A Happy Place

I haven’t updated this blog in forever (and by “forever”, I mean a very, very long time).  There were actually a couple of more recent posts, but since the server crashed, I restored the most recent backup I had and, well, a few things got lost.

Most of my readers know about my problem with alcohol.  You can see more detail below about my struggle.  After I finally got sober, I wrote The Christian Alcoholc, where I recorded everything before I forgot.  It’s been exactly 2 1/2 years now (Yay!) and I can honestly say I do not crave alcohol any more.  Not that I don’t wish I could swallow something to make me feel better – I do all the time, but these days it’s wheat-grass-banana shots and coffee – but I remember enough of the nausea, headaches and regrets to remove booze from the alternatives I seek out when I’m feeling bad.

One of the posts that got lost was about my 1-year sober anniversary.  It was a trying time for me.  I thought I was done with it, but for some reason when the same time of year came around, the same desires & cravings came with it.  Something to watch out for if you’re in the same boat.  One of the other things they don’t tell you when you’re drinking: it will be YEARS before your wife stops mentioning the things you said or did and how much it hurt everyone.  YEARS.  At least more than 2 and a half.

Life is much better now.  I recently turned 50, and I got myself a sports car as a pre-emptive strike against a midlife crisis.  Abandoned my old friend Camaro for something smaller, a Subaru BRZ, with all of about 175 horsepower.  Then I added a supercharger, injectors, flex-fuel kit, custom tune – at 300 hp now, it’s basically a rocket 🙂  My formula for happiness hasn’t changed much since I was a teenager: a car, a dog and a girl.  Got the car, got the dog, and my girl has been in remission from breast cancer for almost 5 years 🙂  See all the smiley faces?  I’m happy now 🙂 🙂 🙂

The truth is, I’m not driven to write when I’m happy, unless it’s something abnormal and freakishly weird, like if I won the lottery or cracked the code to an ancient mystery or discovered the cure to cancer, so you may find the reading here to be a little on the downer side.  I have found that most people who contact me have found solace in the fact they are not alone.  I certainly did.  I’m not the only one who’s a Christian and also an alcoholic, who trusts Jesus for salvation and still wants (or wanted) to get hammered.  Don’t ever trust a salesman: the life people advertise is not like the brochure.

But still, I can’t complain.  I thank God every day that he gave me the strength to give up drinking.  It was a horrible, frightfully desperate time in my life, brought about by a sick wife, rebellious children and a crumbling church, where everything I every cherished or believed in was faltering.  But, I made it.  It wasn’t easy, in fact it was just about the most difficult thing I ever did, but if I can do it, so can you.  In the end, there’s always hope.  And isn’t that what happiness really is?  The hope that tomorrow will be better than today, and looking back, today really IS much better than yesterday.

Things can and do get better.  Never give up hope.  Sometimes, it’s all we’ve got…

-Mark

Six months sober

It’s been over six months since my last drink.  I have been off of Clonazepam for a couple of months, and dropped the Zoloft about 3 weeks ago.  I hate life.  I really, really wish there were something more to it than feeling anxious all day and being awake fidgeting all night.  Very annoying.

The cravings for alcohol are long gone, but my best guess right now is that I’m suffering with long-term benzo withdrawal.  My ears started ringing while I was still on Zoloft.  I went through a time a couple of weeks ago when I was dizzy and my blood pressure fell & my pulse went down below fifty.  I went to my general practitioner, the on-duty nurse at my job site, my shrink and an ear-nose-throat specialist.  I’m perfectly healthy.  Or so I’m told.  Normal ECG, no hearing damage, good auditory and sensory response.  But, I’m still anxious, my body is restless but lacks energy, I’m losing focus and can’t remember words.  I now have a 20-pound weighted blanket to help me feel secure when I sleep, but I can’t lay it on my chest or I’ll get stabbing chest pain.

I know what it’s like to die.  Nobody believes me, but I swear to God, my heart stopped.  I was lying down and couldn’t move.  No energy, and I just felt so heavy, like gravity just kept getting stronger & stronger.  I fought against it, but couldn’t open my eyes or move my fingers.  Everything was quiet and I just sank into my mattress.  I was powerless to wake myself up, communicate, open my eyes, say or do anything.  I felt my chest fall into my back and I couldn’t stop it.  I breathed out and then, stillness.  Dark, still quiet.  I was expecting some sort of fireworks or angels or one of those out-of-body experiences.  No tunnel.  No light.  Alone.  Very, very still and completely without sound or feeling.

My wife thinks I’m crazy, but I know what happened.  I guess it wasn’t my time yet.  I woke up.  Somehow I forced a scream, which came out as a mumbled groan, and my eyes woke up to my pounding, restarted heart.  That day I bought some baby aspirin, which I take now when I can feel myself slowing down, getting heavy.  I haven’t, but I thought about, writing down my super-secret passwords at night so my wife could find them in the morning, so someone could get into my affairs and pay the bills after I’m gone.  I had a friend at work who got a pacemaker when he was about my age.  He was perfectly healthy, but an overnight monitor revealed that his heart slowed down to near death at night.  Doctor told him one day it’s just going to slow down too much & stop.  I’m pretty sure I need one of those, but like I said, nobody believes me.

If I do die, I want my tombstone to say “I told you I was sick!”

Other than the whole dying in my sleep thing, I still find every day a struggle.  I can only pray that God still has a purpose for a burned out recovering drunk like me.  Still manage to go to work every day, and to accomplish some small portion of our remodeling project each weekend.  My car is aging along with me; every day it seems to sprout a new leak, lose more paint or develop a new habit, turn on another trouble light on the dashboard.  The latest trick is after twenty minutes of driving, the transmission decides it’s gone far enough.  I can rev the engine nearly to redline and barely accelerate.  I guess 150,000 miles will do that…

I sincerely hope that eventually, maybe in another six months, I’ll be better.  I started working out again, and I’m taking more vitamins, trying to clear this fog and hedge my bet against the grave that will eventually claim me.  But youth is gone.  I’m in a daze, stumbling through life, no longer searching for anything, just trying to survive, pretending to be interested in the day-to-day monotony, keeping up with the bills and various obligations.

I guess it’s better than hugging a toilet though, right?  Yeah.  It’s definitely better.  Much better.  I guess I can only go up from here.  If I don’t go to hell first, that is…

-Mark

FRIDAY!  Last night I didn’t die.  I felt heavy as a rock, and I had my first good night’s sleep in a long time.  All of this anxiety is really wearing me down.  My wife reminded me that she’s seen me stop breathing at night before, so I’m going to yet another doctor for sleep apnea.  Come to think of it, my friend with the pacemaker, that’s how he found out.  He went to a sleep clinic and they woke him up and said, dude your heart just stopped, you need a pacemaker…

As I was reminded by hulioathome’s comment, I’m not really destined for Hell because I’ve been born again, into God’s family.  To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.  True that… thanks for the reminder, hulioathome, I needed that.

Have a nice weekend, dear reader.  It will get better.  If not soon, then eventually…

-Mark

Life After Booze

It’s been almost six moths since my last drink.  I would first of all like to apologize because it seems I only write something when I feel bad.  When I feel good, I typically am busy doing something else besides feeling sorry for myself.  So, although I tend to paint a pretty bleak picture here on my blog, life can be good.  Sometimes.

