On alcoholism (the addiction, not the disease)

In a casual conversation with a co-worker today, the subject of alcohol came up. Since I quit drinking I have been of the mind that while quitting drinking is a great accomplishment, it is also a personal one, and not one that I really run around telling everyone about. If asked directly, however, I do freely admit to having been an alcoholic. And this was the sticking point in the conversation. Having been an alcoholic.

First and foremost, I would like to say that I don’t think anyone who has never personally had a substance abuse problem is capable of forming an educated opinion on the subject. You can read all you want to about, and know a lot about it, but without living through it you just don’t know what it is like -much in the same way that I don’t know what it is like to fly a rocket to space, even though I have read a great deal about it. Doctors are able to diagnose the substance abuse problem, but all they can really do is recommend detox and/or some form of third-party program to help deal with it.

In the conversation today, the co-worker said that I had a disease, and the fact that I hadn’t drank for a couple years didn’t mean that I wasn’t an alcoholic anymore. This is where I call bullshit. I think the key point I want to make here is that I never claimed that I had a disease. That is an important point for me to make. Calling alcoholism a disease seems (to me at least) to absolve someone of blame. I disagree with that 100%. I had a very serious addiction, but it was entirely self-induced. I don’t think a disease can be self-induced. There may have been factors that made me more susceptible to becoming an alcoholic, but again I had to make the choices to send me down the road to alcoholism. That’s far different than suffering from a disease. You don’t have much of a choice over whether you are going to have Parkinson’s Disease, for instance. I always maintained that what I had was a compulsion; an addiction. Much in the same way that I used to have an almost subconscious compulsion to bite my fingernails. I was able to overcome that as well, and to my knowledge no one has ever referred to nail biting as a disease.

Since I don’t believe that I had a disease, I think that since I quit I am just not an alcoholic anymore. I am not a “recovering alcoholic”. I quit, I am done, end of story.

The co-worker went on to say that quitting without a 12-step program is extremely difficult to do. I agree with that completely: it was hard as fuck. But I did it. He then went on to say that I had completed most of the steps of the program, just that I had done it on my own. I disagree. Here are the original twelve steps, borrowed from the Wikipedia entry for Alcoholics Anonymous:

1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His Will for us and the power to carry that out.
12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Let’s just start with point one, the argument won’t get past there anyway. “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.” I will agree to the latter part of that sentence, my life had become unmanageable. The first part, however, is the polar opposite of what it took for me to quit drinking. I did not admit that I was powerless over alcohol; I forced myself to admit that the alcohol was powerless over me. It was entirely my decision whether or not I would drink it, and I decided not to. That is really skipping past the reality of how difficult it was to maintain the willpower, the weeks I went with literally no sleep as my body waited for me to administer a dose of the depressant, the mornings that I would wake up trembling, knowing that with just one drink my body would relax. But that is what it took to beat this addiction, so that is what I did.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that AA works for a lot of people, and if you are an alcoholic you should use whatever means are necessary to reach the sober end. For me probably the biggest part was that I never said that I was going to “quit drinking forever”. Instead I made a choice each morning to not drink that day. If I needed to, I reasoned, I could go ahead and have a drink the next day. And the next day I would make the same decision. And then a couple of months passed, having decided not to drink each day. That is still the philosophy I use today, though I rarely even think about alcohol anymore. And if I decide to have a beer with my friends one day, I don’t think that will automatically make me an alcoholic relapsing, I think it will just be me having a beer with my friends. The me that was an alcoholic lost the battle a long time ago.

Take this post for what it’s worth to you. I just wanted to get it out there that for some admitting they are powerless over alcohol may not be what it takes to beat the addiction. To admit that you are powerless over something can be really like giving up control completely, and feeling like you have no control is what leads a lot of people to alcohol in the first place.

