Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Futility

I was a breaker of my own rules
I found this list while cleaning out my night-stand drawers a couple months ago.  I scribbled this down in early 2012, when I was desperately trying to limit and control my drinking.  I was tired of my drinking affecting my life in such a drastic way, so I felt it was time to make a list of rules that I would have to follow.  I taped it to the wall beside my bed, so that I would read it before I started every day.

1. No drinking before work

As someone that works every night, at a bar, I have quite a bit of free time every day before I clock in.  During my downward spiral of alcoholism, anxiety, and depression, it became customary to calm my nerves by having a drink (or seven) before work.  The only thing that would calm my early-morning jitters was alcohol or a pill, and alcohol was cheaper.  This usually meant that I would start drinking early in my day, and would also cause me to crave drinks throughout my day from then on out.

Not doing this would've saved me a lot of trouble.  But as my daily withdrawals grew, it became increasingly difficult to obey this rule.

2. No buying alcohol to keep at the house

I knew I was developing a problem when I started to pick up bottles of Jameson at the liquor store on my day off.  I'd then go home and start taking swigs from the bottle and spend my entire day off doing nothing but soaking my organs in alcohol.  This would usually cause me to want to go out and be around people.  So, by the time I got to the bar, I was already drunk from the six or so drinks I'd had at the house.

But keeping a bottle at my house also meant staying drunk throughout my day.  I'd take a swig before leaving the house before any activity, and upon returning home.  This increased intake fueled the fire and made my withdrawals much more severe upon waking up in the morning, or when facing extended periods of time when I couldn't drink.

3. No shots except at The Grocery after-hours

This one is stupid.  I was attempting to tell myself that the only time it was okay to take shots was when I had closed up shop for the day at The Grocery (the name of the bar I manage).  But one shot would always lead to a few more.  And then I'd go to a bar, and order more shots.  Blackout would soon follow.

A friend once told me that my problem was that I took shots.  He said that my problem would go away if I'd stop ordering shots and just do what rule number 4 says.  But my problem was greater than just taking shots.

4. Sip your drinks when out

In an attempt to move away from constantly taking shots, I started messing around with 2-part liquor drinks, like rum and coke or gin and tonic.  But I would fly through them so quickly.  I'd knock one back on a 5 minute average.  I had a craving I couldn't satisfy.  I just wanted more and more and more.

So I made a rule to just sip drinks, instead of guzzling them down like an alcoholic (which, I very much was).  I started ordering less-tasty beverages like scotch and rocks, but my palette would quickly adapt and I'd start guzzling those down too.  Plus, once I had one cocktail, I couldn't help but through in a few shots too.

5. No shots while at The Grocery off the clock

When I'd go up to The Grocery on my off days, it usually ended in disaster or embarrassment.  I'd have nothing but time to kill and an appetite for liquor to feed.  I'd also usually be well on my way by the time I got there. 

But truthfully, I really just wanted to hang out and be social.  My non-stop drinking habits prevented this from happening.  Ideally, I'd simply sit at the bar, order a beer, and socialize with friends without any worries.  But what would really happen is that I would order a beer, take a sip, and then get that hunger and order a shot.  I'd suck down two or three cigarettes and order another beer and another shot.  I'd talk and talk and talk, my speech becoming more and more slurred, and soon enough I'd be ten drinks deep having only spent an hour at the bar. 

My time sitting at a bar-stool, which I wanted to purely be social, overwhelmingly became exclusively an exercise to feed my hunger for alcohol.  Blackout.  Embarrassment.  Bam.  Wake up and another day has passed and you have no idea what you did or what you said the previous day.

6. Drink less liquor, more beer

This one was another futile attempt at getting off liquor.  Beer was "safe" to me because I couldn't drink it that fast.  I didn't really like the taste all that much.  But, as stated before, once I had a sip of beer, my body ached for a shot of liquor.  I would become obsessed.  I'd feel deprived.  The beer wasn't enough.  I needed moreI'd get frustrated to the point where I'd rationalize taking a shot instead (or in addition to) the beer.

Plus, I soon found a variety of beers in which I enjoyed and therefore could guzzle pretty quickly.  See what I mean?  Futility.

7. Keep yourself in check, fucker.  Your problem won't get better if you keep doing the same thing over and over.

I, like many alcoholics, was convinced that I could solve my problem without quitting drinking completely.  More than that, I wanted to solve my problem without quitting.  I didn't want to give up alcohol.  I was scared shitless to do so!

Every morning I would wake up and see this list, realizing I'd broken any combination of rules the previous night.  It didn't matter how many times I'd read the list, or recited it in my head before ordering a drink.  I was doomed to fail because I did not accept that I was an alcoholic, and that abstinence was the only solution.

The number one question I get asked is if it's hard for me to stay sober.  My answer is always the same:  No.  But I've never faced a challenge quite as difficult and horrifyingly futile as trying to limit and control my drinkingIt was the decision to stop, and dedicate myself to that decision for the rest of my life, that made staying sober "easy" in comparison.