I no longer crave alcohol, per se.  Those of you who have kept up with my struggle know that I was drinking heavily, daily, trying to wash away my reality after my daughter ran away to Mexico and my wife got breast cancer.  That was the lowest time of my adult life and I just couldn’t bear to face the day.  I went through the “Last Call Program” which turned out to be a total rip-off, I tried tapering off, cold-turkey, herbs, you name it.  I think I finally just got tired of feeling like shit all the time.  So I’m clean.  But, I do still crave escape, some kind of solace, some way to take a break from this tired old world.  And here’s the reason why:

FREEDOM

I can’t even remember all of the stories, both national and personal, that lead me to the conclusion that I am a ward of the state, oppressed, submissive, demoralized and living in constant fear that some government entity will one day take away everything that I have ever worked towards.  There are one or two times in my nearly five decades on this rock that I was happy to see a cop or a fire-fighter, and dozens upon dozens of times that I have been scared of them.

It’s all over the news.  If you’re a simple rancher with cows on the same land that the government wants to use to build a solar farm, you’ll be confronted by trained & heavily armed government SWAT teams who will take away your livelihood and put you in jail.  If you dare speak against the sitting president – especially if you’re not black – your Facebook and Twitter posts will be used to try you as a subversive terrorist.  If you have a beautiful patch of land in Colorado, and the government finds out, they will bankrupt you with legal fees until you have to settle for barely enough money to pay your lawyer.

Personally, I’ve had many similar, though not as newsworthy, experiences in my own life.  I had to scrap my plans for a building in the back yard because of the assholes in the code enforcement division giving me hell over getting permits and the futility of trying to explain that I was a homeowner that actually wanted to build something myself.  Or the time I got a letter from the city that the scraps of PVC pipe in my back yard, behind my six-foot privacy fence, constituted visible waste, which I had to clean up immediately or face prosecution.  I’ve all but given up on building my own car because I’d have to do it in the dark of night to avoid the piercing gaze of the homeowner’s association.

It’s like the America today is full of all these power-grabbing, omnipotent, self-appointed guardians of righteousness, and they will do anything and everything to make you comply with what they see as how you live your life.  I can’t grow my own pot, I can’t distill my own whiskey, I can’t do much more than change my own light bulbs without hiring a professional.  It’s like they make these rules that fit 99% of the people out there, and people like me that want to change our own oil or build our own structures are rebels that must be found and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.  It didn’t used to be like this.  People used to have common sense.  People used to become police, firemen, IRS agents – OK maybe not the IRS – but they used to actually want to help.  Now they just want an excuse to use the power they’re drunk on.

So I am living in constant fear of the Authority.  Any moment, dozens of armed men with automatic rifles and bullet-proof vests are going to drag me outside in my underwear and cuff me in front of my kids for not having the proper papers.  And I’m not even Jewish.

That’s another think I’d like to bitch about.  I feel like wild game, and I’m in season.  I’m not part of any protected class.  I’m the most despised, hated person on the face of this earth, because I’m not under any special category: I’m not female, I’m not Hispanic or black, I’m a middle-aged white Christian male, which means I must be super-privileged and never earned what I have and everyone believes that I don’t deserve anything but should have my property and wealth confiscated and distributed to illegal alien Muslim drug dealers, because it’s OK to offend me, insult my religion, call me all kinds of names, but don’t dare draw the word Mohammed on a napkin or you’ll be arrested faster than you can say Praise Jesus.

At the risk of getting fired, something that is constantly on my mind and haunts every waking moment, I will give you another insane example of rule-making gone amuck: let’s talk about flashlights.  Where I work, there are areas that could have explosive gasses and so, logically, spark-producing electronics are forbidden without written permission and an air sample.  But the letter of the law, the company make-one-mistake-and-you’re-fired rule is written such that even a pocket flashlight is deemed an extremely dangerous device and if you have one in your possession, EVEN IF THE BATTERY IS OUT, and even if you wear a daily-calibrated LEL meter that continuously checks for an explosive atmosphere, even though you may be walking in one of those units but OUTSIDE the danger zone, well, the rule is “no flashlights” so your ass is gone.  You get 15 minutes to clean out your desk and you may never, ever return, plus the rest of the companies are told of your reckless behavior so you’re blackballed on every other site’s list and you end up on food stamps or begging under a bridge, which is just where they want you anyway: helpless and dependent.

I used to think that here in the USA, if you do what’s right, work hard and don’t intentionally look for trouble, you could be safe, successful and secure.  I don’t feel that way any more.  Now the only way to be successful is to play politics, say the right things, act the right way, dot all the I’s and cross all the T’s, find out what the company likes and play their game, fake your way to the top, OR, screw all that and be a victim.  If you don’t work, or you’re a minority, well, then you can depend on the government to help you out; food stamps, medical care, free cell phones, whatever you need, because poor you, you can’t be expected to help yourself.  Victims are noble, self-motivated workaholics are evil.

So on this beautiful Easter weekend I can thank my GOD that against all of this prosecution, all of these dangers, this government of, by and for the rich and connected, I have the assurance of a Savior that is still (barely) legal to worship and who loves me and protects me and is in control of all of those who would do me harm, that want nothing more than to count the likes of me as sheep for the slaughter, because without Him I would be without hope and beaten down, scared and cowardly, head down, submissive and quietly obedient – or maybe I’m already there.  Maybe I AM scared of anyone with a badge or government seal, maybe I AM fearful of the Authority, and maybe I’m just so sick of waiting to get hauled off, fired or shot for an unintentional clerical error that I’ll just beat them to the punch, become the criminal that they think I am anyway, and have a little fun before I go.  Maybe I’ll be a bad guy, because they don’t have to follow the rules, they can have guns, drugs or booze, they’re the only ones that can do whatever they want, because they just ignore the rules, and in America, that’s now the only way to be truly free.

I’d like to ask God to bless America, but I honestly don’t think there’s much left to bless.  And besides, in a few years it’ll inevitably be illegal to say God anyway.  So let’s just say Thank America for letting me live.  For now.

Give Me Liberty or Give Me Meth

Do you know what I crave more than anything else in the world?  Here in America, where it’s supposed to be abundant to everyone?  Something that people have fought and died for over the centuries, in wars and riots and rebellion from oppression?  What drove our ancestors long ago to escape their world and travel thousands of miles to colonize a new one?

Freedom.

I long for the freedom to do whatever I want, whenever I want, without the constant, overbearing fear of retribution from the always-watching, ever-present Authority.  I am surrounded by enforcers with a zero-tolerance policy against violating any one of a myriad of rules, regulations and laws, so that my only solace, my only chance at averting their constant, piercing gaze is to not attract attention, to stay under their radar.  And their radar is everywhere.

Here at home, I’m not free.  I have to obey the city ordinances, most of which I don’t know and a few of which I’m sure I’m breaking.  I once thought that my back yard was private, but that was before my neighbor turned me into the city for having too much trash “in view”, that is, if you peek over the 6-foot fence.  I love to build things; I have a concrete storm shelter, but getting a permit to build one outside was a nightmare, so I hid it in the garage, next to my (probably illegal) home office.  I live in fear that one day someone from the government will come in and fine me or jail me for all of the code violations, lack of permits, and I’m not even mentioning  all of the overbearing rules from the community association.

