Monday, November 18, 2019

But who's counting?

Yet another essay on a time worn subject. But hey, this is me we're talking about, so everything is always something slightly new, right? Or I wouldn't take the time to write it - or so I say. I wouldn't repeat myself, now would I?

So instead I will say..."Continuing from the blog post before last on the subject of 'Wagon (aka sobriety) 2.0'" -

Three months back on the wagon, and some change. My goal for a mindset this time is "one day at a time," but likely facing the reality of ditching the drink for good. Most days I feel comforted in the safety I feel from potential guilt, shame, and confusion over what I might have done or said in the one out of nine times where everything wasn't fine (or merely okay) after I took that first drink. Mostly it was normal, but the one out of nine times it wasn't, the outcome was one thing to be ashamed of or another. That one time in and of itself, not knowing or trusting myself over when it might happen, when I might lose track or keep my eye off the ball and cross the line, subtle or not in my own mind, to a place where my life or those in my care might be at risk, was the source of most if not all of my anxiety. Which is why I feel less anxiety now, as I did last year when I quit for seven months. I'm safe from those kinds of fears at this moment, same as I felt back then.

I was so proud last year, having gone one month past my six month goal. I was so sure I was in control of things, certain it wasn't a pink cloud I was under, so sure I wasn't hard core so I'd be okay, I learned my lesson, etc. But what was it in me that let the old habits creep back in, that "fuck it" voice? Stopping again has been physically easy. I just stopped. Not as many night sweats or weird-ass dreams during the first week back on the wagon this time around as with last time. Emotionally, it was much harder though. I sought some help from some people I've gotten to know more recently, whom I consider good friends and trust unconditionally. I went to some meetings. Most helped. One, not so much. Thank God it was only the first one. Too much literal "higher power" in the first one. All I needed was a higher power that left room for a little more interpretation. Despite what the big book of AA says, I still believe there's room for agnostics, but I digress.

In that first week (which in the previous hiatus had been the hardest time) I was also dealing with emotional distress of another kind which distracted me from worrying about anything physical going on - trying to figure out where I was going to move to. I was sleeping on the couch, with an ultimatum to go once I could figure out where. And we were just hours away from telling our kids what was about to happen, when mercy intervened. Once again. With stipulations.

Which leads me to today, asking myself: without the stipulations, from someone, my wife of eighteen years, partner for twenty three, who cares deeply about me, would I still be on the wagon? I doubt it. And I believe that not only for our kids' sake, but if not for our relationship. If only me, and no one else, if I ended up behind the wheel and something really bad happened, would that have to have been the catalyst for me to quit cold turkey? I've been lucky in that respect.

Still, unlike normal people, for me, taking the drink had evolved into a game of Russian roulette with a couple of blanks thrown in. I've dodged the fatal bullet so far, but have been dinged with more than a few blanks. And at this stage in my life, there's just too much at stake. It would be one thing if I were all alone. Left to my devices all alone, I'd probably be a little like Barney from the Simpsons. Eh, maybe more like Peter O'Toole. Somewhere in between? There'd be wit. I wouldn't be a complete rube. I'm sure I'd feel a lot wittier to myself than I would be to others in their right minds. Then again, how many people in recovery are immortalized with placards of notable quotations like, say, W.C. Fields? The barstool does call out from time to time. But I know deep down inside I'd be much, much unhappier.

The hardest part for me at this moment in time is that I don't have a ton of people close by to me whom I've known for that long who are going through the same things I'm going through. They're not on the same sobriety train that I find myself on. Like I said, I have one or two people whom I've become good friends with but have known only recently in my life, one of whom is very much on that journey and has been an enormous source of guidance to me. But we haven't known each other for that long. And while longevity in and of itself is not always the measure of a friendship or a relationship, it is something I also hold dear. And of course, there are some other people I've known, admired and loved for a lot longer who are on that journey as well, but geographically a little further away. At least, far enough away from my every day.

