How to stay sober – part seven

Conclusion

I am going to close with a simple statement that is my overarching meta-principle and touchstone for my sobriety, so i will do the final house-keeping now and leave on that sentiment.

I snowed you with words and advice and observations here. I DO NOT want you to get overwhelmed. You DO NOT have to do all or even any of this stuff immediately, or on anyone else’s schedule – ever. Even on your own schedule, you don’t have to do the stuff on this list. You can make your own list. These are simply some things that helped me or that helped others. NO ONE does all of this at one time. NO ONE possibly could. Don’t feel bad, don’t get bogged down. Find something that resonates with you and try it. If nothing resonates for you, let me know and i will give you a new avalanche of other things to try. Stay positive, and just don’t drink 🙂

Disclaimer 3 – This is another area where official treatment opinions and results vary. My own personal experience has been different with regard to this issue over time. When i got sober at 19, i could not think about the big picture. I would never have made it. I needed to be a “one day at a time” guy. This last time, getting sober at 38 – i had a different relationship to myself and the world. You have to pick what is right for you. Disclaimer ends.

The final truth. I got sober three times. I relapsed twice. The first relapse lasted from 1995 to 2013, 18 years. The second relapse lasted for two weeks. Only one time did i say to myself (the important part) and out loud to others – “I am done drinking alcohol forever. I am never touching another drop. I am never having another drink.” The difference it makes in my sobriety is indescribable. Having made that solid commitment to myself, thinking about drinking just does not even happen for me anymore.

How to stay sober – part six

Hard Choices continued or Outcomes Assessment Applied

Analyzing these choices about what is right for you with regard to living and loving with a drinker, this is another place where you can use the bucket approach from the earlier Outcomes Assessment example. Make two buckets and be brutally honest. If it is complicated, make 4 buckets, with the second two buckets labeled “justification” and provide specific and honest reasons for why an item is listed as it is. For instance, something that might go in the “Good Bucket” – “physical intimacy”. In the “justification” sub-bucket maybe you have a positive thing like “when we touch it is empowering”, but maybe you have “i only feel good because i am being touched and it really has nothing to do with Pat specifically or any true intimacy between us”. The bucket thing may not be complex enough, or it may be too complex. The system does not matter. Making an honest assessment does, and in this case, you bear the burden of proof for why it is right to stay. I don’t want to belabor any points. If this is not clear or requires further explanation, let me know and i will provide more, and more detailed, examples.

I can’t say whether or not you need to leave wherever you are, or go to your parents, or your sister, or your best friend or whatever. One of the reasons that this is often recommended is that most of us stumble quite a bit in the first year. Lots of people have trouble maintaining a job in the first year, or paying their bills, or meeting their court obligations, or whatever. On the other hand, many people cannot and/or should not go back to their families for any number of reasons. This is definitely an area where there are no “one-size-fits-all” solutions. Careful reflection, soul searching, honesty, and a brutally frank analysis of the foreseeable outcomes – these are the only things i know of that can really help sort out which is the right path to take.

How hard is it to choose the proper path?

I got sober the first time living in a house full of drugs, playing in a touring metal band, in and out of bars all the time. After almost two years sober, I had my first relapse living in a house with the only guy i knew who was clean longer than me, and another guy who grew up with an alcoholic parent and does not abuse any substance – ever.

I got sober the second time living with my parents who are responsible drinkers who have quite a bit of alcohol in the house and who drink a glass of wine several nights a week. I relapsed that time while on vacation away from my home.

I got sober the last and final time back at my parents’ house.

There are exceptions to every rule. Every case is different. The exact path you chose with regards to where you live and with whom is not at all as important as that you 1) make a conscious choice 2) you make that choice having fully and truthfully considered all the angles to the best of your ability.

Next – Conclusion

How to stay sober – part five

Hard Choices – as with the rest of the parts in this series, any and all identities have been obfuscated.

Here comes some of the hard stuff. This is also stuff that i have less personal experience with and that there is even conflicting information about among treatment programs. I am going to call your love person Pat. I don’t know if Pat is an alcoholic. That is not terribly important in terms of the statements below.

– You know you can’t make Pat quit. You know that if Pat quits “for you” that is less than worthless on many levels. If you don’t know these things, tell me and i will expand and clarify the points.
– It is very dangerous for you as a newly sober person, to be in a relationship with someone who drinks at all – even a non-alcoholic who drinks very responsibly. It is a whole other dimension of bad for you to be in a relationship with an alcoholic who is drinking.
– It is very dangerous for you as a newly sober person, to live with someone who is still drinking at all – even a non-alcoholic who drinks very responsibly.
– The rule of thumb is “do not date or have any romantic or sexual relationship in the first year of sobriety”. For most, this is a matter of “do not start anything” in that year, because very few people get clean still having any kind of “romantic partner” in the picture.
– Another rule of thumb, given that most newly sober alcoholics are emerging from underneath a huge pile of flaming crap that was their life, is to “go home”. Go be with any family member (by blood or choice) that will still have you and love and support you.