Out on the road is where I used to feel the most freedom.  When I got my license to drive, and I could go anywhere, I felt alive; I felt free.  Not any more.  There are speed limits, school zones, red-light cameras and a cop on every corner, watching for someone with a broken taillight or expired registration.  I have a 300 horsepower Chevy Camaro, but I have to drive like a grandmother to avoid being noticed.  I don’t feel free.  I feel trapped.  I’m NEVER ALONE.  Even out on the road, miles from home and work, at any moment, my cell phone could ring and my wife, my boss, my parents, a co-worker, anyone can intrude in my happy little world.  I feel like a dog on a leash.

The police think they have absolute authority over citizens.  I remember as a teenager I used to walk around at night.  I felt some of the burden of life lifted during the darkness, when there was no school, my parents were asleep, and I had no obligations.  I could walk around with a friend all night, but almost every night, we were stopped and interrogated by police.  A couple of long-haired hippies up to no good, no doubt.  I got searched for drugs, accused of stealing, or breaking in to a shop.  I once stepped out of a convenience store to a parking lot full of cop cars because I matched the description of someone who robbed a store down the road.  And I don’t dare try to resist; they have the power, and I am at their mercy.  Freedom is not mine until they decide to let me have it, or IF they do.

I used to feel a little bit of freedom at work.  That was when computer-aided-drafting was new, computerized controls were new, and programs I wrote were used, appreciated and applauded.  Not any more.  A few years ago, they decided that everyone had the same needs: Microsoft Word, Excel, Powerpoint and Outlook, and about 1.5 GB of storage.  They ordered me to stop updating my custom database program, start using standardized software.  I once spoke up about something that I noticed needing to be fixed, and the project engineer did it, but said I had come up with this on my own “initiative”, which had become a bad word.  Then came the whole safety program.  They wanted everyone to be safe, so they came up with more rules, only if you break one of these rules, you are escorted off the property, never to return.  Zero tolerance.  No circumstantial or extenuating circumstances.  One mistake and you’re fired.  No more career.  Gone.

Even in my own family I have no freedom.  My father has intense OCD; nobody’s happy if he’s not happy.  We all do whatever Grampa wants, because otherwise he freaks out, pouts, makes everyone around him miserable.  And I realized something: I’m not free around my wife, either.  I love her to death, but thinking over the past several weekends, the only time I did anything, worked on any project, is when she was napping.  Otherwise, I feel to guilty.  The only hobby I feel like I can pursue without the guilt of ignoring her is to cook.  If I’m not grilling or smoking some fabulous side of beef, I’m on the couch, on the porch, or on the bed, doing basically nothing, until my wife tells me to.  It’s pitiful, but true.

When I was a teenager, beset by an overwhelming set of parental expectations, pressured by ambitious teachers in advanced classes, and stifled by emotionless rules that were blindly applied to me and every one of my fellow 2,000 students, I finally gave up trying to be good and turned to drugs.  It was wonderful.  I didn’t like pot that much, it made me feel too disconnected, and at that point I hadn’t gotten into anything else, except for speed.  Methamphetamine pills.  They were awesome.  I could take them, nobody would know, but I was breaking the law, I was being a rebel, I was free.  I realized a great truth back then: freedom is a state of mind.  If I can’t be free in the outside world, I will be free on the inside.

I have a video game that I play.  You start out in the wasteland.  It’s total freedom.  You can drive anywhere and shoot guns and rockets with no fear of arrest or prosecution.  Then you go to Wellspring.  The first thing the mayor says is you have to ditch your Ark suit and get a garage to park your buggy.  “We’re civilized here.  We have rules.”  Then later you get to Subwaytown.  That’s even more rigid.  You have to do whatever the town’s boss says.  “Nobody does anything without his OK.”  That’s just such bullshit and it’s just like real life.  The more people, the more civilized, the more rules, and the less freedom you have, until you end up like me, a slave, a subject of the state, with the NSA watching everything I do, cameras recording me everytime I step outside, cops everywhere, just waiting to arrest me for breaking some code or ordinance or rule or law that I didn’t even know existed.

I wish I could live in the wasteland.  Sure, bandits try to kill me and mutants are always crawling out of the sewers, but I could drive my buggy at top speed, jump off a sand dune, crash into a rock, fire explosives at anything that moves, and be respected and admired for it.  But if it’s not going to happen, if I’m not going to be able to relax and stop worrying that my pitiful little suburban life is one mistake, one lawsuit or accident away from complete destruction, if I can’t do what I want, then I’ll turn to something else to make me feel good, to relax and empower me, to take this putrid reality away and replace it with inner peace.

True freedom may only come in death; until then, give me liberty, or give me meth.

-Mark

If Life is Ugly, Tell a Lie

Did you know that the Red Hot Chili Peppers band played UNPLUGGED at the super bowl?  There are pictures of the bass player and no cord on his bass.  The previous day he was playing in a club or something, and the exact same bass is plugged in, so it’s not because he has a wireless transmitter or anything.  So the half-time show was just watching the artists perform while listening to a track from their CD.  Sounded great, but it was fake.

I guess it would be problematic for them to set up a perfectly sound-checked set in such a short time, when it’s so much easier to just pop a disc in.  I’ve gotten used to artists lip-synching in big events.  Beyonce lip-synched during the presidential inauguration, didn’t she?  The reason she gave was that she hadn’t had time to properly rehearse and she wanted it to be perfect.  Same thing with the superbowl: they wanted it to be perfect, and didn’t want to take a risk that they might make a mistake with millions of people watching.  And it happened before the Olympics in China, too.  The helicopter approach with the fireworks in the shape of foot-steps?  Fake.  Digital animation over real footage.  They said it was too windy and didn’t want to mess up.

I guess people would just prefer a nice fake to a flawed reality.  I used to play bass for a church of about 200 people.  I loved being in the Praise Team.  I worked very, very hard at being a good bass player, not making mistakes, keeping the tempo, putting in fills & walking lines at just the right spots.  Then one day a new guy showed up to lead the music.  He had a keyboard with a thousand buttons on it and as we started to rehearse, I noticed that I was playing two notes at the same time; one note was coming out of my amp, and a completely different one from the PA speakers.  I had been replaced by an electronic bass line.  It was really good, with its snappy notes and computer-generated precision.  I stood there feeling dumb for a minute, then just quietly put down the guitar & walked off the stage, and never returned.  No one seemed to care that the bass line was fake; it sounded good, didn’t it?

Now I can’t trust anybody.  Magazine covers are fake.  Music performances are fake.  I don’t even think American Idol is real any more.  I have to wonder how much editing went into it because I can’t believe what came out of my TV is the same as what came out of that mouth.  And remember Tron?  It was a silly movie, but they were able to animate a character, using pictures of him from the first Tron movie years ago, so on the screen you can see the same actor, the fake young version and the real old version, talking to each other.  I used to trust video’s because they were much harder to Photoshop, but apparently they can be processed too.

I’d just like to go on record that I appreciate the real thing.  When I go to a concert, I want to get close to the front so I can hear the drums and guitars themselves, NOT the PA systems.  When I go to church, I don’t want a praise team singing along with a CD – I love live music.  REAL, live music.  I LIKE hearing the little mistakes, the fingers sliding along the strings, the imperfect tempo or the sound of the drummer’s sticks accidentally hitting each other.  It’s human.  It’s authentic.

