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...
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