I'm just one of those people that can't have just one.

 

Monday, March 3, 2014

11 Years A Slave: My Battle With Nicotine

So far in this blog, I have mainly touched on topics directly related to my sobriety from alcohol.

But there is another chemical with which, like many other people, I have battled with: nicotine.

Here is my story of being a slave to nicotine for 11 years.
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Ask any child and they will tell you that smoking makes no sense.  I remember secretly plotting with my sister and brother to steal my aunt's cigarettes when she wasn't looking so we could throw them in the trash.  We didn't understand that she could and would just buy another pack (if she didn't have another few packs waiting for her in the freezer), and as a matter of fact, we didn't care.  We just didn't want our beloved aunt to die.  I'm sure that everyone that has grown up in the last 50 years, smoker or ex-smoker or never-smoker, has childhood memories such as these if they loved someone that smoked cigarettes.

One could then ask why so many of these people, who had such an early conviction against cigarette smoking, eventually take the plunge themselves and spend a literal monetary fortune to enable themselves to inhale a chemical that positively has no benefit on the human mind or body whatsoever.  As a matter of fact, this chemical does nothing but steadily drain a person's money, energy, and health to the point of exhaustion and death.  Why would anyone do such a thing?

The answer is simple, and shouldn't be debated beyond this simple fact: nicotine is one of the most addictive substances known to man.  Smoking isn't a "bad habit", as so many people excuse it.  As Allen Carr put it in his book The Easy Way To Stop Smoking, (and I'm paraphrasing here) "I love lobster.  But you don't see me making a habit of spending a fortune on lobster, filling my pockets with lobster, and making sure I have a lobster hanging at my lips at every waking moment through my day." Nicotine usage is not a habit, it is a powerful drug addiction and nothing less.

I started smoking cigarettes when I was just a month shy of turning 18.  Why?  Because of a girl.  I started smoking because I wanted to look "cool" to a girl.  That's right.  I have no shame in admitting it. 

We were at a high-school party and I was recently single and had developed a crush on this girl.  A few of us were drinking in her SUV parked outside of some guy's house.  She lit up a cigarette, looked at me and joked, "Come on, Donny.  Everyone's doing it."  I knew she meant it playfully, but I didn't want her to look at me as uncool or square, or even just a tad bit different than her.  So it was then that I took my first puff, starting a journey that caused me to effectively waste approximately $23,660 over the course of 11 years, all to impress a girl in my senior year of high school that I had a fleeting crush on.  Hell, I don't even know what happened to that girl or where she is today, but I know that her and I never got together and that particular crush faded a couple weeks later in lieu of a crush with another girl.  The ends do not justify the means.

It started with just a pack every week or so.  I didn't even know how to inhale properly.  "Donny's wasting those cigarettes over there," my friend Stephen laughed to all my other smoking friends. "He's blowing the smoke out before he inhales!"  Dammit, I didn't want to look like an amatuer!  With the advice of my friends, I learned how to inhale properly.  The first time I did so I was driving home late one school night.  The rush to my head made me so dizzy and sick that I stopped my car in the middle of the empty street because I thought I was about to vomit.

But I didn't.  And kept smoking.

There were early moments where I truly believed that I could stop at any time.  I specifically remember telling myself, one night while secretly smoking on my mom's back porch, that I wasn't addicted.  I was just doing this for a while to fit in and I would eventually easily quit.  Right?  Actually, I was right.  I did eventually quit, and I found it surprisingly easy. But it took a lot longer to get there than I originally planned.

I turned 18 and over the next few months, my last semester in high-school, I became comfortable as a smoker.  It went well with the punk rock look I started sporting that year.  It gave me something to look forward to on my break at work.  It made me feel and look like an adult (at least in my mind), and was a step towards breaking the image I had developed in early high school that I was a goody-two-shoes.  I was tired of being called a square and a nerd, and I desperately wanted to fit in with the cool kids.  Cigarettes were a step in that direction, and my increased alcohol consumption would soon follow.

(It's interesting now, seeing that both my addiction to nicotine and my dependence on alcohol developed from an attempt to fit in at school and rebel from the nerdy image I had developed.  I suspect that it is around this same age and for this same reason why many start smoking and drinking as well)

The next few years were textbook: I went through the painful experiences of parents and loved ones discovering that I was a smoker. Eventually I was up to near a pack a day.  It quickly started affecting my health, as I remember having severe sore throats all the time, and I would smoke despite of them.  I wasn't making much money after high school but that didn't stop me from buying cigarettes.  I struggled paying all my bills on time and never had more than just a few hundred dollars in the bank at any given time.  I specifically remember checking my bank account one day and seeing that it contained a mere six dollars, and I used four of those dollars to buy another pack to tide me over until pay day.  Cigarettes had sneakingly become a seemingly unavoidable and necessary part of life.  The addiction had taken hold and interwoven itself into my twenties.