I’ll even say that I can’t stand fake boobs.  Yes, I’m a guy, I’m not supposed to be able to tell the difference, but it’s obvious to me, because they’re unnaturally round and disproportionate to the rest of things.  Remember what Mater said, the tow truck in the latest Cars movie?  He didn’t want that dent fixed because he got that dent with his best friend.  Well, my wife is my wife, she’s beautiful, she’s real, and even that scar where she had her lumpectomy is part of her, and I think she’s lovely just like she is.

So there you have it.  Life is real.  People are unique.  The differences we have from Barbie and Ken dolls are what make us beautiful rather than plastic.  It’s all over in Nature: trees and flowers are beautiful because they’re each different, and <GASP!> non-symmetrical! If you think that’s “ugly”, then just lie.  Take God’s perfect creation and Photoshop it, lip-synch it, animate it, and enjoy your plastic dream world.  As for me, I’ll live in the real world where people with flaws and who make mistakes are beautiful and perfect in their own, unique, wonderful, dazzling way.

Happy Valentines day, sweetheart!  You are the most beautiful, perfect person I have ever known, and I love everything about you!

-Mark

 

Life After Booze

I passed a major milestone, or so they tell me.  Going 90 days without alcohol is supposed to be some big deal.  If I was in AA, there’d be a ceremony and everyone would clap and my mom would hug me & my wife & kids would cheer.  Hooray for Mark.  It’s such wonderful news.  Everybody’s happy.

Except for me.

I don’t get it.  I’ve struggled against alcohol dependency for so long, and I just dreamed of a day like today, nice weather, no obligations, no hangover, healthy and free to do whatever I want to do.  Only, I don’t want to do anything.  Nothing.  I’m just empty inside.  No motivation at all; just sitting around, waiting for bedtime, watching the clock and wondering why God put me here anyway.

I guess it goes back to when my wife got cancer.  I stopped everything when she was sick.  Nothing seemed important any more.  I managed to forced myself to go to work, I paid the bills, and the rest of my energy was consumed with helping her through her surgeries, chemo and radiation.  By the time that was all over, I was wiped out, I didn’t want to live any more, or think, or remember, so I stepped up my drinking, washing straight whiskey down my throat every day until I was completely numb.

It’s been over 4 years since I balanced the check book.  There’s a pile of paperwork 12 inches high next to the filing cabinet.  The workbench has about 7 layers of projects on it.  I can just barely motivate myself to do something, and when I’m done, I don’t have anything left in me to clean up or put the tools away.  And you know what?  It doesn’t matter.  Nobody cares.  Nobody goes into my office, or the garage.  As long as things get fixed when they break and the cars work and I keep getting a paycheck and I’m available (by which I mean, hanging around the house, sober and lucid), everyone is OK. It’s not ideal, but acceptable.

My kids both have iphones now.  That was something my wife has been wanting for years, so they could call us whenever they needed to and she wouldn’t have to worry if they were out with friends or something happened at school.  Unfortunately, it’s also turned them into zombies.  Since drinking was my one and only hobby for a while, now I don’t do anything that I used to: play tennis, upgrade the car, write programs (except at work), play guitar, listen to music.  The kids picked up on that, I guess, and since we’re not dragging them to baseball practice or to play tennis or going to a museum, they just spend weeknights and weekends glued to their phones, their video games, or usually both at the same time.

So I’m still the tortured soul that I was before, only now I’m sober and have little to replace the booze with.  My poor e-cig gets a workout on a daily basis, my cars get little to no attention, oil & filter changes are always late, I hardly ever wax my baby any more.  I did buy a new grill, and I manage to cook some type of meat on it every weekend.  That’s about it.  Then it’s back to work Monday, just watching the clock, waiting until it’s time to go home, then waiting for bedtime, so I can finally go back to sleep and stop thinking again.

I asked my wife how things have been since I stopped drinking.  Her eyes got big and she said Wonderful!  It was HORRIBLE when you were drinking, it was like you weren’t even there!  It’s so much better now that you’re available to us & the kids.  So that’s good.  She’s happier, the kids seem more – what’s the word – grounded?  Secure?  And I have time to do anything that I want to do.  If only there was something more to my life, a loftier goal than improving that brisket recipe, something that can inspire me, motivate me, make me into the man that I used to think I was.  Some way I can be as fun and intelligent and excited as I thought I was when I was drunk.

I guess it’s a lot like my wife’s cancer.  It really tore her down.  The chemo left her bald and drained of energy, the surgery scars still bother her, as do the missing lymph nodes in her left arm.  But she’s getting better, she’s recovering, and after a couple of years past the last treatment, she’s a different person: energetic, happy, busy.  Maybe, for me, it’s just like I finished the chemo.  The last round of whiskey shots are done, and now my body just needs to build itself back up again.  Like chemo, it kills the cancer, the depression and anxiety, but it weakens the whole body too.  And just like cancer, it takes time for the body to build back up again.

One day I’ll make it.  One day, like my wife, I will be an alcohol survivor, I’ll decide to just throw away all of those bills, clean off the workbench, and do something meaningful with my life.  One day I’ll smile again, have hope, believe in a brighter tomorrow, forget the painful past.  One day I will look forward to the sunrise, rather than the sunset.

-Mark

Update 2/7/14: Things are starting to get better.  My shrink put me on Zoloft in order to get me off of the Clonazepam.  It’s depressing to be taking so many pills every day, but hopefully I’ll be able to get off of Zoloft & Clonazepam this year some time.  I think the Zoloft is working.  I hate the side effects, like always being a little bit nervous & constantly noticing that I’ve been sitting on edge or have my shoulders up around my ears.  So, I actually caught myself smiling and even laughing.  Not often, but it has happened.  And of course I still have this infernal ringing in my ears that is driving me absolutely nuts, but that’s going to go away some time, I hope.

Hmmm.  I invoked the word “hope” twice.  That’s good.  I define depression as the absense of hope.  So maybe I will get better.  I hope I do.

I’m still here

It’s been 75 days since my last drink.  I haven’t heard from any of my readers; maybe nobody is reading my blog any more, I don’t know.  But just in case, I wanted to let you know, dear Reader, that it is possible to stop drinking.  I can honestly say that even though I still have the urge to just take myself off the grid, plunge into something that will make my mind take a reality break, relax me so I won’t feel guilty all the time, I don’t want the booze.  The thought of drinking brings back a lot of bad memories.

It’s been a very tough road.  Along with the alcohol, I tried to cut back on the clonazepam, which was an absolute nightmare.  I’m seeing a shrink now, who put me on Zoloft, bringing my medication total to 6 daily prescriptions.  In fact, after I take my morning pills, I’m not hungry for breakfast.  Weird, huh?  I don’t like being on medicine, especially the stuff that messes with your head, but I’m following his advice for now.

Just a quick little check-in.  Don’t have anything profound to say.  Just wanted to tell the world, 75 days, I did it!  And so can you.

Take care

-Mark

55 days and counting

So it’s been 55 days since my weekend nuclear meltdown, near-death alcohol overdose, hangover from hell and drug-induced psychosis.  My ears are ringing, I have no desire to do anything, I have no interest in anything, I’m just empty, empty, empty.