I can’t tell you what is the right thing. In part, i truly do not know enough of the specific details of your situation to even pretend to have those kind of answers and it would be naive of me to present this advice in that light.

I am not saying “you have to break up with Pat”. I am saying that you really need to look closely at breaking up with Pat – at least for now.

I am not saying that “you can’t live with Pat.” I am saying that you need to very closely evaluate not living with Pat – regardless of whether or not you break up with Pat.

This is a lot of stuff to think about. All of these points will be examined further in the next installment.

(I know i hit some controversial ground here. As always, i welcome any comments, even disagreements, as long as they are civil and presented in the spirit of true discourse. I will explain more about all of these points in the next part.) 

Next – Hard Choices continued or Outcomes Assessment Applied

How to stay sober – part four

General Health

General stuff i do and also recommend to all. This all falls into the basket of (3) “health”. Particularly under 180 days, you don’t want any of these to become distractions or burdens. Under 90 days, don’t do anything else in life that is troubling or difficult if you can possibly avoid it except for not drinking. But these things absolutely will help, and you will need to begin addressing them *soon*. This is not meant to be comprehensive or a list of action items. The point is not to overwhelm you with “LOOK AT ALL THE THINGS YOU DO WRONG!” – but to provide you with a list of stuff that you can reference and pick and choose from when it is the right time for you to do something.

A) Look at your diet. Are you eating? Are you eating regularly? Too much? Too little? The right stuff? The wrong stuff?

B) Are you exercising regularly? You don’t have to join a gym, or become a marathon runner, or do anything specific or meet anyone else’s goals or ideals. This is not about what you look like or body type. This is about physical health, and the relationship between physical health and mental health. Without regular exercise, your heart won’t work properly. Without regular exercise your brain does not get the natural chemicals it actually needs to operate effectively. This can be anything – walking, badminton, fencing, rollerblading, bowling, whatever. Something physical that you can do frequently, and that you can come to enjoy. I hated the gym when i started going. Now, if i miss one day, i can tell the difference in how i feel and even how i react to less positive experiences throughout the day.

C) Hygiene – you may be in ship-shape here, but for most drunks that is not the case. Most of us are depressed. Most depressed people quit taking showers regularly, quit washing their clothes regularly, quit worrying about wearing clean clothes. Here agin – i don’t care what your personal style or chosen aesthetic is – just do it well, and do that with purpose.

D) physical environment – most drunks are depressed. Most depressed people do not have the cleanest homes. You don’t need to be Martha Stewart, but you do need to create a safe, comfortable, clean, clutter-free environment. This is not simply my preference, there is real science behind this. I am not talking about the extremes of “artists are more creative in a cluttered work space.” I am talking about dishes in the sink, dirty stoves, dirty bathrooms, piles of junk around, that kind of thing. This may not be you – i am just making a list of the things i tend to encounter – and have lived through myself.

E) Sleep. This is way too individual and complex to detail here, but you gotta start to get good true sleep and to get on a real sleep schedule that works for your life.

Next  – Hard Choices

How to stay sober – part three

More on Habits and Outcomes (note – unless i am talking about myself, i employ made-up examples that do not correspond to any specific human beings)

1. Make new habits. The “destination cure” is as much a fallacy for alcoholics as anyone else. Just going to a new place doesn’t do anything to change you, you have to change you, but doing whatever you can/need to in order to break your old habits is fully a good idea. Different places, different people, different habits. Obviously this is not 100%. You don’t have to stop loving cats, or reading mystery novels, or playing tennis, but you should avoid restaurants or bars or liquor or grocery stores that have played a big role in your bad behavior. Maybe those types of places do not impact you. Maybe your thing is cars and backroads or a deserted train tunnel. One of my “triggers” is one of my favorite books, The Sun Also Rises, and to say that alcohol plays a role in that book would be an understatement. I read some other Hemingway, but i still do not go back to visit TSAR unless i am in a really good and positive place mentally and emotionally. Whatever these things are for you, create some physical distance from people, places, and things that are part of your old patterns. Let me know if you need any more on this topic.