Life is mostly normal for everyone in my immediate life - they can take the first drink and not have to fear the potential consequences of having too many. They may not notice that they're repeating the same thing over and over, or might be stumbling into something more incoherent than they believe they might be, but they're not putting themselves at risk of either danger or embarrassment, as I had done. It feels like unilateral disarmament, it feels unfair, at times it really just sucks. But in reality, how could it be fair if I was the one who took it to the next level, one step beyond (maybe more like two or three)? If it sucks bad enough to be the sober guy in those situations, I still have the strength and the will to remove myself from the premises, rather than jump back in. Someone told me recently that if they hear the same story for the third time in one sitting, it's time to go. Give 'em the Irish goodbye (but without the Irish, as it were).

But I don't want those goodbyes to be last goodbyes. I don't want to ditch my friends, anyone I love, for a new group of only sober people. I can't do it. I'm not off to go and be reborn somewhere. There are no cults I want to join, no missions or crusades to latch onto, no distant mountains to climb and go off the grid for a while. I don't need all of that. I want to stay firmly planted in the real world. Even if that real world is a stream you feel like the salmon swimming against (an analogy I've, um, borrowed and repeated a few times before already).

I've run a few gauntlets lately where I have been tempted to break the current streak from time to time, to call out the fact that this is one day at a time, not never. But the temptation has not been overwhelming, so that's good. Feeling like I'm in those gauntlets, or that I even use that term to describe situations is just annoying. It's boring. And I feel boring. At times, embittered over the circumstances. I would have liked to take a shot or two at my friend's 50th this past weekend. But I didn't. And I suspect I got the last laugh the morning after. Yet no one made me feel like I was out of place. No one yelled at me and said "c'mon, just one!" Everyone has been respectful. But, it still sucks. I want to feel like I'm the life of the party, one of the guys, maybe even the center of attention sometimes. I was in a fucking band, and not that straight-edge bullshit either, so of course I wanted to feel that way. That shit has deep roots. I can't help but be who I am.

But, like any functioning mature adult, I'm okay with not being the center of attention, to not feel like I'm the life of the party. I don't need it. I might want it, but I don't need it. I'm even ok with being the odd man out. I just want it to be more normal sometimes.

The Holidays is the next gauntlet. I'm sure I'll want to share that glass (or bottle) of wine or two with family and relatives. And then, making it to the new year, which, in a way, completes a one year cycle of sobriety. Seven months on the wagon, ten back off, three back on. Two to go for twelve on the wagon, if not in succession. Then to March, which completes the full year cycle (I originally began my seven month stint in March of last year). By then I'll know all of the normally scheduled things and events in a calendar year, and what to expect. Except for my fiftieth birthday, which comes at the end of April of next year. Then what?

One day at a time, right? I think there are a few numbers and the math that goes with them that needs to be cleared out. To be continued...




Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Reflections on my grandma Kay, and the upcoming election

Full disclosure - I am not officially endorsing a candidate for U.S. President on the Democratic ticket for 2020 yet. I'm just not in the mood to be an early adopter this season. But I might be getting close. And if my grandma Kay were still alive, there is no doubt in my mind who she'd be supporting at this juncture: Elizabeth Warren.

I should back up.

Grandma Kay was the only one in my family's older generations back in Berlin, Wisconsin that I can recall, who was decidedly NOT a Republican. Before I moved to Illinois, and around the time of Reagan's re-election in 1984, it was a good thing I wasn't old enough to vote yet, not that it mattered, because I probably would have voted for the Gipper. Not Grandma Kay. Her choice was clear:  She said she was voting for "ABR - Anybody but Reagan." It was the first time I remember her speaking up about her political views. Not that she hadn't spoken up previously, as I am very sure she did, but it was the first time I remember. And it was an awakening, though at the time a small opening. I couldn't understand why she wouldn't like Reagan! I would find out soon enough.

It wasn't until I moved to the Chicago area in 1985 and had some distance from the political climate in which I grew up, that I began to gain a different perspective. Also, I was a sophomore in High School then. And a late bloomer anyway - I was not politically active at that time. I had just sort of agreed with most everyone else in my family that Democrats were people you didn't usually vote for, unless the circumstances were unusual. Ironically, now that we lived three hours away, I think I actually grew closer to my grandma Kay in those intervening years up until her death in 1990.