It’s not supposed to be like this.  I’m almost 2 months sober, and I keep staring at that empty bottle of Jim Beam wishing I could go back to when it was OK to have a drink, I didn’t do it every day, and it was fun & it didn’t ruin my life.  I wish I could get excited about something, anything.  It’s my day off.  I watched two movies, ate a ton of junk food, smoked some meat, changed the oil.  Wow.  Can’t wait to brag about my “exciting weekend”.  What’d you do this weekend, they’ll say.  I’ll reply with a evil grin, “5w30, dude, Mobil 1 all the way!”  Ugh.

I now take five prescriptions.  Let’s see – reflux, cholesterol, blood pressure, plus I’m still on clonazepam, which my doctor won’t refill so I went to a shrink who gave me number five, Zoloft, for depression.  I’m a blob.  I’m numb.  I don’t even know if I’m here.  Really.  I have no hope.  I can’t imagine being happy.  I can’t imagine anything ever changing.  I still live in a crappy house, drive a crappy car, spend every dime I have trying to make family’s life better, am in significant Christmas debt, I’m gaining weight, can’t get motivated to do anything, and basically hate life and have nothing to look forward to.

Everyone else is so damn happy for me.  Good job, that’s amazing, wow, 55 days, keep at it!  It’s nice being around all the time, following my wife with the shopping cart, helping with the dishes, feeding the dog.  I still go to work, but I’m a clock-watcher; hardly anybody else is there now, all taking Christmas vacations, but I’m all out of vacation time so I’ve got to work every day except Christmas.  I still have the same problems I’ve always had; but now I’ve got nothing to do but sit around and think about them.  Every problem seems huge and unsolvable.  I can’t even spell without the stupid spell-checker.

So the doctor says once the Zoloft kicks in, about 3 more weeks, I’ll feel totally great.  Hmph.  We’ll see.  I guess I’ve made it this far; might as well stay dry until then, I don’t know.  It wouldn’t be the first time that, surprise!, it ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.  Almost nothing is.  Everything is great when you’re imagining, when you look to the future, see hope, and dreams, and when they crumble and die all around you, there’s nothing left, just an empty shell, robotically dragging itself through daily routines, just make it through the day, just make it until bedtime, just make it to work, just survive, just keep breathing, don’t give up.  All based on the glim, dim, fading belief that just maybe it’ll be better.  Eventually.

The promised land of sobriety sure looked grand from my drunken valley, but so far it feels more like a swamp than a majestic forest.  Just sludge and mud and bugs and heat and nauseating monotony.  This has got to get better somehow, right?  I mean, I’ve made everyone else happy, being sober – it’s bound to get back to me, eventually, right?  There’s got to be something for me in this life; after I’ve given it my all, sacrificed and slaved and worked and sacrificed some more; there has to be something, some prize, some reward, some compensation for giving my energy and resources to my family and taking nothing for myself.  Because it just feels horrible, when you do the right thing, and everyone is happy, except me.  I just don’t know.  I have a sliver of hope.  I can stay off the booze, pretty sure I can do that, but then what?  And why?  So I can work?  So I can keep fixing my old car?  So everyone will have their slave, the family fix-it man and bottomless money machine?

Life is just crap.  No wonder I started drinking.  Sober, it’s just so bland, boring and tasteless.  I sure hope it will get better.  I just has to…

 

The Christian Alcoholic

Being a born-again Christian and having to struggle against physical addiction is one of the most paradoxically challenging things I have ever had to endure.  It goes against what I was taught in church, it’s embarrassing, and there are few people that will even admit that it’s real.  This blog entry will be the culmination of my experience and perspective on what has claimed many days, weeks, even years of my life, and my struggle to rationalize the teachings of Christ with the gritty reality of my weak human flesh.

About me: I have had a propensity towards substance abuse since I was a teenager, which was a good 30 years ago.  I used to smoke tobacco, then during my rebellious late teens, I moved on to pot, krystal & speed, cocaine, LSD, and probably some other stuff that I can’t remember.  I started drinking when I was 18, and have been on-and-off with the booze ever since.  Drinking has been my go-to drug of choice during various rough spots on my life journey.  Lately, my big problem came when my daughter ran away to Mexico a few years ago, and then my drinking ratcheted up significantly when my wife went through breast cancer.  My daughter has since come home, my wife is in remission, and I am only now getting over those most horrid trials of my life.  Over the past few years, my drinking had gotten to the point that I was buying the largest whiskey I could get on Monday, drinking every night, running out around Thursday or Friday and making trips to the corner store for beer, God-awful Four Loco’s and whatever else had a high serum gravity.

I’m married, I have four kids, two grandchildren plus one on the way, I live a fairly quiet life in the suburbs, I have a house, two cars, a decent job, and enough money to pay the bills and buy special things every once in a while.  No-one knows I’m an alcoholic; I hid it well.  I am still addicted to alcohol, even though I haven’t had any in a while, and I would like nothing better than to buy a whole case of whiskey, quit my job, stay home & get drunk continuously until I die.  That, for me, would be wonderful.  I choose not to, for the sake of my family, but I selfishly crave the escape that only alcohol can give.

I got saved about 26 years ago, when I met my wife, who had just found out she was pregnant.  Her boyfriend, my best friend at the time, dumped her, we fell in love, and I went to church with her.  She got saved after taking some Bible classes, and to prove her wrong, I took them too; of course, I couldn’t resist the truth and logic of the scriptures, and after a few weeks, I gave my life to Jesus Christ, trusting Him for my salvation, got baptized and spent many years going to that little church any time it was open.  I tithed, I gave, I attended, I played in the church band, and as much as I could, I worked.  I even taught a kid’s AWANA class once.

I just celebrated my 25th anniversary to the same wonderful girl, who has patiently endured my drinking problem for years.  She is the kindest, most loving and understanding person I have ever met.  If anything, she is the reason I stopped drinking.  If it weren’t for her, I probably would have never even attempted to conquer this debilitating illness.  She and my beautiful children are the only true motivation that I have to stay sober.

So what’s the point?  I guess I’m just trying to say, hi, my name is Mark, and I’m a Christian Alcoholic.

Disclaimer: This blog entry is not intended for perfect people.  If you have no bad habits, believe that anyone with a drinking problem is not a true Christian, you finish every sentence with Praise the Lord, have never had a sick day in your life and can smile for 18 hours straight, then please go find somewhere else to spend your time; the last thing I want is someone looking down their nose at me as I spill my soul out for the whole world to see.  Go judge someone else; believe me, I have already judged myself more harshly than you ever could.

I also use cuss words when the emotions get strong.  If you are offended by words like crap, poop, doo-doo, booger, shit, fuck, lesbian furburger… (did they leave yet?)  Look, I’m not perfect, I don’t admit to being perfect, in fact I aspire one day to be mediocre; I’m weaker and lazier and stupider than I ever imagined I would be; but God loves me just the way I am.  He made me out of dirt, and dirt is dirty.  So please just take all of that holier-than-though shit and cram it right up your ass as you follow your stuck up nose out of here.  I’m here to be honest, and I need my readers to accept what I say as honesty; there is no ambitious pretention here.  If you’re still reading and want to send me some hate mail, please contact me at gofuckyourself@ls1m.com.  I’ll read it, get upset, throw things, calm down, and send you a polite reply, I promise.