2. Outcomes. I really love this metric. It is so simple. We do it naturally in many aspects of life, but somehow, we have avoided turning this tool inward – at least inward and pointed at alcohol. It is not only a fantastic immediately useful tool to stay sober, it can help you with every aspect of the continuing journey towards becoming a better person. I don’t want to say much more about that here now. You don’t need to be digging too deep right now. You need to focus almost exclusively on staying sober until that is not hard to do. Once that part is really and truly under control, then we open up the hood and start doing some more in-depth work. For now – just don’t drink.

Disclaimer 2 – I don’t want to come across as perfect life answer guy either. I don’t have all this down perfectly – by far. I don’t know anyone who does, alcoholic or not. I made a dumb mistake in my process of dealing with making amends and seeking reconciliation very recently. I did not recognize it as a mistake when i did it, but the feedback i received showed me pretty quickly how my logic was flawed. Then, even more recently, in my business, I MADE THE EXACT SAME MISTAKE. Disclaimer ends.

Getting sober, even staying sober doesn’t fix everything. It fixes very very little. But you can’t even sincerely start fixing all the other stuff until you get the sobriety down. This is why i am holding some observations back, and holding some other advice back. For at least the first 6 months, if not the first whole year of sobriety, don’t worry much about the other stuff. There is a reason making amends is a later step. Whether or not you do an actual AA program or something taken from many sources, you need to really master sobriety before trying amends – for lots of reasons. We can talk about that more later too if you like.

Next Up – General Health

How to stay sober – part two

Outcomes Assessment

I really only have one true drop of gold. I have lots of good things to say and share, but this is my sobriety a-bomb. Different phrases have helped different people unlock this and internalize it for themselves, so i will give a few looks at it for you here. (2) Consequences. Outcomes. Results. If i am being driven to drink, or thinking about it, or lusting for it, or wanting it, or needing it, or dreaming about it (which can totally happen), or (insert your thing) – i ask myself this –

(2) “What do i hope to gain?” We all know what many of the immediate and unavoidable consequences of a relapse of any kind or any length will be. Self loathing, anger, resentment, hurt, fear, pain, grief, and on and on and worse. These are just the known consequences that happen inside our own heads. There are usually obvious, known and immediate external consequences; losing the few people left who still are willing to even talk to us after the lies and hurt our self-centered path of destruction has brought to those around us, getting fired, DUI, jail, divorce, losing custody of the kids – all of that is right there at the bottom of the next first glass.

Given all of that – known terrible results – let us add up the benefits, the positives, the things we will gain by taking even one sip.

I got nothing

I tried (above) to simulate a serious attempt to consider the question. All I ever get is crickets. Even when i do try to put something in the positive group (not for humans in general, not for “normal” people without our troubles, but for me) i fail. “It will feel good.” No it won’t, and i know that very well. “I will have more fun.” No i won’t. I have proven that. “At least i will feel better if only for a moment.” Completely 100% false. In fact, the opposite is true. You get the point. If you do think you have something to put into the “positive outcome” bucket, and you can’t find a reason why that instinct is wrong, give me a call and i will help you shoot it down. This is my biggest golden nugget. This is my singular guiding truth about sobriety –

There is not a single positive outcome to having another drink.

Next up – More on Habits and Outcomes

How to stay sober – part one

Housekeeping: I promise myself and you all that this blog is not going to become exclusively about alcoholism. That said, this entry is the first in a seven installment series, roughly one page each, to be released once a day until complete. I have had a lot of feedback from other people who face similar challenges to those i described. Several people have asked me directly, “how do you stay sober?” Maybe there are people out there who can’t ask that yet. It is an important question, and i am so very proud of everyone else out there making better choices, or even trying to do that. The following is a collection of the best advice i can offer the newly sober taken from my own experiences – some direct, some tangential.

I am going to blend two approaches here – things I do to stay sober, and advice I would and do give to anyone else getting sober with remotely similar circumstances to what you describe. In both cases, the point is not to copy my actions or advice in exacting detail, but to understand the truths behind these things and apply that – the golden sparkly truth – to your situation the best you can.

Disclaimer – I am just going to keep it simple and write *you*. I am not assuming that i know your circumstance completely or have magic vision into your life. Some of my assumptions will be totally wrong. Please don’t let that stuff, my lack of writing from a perfectly neutral space, slow you down. Please do assume the best intent, the helpful intent. Please don’t do what i tend to do with recovery language and fix on a detail and say “that ain’t me” and throw out the rest. Disclaimer ends.

One of the many hard things for me to understand was people saying “getting clean is the easy part, it is life that will kick your ass.” One more cliché. One more staggeringly true cliché. I can’t know where you are at this moment in terms of your chemical relationship/dependency on alcohol, but 30+ days should have most people over the worst of the actual physiological aspects. That really just leaves the mental stuff. Whatever got you started, long-term/heavy/abusive drinking has changed how you respond to almost any scenario. Your body doesn’t really need the drink anymore. Your brain doesn’t either, but you have “Pavloved” yourself. Pain = drink. Difficult = drink. Hard = drink. Happy = drink. Celebrate = drink. Emotion (good or bad) = Drink.