From the age of 25 to 29 and the onset of my alcoholism, smoking went from a common addiction to something that was down-right disgusting and horrible.  I started smoking inside my house and kept ash trays in every room.  I would wake up and smoke 3 cigarettes before even getting out of bed.  I would smoke at least 1 cigarette for each stop I would make in my car throughout my day.  There were ashes and cigarette butts everywhere.  In addition to my own wretched ash trays of a house and car, I also worked at a bar which allowed smoking, so there was very little through my days that stopped me from smoking a cigarette.  As a hardcore fan of video games, I had even perfected a method of smoking a cigarette and playing a game at the same time. 

This is an actual photo of the ash tray beside my bed in March of 2012.  Disgusting.


I was never ahead financially.  At the end of my career as a smoker, I was spending twelve dollars a day on the 40 cigarettes I would smoke each 24 hour period.  That's $364 a month.  A MONTH!!  Just a little less than a full week's pay-check.  I had to check my bank account on a daily basis to make sure I had enough left to pay my bills.  At one point, I had to ask help with my rent from my mother in order to stay afloat.  It never occurred to me to stop smoking. I was hooked for life.

Not only was I hooked for life, but I was a proud smoker.  I loved it.  I was obsessed with the image of a cigarette hanging from my lips.  I thought it lent to the devil-may-care rock-and-roll attitude that I wanted to convey and that it also lent a certain rhythm to my conversations that was unmistakably cool.  And with a phlegmy cough added at certain points, I was definitely proud to look so...um..."Keith Richards Unhealthy".

In the 11 years that I was a smoker, I only tried to quit twice.  Once was in college and once was when I started having panic attacks as a result of my alcoholism.  Both times I miserably failed and gave in at the 23 hour mark.  I was terrified of quitting.  Everything I had ever heard about quitting had always told me that it was one of the hardest things human beings ever had to go through.  The thought of facing such an excruciating test of my patience and my ability to control myself gave me anxiety instantly. 

After I quit drinking, my cigarette intake definitely increased, as it often does with recovering alcoholics.  Slowly I started to realize that, while I had quit drinking and was freeing myself of one addiction, I was still a miserable slave to another.  As my judgement became unclouded in those early months of sobriety, smoking was starting to make less and less sense.  The liberating feeling of quitting drinking was great, but how worthy was it if I was still gonna eventually die an early death one day at the hand of nicotine?

But it was so hard to quit!  Or was it?

My friend Alvin gave me a box of books one day about two years ago.  I was instructed to let my coworkers go through the box and take home any books they wanted.  For months, this box sat in the back room of my workplace, still half-full with books.  One day while taking out the trash, I considered just tossing the box of books into the dumpster.  But I just couldn't throw away perfectly good literature, so I took the box home and set it inside by my front door.  For another month, this box stayed in the exact same place.  Eventually I decided to move this box from the spot by my front door to my storage closet in the back of the house.  But before I did, I perused the books inside one last time.  One title caught my eye: "The Easy Way To Stop Smoking".  I took it out of the box and set it on my coffee table, where it stayed for another few months.

About 8 months into my sobriety, I became sick with a sore throat again.  Cigarettes were tasting increasingly more disgusting.  I wasn't even finishing half of one before extinguishing it, yet I marched on.  I did, however, begin to consider quitting, despite the anxieties surrounding the thought.  I could quit, but I would need help.  I had heard mixed reviews of the drug Chantix, but knew a few people that had used it and quit successfully.  So I called my doctor and made an appointment in a few days to discuss taking the drug.  I would have to spend money I didn't really have to gain access to this drug, but it would eventually save me money in the long run.  I was ready.

But I felt like there may have been a simpler way out.  I remembered that book on my coffee table.  That night, I picked up the plain blue copy of Allen Carr's The Easy Way To Stop Smoking and read while laying in bed.  The cool thing about the book is that it encourages you to smoke while reading it instead of making you feel guilty for doing so.  I read and puffed away.

The book's primary focus is breaking down the brain-washing that we, as members of modern society, have undergone when it concerns a) the reasons why we smoke, and b) the assumption that it is so hard to quit.  Mr. Carr makes the point that there is absolutely no benefit from smoking and that it is, in fact, not hard to quit at all but that it is easy.  It was the first time that I had ever heard anyone on this planet say that quitting smoking was easy, and this man was a hundred-a-day smoker before quitting. I was skeptical, but I read on.

I also soon realized similarities in the attitudes that Mr. Carr had about quitting smoking and the attitudes that I had developed about quitting drinking.   They were all centered around not letting yourself feel deprived.  Familiar with this idea and method, I began to actually, for once, believe that I could stop smoking.

I was intrigued by what this man had to say about smoking.  Why do people smoke?  Because of stress?  Boredom?  To feel satisfied after a meal?  To look cool?  Because we're gonna die anyway?  He shot each of these beliefs down with each chapter of the book.  I read half the book before bed, and finished it when I woke in the morning.  It took me about 5 hours. After I finished, I went out on my porch and smoked two cigarettes back to back.  I inhaled deeply, and with each puff I thought about how ridiculous of an act smoking is.