32 candles

Well, I turned 32 today. This is a bit disappointing, since I haven’t checked any of those silly, on-line death calculators in a while, and when I checked this one today, I found that I am actually going to die in the year 2036. Well, this obviously sucks, that means that I am going to die when I am 62 (possibly 61, someone should put out a line on the before/after my birthday on that), and thus my life is already more than halfway over. The last time I checked, I was going to die when I was 64, so this would be the halfway point right here. That’s what I get for not obsessing about my own death enough to check more frequently (on the upside, I could check other calculators to get more favorable numbers).

That is all moot anyway, since I am not going to live to be anything close to 62. See, I have had this recurring dream since I was in High School, in said dream, I see the date of my death, that date is December 17, 2007. Of course that seemed like it was an eternity away when I was 16, but now that I am 32 to the date seems a lot closer. The funny thing about the dream is that I actually die in it. Most people say that if you die in your dream, you die in real life. I am here to tell you that it isn’t true. I die in this dream (and have died in other dreams) every time, though the way I die is never the same.

The first time I had the dream, it was pretty straight-forward. I walked out onto the sidewalk in the middle of a city -a city with huge buildings, far taller than the buildings in any of the cities I have ever visited-, stopped at a small news stand to buy a paper -which is something I have never done, and I doubt that they even have news stands any more-, then got hit by a bus in the crosswalk. Which hurt really bad. In fact, it hurt so bad that I actually had chest pains when I woke up, which, rather oddly, didn’t actually happen until the next morning. I spent the remainder of that night dreaming that I was a ghost. If you get the chance, I highly recommend that you do that, it was a heck of a lot of fun to run around the streets as an apparition just fucking with people.

After that initial death dream, it has changed every single time, only the date remains the same. In every dream since then, someone around me knows that I have foreseen my own death, and knows that it happens on the 17th of December, 2007. The first such instance was when I dreamed that my Mother -ever the resourceful woman- decided that there was no way that I could get hit by a bus if I was enjoying a day at the beach. So I was spending the day at the beach ogling 15 year old asses (remember, I was dreaming this when I was in my early teens, I am not some kind of sicko. And even if I was, I probably wouldn’t tell you about it.), sunning myself, and, at length, learning how to use one of them boogie board things. Which all goes fabulously. In fact it was a great time. Unfortunately, we got in a car accident on the way back home, and I died. More fun was had dreaming with my spirit self.

Anyway, I have had a bunch of different dreams that involve many different ways of trying to keep me from getting killed on December 17, 2007, none of which ever work. Possibly the funniest one was when it was decided that the best way to keep me from getting killed was to bind me to my bed. Well that idea was sailing along smoothly right up until the point that the house caught fire and I burned alive. If only they had used ropes to bind me the fire might have burned me free, but my father insisted on using handcuffs to make sure that I wouldn’t escape. Then they just left me alone in the house. Surprisingly, the pain of being burned alive was a lot less intense than the pain from any of the other ways that I died. After the initial shock from the heat of the fire, your nerves kind of quit feeling the heat. The most painful way to die has been, by far, drowning. It doesn’t happen quickly at all, and the water entering my lungs didn’t feel cool and wet, it felt as though I was inhaling fire. And it literally took a couple of minutes after the first breath of water for my brain to decide that it was dead. All the while I was sucking in breaths of what might as well have been burning bricks for the way they felt to my body. Yeah, I don’t want to die that way, and I probably won’t since I am a pretty good swimmer.

I read somewhere, and a very long time ago, that men like to have a feeling of control, and that thinking that they know when they are going to die gives them the ultimate form of control. Now I am not sure if I actually believe that, but if it is true then I sure as hell would like to be able to bump the year of the death up a couple of decades. 33 years doesn’t seem like nearly as many as it did back when I was teenager. Unfortunately the date in the dreams remains the same, although the dreams are far less frequent now. The last one I had was probably about a year ago, and it actually involved being mauled to death by our dog. I outweigh the guy by a good 3:1, so I would think that I would be able to hold my own against him, but man does he ever have a powerful jaw -that much I have the scars to prove already-.