This is the first part of the mental battle – (1) making new habits. The first time i got sober, i still lived in heroin house and i only had one human in my daily life who was clean. This is part of why i spent so much time in meetings. I was not in a position to move immediately, but i needed to create new behavior patterns. You have heard “fake it ’til you make it”. The psychology behind that is re-conditioning – breaking the existing responses we have conditioned ourselves with and building in new responses. You don’t have to believe it, but you do need to do it – it works despite being actively disbelieved.

I will come back to this later. For now, think on it. New habits.

Next up – Outcomes Assessment

That long one about alcoholism

Hi, my name is Nick and I’m an alcoholic. I had my last drink on October 14, 2013.

I have so many opening paragraphs started, a few different one page story bits drafted, and some very loosely related ideas written down. I don’t have a plan or an agenda, and just for today, i can be ok with that. I am going to keep writing for a while, then stop and put all of this out there at once. It isn’t great writing. It isn’t great storytelling. It is true. It is important. And maybe it will help someone else. Maybe it will help me. Thanks folks.

I have often referred to myself as an addict rather than using the term alcoholic. I have used and abused almost every fairly common drug out there aside from heroin, crack, and ecstasy. I have never tried any of those three. I am sure i missed a few other as well, but not from lack of trying. I intentionally avoided those three even in my darkest times. There is a difference between abuse and addiction and I have never been confused about the fact that alcohol was, is, and shall remain my true addiction. Part of the reason i ever even started referring to myself as an addict has to do with the culture of the 12 step programs in Richmond, VA (RVA) in the early-mid 1990s. The people i met in Alcoholics Anonymous were contentious, angry, and bitter people who argued about everything, and god forbid you mention a drug aside from alcohol in their rooms. The people who went to Narcotics Anonymous didn’t have time for all that crap. The people in NA were far to busy trying to figure out how to stay clean and stay alive. I went there to be with and learn from those people. They were very accepting and no one cared if you said “alcoholic” or “drug addict”. The few who stopped to even consider the issue had the sense to recognize that alcohol is a drug and these labels are really not the point.

I hated the language of recovery, from the first moment i learned anything about it and i still do. I remain unsure if that has more to do with the cosmic proportions of arrogance with which i am “blessed” or my passion for words. Either way, that language was a barrier for me, but i wanted to change so badly that i was able to shut up and listen long enough to hear the good stuff. There are so many clichés used in recovery that it can drive word-people crazy. One of the many things that makes it even harder to accept is how appropriate, true, and useful they are. “90 in 90” is one that most newcomers (term for people new to 12 step programs) hear often. It means that if you are brand new to recovery and just getting clean (or back from your latest relapse) you should attend 90 meetings in 90 days. The point of that is not mathematical, but to make it a priority to go to at least one meeting every single day for 90 days. We found plenty of time to do our preferred drugs for longer than 1.5 hours every single day. There is no reasonable excuse not to have the time to attend one meeting a day for 90 days.

90 in 90 is great for new people and i was no exception. I needed to break existing habits. Obviously what i was doing was not working out or i would not have been attending NA/AA meetings. I needed to build new habits. I needed to meet people who were actually making a point to try not to use drugs. I got to know almost every meeting offered in the city. I found two that i liked above all others, and made one of these my “home group”. (RVA peeps – every NA meeting at St James on Franklin was great. I preferred Thursday evenings. My home group was at St Andrews in Oregon Hill between Laurel and Cherry. Sunday night was the jam!) Your home group is the meeting that you are dedicated to attending at all costs, the one where you feel the most comfortable, and when you are really ready to start helping yourself by helping others, your home group is the place where that work can begin in earnest.

I shared more at my home group than at the other meetings. I got involved with set-up, tear down, and then running the meetings. I got involved in the larger NA community as a regional representative. My first exposure to working in a true parliamentary system was through NA.

I decided to let myself get sidetracked and then just stop this line of thought because i don’t remember a whole lot more about being a rep, and i don’t have much more to say about the program other than it really helped me out. I quit going eventually, not because i wanted to drink again, but because of my issues with the language. I am not going to explain that here. I never talk about that in public because i don’t want my reactions to end up turning someone else away from using these programs as the fantastic tools that they are. If you really want to know, tell me that in person or on the phone sometime. If you are not a person who has, does, or might suffer from addiction, then i will probably tell you all about it.

