Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Twenty-Five And A Half

I never write in the middle of the day but I have some time and wanted to share some thoughts.


Thought One: anything new is easier if you bring friends along. Trouble with giving up something is that usually most of your friends and quite possibly your family are still into the Something. That's okay and you don't even have to give up your friends - and certainly not your family - but it does make it harder. That's why even a little reaching out can help.


Thought Two: hard new things often don't happen the first time around and that's not a sign of total failure or personal weakness. If your goal is swimming ten laps in a regulation-sized swimming pool but you haven't been swimming in twenty or thirty years sure you try for all ten the first go but maybe you only do five. Or three. Or one leaves you coughing and gagging so much at the other end of the pool that you rethink that plan and get some floats or a kickboard. Doesn't make you a Bad Person or Morally Weak or Damaged, just out of shape. But you keep thinking of eventually being able to do those ten laps and you keep getting back in the pool. I've been telling myself that one a lot as July 2 comes closer because if I'd managed to stay quit when I first decided I'd Quit For Real it would be my first soberversary.


Okay, that's a lie.  If I'd managed to stay quit when I FIRST decided to Quit For Real it would be about six months past my 12-year soberversary.  If we stick with the swimming analogy it's awfully easy to just say "fuck it," stop going to the gym and hang out with people who aren't into physical fitness. Especially if being a good swimmer or not knowing how to swim are both tied up with a bunch of emotionally charged stuff going all the way back to childhood and although that's not usually true for laps in a pool it's almost always true for alcohol. But if you eventually want to be able to swim those ten laps the important thing is to keep getting in the pool. Maybe it's just to do aqua-robics in the shallow end but every time in the water makes it easier to try at least one lap. After those 4 months back in 2004 I conveniently quit listening to the part of my brain which observed that I might be drinking too much and it wasn't doing a damned good thing for me...though it didn't go entirely away or I wouldn't be typing right now. I started keeping record of my alcohol consumption (on 3x5 cards - very old-school) for a couple years before I Actually Quit again last July.


Here's where the metaphor falls apart though because unlike learning to swim, the big big BIG take-home for learning to be sober is this: Abstinence is easier than moderation. It doesn't seem like it on the first day or the first week but it is just so much less emotional work and grief to Just Not Go There when it comes to any kind of alcohol than it is to keep thinking about how to drink "socially" or "moderately." That part was pretty hard for me till I did it a couple times recently, fell back onto the endless loop and had to get off a third time. I spent more than a -decade- in various places on the "I don't drink that much"/"gee I'd like to quit"/"Okay today I'm quitting for sure"/"what the hell, why not?"/"I was never that bad in the first place" treadmill and for big chunks of time it didn't even seem to be A Problem....but like a river running through rock (gee I'm into the water symbolism today; that's not stunningly obvious or anything, huh?) it wore away at my self-esteem...which is a fragile enough thing on a good day.


On the other hand it's damned hard to balance the new positive of "More self-esteem! Doing something GOOD for myself!" with the onslaught of a million different up and down emotions, most of them negative, all on the same afternoon. For days on end. Among all the other things it is, alcohol is a central nervous system depressant at the cellular level so if like me you've been basting yourself in a nice regular bath of the stuff on a near-daily basis for years and it's suddenly gone, every cell in your brain is going to be confused and spitting out more chemicals than it has in ages which will turn into weird emotions, vivid dreams, tears for no reason and memories of stuff from who-knows-how-long-ago and although it's normal, it's not very much fun. In fact it downright sucks for big chunks of my time, not gonna lie.  The thing keeping me going though, is the knowledge that if I give in I'll just have to start back at the beginning all over but if I manage to get through another day then the cells will spit out fewer icky chemicals the next day because they will slowly over time adapt to the New Normal. 


Sugar helps.  Not just because it's comforting in its own right but because both the brain and the liver run on glucose.  That sweet tooth is real because the body's cells have been working overtime way WAY long dealing with all the alcohol and they don't slow down to zero just because the alcohol is gone--they want something by gosh by golly by gum by gee and they want it usually whenever the drinking started.  The good thing is that feeding myself sweets every evening has helped even out the moods a lot; the bad thing is that you don't lose one gram of weight that way.  Not right away anyhow.


I do know, though, because of personal experience as recently as this late winter and early spring, that if I can get past the first month into the second it gets better and if I can get past the second into the third it gets better still. It's the getting there that's tricky.  My issue is not so much "I want to drink!" but "I want to stop FEELING like this and I know booze will punch the off-button." 


And now I've droned on long enough to start boring even myself so it's time to find things to do other than dwell/contemplate.  I'll try to check back in when it actually IS Day 26 ie done and in bed and no chance of screwing it up for another day.







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