday Friday night where I used the "alcoholic" word freely, and got some positive results. Basically a friend asked why I wasn't drinking and, tired of the long, boring answer I always give, I kind of shrugged and said "Well, I'm an alcoholic."

It turns out that there was a whole group of us there who, for one reason or another, weren't drinking. A few people have family members who have struggled with addiction, and so it just felt really good and comfortable to be sober in that mix. I ended up walking a friend to the subway stop and we talked about random stuff, and it was very pleasant. This friend is about 90 pounds soaking wet and doesn't drink often, so that conversation would never have happened if I were still on the booze.

The other thing that's happening is that I'm facing some higher-than-usual stress at work. I won't get into the details, but what's interesting to me is that I am having to deal with the stress without any chemical help. It's difficult, but I'm feeling a growing sense of accomplishment, because I really do feel like I am in charge of certain things, whereas if I were drinking I don't think I would feel as in control.

Now, what I HATE is that I'm having to deal with my "anxious brain" on equal terms: I can't drown out the voices and thoughts and doubts with a case of beer, and so I have to address them. I've been lying awake, running scenarios through my brain, sometimes to the point of feeling like a crazy person, and if I'm honest, I'd have to say that I much prefered just knocking myself out instead of dealing with these things like an adult.

Of course, this is what I have to do. Aside from being frustrated and all of those negative stress emotions, I'm curious and interested to see how I react. One of the effects of long-term alcohol abuse is that the brain doesn't develop, learn, and grow like a normal brain. In some ways, I'm still developmentally like someone in his early-twenties. Like most people, I made mistakes, but in the past I was preventing myself from learning from those mistakes.

In a lot of ways, the stress at work is echoing similar situations from other, past work places. In the past, I've reacted differently. I think I was more rash, more impulsive before. I was more easily overwhelmed by stress, and my first reaction was always to avoid, with disasterous results.

I feel more measured in my responses now. I'm about to make a big decision, a life-changing one (well, really, the decision is made, I just have to act on it...NERVES!), but I feel confident that I've considered the long-term. I've had the time to rationally think about my options. I've had conversations with friends and with the boyfriend, and while I have no real idea where I might be for now, I feel like I'm making the right choice. This is a confidence I would not have had if I was drunk (I might have had bravado, but not confidence).

My boyfriend told me the other day, while we were talking about these issues, that I've grown a lot since he met me, and it's true. I am a more responsible person. Part of that is I guess just plain old growing up, but I think part of it is being sober, too. It's not that you need to be sober to mature, but for me alcohol was blocking my growth. It's good to be rid of it.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Highs

Ah HA! Here it is, that euphoric "I'm doing great and being sober is AWESOME!" feeling that all the other ex-alcoholic blogs keep talking about. Maybe I felt it before, but I'm 5 months into sobriety and I don't think I've written about it yet.

It's nice.

Here is how my morning went:

Woke up about 30 minutes before my alarm went off, feeling well rested probably because I went to bed a little early last night. Lay in bed and snuggled with the boyfriend until it did go off. He was restless and more snuggly than usual, but I know it's because he's dealing with some stress himself that, for once, is completely unrelated to me. I hope he feels better soon, but in the meantime it meant that I got 30 precious minutes of quiet time listening to him breathe as he nestled his head into my chest and I held him around the shoulders.

Eventually I disentangled, showered, did some dishes while waiting for water to boil, ate a healthy breakfast of oatmeal and protein shake while reading emails, then went to the gym.

I had a great workout, made even better because I've been going regularly for almost 6 months now, and so I am stronger and in better shape, and I feel like I'm looking pretty good.

Then I arrived at work, made cheerful small-talk with my co-workers and here I am with my coffee and a banana, ready to start the day (but not too soon...gotta finish this post, ha ha). I'm sure something will temporarily derail this happy little train, because I've got work stress (boy have I ever), but I know that as soon as the clock strikes 4, I'm free for the whole weekend, which promises to be full of friends and family and relaxation.

Contrast and compare to a typical pre-sobriety morning: alarm goes off, but I re-set it because I am hungover and/or sluggish and don't want to go to the gym. The boyfriend can't sleep because I was snoring loudly all night. Finally get up at the last possible minute, have a shower even though it won't hide the smell of booze and sweat, not completely. Arrive at work late. Grumble at co-workers, or if it's a high stress day flip out and make a scene at someone. Spend the day feeling miserable and just waiting for 4 o'clock to strike so I can bee-line to the beer store and obliterate the weekend with booze.

No contest, right?

Next post: the tragic realisation that happiness doesn't last.