As for the current day, well, happy birthday to me, I guess. The wife gifted me a car stereo to replace one that has developed an attitude -stupid inanimate objects and their stupid smack talk!-, and my mother called. You can always count on your mom to call and rub it in, can’t you? But I spent the majority of the day helping my Father-in-law move furniture and rip some of the nastiest carpet I have ever seen in my life (for the smell, not the pattern or color) out of a mobile home. I managed to crack my head on a wall-mounted speaker in the process which left me with a nice lump on the noggin, as well as a slight concussion (at least I think so, it kind of feels like a disconnected feeling you get while on medication, only the only medicine I took was single dose whack the speaker with your head). Which is nice really, cause if I were to sing happy birthday to myself, I could kind of do it in rounds; My actual body singing it first, while my brain does the back-up.

Also, just to throw it out there. The fifth of this month marked the six month bi-anniversary (is that a word) of my quitting drinking. That means that I have not had a drink in six months. The last time that I made it a full six days without alcohol would have been more than a decade ago. The last time that I made it six months without alcohol would be, best guess, when I was 13 (possibly 12, that would be a close one to call).

So the good and the bad from last birthday to this one. Last year I was drinking an 18 pack of beer every day, this year I am not drinking. Last year I had a job, this year I am unemployed. Last year, I had exactly one more year left to live than I do now, this year, I have exactly one less year to live than I did last year. Last year I could salivate over 18 year old girls and only they though I was creepy, this year when I salivate over 18 year old girls everyone in the room thinks I am creepy -by next year even the creepy old guys will think I am creepy-. Last year I would have gotten spanked 31 times, this year I would get spanked 32 times -which I suppose would be a good thing if you were into that, but I’m not-. Also, I was able to cross “text chat with Wil Wheaton while playing poker” off of my “please God, before I die” list. Unfortunately, I have no such list, and I am not sure that would have been on it in the first place.

Well, I better get back to reading the internet. I really want to finish this thing before I die, and I only have a year and a few months left…

The ultimate weight loss program?

It has been three full weeks since I have drank a beer. I have found that even the smell of it is a bit repulsive, but I guess it always has been, I know that I hated the taste of it the first time I tried it. It took a lot of drinking it to get to the point where I found it drinkable, even longer to get to the point where I became a bit of a snob about the taste of it, longer still to get to the point where I didn’t give a damn about the taste so long as it was beer. What a horrible existence that was.

The type of beer that I drank had 100 calories and 5 carbs per twelve ounce serving. I drank between twelve and eighteen of them a day. That means that if I ate nothing at all I was consuming between 1,200 and 1,800 calories a day, with between 60 and 90 carbs (I have never put much stock into carb counting as a factor in weight gain or loss though, I am merely putting it her for facts sake). Of course I did eat though, a stick of jerky when I got home for 360 calories, then usually chimichangas, usually three, for a total of 1,050 calories, plus I always topped them with a generous portion of grated cheese, I don’t know how many calories that added but I am sure it was a couple hundred at least. So I was on a 2,800 to 3,300 calorie a day diet. That is a lot of calories.

My diet for the last three weeks has been nearly exactly the same. I still have a beef jerky snack and still eat chimichangas. I no longer top the chimichangas with cheese, or maybe once a week I do. Also sometimes I have two of them and sometimes I have three, depending on how hungry I feel. Even at that my caloric intake has gone from the 2,800-3,300 range all the way down to the 1,000-1350 range. Yes, I have been taking in about one-third the calories I did previously for the last three weeks. It certainly shows.

I have lost 25 pounds in the past 21 days. When I quit drinking I weighed 195 pounds, now I am just under 170. This is the least I have weighed since I was 19 years old. My slimmest in twelve full years. That is pretty amazing. My pants and belt are far too big for me now, forcing me to punch additional holes in the belt to keep the pants up. The pants also bunch up when I tighten the belt, as they are at least two or three inches larger than my waistline. The ultimate weight loss plan indeed.

Unfortunately I don’t think that it is necessarily healthy for me to be losing weight so quickly. I can’t put my finger on why it would be bad for me, per se, but I do often begin to get quite light-headed towards the end of a long shift at work. I nearly passed out today, likely would have at least fallen down were it not for a handy bench to grab onto. I think I need to start eating a second meal. Not having breakfast or lunch sure leaves me feeling pretty drained by the time I have a jerky snack after work.