Living a block and a half away in Berlin meant day visits, but I don't recall ever sleeping overnight there. If I did, those times were few and far between. When I was a little kid, we would spend our days playing board games and sending messages down the laundry chute, and she always made the best, home made meals from scratch whenever possible. I had her undivided attention. And that attention didn't usually lend itself to politics or the world at large. But when we'd come up for a visit from Illinois, we'd stay the night or the weekend. As a result, I'd become more aware of my grandma's daily routine, watching the McNeil Lehrer news hour on PBS and hearing her views more frequently. She was a rare outspoken democrat, as far as I could tell, in a town, county and region of Wisconsin that was steadfastly Republican. The birthplace of the Republican party, Ripon, WI, is twelve miles away.

She was not a churchgoer either. Whenever people in the Berlin community asked her why she didn't go, Grandma Kay always had the same answer: "I practice my church at home."

A recurring theme for her kept coming up: Greed. The republicans currently in power were greedy. They only cared about money and themselves, didn't seem interested in helping people less fortunate than they were. I'm certain how she felt about Donald Trump in the 80s, though she may not have mentioned him by name. They were what's wrong with our country, and our world. People she admired included Barbara Jordan, Eleanor Roosevelt, Jane Goodall, Geraldine Ferraro. Strong, educated women, all. And ones who valued human rights first.

Elizabeth Warren would be someone Grandma Kay would have deeply admired, for her belief in human rights, but also for her knowledge of finance, markets, and her ability to see right through the greed Wall Street is selling, and explain, in layman's terms, why ordinary people are getting screwed on a daily basis and what to do about it. I have no doubt Warren's plans would have been read from cover to cover, and Grandma would especially admire the K-12 plan that just came out.

Grandma Kay would have loved Bernie Sanders too. But I think, if given the choice, she would have chosen the one who is not as open throated in support of the label "Socialism," if in practice Warren's plans are nearly identical to Sanders. That aside, I believe, as one of the relatively few women in our neck of the woods having earned a PhD in 1938, she would support Warren not only because the US has not yet had a female occupant in the White House, but because the world needed more highly educated women in positions of prominence everywhere. Also - Warren, really, would be closer to the label "FDR Democrat." And Grandma was certainly that.

She wouldn't have supported any educated woman for President. She didn't have very nice things to say about Jeanne Kirkpatrick, for example. And she would have had no time for a disingenuous, right wing conservative proudly promoting her popularity among the poorly educated, like being poorly educated is a badge of honor, like Sarah Palin. On the other hand, there was that time during the Iran Contra scandal where she fell for Oliver North. He was such a nice, young man, just doing his duty. But nobody's perfect. The whole point is: Grandma didn't like convenient labels or terms for things, or all-encompassing ones. On the question of not going to church, she didn't say she was an atheist, after all. Grandma never said she didn't believe in God, just that she practiced her church at home.

I guess Elizabeth Warren reminds me of my grandma Kay. Some of the things she says, and the way she says them, reminds me of how my grandma would articulate a point. Always well thought out, prepared, measured, not afraid to just stand up and speak her mind, but not in an off-putting way. Let the facts speak for themselves: "I have a plan for that." Willing to fight back, but in an old fashioned way, with a respectful tone, sticking to the issues, but calling out behavior in plainspoken terms. I think that is what separates her from Bernie, her plainspokenness as well as a reluctance to draw everything into a specific worldview.

Grandma Kay was pragmatic, but only to a point. There is the argument from some of us on the Democratic side of the aisle - in this election, we just need to take out the racist white male and the only way to do that is by nominating a white male blue dog democrat who can attract those white, middle class, middle aged males from Ohio and Pennsylvania who are probably also racists. I think that is a mistake, and it is a fear-based strategy. And it would betray the four words I try to live by and tell our kids to live by: Can't live in fear. Also: we need to inspire! So we've gotta vote for what we're really for, not what we think will just win. Grandma Kay would believe that, I think. Pragmatism to a point. She didn't live to see Clinton elected, so I'm not 100% sure. She would have hated it when Hillary said she wasn't going to just sit around and bake cookies though.