I was gaining nothing from it.  I was losing money daily.  I was losing health by the minute.  I foresaw a future of dying of lung cancer in a hospital bed, surrounded by tearful loved ones.  It wasn't making me look cool; it was making me look sad and pitiful.  There were no females that were impressed by my ability to inhale cancerous vapors.  I was stinky, yellow-toothed, and oozing phlegm.  There were yellow stains on the sides of my forefinger and middle finger where the tar had seeped out of countless cigarette filters onto my skin over the years.  I couldn't breathe efficiently and there was an ever-present hacking cough throughout my day.  I was a slave to nicotine, and I no longer wanted to be a slave to such a destructive master.

Mr. Carr was also a firm advocate against replacement therapy.  With nicotine gum a relic of the late 1990s, but modern electronic cigarettes on the rise, I had decided that I would not go that route.  The key is to kill the addiction as quickly as possible.  By feeding it more would only prolong nictoine's exit from my system, thus needlessly prolonging my addiction and withdrawal symptoms.  I wouldn't chew gum or shove food down my throat to fill the void, nor would I make changes to my other daily habits in order to quit.  I would be hardcore and quickly learn to live without that cigarette hanging from my lips.  I would quit cold turkey, and never consider picking up another cigarette for the rest of my life. 

I finished that last cigarette and went inside.  I gathered up all my lighters and ash trays and threw them in the trash.  I cleaned the ashes from my coffee table and night-stand.  Yet I cluched the half-a-pack of cigarettes I had remaining.  I looked at it and considered keeping it in case I broke down in the next few hours and decided that I would quit tomorrow.  Or the next day.  Or the one after that.

Fuck it.  I took out the remaining cigarettes and tore them in half, tossing their meaningless remains into the trash.  I was done.  I called my doctor the next day and cancelled my appointment to discuss taking Chantix.  I could do this without pharmaceutical help.

And yes, it was much easier than I ever imagined it to be.  And today, 11 months and 4 days later, I have resisted smoking 13,660 cigarettes.  I feel better.  I smell better.  I look better.  Coughing is something foreign to me now.  I have more money in the bank than I ever have had in my life.  I go to bed and wake up feeling rested.  I don't have this chemical addiction nagging at me through every moment of my day, begging to be fulfilled by another puff of nicotine.  I experience moments with loved ones more fully, as they aren't punctuated by a constant need to take a break to go feed an addiction.  But most of all, I have a very different future than I most certainly would've had if I had never decided to quit.  And I predict this future to be much more fulfilling.
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If you or someone you know is trying to quit smoking, I highly recommend Allen Carr's book The Easy Way To Stop Smoking.  You can find it at most book stores or download it to your tablet or smart phone.   It is endorsed by many celebrities, including Ellen DeGeneres, Ashton Kutcher, and Anthony Hopkins.  It has not only worked for me, but also for my twin-sister.  A few of my friends read it and quit for a while, but failed because they did not continue to follow it's simple directions:  Decide to quit smoking, rejoice in that decision, and never smoke again.  It's as easy as that, I promise.  The only thing holding you back is your belief that it is terribly hard to quit.

Click here to find "The Easy Way To Stop Smoking" on Amazon!










Friday, February 14, 2014

30

"Be content with what you have; Rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you." -Lao Tzu

This pretty much sums up how I felt on my birthday. I thought it would be a little depressing, but it was the opposite. Today I took a look at my life and realized how happy I am with all that I have.  I am content. I have a great job,  great family and friends, and am winning a battle with two addictions.  I am what I wanted to be when I grew up: happy. 


Thanks for all the birthday wishes. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

For Those About To Drink, I Salute You

 [EDIT] I do want to add that I don't want the title of this blog to be misleading.  It was simply a play on the AC/DC album title "For Those About To Rock, We Salute You".  While I do think it is healthy for someone in recovery to not harbor feelings of jealousy or resentment towards those that drink, I DO NOT encourage anyone with a problem to drink. And if you think you may have a problem, please get help or seek the advice of someone that's been there.  It could save your life.

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In the halls of Alcoholics Anonymous, you often hear recovering alcoholics say, "Hell, if I could still drink I'd be right there with em!" And of course, this is true.  Most recovering alcoholics LOVE to drink and if they had never decided to turn away from a life of consuming a liquid they had a very unhealthy reaction to, they would probably still drink you under the table.

And yes, for me personally, if I could drink without having that weird reaction of passing out in a public place with my pants down, I probably still would.  But it is key that I never feel any bit of jealousy towards those that can drink like normal people.  This is one of the most important steps of maintaining sobriety.  If you let jealousy fill your thoughts, you won't recover.  And if you are one of those that think you are recovering but still harbor jealous feelings, you're kidding yourself. You'll spend your remaining days in agony until you break down and have another drink,  because you are letting yourself feel that you are being deprived while everyone else is indulging.  Those thoughts will nag at you day in and day out, from the time you get up in the morning until you manage to fall asleep at night.  You have to understand that YOU have a problem, and THEY do not, and there isn't anything you can do to change this fact.  Nothing.  So it's futile to to harbor negative feelings of jealousy because of an irreversible condition you've developed.  Acceptance, or death.