I hope I can get something worked out where I can continue to shed pounds without feeling so physically exhausted all the time. Perhaps a granola bar or a piece of fruit in the morning would do the trick.

Completely as an afterthought, I never liked to weigh myself when I was drinking. I know that it was because I knew that the number was just going up. I weighed myself once a month at best. Now I am weighing myself on a daily basis, mostly because I was waiting for/anticipating the day when the little dial stopped short of 170. Hell, if I was to wipe the dust off of the scale I might lose an additional pound.

Shedding demons

I quit drinking recently. Something that I had tried and failed to do many times before. During the first couple of days of this attempt I wrote down some of my thoughts. Here they are.

Saturday Jan. 07

While I am sure that I have mentioned that I like to drink beer, I am pretty sure that I failed to mention to what extent that goes. I drink beer every day, and I am not capable of drinking only one or two; I continue drinking until the beer is gone or I pass out, whichever comes first. Most would probably say that this puts me into the category of being a serious alcoholic, which isn’t exactly true since I never go to the meetings with anonymous people. I do have quite a serious drinking problem though, and as is always the case I continually deny that fact.

I am sure there are checklist type quizzes I could take to tell me whether or not I am an alcoholic but I don’t need to. The fact that I try to justify my drinking by saying things like, “It has never caused me to miss work” is proof enough. While it is true that I have never missed work because of my drinking, that is about the only thing that I haven’t missed because of it. A few notable examples of what I have missed being things like, say, the last decade of my life, five years of marriage, numerous events that I should have attended with my wife, the list could go on forever. Alcohol is destroying my life and I know it, I have known it for a long time but have been powerless to do anything about it.

I don’t put much stock into the idea that alcoholism is a disease. If this is a disease it is one that I willingly subjected myself to, and one that it took many years to incubate into the out-of-control condition it has become. I used to be able to control the alcohol, now the alcohol controls me. It is rather a helpless feeling.

Quitting drinking is pretty easy in concept, all I have to do is not open that can of beer, not drink that can of beer, but I can’t do it. The alcohol calls to me, my body shakes and trembles awaiting the depressant qualities of the liquor. I think to myself “Perhaps if I have just one, just to calm my nerves, what could it hurt?”, the next thing I know I am completely drunk wondering where the day went. I tell myself that tomorrow will be the day that I don’t drink but when I wake up it is today, and today I end up drinking. In this sense tomorrow really never comes. A cycle that I can’t seem to break.

No more!

I would like to say that I had some great emergence of will power to help me try to quit, that would be a lie. I am not sure if I would ever have even tried to quit drinking for my own sake. Quitting would be very good for my health of course, I just don’t think I could have ever tried to wrestle the demon without some external motivation. Finding out how badly my drinking was hurting my wife was a pretty powerful motivator.

Overcoming a drug addiction is one of the most difficult things a person can ever try to do. I have tried many times to quit drinking and to quit smoking, all attempts have failed. I am not trying to fool myself into believing that this attempt will be any different, but I have taken a different approach. I am not telling myself that I will never drink again, instead I am telling myself that I will not drink today. If I can just make it through today then I will have the chance to make the decision again tomorrow, but when tomorrow comes it will be today, and I have already made the decision for today, right? It is actually a bit more difficult than that, but you get the gist of it.

It has been two days since I have had a beer. That might not seem very impressive but considering that is the longest I have gone without a beer in about a decade I am considering it a victory. I am really wishing I had one right now though, and I have some in the room next to me. Oddly I think that is making it easier for me to fight the desire. I know that the beer is available if the desire becomes overwhelming, which seems to keep the desire from becoming overwhelming. It is like I am tricking the part of my brain that needs the beer into not needing the beer since I have the beer if I need it -which doesn’t make a damn bit of sense, but it is my brain and I know how to trick it-.