If you need or would like more information about NA or AA, for yourself or for someone you know and for whatever reason can’t or won’t do it, find it, and/or go to it, on your own, reach out anytime. I take this shit seriously. 202-297-1163. nick.renfroe@gmail.com

A whole lot of drunks and addicts have let me down. A whole lot of drunks and addicts have done nothing but support me. I have spent my time both supporting other drunks and being the drunk letting people down. I know the drill.

________

I have quit drinking several times in my life. I started very young, recognized i had a problem, voluntarily sought treatment, and was just about two years clean and sober before i turned 21. If you read the opening line and know that i was born in 1974, you can probably piece it together that my first stab at sobriety did not really work out. This last time, October 14, 2013, is the first and only time i truly said to myself – “this is it. I am done for good and can never ever drink alcohol again.” I had never said that or made that commitment to myself before. Even when I quit drinking on January 27, 2013 – not long after my friend, fellow alcoholic, former boss, and sometimes mentor Steve H. committed suicide by hanging – even then, i didn’t say “forever”. Not making that firm commitment to myself is one part of what led to my two weeks of staggering drunkenness that October. I hated every drink during that relapse. I would be weeping, telling myself how terrible it was to be drinking and how much i hated everything about it and about myself as a drinker, while taking huge pulls straight from the bottle. I am not even going to try to express the sadness and guilt and self-loathing that goes along with having admitted that you are a drunk and continuing to drink. It is the hardest easy-to-solve problem i have ever faced or even heard about.

Without the magic love of a few magnificent dogs i would not be here writing this right now. I have a great family. We not only love, but actually like each other. I did not have a shocking childhood trauma. I wasn’t abused or neglected. I have, what seems rare in this day and age, an awesome and supportive family. Hell, my dad and i have even been business partners since 1996. There is just something about the particular kind of hard ass that i am, the love and support or the lack of same from other humans just doesn’t factor in to my alcoholism much. To the extent that it did have an effect, the more i felt and saw that love and support, the further away i would go.

One of the many, and frequently first, unbearably difficult things about getting sober, certainly for me, and this is common, is coming to terms with the fact that our experiences, our feelings, and even the concept we carry inside our heads of our own identity – none of that is even close to unique or individual. The closing sentence of the previous paragraph, that is absolutely textbook behavior. It can be crushing to have to recognize that in addition to everything else you have destroyed in your life by the time you seek help, that in very important ways, you are not even special. “You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake.” – (Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club)

When i was really low, maybe especially when i was really low, i didn’t want to hear about how much someone loved me or supported me. I did not want someone to just quietly be there and sit there. It could just be in my head, but i could feel the pressure of their desire to help, their desire for me to “get better” and it drove me crazier. Drinking made me hate myself more. Hating myself made me drink more. Drinking more made me…you see the wheel??

The first dog in my life that i got all on my own, Guthrey, also loved me unconditionally. His level of unconditional love just always hit me on a whole other level. He knew i was hurting and while he did try to be supportive, he had his own doggy agenda. His biggest intrusion into my psyche was stuff like, “i don’t care how sad you are there drunk man, and i do like you, but if you keep me in this house and do not feed me, i will eat you.” Not every one of my magic dogs had exactly that same style, but they all had one or two very simple bottom lines. They loved me so much and so simply, i could only let them down so far. Of course i let them down. Of course i failed them. But there were lines i would not cross with my dogs. When there was no food in the house because i spent all the “extra” money on booze, i gave Guthrey oatmeal. He did not like oatmeal. But once he figured out that i was offering him food instead of eating anything myself, he ate it. I lived on bread and beer – sometimes for months. Most of the time, i still bought Guthrey his really expensive fancy dog food.

With very few exceptions, i still walked my dogs every day. Sometimes that meant that “crazy dog man” was just weeping uncontrollably, hating being outside, hating being seen weak and broken, hating being seen at all, hating being outside, walking down the street with his dogs. Luckily, for most of those times, i lived in a socio-economically mixed ghetto with working people and crackheads alike. I was not the only one who had to struggle to get it together long enough to run into the store to buy booze and then run back to my hole. When i lived in other places, i would just wait until dark and then walk. If i did not have dogs in my life throughout all of the hardest times, y’all would probably not be reading this, and most of you would never have met me. Maybe one of you would keep my Facebook page going in memoriam like someone does for Steve. But more likely, i would have been dead long before cell phones fit into jeans’ pockets.