Is that even possible? Some people would claim that the terms Christian and Alcoholic never belong in the same context.  After all, when I got saved, I was freed from the power of sin.  I think we can all agree that being habitually drunk is a sin.  Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess, I think is how the verse goes.  But there are a lot of sins; surely we can’t be instantaneously perfect?  Why then would God try to encourage us to seek “perfection” (read: maturity)?

Being a Christian is simply being born into God’s family.  When you’re born on earth, you are a child of Satan, the ruler of this realm, with inherited sin via your fallen bloodline.  You have to be born again, of the Spirit, to become God’s (although there is an exemption for infants and small children), and the only way to get there is through faith.  Once you have trusted Jesus to take your place on the cross, to pay your price for being a sinner, then you are a Christian.  In God’s eyes, all sins, imperfections and vulnerabilities, all are blotted out.  When God looks at you, he sees the perfection that only Jesus’ shadow can cast.

It is true, that you should not be the servant of sin, but who among us is without sin?  Wasn’t the whole Jewish law’s purpose to bring us to Christ, to show that righteousness is not of the law (works) but by faith?  And if the apostle Paul couldn’t overcome sin, if even he, personal prodigy of the Messiah Himself, recipient of oodles of spiritual gifts, even if the mighty, dedicated Paul the Great said in desperation, Who shall deliver me from the body of this death, what makes people think that we can also be free from sin?

The bottom line is, lack of sin doth not a Christian make.  A judgmental prick it maketh instead.  No, being a Christian is due to your faith and trust in a holy and righteous Saviour, DESPITE your sinful nature.  It is divine to forgive, and we, like all of His children, need constant and unconditional forgiveness, because we sin.  We will sin constantly, every moment, while on this earth, until the day we die.  So it is indeed possible to be a Christian Alcoholic, just like it’s possible to be a Christian thief, liar, adulterer – heck, even my old pastor was an adulterer, stealing another man’s bride and abandoning his own.  Nobody’s perfect.

Am I alone?  Heck no.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten comments or emails from my blog about people thinking they were all alone, that they were the only ones that had this “secret sin” of alcoholism.  To be sure, alcoholism is a sin, it’s bad, and you should stop drinking today, forever.  Sounds easy when you say it, but doing so is an immense challenge.  It’s like food: why don’t they tell fat people to “just stop eating?”  Why is the diet industry raking in billions every year, cashing in on promises to make people skinny?  BECAUSE IT’S HARD.  Every day of my life, from the time I was able to read billboards or understand commercials, I have been confronted with the idea that beer can make you popular, make you sexy, grow hair on your chest, solve all of your problems.  It’s a lie, but it’s so interwoven in our culture that it’s part of our thought processes.  It’s no different that gluttony: a lust for food is no different than a lust for drink, and both can kill you and BOTH fail to make you skinny, popular or sexy.

I stopped going to church years ago.  There, that’s another sin – forsake not the gathering of yourselves together.  But you know what?  I can go to church if I’m fat.  People might judge me if I overeat, but not much.  I can go if I’m an alcoholic too, as long as I’m sober, but what if people there knew that I was an alcoholic?  There’s such a stigma attached to alcoholism, such shame in not being able to control your drinking, that people just don’t tell anyone.  It’s like a disease, but it’s also your own fault.  It doesn’t matter if I never drive or go to work drunk, that I’m never violent, that I hide in my home office and don’t hurt anyone else: it’s just embarrassing, and people just think it’s a problem that you have to solve, much worse than overeating.  Have you ever heard of a Food Abuse Intervention?  Of course not.

Just because other people don’t share the same sin as you, just because they are weak in different areas, does not mean that they are better than you.  Everyone has problems.  My problem just happens to be an unpopular one, and truth be told, it does have the potential of being deadly, and not many people eat too much & kill someone on the way home, so I guess the concern is warranted.  But church should be a place of undeniable acceptance.  Sadly, often it is not.

Will I lose my salvation?  Absolutely, positively NO!  What did you actually DO to get saved?  Did you serve as an altar boy for ten years?  Did you donate a kidney to a dying lion at the zoo?  Did you sell your belongings, give the money to the poor, fill out an organ donor card and then toss yourself off of an overpass?  Irrelevant.  Salvation is by faith, not of works, lest any man should boast.  So if you can’t boast about how your earned your salvation, if there’s no way you could have been good enough to merit eternal life, then what makes you think you could ever be bad enough to lose it?

There are certain things I expect from my children.  I expect good behavior and school participation and help around the house.  But what could they do to not be my children any more?  Attempt suicide, huff paint, cut themselves, spend a week in a mental institution, and go to Mexico because their boyfriend was running from the law?  (Sorry honey; I know that’s old news, but it makes such a good story…) My children have my total, unconditional, unequivocal forgiveness, based on nothing more than the fact that they were born into my family.  I might get mad, but they will always be my kids, and there is nothing they could ever do, or not do, or say, that would negate that fact.

Jesus said My father is greater than all, and no man is able to pluck them out of His Father’s hand.  Not even you.  You can no more easily reverse your natural birth as you could your spiritual one.  It’s just not possible.

Am I a Christian Alcoholic?  I started to drink, a lot, and I had excuses.  I knew it was wrong, but I did it anyway.  I rationalized it away at first, blaming it on the stress of raising teenagers in modern America, or the profound horror of finding out my wife had cancer, or even just thinking that drinking was “my portion,” that I was allowed to take pleasure in this life, that God didn’t want me to be miserable all the time; what am I, Amish?

I knew it was getting bad when I started hiding.  It was OK to go get a beer or two on a Friday night, or to order a margarita with dinner.  But I started to buy it every day, then to save money I started buying it in bulk, and I wouldn’t let my family see me bringing it inside.  I hid it in the car, and snuck out later to retrieve it when everyone was asleep.  I stopped recycling because I didn’t want the trash men to think I was an alcoholic.  I smashed my bottles up and put them in heavy-duty trash bags so no one would know.

But I knew.  I was an alcoholic all right.  I knew it was getting bad.  It used to make me happy for an hour or so, then I’d fall asleep.  The buzz started dwindling down to basically nothing, then I’d basically turn into a zombie (lights on and nobody’s home), and the hangovers went from a headache the next morning to an entire day and a half of being basically worthless, unable to do anything.  I knew that if I drank on Sunday, I couldn’t drive, much less function, at work on Monday.  I used up all of my vacation days staying home to nurse hangovers, and often I felt so bad I was honestly scared that my heart would stop.  Of course, a couple of hours after I felt good again, I’d be back on the bottle once more.  My life consisted of little more than drinking, passing out, getting hung over, and planning my next binge.

Alcohol was all I ever really thought about.  I felt like a bird over water, just waiting until I could land on the next Jim Beam island.  And that was it: I was no longer controlling my alcohol intake, but it was controlling me.  I was hooked.

Should I tell someone?  Yes.  And no.  For me, I had to be selective.  The last thing that I wanted was to tell my mom about it, so every time she saw me she could say, How are you doing with that drinking problem that you’re not supposed to be thinking about?  I love my mom a lot, but she can be a little nosy.  No, I wouldn’t say pest.  Or nag.