Aside from the trembling (more so than usual) the other adverse effect from not drinking was exactly the one I thought I would have: sleeping. My eyes can be as heavy as bricks but my mind, being so used to the daily depressant, is still wide awake. I am sure that within a few days this will get easier, as my body gets used to not having the alcohol administered to it on a daily basis, but the last two nights have just been a lot of tossing and turning.

Sunday Jan. 8

Another sleepless night. I turned off the television at about a quarter after one in the morning then stared at the alarm clock for about three hours before deciding to go read a little bit. Got back into bed at about 4:30 and stared at the clock until I dozed off at about 5, only to be awakened by the barking of my neighbors dog a half an hour later. (totally as an aside. Don’t you just hate the first month after Christmas, lots of kids got puppies that they absolutely loved…For about two weeks. Now all you can hear at night is the sound of the puppies barking as they are locked outside and forgotten. A couple more weeks and the sound will die down as the dogs end up in local animal shelters. One should never give a child a live animal as a gift, it really is animal cruelty). Asleep again sometime shortly after six. Woke up again shortly after seven, this time for good. Once the sun starts to rise I find it nearly impossible to sleep.

I did a bit of research into this and found this website: http://alcoholism.about.com/cs/health/a/blacer030816.htm . It says exactly what I thought it would say, almost verbatim. I am only one of the many people who really began drinking (at least daily) as a sleep aid. Of course it led to dependency, how could it not? Over time it would take more and more to relax me to the point that I could fall asleep, until I was eventually passing out instead of sleeping. Now I am dealing with the fallout of being self-medicated for so long. One unfortunate thing in that article is that it says many recovering alcoholics continue to have sleeping problems for more than a year after giving up alcohol, that is not a welcome prospect.

I have been trying to keep my caffeine consumption as low as possible over the last few days, but since I drink diet coke that is not an easy thing to do. The only caffeine free diet soda I could find in town was 7up, I have been drinking that in the evenings to try to make sure I don’t have a buzz when I am attempting to sleep. Honestly though, that stuff doesn’t taste very good. Not that any diet soda really does. Add to that the fact that each time I get up to use the restroom or whatever during the night I take a quick drink of soda, Diet Coke, and it is easy to understand where at least some of the sleeping difficulty is coming from.

This morning I went to the grocery store in Coolidge and bought one of every kind of caffeine free diet soda they had on the shelf, I am not even kidding. I brought home diet orange crush, caffeine free diet coke, diet a&w root beer, diet squirt, diet mug root beer, diet 7up, and three different flavors of sparkling water. Surely one of these will be to my liking. I am not entirely sure if I should try to give up caffeine completely at the same time as I am giving up alcohol, but if I could just not have any caffeine in the afternoon it would surely be a step in the right direction.

As for how I am actually feeling it is still hard to say. I think my body feels better, I am certainly eating more, or at least more often but in smaller quantities. The effects on my mind have been pretty immediate though. I am thinking more clearly now, even though I feel so fatigued from lack of sleep, than I have in as long as I can remember. My hands are not trembling as bad as usual. And I am actually typing quickly sober, that is something that I used to never be able to accomplish until I had downed at least a couple. I am in pretty good spirits so far, hopefully I can keep them that way.

I quit writing about it after that because it just kept reminding me that I am supposed to be drinking, not the best idea when I was trying to quit. I can tell you though that the most difficult day was the 5th day. I don’t know why but I needed a drink so bad I felt like I might actually die without it. With no way to fight the desire I just went to bed and tried to sleep, of course I didn’t sleep at all. I did stare at the alarm clock until the morning though and by then the desire had passed.

It has now been 8 days since I gave up drinking. I find that I hardly even think about it now, and when I do it is more of a “a beer would be nice” type thought, opposed to the “must drink or perish!” commands my mind had been making for the last decade. I think I may have subdued the demon this time, yet I know that if I ever take a single drink it will likely lead me back to the hell I was in before. So, success for now.

I should also note that I have just about completely given up caffeine as well. It turns out that staying up late getting horribly drunk makes your body desire caffeine in the morning. With the alcohol out of the equation I don’t really have a need for it any more. Since the fridge is loaded up with nothing but caffeine free soda I haven’t had a caffeinated beverage in three days. Let me tell you though, Diet Squirt tastes like a carbonated grapefruit, that shit is foul.