For me in 2020, it will certainly be ABT, just like it was ABR in 1984 for Grandma Kay. I like the bumper sticker going around now that says "Any Functioning Adult - 2020." I think the final four, at this writing (but past performance is not necessarily a predictor of future returns), will be: Warren, Biden, Sanders, Buttigieg. Among those, I'll plug my nose for old Joe - who, like Hillary before her, has a keen nose for sniffing out, and then snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, and I'll happily support Mayor Pete, if he makes it this round (if not, he'll probably be back). There's something corporate about him, though. And I don't like the state of Indiana. Sorry, Hoosiers! I'll vote for Bernie - but I'm not going to ever be a full throated socialist, or democratic socialist. I just don't like labels. I was never a punk rocker, never fully new wave, prog rock or anything else, even indie, in my gigging days. I was for music that had integrity and shied away from easy labels. But I'll vote for the socialist candidate if he's the nominee.

At this juncture, I'm leaning Warren. I'll forgive her for the nativist gaffe, or attempt at pandering, or for trying to apply a label to herself that really probably isn't there, is more of an appropriation. If that's the worst thing that comes out of her mouth - a mild form of cultural appropriation, well, I'll take that over someone who just compared his impending impeachment to a lynching. Also: I don't care what she'd look like riding around in a tank. We don't need more male bravado. We've had enough of that with the first 43 white male presidents and one black male. Yes, the number is 44. Look it up. Let me give you a hint - the reason it's 44 and not 45 is not because the current holder of office is a shit stained aberration on our nation's legacy and shouldn't be counted - it's because of a name that includes a character from Sesame Street and the largest city of Ohio. We've had enough dudes. We need: 1. Unapologetic civilian leadership. 2. It's time for a woman. And one who isn't a naked opportunist.

I guess that's pretty close to an endorsement. And my grandma Kay would approve. In a sense, I'm thinking I might be voting for her.

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P.S. My Grandma Nev, an English teacher, was equally awesome and spent a lot of undivided time with me too. I never asked her about her political views, for some reason. But she did provide the book of U.S. Presidents, which I memorized in order one rainy day in the early 80s and haven't forgotten to this day. I love her too! I'll post something about my Grandma Nev another time.




Saturday, October 19, 2019

Wagon Reprise, 2.0, 2019

Once Oaktoberfest 2018 came, i tentatively took the first few sips. It felt weird to feel a buzz from two pints, but soon thereafter I picked up right where I left off, and in about ten months I was confronted with the same problems I had created for myself as the last time, only this time I was asked to move out. I made plans, thanks to a good friend, to do just that and, after the first week back on the wagon, had the stuff I needed all but packed. And then, a second chance. Or maybe a third? Fifth? Who's counting. Long story short, I'm two months in now, back safely on the wagon. Physically, I'm fine (though I've gained weight - need to cut the sweets). Emotionally, I'm back to where I wanted to be: no crippling anxiety. As before, the drink exacerbated anxiety for me, it didn't suppress it. Socially, as another good friend of mine has said, it's like you're a salmon swimming upstream. Drinks are everywhere, you've gotta just deal with it. I've been to some meetings this time, and they've been good, but some of them just devastating - in terms of some of the other people and the things they've been through. I'm trying to find the right balance, and so far so good. One day at a time. I'm not counting the days. I probably will pause and reflect should I pass my previous "record," but I think that was the mistake I made last time: setting a timeline. This time it comes down to that choice every time I have a temptation (and thankfully that feeling of temptation so far has been on very few occasions, two so far): Do I want to go back down that path? I know where that path leads. Or do I stay safe from anxiety, safe from potential guilt, shame, or the roll of the dice that might get me a DUI or worse? The two times I was tempted: The evening after my good friend's father's wake, where we went back to their house and, at the table where his dad's spot was kept empty to honor him, the wine started flowing. The second was at Oaktoberfest 2019. I ran the gauntlet and made it through. Three cheers to one day at a time!

Feeling good

No booze update: coming up on 6 months since I hopped back on the wagon. But for the 10 months in between where I swung back into the old ha...