I went to a therapist, and the first session she told me all about how wonderful Alcoholics Anonymous was, how it’s the only way to get help, you can’t do this on your own, here’s a list of all the meetings in the area, I want you to do 90 meetings in 90 days.  Hmph.  I took the book home and burned it in the grill.  No, thank you.

I’m extremely shy in person.  I can write, I’m OK one-on-one, but put me in front of a group and I will turn white as a ghost and pass out.  I leaned heavily on my wife’s support.  I confide everything to her, because I can trust her: she won’t judge me, she won’t pester me, and she won’t give up on me.  Ever.  I never gave up on her, you see, when she was depressed, when she first had kids, isolated in an apartment with two toddlers, spending hours each day playing a mind-numbing video game, in the closet, which was the only place the computer would fit and be out of the kids’ reach.  I would come home, step over the discarded diapers and spilled Cheerio’s, see her sleeping on the floor, exhausted, with the baby next to her in a sugar-induced coma, slowly close the door and clean up the kitchen while I waited for her to wake up.  And my wife did similarly for me.  Occasionally it made her mad, but more often than not, she sympathized, understood I was going through a rough time, and she helped me out.  I can’t tell  you how many times I’ve sobbed on her shoulder, spilling my guts out, and she just patiently comforted me as she waited for me to finish complaining.  It really helped.

Everybody needs someone to know.  I don’t suggest putting a burgundy “A” on your shirt and letting the condescending world at large know your imperfections.  But I would suggest you tell someone you trust.  Keeping all that bottled up inside, if you’ll forgive the pun, is just like shaking a soda bottle; one day it’s gonna blow, if you don’t let it out, safely, securely, with someone who isn’t going to turn around and rebuke you.  It might not even be a Christian, or even a family member.  Heck, if it’s your thing, go to AA, I’ve heard it works great for some people.  But the sooner you share this secret sin, the sooner you can forgive yourself and move on, and know that you’re not alone.

Should I quit? That’s up to you.  If you are truly a Christian, and you are truly an alcoholic, then the obvious answer is yes, it’s a sin and you should get rid of it.  It may not be the biggest sin in your life; if you’re a mass-murdering dictator or a methamphetamine drug lord, child molester, or maybe have a collection of frozen body parts stashed under your barn, then maybe those problems over-shadow the need to cut back on the drinking.  Also, some people can drink responsibly.  I tend to doubt it; it’s a drug, we’re all human, and eventually the drug will take over the willpower, but if that’s you, hey, enjoy it while you can control it.  As long as it’s not hurting anybody, a drink here & there, in my opinion, is fine.  Jesus drank wine, you know.  Some people think it was just fruit juice – an idea that never existed until Prohibition – but why’d they call him a wine-bibber instead of a juice-bibber?  Small amounts are good for you, anyway.

But if you’re like me, and the booze is ruining your life, relationships, health and career, then yes please seek help or commit to either cutting back or going cold-turkey.  I’ve tried both ways.  I did the tapering off, got down to one beer a day, then I went back to two, then one beer and some liquor, then just one little bottle of whiskey, then what the heck just buy the whole top shelf… the all-or-nothing thinking, where I just tell myself NO! seems to work for me.  Of course, dropping off cold-turkey has its own perils.  Shakes & seizures are the biggest risk, apparently, but fortunately (or not, as it turned out) I was on clonazepam for anti-anxiety, which prevents seizures.

The first five days: The first five days are rough.  For me, I had such a bad hangover that I couldn’t drive, my heart was pounding, my eyes hurt from the inside, and I was fervently drinking water bottles in the interest of self-survival.  It also happen to be the day my doctor cut off my anti-anxiety prescription clonazepam, so I was suffering drug withdrawal at the same time.  I think my odds of staying alive hovered around 50-50, because my heart was pounding, I was shaking, and the drug withdrawal took away my protection from seizures and replaced it with anxiety, brain “zaps” and twitching.  My blood pressure went through the roof, I hardly slept, knowing there’s a good chance I wouldn’t wake up.  I was constantly doing the relaxation techniques (see below) and it was exhausting.  It’s the worry about what might happen, that can cause the anxiety and make me “trip out,” so I just focused on God and His divine ability to control my future.  I figured, if He wanted me to come home that night, then He would take me, and there’s little that I could do about it anyway…

Thankfully, I was able to get Dr. Ignoramus to realize that stopping a very dangerous (though surprisingly common) drug like clonazepam was a very, very risky thing to do, and he called in a refill for me.  After that, things kind of calmed down.  I knew if I could just make it through day 5, I would be out of the woods, or at least, I could lay down at night without feeling guilty that I had never gotten around to writing that will.

Things that help: lots of water.  I had bottled water in our storm shelter, and I would drink two of them down, sit in a recliner and meditate, and repeat.  Exercise is also very, very good.  Alcohol is removed from the bloodstream via the lungs, so aerobic exercise is a wonderful way to detox yourself.  Especially with the drug withdrawal going on at the same time, I was conscious of not pushing it too hard, to the point of building up my blood flow and releasing too many stress hormones.  I kept my pulse between 130-140 on the elliptical, for maybe 20-30 minutes.  And if you’re married, sex is good too for alcohol withdrawal.  Heck, sex is always good.  Oh, and vitamins are a must.  Your body is depleted of everything, especially the B-vitamins.  I take a natural supplement called Standard Process Catalyn, plus some “sublingual” B-vitamin drops.  It really helps you get back to normal.

Days 6-26: It takes roughly five days for the alcohol to get out of your system.  After that, the withdrawal is all in your head; physically, the nausea, the shakes, the dehydration: it’s all gone within five days.  Not to say that withdrawal in your head is easier than physical withdrawal.  At least with physical distress you can do something about it.  Psychological withdrawal is much worse.  After day five or so, for a few weeks, all I could think about was how I was NOT drinking.  How do you NOT think about something?  Try this: don’t think about an elephant.  What image just went through your head just now: an elephant, right?

The brain is an amazing creation.  I’m told that it operates on a roughly 30-day cycle.  That’s why they always say it takes 30 days to make a new habit, and why 30 days is a big deal at an AA meeting.  Personally, I believe it’s because of the phases of the moon, which used to be 30 days.  That’s called a “prophetic year”, twelve 30-day lunar cycles, because back when the prophets were around, the lunar orbit was 30 days, not the 28 or so it is today.  Probably changed during the “long day of Joshua” when God tilted the earth to give him a little more time in the sun… but I digress…

My two recent attempts at sobriety failed at days 26 and 30.  Right around the lunar cycle, give or take a few days, yes the brain pattern resets, but you’re also vulnerable to relapse.  The therapist left out that little detail; I was feeling really down because I couldn’t get past that barrier, but turns out, it wasn’t my fault.  It’s a very vulnerable time.

Days 26-34: I was doing much better, relaxed, sufficiently distracted, and starting to feel like I might make it, until Old Man Moon started messing with my head.  I was hit by a panicked feeling of desperation: there’s no way I can do this, it’s not worth it, I can’t live like this, I’d rather be drunk and miserable than sober and miserable, fuck this shit, I’m getting something, is the store still open, maybe just a fifth, I better get two just in case… Oh, the bullshit I can come up with when I want to have something I shouldn’t.  The good news is that these attacks, these periods of weakness and self-doubt, lasted at most maybe one or two hours.  Once I muscled through them, waited them out, they were gone and I could relax until the next one hit me.  I drank lots of coffee and ate more Oreo’s that I should have, because that hyped me up, but I was desperate to just put something in my body, try to take the place of the booze-shaped void, fill it up with sugar and caffeine instead.