With that it seems that smoking is now my only vice, a vice that I am keeping for myself, at least for now. I don’t think I could handle giving up all my vices in a two week span.

Friend dies in car accident

Well I actually did put pen to paper (actually finger to keyboard) yesterday to write something. What happened is that I got a little bit of the subject that I was typing about and decided that it was a bit to personal to put in such a (potentially) public venue. It was nothing horrible or all that secret, just something that I decided, after I wrote it, that the general public would be better off without that particular knowledge. One thing that was in that post is something that I want to bring up today, as I have always been quite curious about it…Yet not so curious as to actually ask anyone.

Rather than actually going into a whole lot of detail about that subject today, I will just ask the question (for the sake of my own sanity), that has peaked my curiosity. That question is: While you are dreaming, does your mind ever realize that you are in a dream? If so, are you actually able to take over the actions of your ‘dream self’ and manipulate him/her as if it was in real life? I don’t want to go into any more detail than just that, mostly because I am hoping that someone will email me a response. This is a subject that I am very curious about. If you have ever had a dream, your input would be greatly appreciated.

• In other news, a friend of my wife’s has recently died in a car accident. I knew the man as well and he was likely the only person that my wife has ever had as a co-worker that I actually got along with. Of course, to be fair, the wife has had tons of co-workers through the years, some I can relate to, some I can’t. Were I given a few hours alone with each of them I would be able to form a more solid decision about like/dislike, but that just never happens…Well, there was the one time where we all went to a baseball game, we being myself, my wife, and two couples of which the women were her friends. I made a judgement about one of the men on that day, which was reinforced when we had them all over to a barbecue one day (a year or two ago).

The man in question, though, was named Brad. He and my wife had worked together for a couple of years before he transferred to Texas. He was a heavy drinker (possibly as bad as me), but it seems that, on the night he died, he did not know his limits. It is a difficult thing to do; to picture someone in your mind that you know is now dead, regardless of the circumstances. I certainly feel for Brad, his mother and his relatives. He was far too young to die…Younger than me, in fact.

Men, in particular, seem to think that they are ‘bullet-proof’ until they hit the age of 30 (some men hold the belief a bit longer), Hell, I know I did. I can think of at least enough situtions where I ‘should have’ died to make you extend all of your fingers in counting. The simple fact that any man makes it through the ‘Machismo’ part of life should go to prove that there is someone, somewhere, that really doesn’t want them to die.

I try to tell myself that I have ‘Guardian Angels’ watching over me, but at the same time I am not gonna get really wasted and drive a car (anymore). My ‘Guardian Angels’ could all be out on vacation that day, then what?

Perhaps I am just turning into a rambling old coot before my time. First I bitch about how music was better when I was youg (ala old Metallica) then I start to bitch about kids with the waistband of their pants around their knees (pants were skin tight when I was a youngun!). Maybe then I can go into some sort of a ‘Public Service Message’ about the values you learn when you fight with your own fists (as opposed to guns and knives).

Were I 15 years younger, or if I cared, I would try to make it so that this ‘angry music’ wouldn’t claim the lives of any more innocent children. That is, of course, what my father said fifteen years ago. Funny how the generation, the styles, hell everything can change, yet, the adults always seem to never know what the kids are going through. If it was possible to avoid the damn circle that this leads to I would be all over it.

One thing that was in the 5th ‘Harry Potter’ book was that ‘Dumbledore’ said that it is impossible for a child to know what it is like to be old, while every person that is old has been young. That seems to be almost a satisfying resolution for that discussion. Parents do understand what their children are going through, yet, the parents can not get inolved. Getting the parent’s involved would be the sign of a sissy, no one wants to be a sissy. All that the parent can do is be supportive, any other involvement would be just as bad as the ridicule on the playground.

Thank God that I don’t have children. If I ever start thinking that I want a son, I can just borrow my Nephew for a day, then I never want ANYONE to have children ever again.