We can't move forward until we begin accept the nature of our problem.  This is universally true of any personal problem.  And until you accept every inconvenient truth about your addiction, you won't even begin to truly recover.  Before I decided to get sober, this was my main problem when attempting to "fix" my alcoholism.  I knew that I had a big problem on my hands, but for so long I spent an ungodly amount of energy on finding a solution that would allow me to keep drinking like everyone else.  I just knew that if I drank less or switched drinks or whatever, I could make it work and continue to drink with everyone.  What I didn't understand, and failed to accept, is that my addiction was much stronger than me as long as I allowed myself to feed it.  I didn't realize that the solution was to starve it to death, not to try and beat it into submission.

When I finally did make the decision to never drink again, I wasn't sure that I could do it while working at a bar.  I thought I'd get those jealous feelings and want to be part of the fun crowd that I was helping make possible.  With everyone toasting and cheering all around me, nagging at every fiber of my being, I'd certainly want to raise a glass and toast as well.  Luckily, I was smarter from the get-go, and never allowed myself to feel jealousy when those moments arose.  I accepted that I have a problem and was better off at not indulging with the rest of them.

Early in my sobriety, one of my good friends and former co-workers told me that she lived next door to an older alcoholic woman that had once been a self-proclaimed "Mrs. A.A." She spent so much time in the halls of Alcoholics Anonymous that she even met her husband at an A.A. meeting.  But my friend told me that this lady constantly fell off the wagon in her older age. Upon learning that my friend was a bartender, the older woman said, "Oh, I see.  You're one of those people who can drink normally."  This statement reeked of jealousy.  I bet a million bucks that this lady, despite all her efforts in following a 12 step program, submerging herself in the fellowship of recovering alcoholics, and marrying a partner who shared a similar affliction, had failed simply because she had harbored resentment and jealousy towards those that can drink like normal people.

You can't be jealous.  Don't let yourself be.  Jealousy makes you feel like you're being deprived of something, and that feeling of deprivation is a nagging, nagging thing.  It will eat away at you until you finally give in and throw all your progress out the window.  Cut these feelings off at the source before they being to fester.  Think of all that you have to gain from your sobriety, and rejoice in the fact that you're taking back control of your life. 

[I must take this moment to point out that this "anti-letting-yourself-feel-deprived" mindset is the cornerstone of my method of quitting smoking as well]

If you've quit drinking, be proud of that fact.  And be equally proud and happy for those that still drink.  That doesn't mean that some of those people may not have problems of their own, it just means you're not letting yourself be jealous of someone that drinks.  I sure don't miss the hang-overs, poor judgment, next-day anxieties, etc, etc.  I'm not sitting in a bar full of loud and cheerful people secretly wishing I could drink with them.  I'd drink with them if I could, but I can't.  And that's that.  I'm not gonna let my personal problem bring anyone down.  They are all having a good time, and good for them!  So, I say, for those about to drink, I salute you.  And in fact, next time you all do a "Cheers!", pour me a shot of water or Coke or something.  Just because I don't drink, doesn't mean I can't celebrate and acknowledge the good times with you.



 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

I Would Have To Be Drunk To Drink Again

I am often asked how, or why, I stay sober.

But before I go into the final reason, I feel it necessary to give you a little description of what it was like to be "Drunk Donny", my former alter ego.

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I can pinpoint the weekend that I became a full-blown alcoholic; someone who continued to drink despite all the bad things that happen as a result of their drinking. I had been out partying both Friday and Saturday night until all hours of the morning, and woke up with a slight hangover to attend the wedding reception of a friend on Sunday, March 20th, 2011.  At this point in my drinking career, I didn't really have bad hangovers anymore; my body had gotten used to the abuse.  What replaced the hangover, which I discovered the day following this wedding reception, was much worse.  But we'll get to that in a moment.

I went to this wedding reception stag, as I was a single guy and had been for a few years.  I didn't know too many people there, so I awkwardly floated between tables to talk to those I did know.  Soon, I became bored and decided to grab a drink.  They didn't have my usual drink of choice, Jagermeister, so I ordered a Bacardi and Coke from the bar, which I then had little experience with.  I drank it pretty fast, and realized that I liked it.  Rum was not a bad-tasting liquor.

I had no appetite due to all the liquor I had guzzled the previous two nights, but I tried to force down some of the food at the reception.  I ate probably a third of what was on my plate before tossing it in the trash.  I knew I should've eaten somewhere near fifty plates of food, but I just couldn't get anything down.  The thought of eating was making me ill.  So I returned to the open bar to fill up my drink.

I remember going outside the reception hall and calling my mother on the phone to chat, as I ususally did every Sunday.  The only thing I remember of the conversation was me reassuring her: "Don't worry, mom.  I won't drink too much."  The truth was that I had had too much already.

