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I guess I was thinking of all of that 'cos my friend Mark texted me a youtube video of the Howard Dean scream. The internet doesn't always forget. But...I digress.
I'm reporting on a milestone I set for myself about six months ago: 180 days without booze.
That's beer, wine, liquor for all of you youngsters (but I may have taken two pulls and passed the pot pipe a couple of times during that period - but why do I always have to qualify this shit?). I don't think I've gone this long since college, and that would take me back to 1988, the year I graduated from High School and went on to UW Madison for my undergrad degree in English and Political Science. A long fucking time ago! I was blasting "Nothing's Shocking" from my dorm room back then to dampen the noise of Steve Miller's Greatest Hits from down the hall. And studying...once in a while. Again, I digress.
People have asked me why I decided to take such a long break from the drink - by the way, the break doesn't end today, I'm going to keep the streak going for a bit. I have said that it was, in part, for health reasons. I'd gotten some test results back in the spring of 2016, including a subsequent ultra sound, that pointed to early signs of alcoholic fatty liver. A wakeup call, yes, but in talking to others about it, the general sense was "yeah, a lot of people get that, you're probably okay." Not enough of a scare to get me to stop for 180 days, but something to keep an eye on. Which I didn't really, back in 2016, and things were about to get worse.
I've also said - "it was just starting to creep into my life more than I would like, and I needed to take stock." Also true. The crack of a can or the opening of a bottle, or the pour into a glass started a little bit earlier and ended a little bit later as the days progressed in 2016.
As spring turned into summer, there were a few episodes, from going out, to BBQs at home, where I lost track of how much I was actually drinking and passed out. The problem wasn't as much the passing out part as the things that I was saying prior to passing out, and not remembering what I said the next morning. And it just so happens one of those episodes - I consider this one of many - and rooted in the fact that I was unusually self absorbed at that time - took place on a very pivotal weekend for our family. It happened during our trip to Yosemite, which was in honor of Kiera's brother Ryan, who passed away 20 years ago from that time. The Yosemite trip was planned by Kiera's brother Gavin, as Yosemite was one of the last, if not the last, place that Gavin saw his brother before he passed away. We were all to take a challenging hike, as they did 20 years ago, in memory of Ryan.
It was not to be for me. July 3rd was when we were to take the hike. July 2nd was a full day of drinking. The hard stuff. Whiskey. Up until those recent years I had shunned hard liquor mostly because I had said that I "knew myself too well" and thus would stick to beer and wine so it wouldn't be too much of a problem. How's that for alcoholic's logic. Day turned to night, peppered with (what I probably thought were counter) insults towards my wife, when asked to do things. I had felt, in my state of mind, that she was "coming at me" in the tone of voice she took towards me when asking me to do things. That state of mind was not new, mind you, but amplified by the alcohol. I said many things that I don't remember. Among them: "I didn't get that memo" when asked if I was to help put Brenna to bed (I think). Everyone went to bed, I stayed up by the fire in what could only be described as drinking alone, contemplating....what? Pleas from Kiera to go to bed. Be present for her, especially on this tough occasion. No, I'm all right, I snapped.
Next thing I know, it is morning, my head hurts, I'm sweating, sitting upright in the driver's seat of our car, bandage on my upper lip. I had passed out, lurched forward, fell out of my chair, and cut my lip on a jagged rock. It needed stitches, but we were nowhere near a hospital and who wanted to take me to the ER anyway? Our friend Jeff helped patch me up and carry me to the car. There's the doghouse, and then there's 6 months in the hole. This feeling was like 6 months in the hole.
Over the course of the next weeks and months, many arguments, but finally, after years of turning down marriage counseling, I got to work finding a marriage counselor who could help us. Or maybe me, if our marriage was past the point of no return. After all, was it too late, that only now, after rock bottom, should I turn to help? Only after being "coerced," in a way? She'd been telling me for three years. Did I remember? Did I care?
Many arguments about that and a whole variety of other reasons why I was not putting much into this relationship - a relationship of 20 years to that point. Did I mention the fact that we had only been dating 3 months when her brother died from depression - taking his own life? Voices of resentment in my head out loud, telling me that all I'll be remembered for was how I handled things on the 20 year "anniversary" of Ryan's death, not how I handled things at the time it happened and in all the years in between. As I would learn, we all have these little voices of resentment in our heads. What alcohol does is hand a tiny little bullhorn to every tiny little voice that would otherwise go unheard, most often unheard even in the subconscious, perhaps, and give it voice to the conscious, loud and clear, and often right straight out of your mouth.
To counseling we went. And still I drank. And passed out on occasion, same pattern, same result. And I couldn't blame hard liquor. It was beer. More counseling. I'd never do it again. And then I did it again. Finally, on March 11th, 2018, the morning after an evening spent at a work event for Kiera at Cleophus Quealy, a brew pub in Industrial San Leandro, I wake up and find Kiera and the kids are gone.
And then, Kiera came back alone. "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result." It was an ultimatum. If it happened again, we were finished. "Your own daughter asked me, 'is daddy drunk?'"