Days 35+:After struggling through and making it past that critical juncture, I was back to self-control, not letting my mind wander, trying to relax and keep myself busy and distracted from my addiction.  I read a book “Kick the Drink” that was pretty good, but it was written by and for sanguines – from the four temperaments, see Tim LaHaye’s Why We Act the Way We Do, an amazing book, should be mandatory reading for all conscious adults – but Kick the Drink is all about this part animal guy that had to enjoy all of his social life without getting drunk.  Party animal I am not!  I don’t have to worry about drinking at the pub, or at a Bar mitzvah or New Years Eve celebration, because I don’t do any of that stuff!  I gave the book away (hey at least I didn’t burn it) but it did help.  A little.

That’s all I can really offer at this time.  I’m going to list a few more topics below, but basically, I’m a sinner trying to overcome a very common sin, something that snuck up on my while I was thinking I had Christian immunity, but turns out there is nothing that can’t hurt me, there is no pain or trial that I have magical protection from; if God wants me to go through these fires, then I can do nothing to stop them.  I can only trust that He knows what He’s doing, that He will give me the strength to persevere, that His intent is to bring me THROUGH the fire, not burn me up.  I’ve made it this far, the blaze is behind me, but I walk a path of dry grass and glowing embers; I must be cautions, because re-ignition is far too likely to let my guard down, and I don’t want to start over again.

God bless you, my fellow Christian alcoholic.  Be not ashamed, be not high-minded, and do not fear the judgment of man.  We’re all in this fallen world together, nobody is immune, everybody goes through trials, but in the end, all it does is get your feet dirty, and with God’s help and unconditional love & forgiveness, not only are we still clean everywhere else, but Jesus is always there, waiting to wash our feet when we’re ready…

Just relax. I absolutely hate that saying.  When I was first married, with kids and a job and grown-up responsibilities for the first time, I got stressed out.  I had (and still have) chronic migraines, ulcers, acid reflux, a hernia, high blood pressure, high cholesterol – any stress-related illness known to man, is on my medical chart.  The doctor’s advice?  “Just relax.”  It’s like my wife asking me to just tell her how I feel, or what’s wrong.  I can’t do that – I’m a guy!  It takes me MONTHS to figure that out!  To relax, I had to learn how, with techniques.

1. Deep breathing sounds simple enough, and it does really work.  Making a conscious effort to inhale deeply, hold it, and exhale slowly, can really slow your thoughts down and make you relax.  I do that constantly, whenever I feel my shoulders are bunched up towards my ears, when I can’t think straight and have thoughts racing randomly, aimlessly inside my hollow head, then four or five long, deep breaths really do the trick.  Easy for a dummy like me to learn, too.  Sometimes I also chant to myself, IN with cool relaxation, OUT with harsh frustration.  Not out loud of course; I’ve got enough of a crazy dude reputation as it is.

2. Progressive relaxation is when you lie down in a quiet place, close your eyes, and starting at your toes, you tighten them up, hold them for ten seconds, then release.  It teaches you what relaxing actually feels like.  You do that progressively, focusing on one muscle group at a time, going up from your feet, ankles, calf muscles, etc., until you reach the top of your head, thinking of nothing more that turning off your muscles, letting them rest, allowing your whole body to eventually just sink into the floor or mattress and lie perfectly serene and at peace.  I often fall asleep, or enter a self-aware, self-hypnotized state, where there’s nothing in my mind at all, just me, the air, and the hum of my window air conditioner.  It’s nice.

3. The therapist also taught me about visualization.  The idea is to imagine a place where you are at peace.  It can be anywhere – a meadow, the woods, a beach, waiting in line for your turn at the drag strip – but the goal is to imagine it with all five senses.  What do you see?  Clouds, sunset, birds, green leaves.  You hear the wind, the ocean, the growl of a nitro-infused race engine.  What can you smell?  The salty beach air, the fresh flowers, burned rubber.  OK, maybe the drag strip thing isn’t the best idea, but you get the picture.  If you can use all five senses, and see/feel/smell/taste/hear everything around you, then you’re there.  In that moment, at that serene, safe place, you are at peace.  Once you do that a few times, you can close your eyes when you’re stressed out, and flash back to it in an instant.

Distraction, distraction, distraction: One of the problems with quitting doing something, is you need something to take its place.  It’s extremely hard to quit drinking when you’re sitting in a chair with nothing to do or think about except how damn thirsty you are.  So indulge yourself in a new hobby, something you’ve been wanting to buy or do.  You’re going through a tough time, you’ve taken on a huge challenge, and you deserve a little something.  I bought myself a fancy grill and started cooking some amazing new recipes.  You can buy a new TV, or rent movies, get a chocolate fondue fountain and fresh strawberries, get a mountain bike & see if your teeth can stay in while your body gets jarred around on a steep single-track.

Everybody’s different, and everybody’s got different needs and desires.  I used alcohol to quell the disappointment inside of me; I’m old, I’m fat, I’m lazy, and there are dozens of well-intentioned, unfinished projects all over the house.  I have to accept that I can’t do it all, I can’t fix everything, but you know what?  I can smoke a turkey that makes my mom’s bird taste like roadkill.  I never had such a fancy grill before; it’s something completely new to me, and it’s fun, and since it takes several hours to slow-cook meat in it, it keeps me busy and my mind off of drinking.  Plus, it tastes good and provides healthy food for the family.  Being successful at something small, completing a puzzle, cleaning out a cluttered drawer, getting laid – whatever keeps your mind occupied, is worth it.  It’s OK to treat yourself: get a puppy, adopt a rabbit, get that assault rifle you’ve been eying at the gun store: something, anything is better than being drunk and feeling sorry for yourself.

Good is a relative term: If we all agree that generic, imitation, low-quality, 190-proof fake Everclear is the worst of the worst when it comes to alcohol, then anything less than that, by comparison, is good.  I know.  I tried some.  Nearly choked to death on that shit.  But the point is, don’t beat yourself up if you trip up & fall.  If you have a shot of tequila in a moment of weakness, that’s OK – it’s a slip, just get up & try again.  If you absolutely can’t stand it any more, and you have a beer, hey that’s better than the tequila, isn’t it?  It’s OK to make a mistake, to change your mind, to give up, mess up, screw up – we’re all human.  God knows this isn’t the first time I’ve tried to kick this nasty habit.  It’s not easy, and any improvement is good.

If you’ve got cancer, you needn’t worry about your toenail polish, right?  So if you’ve got alcoholism, then stressing over your hairdo or your diet or changing your oil on time is just silly.  You’re sick.  You have a disease.  And no matter what anyone says, it’s NOT YOUR FAULT.  It doesn’t matter how you got here; you’re here now, you’re improving, you’re trying, and if it takes a full package of Fig Newton’s to stop you from guzzling booze, that’s OK.  You have a cancer, remember?  Fig Newton’s are toenail polish.  You can worry about your waistline later.

And in the words of Forest Gump, that’s all I have to say about that.

God bless…