I returned to the bar and started ordering shots of whiskey, using my newly refilled Bacardi and Coke to chase the shot. I was doing these shots alone, without anyone else.  They weren't celebratory shots with the groom or anything; I simply was bored and figured getting drunk would remedy that problem.  I remember thinking, "Man.  I'm a pro!  I sure can handle a lot of liquor."

That was probably the peak of my tolerance with alcohol.  They say that an alcholic's tolerance, over time, is more like a parabola than an ever-rising slant.  I had reached the peak of that parabola and had no where else to go but down.

I left the wedding, still bored, and went out to another nightclub and probably had 4-5 more drinks.  I don't remember much about the rest of that night.  I didn't do anything too terrible, or make an ass out of myself or pass out in a public place, I just drank too much.  I woke up securely in my bed the following morning, but I had this weird feeling of nervousness that I couldn't seem to shake.

I was normally off on Mondays, but decided to go in to work to do some prep work, as I still worked in the kitchen at this point.  I tried eating while I was there, but still couldn't get any food down.  I remember I then started pacing back and forth in the kitchen, nervous.  My mind was spinning and I started having difficulty breathing.  I thought a cigarette would help calm me.  Nope!  Spinning a little more, I went inside and poured myself a shot of Jagermeister.  I took a sip and almost gagged.  It was immediately after this that I felt this "snap" in my head and decided to run for my car and drive myself to the hospital.  I was pretty sure I was about to have a heart attack and die. It was the scariest moment in my life. 

My first panic attack.  A major turning point in my drinking career.

Luckily, as I drove into the parking lot of the hospital, I had calmed down enough to turn back around and go to a friends' house to chill out for a bit.  I couldn't figure out exactly why I had a panic attack.  I thought I was just exhausted from a rough weekend of partying and that I didn't eat enough the few days before. 

From then on out, I started having panic attacks on a regular basis.  They would creep up on me out of nowhere.  At work.  Bam!  Panic.  At home, laying on the couch watching a movie.  Bam!  Panic.  In the shower in the morning.  Bam!  Panic.  It was starting to interfere with my normal functioning in life. I took a friend's advice and eventually went to the doctor and he prescribed me some anti-anxiety medication. 

I soon realized something: I only seemed to have these panic attacks after a night of heavy drinking.  A quick Google search informed me that people going through alcohol withdrawals were prone to panic attacks.  So was that it?  Was I having daily alcohol withdrawals?  I decided to test the theory and didn't drink for a few days, and the result was what I had expected: I felt fine if I didn't drink.  Did that mean I had to quit drinking?  Ha!  Hell no.  I could never quit drinking!  That was for old guys that found their marriages and jobs falling apart because of the booze, or for middle-aged ladies who had gone through five wine-fueled divorces and had blown through all their money gambling.  Quitting drinking was for the weak.  The people that couldn't handle their lives.  I was a single 27 year old guy that had his whole life ahead of him, filled with parties and sex and drinking and drugs and rock-and-roll.  I just had to cut back how much I drank.  I could totally do that and be fine.  Right?

After discussing my discovery with my doctor, I made a few naive and futile attempts at changing my drinking habits.  I stopped drinking Jagermeister. I remember announcing this to all my friends and coworkers as if that was the cure to all my problems and expected a pat on the back for it.  I was quick to show them that I was only drinking beer and only having 2-4 drinks a night.  Look guys!  I'm only drinking 4-6 Captain and Cokes a night.  No big deal! It was okay, guys!  I could handle 8 drinks right?  Even if they were shots of Jameson backed by a swig from a Newcastle.  I had this under control.  I was gonna sip that scotch and rocks and take that shot of cinnamon whiskey and chug that nut brown ale all at the same time and do it all over again in about ten minutes, with a Irish Car Bomb in between.  Totally fine.  Got it.  15 drinks a night was my limit. 

No one cared about these vain attempts.  They had watched me become a nervous wreck.  They were slowly subscribing to the idea that I should quit drinking completely, as I was quickly becoming a problem drinker right in front of their eyes.

I was nervous and panicky, and coming into work smelling sour, sweating profusely, and looking like shit.  I was dirty and un-bathed with shaky hands and dark rings under my eyes.  I would come into work in the morning after a night of heavy drinking and have them make me another drink, and I'd probably have three before going home to pass out to get rest before my shift started at 5 pm, which I became increasingly late for.  My coworkers would hear reports of me passing out at bars or getting kicked out of bars or pissing on myself while at bars or having to be wrestled into my own car so someone could drive me home from bars.  Every day, it seemed my car had a new dent in it from where I had backed into something because I was so fucked up and so determined to show them all I could drive home myself.   

It was pitiful.

But who were they to judge?  We all worked together at a bar and we all drank when we got off work until the early hours.  I was no different from them.  I would just have a little too much sometimes and pass out.  So what?  What was the big deal?

After each one of these episodes, with or without anti-anxiety medication, I would have a full blown panic attack or come close to having one, unless I had a few drinks to calm me down.  My solution at the time was that I would just stay drunk.  Having my brain swim around in an alcohol bath was the only thing that prevented these attacks. If I could just start drinking in the early hours of the day, and find ways to keep the booze flowing, I'd be fine.