It wasn’t all terrible. I wasn’t in the darkest pits constantly for the past three decades. In the hood, i had a great friend live with me for a while. We would throw down together. He could probably out drink me even then. One of my neighbors became a very welcome regular at my house and he would match me beer for beer. I don’t know for sure, but i don’t think that either of these guys started drinking again right away the next morning. Not that any “binge” level drinking is healthy, but i started to see that even in a crowd of pretty serious drinkers most of whom definitely abused alcohol, i still stood out. I needed it, and i didn’t even wait until noon. Most of the time i was the first to pass out at the end of the day. Most of the time that was because i had at least a 12 pack head start. Drinking in the morning, drinking before work, drinking at work, and a truly key factor – hiding that i was drinking this often, hiding how much i drank, and lying about drinking.

Folks whatever you are doing in life, if you are hiding and/or lying about it, you have a problem.

________________

I do not have the best or most reliable memory. I am often incorrect in recalling timelines – by as much as a full year or two. There are some things even i do not forget.

I started drinking alcohol, with the clear purpose of getting drunk by myself, when i was in sixth grade, in something like 1985 or 86. I don’t want to mislead anyone or create some kind of false myth of my legendary drunkenness. I did not begin drinking more than 10 or 15 times a month until i was a high school sophomore. I did not start trying very hard to get drunk every day until the summer between 11th and 12th grade when i was 16 years old. This is when i started drinking and driving. (That is just information. It is not “the gun” revealed in Act I. I never got in a wreck, hit anyone’s car, property, pet, family member or anything like that – as far as i know anyway. I did eventually get a DUI, but that didn’t happen until 2003, and there was no collision of any kind involved.) I did not start drinking in the morning, pretty much every day, until i got to college. Luckily, i crashed and burned (metaphorically) pretty quickly. I admitted that I had a real problem and started going to 12 step meetings a few weeks before I turned 19.

Between June of 1992 and November of 1993 I consumed an ever increasing amount of mind altering substances. For a few months, i would stay up for two or three days at time tripping on acid as well, just continuing to take hits every 6-8 hours to keep things going. In the last two to three months of that time period, my abuse was staggering. It was an odd and sad time in Richmond, VA. Heroin was really popular and one of my roommates was way deep into that culture. There started to be some heroin parties at our house. I actually had to say to several of my friends – “If you guys are gonna do this shit here and you OD, i am not calling an ambulance. We are throwing your ass out in the alley.” My other roommate sold a pretty hefty amount of grass. A few of my other close friends also sold grass and other things. I knew everybody I needed to know to get whatever I wanted and got most of it for free or at deep discounts.

On an average day, i drank at least a half a pint of liquor, at least two beers, took 4 or 5 bong hits (for the uninitiated, that’s one way of smoking marijuana), and snorted a few lines of some low grade speed before leaving the house at 8 am to go to class.

This may shock or surprise some of you who knew me during high school or the first two years of college. When i got clean and started telling people i was an addict, most people did not understand what i was taking about. I have always been a very high functioning alcoholic, and to a point, adding in any form of speed can really assist certain kinds of high functioning alcoholics. If you saw the Denzel movie Flight, while dramatized, that is one of the many things the movie got right. I went to class, did my homework, read an average of 600 pages a day, wrote my papers, made the dean’s list, and was a pretty good employee at my job – as a pizza delivery driver.

My girlfriend finally had enough, broke up with me and kicked me out. I did have my own place – the Heroin house – but pretty much lived with her when i could. She saw more of my Jekyll and Hyde than most. She did not see much of the drinking. Like most true alcoholics, i was a frackin’ ninja at hiding my drinking. But she could not help but notice when i broke her lockbox to get to the weed inside. I did buy it. But i also did give it to her, steal it back, and break her stuff doing that. That breakup made me take a hard look at things. The breakup was not the only reason, but I got clean and joined NA inside two weeks.

I thought about those days, my first time getting sober, quite a bit during the downfall of my last two relationships, but mostly during the last one in 2010. That one failed for a lot of reasons, but my drinking, and lying about it, certainly did not help. It had to be absolutely maddening for her. Not only would she wake up and realize i had either left bed or never come to bed and then find me passed out outside. Not only would she then yell or fuss or whatever. But the next morning, she would slowly come to realize that the tongue lashing from the night before had no impact on me at all because i did not even remember that it happened.

_________

There is more. There is always more. This is not too bad at giving some broad general strokes at what my life drinking was like. I know i did not hit the darkness and pain section very hard. But guess what – it really hurts to even remember that stuff. I don’t hide from it anymore and i am not trying to hide it from y’all either. There is just only so much of it i can take at any one time. This is enough for now.