The thing about quitting drinking, even for a month - it's hard to get it going in the early going. There's always something that comes up, some occasion, some bad day at work event, something with the family back east, something stressful where you're like - "well, I can't start now, this is coming up," or "I need a drink to take the edge off of this horrible day." Would I have had the strength to take that first step, on my own, without Kiera's ultimatum? I've always said I'd stay away from hard liquor because I knew myself too well. But did I? Did I ever? Or anymore?
The answer is no, I don't think I would have taken the first step on my own. And I would have relapsed again. And by now I'd be living in some crap apartment somewhere or on someone's couch, or worse. I needed help. Even if it came from an ultimatum. Intervention might be a better word.
I took the first step. 9 days in, we had our next marriage counseling session. I said then what I believe now - that I have to go through with quitting drinking, for 3 months ("6" Kiera reminded me)...all right, 6 months, and if we still have the same arguments, resentments, fights, misunderstandings and so on, then we know alcohol isn't the reason for why we're fighting all the time. Why my body language says "fuck you, I don't care," or why your voice says "are you that fucking stupid" even though you might be asking me the most basic question.
Another way of putting this too is, I have to do this for my own sake, as well as for ours. Or it won't work.
The first couple of weeks sucked. That very next weekend, there was a family funeral, or celebration of life, of someone very dear to us. It was at Kiera's Uncle Noel and Aunt Katherine's, so I knew the wine would be flowing, as usual, and some top shelf wine also, as befits the occasion. I was thinking the most about the alcohol and not as much about our family. It had gotten to the point where all I thought about, and planned around, was when I'd be able to take that first drink.
Now - I was functional. I hadn't been drinking 24/7, after all. But it had crept further and further into my life, into my sense of being, into who I was. Would I need to go to AA meetings? I left the door open, but I didn't feel like doing that right away. I made it through that first week, the worst part of the whole thing.
I began feeling better, after the first couple of weeks. I had met a fellow soccer dad on Brenna's soccer team, and fellow musician, it turns out, Ian. Ian hadn't been drinking in 18 years. I went to his house to finish up some trumpet session work for an EP he was working on, but the majority of the time we talked about the alcohol. Ian was the right man for the right time in my life to help me through a critical juncture. Offered a meeting with chill people who weren't all into God. Mentioned a book called "Dharma Punx." Meanwhile, our marriage counselor also recommended a book called "Recovery 2.0." I read both. I came to the conclusion that those dudes were way further down at their lowest than I had been. But I didn't rule out the 12 steps or meetings or the rest of it. In the mean time, I kept going. I was building a streak, and my stubborn streak kicked in. I later said to Ian, after about a month in, that I felt "mellower" which I wasn't expecting. Ian said "in the program we call that the 'pink cloud.' It usually lasts about 6 months.'" I said to myself at the time, "It's a good thing it lasts six months, because that just so happens to be my deadline for stopping alcohol. I'll have a drink maybe in September."
It got a little easier and easier as the weeks passed. It's been 6 months now. Well, almost. Technically, the 6th month will fall on September 11th, of all days. But my initial goal (at counseling, in my head, before I was corrected, was 90 days, then quickly 180). 180 days is here. Today. September 6th, 2018. Nathan's birthday. Also the birthday of our friend, Amber, and my old friend, Chris. My question is, is the pink cloud still here? I finally looked up "Pink Cloud" the other day, because I wanted to know what it really meant. The gist of it is an irrational exuberance of being newly clean and sober, and feeling that you've got this thing licked, to a level of hubris where relapse is a real danger.
I do feel mellower, which I wasn't expecting - I was expecting to have more anxiety about life, work, and all the rest, without a crutch to take the edge off. The opposite is true. And it came in handy for many things happening in my life at the same time: Promotion at work, family elder care crisis and sibling rivalry crisis back east. A trip for work that ended up in Nashville on my birthday. Trip to WI and NY in July. Trip to North Carolina for work in August. Many temptations, many tests, and I passed all of them.
But is that all because of the pink cloud? I don't think it's been the pink cloud, because, though I've been pleasantly surprised to learn that I had no physical DTs in the first week, and have been able to go six months stopping on my own without meetings, it's not like I did this without help. I've had help from a lot of people along the way. But the real turning point for me was one day, about maybe 2 1/2 months in, when Kiera, out of the blue, turned to me and said "I like you better without drinking." "You're thoughtful, dialed in." Hon, I'm not sure you know how much those words meant to me then, or mean to me now, but they are what truly turned the corner for me then, and sustains me this very moment, as I continue on the sober train. I don't think it's the pink cloud anymore because I'm afraid to find out what might happen if I try and take that first drink once again. I don't want to know what happens right now. I'd rather feel THIS.
Here's a selfie, of me, dressed up slightly (which just means no ratted out hoodie on this day) to celebrate this occasion, in the carpool this morning on the way to work.
I hope my honesty doesn't hurt - nothing can hurt or do more damage than I've already done. I hope I can help someone who's in my particular track: Not the lowest of the low points in life by any means, as some have gone, but pretty damn low for me, and now coming out the other side, relatively intact. Also: my blood pressure reading the other day was 127/69. That's considerably lower than 147/90, no?