My life for a little while went just like this:

I'd wake up, feel nervous and blank.  Curse myself for whatever it was I did the night before that I couldn't remember doing.  I'd see that my car wasn't in the driveway, meaning someone drove me home, meaning I had gotten way too fucked up.  I'd get flashes of things I said and did the night before and cringe with guilt. I'd lay in bed and smoke about 5 cigarettes and frantically text my friends to ask them what happened the night before. I'd then get dressed and walk down to all the local bars (I lived in the vicinity of about 6 or 7 different bars, including the one I worked at) until I found my car at one of them.  I'd drive home, feeling even more nervous.  I'd get home and pace around my house for an hour or two, chain-smoking, feeling terrible.  I would think about how I was lying to everyone I'd loved about my drinking habits, and became very secretive about my drinking.  The shakes would come on and I'd be on the verge of another horrible panic attack.  If I didn't have a bottle of liquor at the house I'd pop a Klonopin or two before work.  Sometimes I would drive to a bar before work and have a few shots to calm my nerves.  I'd show up to work half drunk, fearing the 8 hours without a drink.  So I started keeping a bottle of Fireball in my car and I'd go out to it throughout the night and sneak shots.  I'd get through my shift, anxious to do last call so I could sit openly at my bar and take more shots and then go to another bar afterwards and get even more fucked up.  It was around this time that I would be operating in full-black-out mode.  I'd be having what can barely be described as "a good time", ordering another drink, and then all the sudden BAM! I'd wake up in my bed.  The cycle would then continue, usually for days at a time.

I should be dead.

I found myself broke, about to lose my job, my friends, and everything I had worked for in my life.  I would wake up and consider suicide.  I didn't know how I was going to get out of this cycle.  I was not only a chain-smoking terrible alcoholic, but allowing an addiction to anti-anxiety meds to creep into the mix.  I couldn't stop drinking though!  How would I be a good bar manager if I didn't drink anymore?  How would I do a good job at making the bar I worked at a great place to be if I was sitting there sober all night.  Sober people were boring people with boring lives, after all.  There seemed to be no way out.

It's funny.  I had always imagined that if I ever had to quit drinking, I'd throw this great "farewell" party and everyone would attend and it would be one of the funnest nights we'd ever have. My friends would all wish me good luck at my new venture of choosing sobriety over a self-destructive lifestyle.  There'd be confetti and girls and party streamers and we'd all drink and be merry into the early hours of the morning, upon which I would just simply say goodbye to alcohol and go forward as a sober man.  It would be a momentous occasion; a time to remember.

The reality is, I took my last shot of alcohol in a bar I hated because no one there knew who I was and didn't mind serving me.  I had no friend at my side.  There were no party streamers and pretty girls launching confetti bombs into the air.  Shitty music was playing in the background.  It was a hot summer day, and I felt like shit.  I didn't even know if I still had a job.  I was given a final warning at work and had pissed off everyone there and had lost all respect as a manager because I had let my drinking affect every aspect of my life and showed no signs of slowing down.  I was a mother fucking wreck.  It had to end.

So I took control and it did indeed end. 

I took that last, pathetic shot of liquor and walked home.  I tore into my house and threw away every empty bottle of alcohol I could find (of course they were all empty.  I'd drank every last bit).  I looked up the locations of all the nearby Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and printed it up and put them on my fridge.  I had decided then and there that I would quit drinking forever.  This would not be an attempt to "fix" my problem so that I could one day look forward to some moment where I could drink again.  This decision would stick, or I would most certainly die.  There was no other alternative.  This was it.

The rest, is history.  And I have not had a single drink, or panic attack, since that day.

----------------------------------

So when someone asks how I stay sober or why I don't drink, I tell them my personal motto:

I would have to be drunk to drink again.

Think about it.  I would have to be completely out of my fucking mind to ever pick up another drink.  To do so would certainly catapult me back to the life I described above.  Who would ever wish that on themselves?  Who would wake up every day and continue to do that?  It was insanity.  I would never, ever want to return to that cycle.  I wasn't living.  I was dying!

The sober mind is usually a sharp mind with good judgement.  So as long as I don't drink again and taint that judgement, I won't drink again.  Sounds a little funny, but it's as simple as that.  And if I ever feel a temptation coming on, or consider for a second that, "Hey, maybe I'm cured now!  Maybe I can drink like a normal person," all it takes is for me to look back at those couple years that I was living in a viscous, virtual hell, and say, "Nope." 




Sunday, January 12, 2014

About This Blog, And About This Blogger

That's me!  Looking all serious.  With gigantic interlocked hands.

 Hello.

My name is Donny and I'm an alcoholic and former cigarette smoker.

As of this blog's creation, I have been sober for 18 months and have been nicotine free for 9 months.

I am also a bartender.

Yes, you heard right.  A bartender.  Well, more specifically, I am the general manager of a prominent bar/restaurant/music venue on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, a place where smoking is still allowed inside and alcohol is king.  Although my place of employment is mainly a restaurant during the daytime hours, it becomes a smokey room filled with toasts, profanity, ramblings and rants at night.  It is within these night-time hours that my 40+ hours a week reside.