I won’t ignore anyones’ comments and i appreciate that you folks even read anything here at all, much less something real like this. I don’t need much in the way of support these days. The best thing that you could do for me is maybe try and think differently about drunks and addicts. The next time you see dirty street folks begging – i am not saying you buy them a bottle – but maybe recognize that the distance between someone like that and someone you know is a really really short line.

Thanks.

n

PS – for anyone freaking out about my contact info right there online in the post!! I have had at least one of my cell numbers and one email address published online right underneath my name on a company site which also bears my name, from 2004 – the present. I don’t foresee a time when that won’t be true. I have got to be one of the easiest folks to find contact info for out there. Given that, i would not want to make anyone who needs help have to goolge and then lose courage and not call or text or email.

Hair Blog

Blogging is a self-indulgent activity to some extent. This probably goes beyond the norm. However, i do get what i find to be a surprising number of hair questions and comments, so here it is in pictures rather than my usual long-winded narrative (mostly).

1.Homecoming.1989
1.Homecoming.1989
2.Homecoming1989
2.Homecoming1989

I have used these either on here or on Facebook before. Sunshine is not a big fan of the photos. I still think what i thought then. She is beautiful and looks lovely in these pics. Check out that hair. I was so very envious.

3.Prom1992
3.Prom1992

I got a haircut in the fall of 1991. It was just a little trim to make my ponytail look ok for a stage performance. Only me and my cousin Kim cut my hair from then until 2004, when i got another trim before heading out on my first business trip to the Mid East.

bigbeard.1995
bigbeard.1995

Ah the sweet carefree days of college – the Metal Years.

nobeard.6:24:98
nobeard.6:24:98

I have shaved less than 30 times in my life. This was the last time. Who knows, it may remain the final time…

Wakra.12.17.2004
Wakra.12.17.2004

Glorious long hair living! (Swimming in December is awesome.)

Hurt1.3:17:2010
Hurt1.3:17:2010

And then there is this. I can’t be certain what exactly happened because a whole lot of whiskey and not a few beers were damaged in the making of this incident. I know i fell down – hard. There was no fight. There was no car or bicycle. I was alone in the basement, or possibly out back of my house. Broken arm (just barely not a broken shoulder), three broken ribs, and a nice shiner. Drinking is bad – at least the way i did it.

Hurt2:3:27:2010
Hurt2:3:27:2010

 

Haircut1.4:8:2010
Haircut1.4:8:2010

I had to wear that sling for a really long time and many things were simply not manageable.

Haircut2.4:8:2010
Haircut2.4:8:2010

The locks had to go.

Haircut3.4:8:2010
Haircut3.4:8:2010

This was given to Locks of Love.

Haircut4.4:8:2010
Haircut4.4:8:2010

 

Haircut5.4:8:2010
Haircut5.4:8:2010

Jennifer prettied me up!

JMTBeard.7:15:2012jpg
JMTBeard.7:15:2012

The last time i came close to having Big Beard was when i got off the John Muir Trail two years ago.

Pre-trim
Pre-trim 4/8/2014

 

Hikin' Hair
Hikin’ Hair

 
4/8/2014 12:30 am. Thus commences a period of (mostly) unrestrained hair action. Will my eyebrow and hairline finally meet? (Probably). Will my sideburns finally grow in? (Odds are not good.). Will my ear hair reach epically scary dimensions? (You bet!)
 
Y’all be good to each other and yourselves!

Stuff and Things

G+N.pa 96-97
G+N.pa 96-97

Howdy folks. It is getting pretty exciting round these parts. I am leaving in a week. I am thrilled and anxious and a little nervous and really jazzed up and a little scared. One of my new hiking friends and i were talking a bit about fear/anxiety. I shared a thought with her. This is not my original concept, just something i have heard from many sources and that i draw strength from at times. Bravery and courage do not imply an absence of fear. To be brave, to act with courage, is to be afraid and to carry on despite your fear.

I am practicing with a few acts of bravery here in PA 🙂

G+L+N.1
G+L+N 2003

The previously endless task list is no longer endless and all the big chunks are done. There are still a few things to tend to. If you are as “particular” as i am, there are always more things to do. All the resupply boxes are packed, addressed, and ready to ship out. I have a stockpile of backup food prepared in case i need to have my mail drop angel Liz adjust my portion sizes. I have two boxes of backup gear packaged and labeled for easy identification in case stuff breaks, wears out, or i want something else once i am out there doin’ it.

I filed and paid my taxes. I enrolled in a health insurance program. I got my booster shots both for regular USA life and for almost definite international business travel that will commence as soon as i return to everyday life after the hike (Tetanus and a Typhoid booster). My car is at the doctor’s office getting a new lung so that it will be ready for my folks to use in my absence.

I got some great tent repair tools from the maker of my new tent and have patched the hole i inadvertently made in the rainfly the second time i ever set up the tent. This kit includes a very lightweight device that will preclude the same kind of incident occurring again.

My desktop since 2006
My desktop since 2006

All of that necessary surface stuff aside – there have been some interesting emotional shifts and other reflections during this time of preparation. I look back at the years of drinking and smoking and continue to wonder how and why i lived that way at all, and for so long. There are so many great benefits for me in being sober and an ex-smoker. (I can never be a non-smoker. Even if i thought that it was possible for that title to apply to a former smoker, which i do not, Bill Hicks would crawl out of his grave, join Facebook, and become my friend – just so that he could unfriend me for applying that label to myself. No one wants that.) I will be 5 months smoke free on Friday, but i don’t really feel any different. That does not make me want to smoke again. I love not smelling terrible (or at least not terrible in THAT way). Many people have commented that it should be much easier to hike now. I don’t feel that. I don’t know if not enough time has passed, or if it has more to with me just having a very large lung capacity and staying active even when i was about 40 pounds overweight. I like not smoking. I like not spending the money i used to spend on cigarettes!

The not drinking has many more tangible, immediate, and longer term effects. One of the biggest things for me is that i am not depressed anymore. After living in a constant state of at least mild depression with several rather severe swings into deeper dark places – i have not even really been sad since i quit drinking, and it feels great. Aside from an initial few weeks of changing body chemistry, i sleep so well now. I fall asleep easier and actually sleep all through the night. What a great change that is. Having good sleep alone has probably helped reshape my attitude into the happy sunny guy you all know and love those days 😉 (Yes, i used to be even grumpier. Don’t you wish you knew me then?) I am still me, still have my own ticks, and tendencies, but i let more stuff go now. I am hanging on to less. I do still bottle things inside and am far more likely to channel emotions inside to try to understand and control them rather than just letting them run free – but i am doing it less.

A final thought to keep this “brief” and not spiral into a super lengthy introspective ramble – an unexpected correlation between long distance hiking and sober time. Many guide books offer the advice that if your goal is to thru hike a long distance trail like the PCT, you have to expect some changes out there due to fires, floods, landslides, mudslides, endangered species, and other factors. However you do choose to surmount these difficulties, the key is to walk a continuous foot path from start to finish. You don’t want to have to say, “i hiked the whole PCT, except for that bit near Idyllwild because of the …”. I understood this immediately, both what they were trying to say and why it might be important, particularly in your own memory and in talking with other hikers.

My buddy
Me and Lucas at Mickey and Max’s House – 2011

I quit drinking (this time) in January of 2013, just a few days after finding out that one of my dear friends and mentors who also struggled with depression and addiction killed himself by hanging. But on April 14th, 2014, the day i will start my thru hike attempt, i will be 6 months sober. That is because i chose to drink last October. It was something of an experiment. I didn’t go crazy or shirk my duties or anything – but i did drink for several days. I am glad i did it. If only to know that i don’t need to ever run that test again. I hated it. I was so very disappointed in myself for doing it. I had to make sure that i made a few public statements about it so that i would not have a bunch of my supportive friends trying to wish me a “happy one year sober” in January of 2014 that i did not earn. I don’t declare that i have been sober for a little over a year except for that little incident in October. That would sound and feel false and wrong to me. I don’t want to have a similar thing with my thru hike. I am not a purist in the sense of “every possible mile of the PCT must be walked”. There are several alternate routes that are not mandatory, they just take you to different sites and i am really excited about hiking those paths. For me, those alternates do not break my chain of thru hiking the PCT. Skipping sections in a car or something like that – something that does break the concept of walking a path all the way from Mexico to Canada – that would violate my personal goal. So, i get what they are saying and i am on board!

I am not judging the choices others make. That is their decision and their lives. You go out have the hike that you want to have. This one is mine.

PS – i keep meaning to write about music and m/ METAL m/ but i just have not had the time. And yes, those issues are timely and hike related! My new buddy Minda and i have a lot of common musical tastes, though as of yet, she has not found any Metal that works for her and we have been talking about metal. I wanted to write a bit about it and explain what it is about Metal that appeals to me. It may not be what you think…

Anywho – be well folks.

Rock On!

PPS – i have written about my dogs throughout this blog and i am sure i will again. With the anniversary of both of them passing – Guthrey at the end of March in 2004 and Lucas 03/30/2012 – my company getting really active in the MidEast again (which happened right after Guthrey died), and me going to hike in California again (i hiked the JMT a few months after Lucas passed) it has been on my mind. I miss my buddies every single day. No day is really harder than any other. But i am feeling it quite a bit right now.

 

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