Upon hearing that I am sober, many people's first reaction is "But you work in a bar. How is that possible?"

It's simple.  I love my job and I love maintaining sobriety.

Because I am asked this question so often, I've come to the realization that many people fail to understand this key fact: Sobriety or any type of recovery from an addiction doesn't have to be hard.  

My ex-girlfriend used to say to me, "But you're different. It comes easy for you" as if I was somehow at an advantage to other alcoholics and addicts.  She never knew me at the height of my alcoholic woes (when I was passing out at bars on a regular basis with my pants down), so I'll give her a pass.  But this statement used to insult me, because it downplayed the severity of my addiction and cheapened my accomplishments, but mostly because it was partly false.  Yes, it does come easy for me, but not because I'm different.  I have no special advantage over any other alcoholic or addict.  I had a very self-destructive relationship with alcohol and hit bottom just like any other recovering alcoholic. In fact, I'd say that because I am still surrounded by a virtual sea of alcohol 5 nights a week, the odds would seem against me! 

I was born on February 13, 1984 and grew up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in a pseudo-Christian working class family.  There is a history of alcoholism on my mother's side, so for those that believe that alcoholism is genetic, there's that. I made straight A's in school, but not because that came easy either (as my twin-sister used to say).  I got good grades because I studied hard and applied myself.  My parents divorced when I was 9 years old.  I started drawing as a child, developing artistic skills rather early, and became a musician at 15. I fiercely attended a Baptist church (on my own will) during my teen years, up until I started smoking and drinking at 17 years old. I attended Mississippi State University for one semester as a computer science major before dropping out, effectively throwing away thousands of dollars worth of scholarships provided by the Air Force ROTC that I was reluctant to join.  I returned to the Gulf Coast and got a (pretty much useless) 2 year degree in art as a pot-smoking punk rocker.  I then worked a few different jobs before becoming a entry-level cook at the restaurant I currently work at.  It is at this restaurant that I learned to drink like a "pro." I was in two failed rock bands throughout my twenties that were both torn apart by alcoholism and drug use.  I somehow managed to work my way up to general manager at my place of employment within 2 years, making a wage that puts me slightly below lower middle class.  I'm a left-leaning liberal, and after many years of introspective debate, an atheist.

It wasn't a bad journey at all, but hardly one that put me at any advantage when it comes to maintaining sobriety.  As we all know, alcoholics and addicts come in many shapes and sizes.  History has shown that alcohol and drugs can sink their hooks into anyone, regardless of class, upbringing, or status.  Therefore, it is my belief that anyone can become an alcoholic or addict, and anyone can recover. 

This doesn't mean that I believe that everyone that drinks or does drugs will become an alcoholic or addict, nor do I believe that everyone that has a problem will recover.  Just that we all have a special set of circumstances unique to our own body chemistry and personalities, and when we fall, it is up to us (and us alone) whether or not we will stand again.

Although I will go into more detail about my road to sobriety in later posts, I do want to point out that I do not attend AA meetings, and what you read here may conflict with some of the views typically held by AA goers.  I have nothing against AA and did find it helpful during my early months of sobriety.  I'll even go as far as recommending AA to anyone looking for help.  I personally just found it impossible to progress in the program because of my atheist beliefs.  DISCLAIMER 1: If any of this offends you, or you feel a non-AA perspective may interfere with your own sobriety, I suggest you stop reading now.  If you have an open mind, and/or are secure enough in your own sobriety to listen to a different perspective, then by all means please continue reading.  

A key point of my personal beliefs directly contradicts the first step in the 12-step program, which is to admit that you are powerless over alcohol or your addiction.  I personally believe that we are not powerless over our addictions as long as we abstain.  It is also my belief that telling ourselves that we are in-fact powerless can directly lead to relapse.  But we will get more into detail about that later.

I've had the idea of starting this blog for some time now, as I often have many thoughts and discussions on the topic that I'd like to share in hopes that it may help others.  I feel that my unique perspective may be of benefit.  DISCLAIMER 2: I cannot say that any of my methods, thoughts, or experiences will help anyone at all, but that they do work for me.  In addition, I want everyone to know that I'm not infallible and could very well relapse someday.  I do, however, find that sharing these experiences is something that keeps me sober.  Although I do find sobriety easy, I certainly do not live a life without temptation.  As a matter of fact, I have experienced more temptation in the last two months than I have in the entire eighteen that I've been sober.  It is as a result of sharing and reflecting upon my experiences that these temptations are quelled.

So that pretty much sums it up.  In the following posts I'll explore different topics as I reflect upon them.  It will never be my aim to be preachy at all; I aim to be helpful by offering perspective.  DISCLAIMER 3: Although I'm an atheist, I will not debate the existence of any god or gods through my posts (so be warned, if anyone tries to post a debate on this topic, any such posts will be deleted)

Welcome to my blog.  I hope you might get something out of following along.