Sobriety: The Year In Review

January 1 2020 marked one year of sobriety for me. Actual sobriety and recovery. Not “taking a break”, not “not drinking right now”. Actual sobriety. Not drinking, not using chemicals to alter my brain chemistry, is perhaps the smallest but singularly non-negotiable piece of the puzzle. That was the first, hardest lesson to learn. True recovery comes only when I do the work of exercising the demons that feed my addictive behaviors. It’s so much more than simply not drinking. I’ve done the “I’m giving my liver a break” thing before and lied to myself that it meant I couldn’t have a problem because I had moments of control. Turns out the human brain is far more savvy than that. I’ve even gone an entire year without drinking before. I had a pending DUI that dragged through the court system because, believe it or not, there were too many cops involved and the prosecution couldn’t get all their witnesses into court at the same time. I told myself I wouldn’t drink until the situation was resolved, you know, be on my best behavior. Mentally the problem was that there was never any intent to quit drinking and change my ways. As soon as there was resolution I would drink again, and that’s exactly what I did. The day the case was ruled “Nolle proce”, not processed (meaning I was guilty as hell and everyone knew it but they couldn’t get their shit together to convict me) I was drunk that night. And that’s when my alcoholism really started to accelerate. Because in addition to the psychological reasons for my desire to use chemicals to avoid myself, my body’s reaction to alcohol isn’t normal. I have a disease, and it’s progressive. That was the second, hardest lesson to learn.

Alcoholics get a bad reputation and it ‘s not deserved. Using alcohol to make yourself either feel better in the moment or to avoid the fear and pain of negative feelings in the moment is no different any number of things we do as humans to achieve those goals. Drinking to get drunk for those kinds of reasons is the same as any behavior that becomes addictive, whether that’s using drugs, or overeating, or gambling, or unhealthy sexual behaviors, even being an asshole to other people because it makes you feel good about yourself. It’’s seeking temporary pleasure (or temporarily avoiding pain) to cover up underlying issues we’d rather not deal with. That’s the psychological component. The physical aspect includes your brain releasing dopamine and other chemicals that you crave. If you’re introducing toxins into the mix the body learns to crave those too. All fairly normal stuff, except I have alcoholism. Which means my body doesn’t process alcohol the same as someone who doesn’t have it. It means alcohol effects me in dangerous ways that go far beyond the temporary state of intoxication. It means there is no such thing as just one drink. It means obsessively managing my day based on how, when, and where I’m going to drink. It means hiding my problem from everyone around me because it’s mine and I don’t want it taken away and all the ensuing guilt that comes with that. It means knowing every day was taking a chance with my life and with the lives of others. It means somewhere in the mysterious mix of the physical and psychological, I was fully aware I had chosen self destruction and felt powerless to stop it. But I’m not powerless, that was the dirty little secret my brain was keeping from me. That was the next hardest lesson to learn.

I am powerless against what alcohol does to my brain and body IF I choose to put it in my system. That’s a big if. That’s where I do have the advantage. I can admit utter defeat; I cannot safely drink alcohol. And having waved the white flag I can walk away from the fight; I will not drink alcohol. No ambiguity, no compromise. And with a clear and sober mind I can get down to the hard work of digging up my own dirt so that I can live with myself. That’s an odd metaphor to use because it starts with hitting rock bottom. What I didn’t know, and what most people aren’t told, is that rock bottom is an emotional state. It is not losing your job, losing a family, going broke, being homeless. Those are all things that can happen on the way to rock bottom. For a lot of people, and in my case, none of those things happened. (To be honest I did estrange myself from my birth family, so technically one of those things did happen). Emotionally I had been living with the horror of the knowledge of my addiction and the abject fear that this was my lot in life. These were things I was becoming comfortable with accepting, which is ironic because a big component of recovery is self acceptance and the acceptance of many things we’d rather not. The thing that tipped the scales for me, my rock bottom, was a conscious attempt at rejecting the notion that I was destined to live this way that was met with total despair about not being able to and finally absolute desperation to make it stop. I had felt each of these things before, somehow this time they combined in a way that triggered something new, I sent up a flare.

A friend responded, and then another, and I was introduced to Alcoholics Anonymous. The meeting rooms of AA were exactly what I needed at the time. I learned I wasn’t alone and wasn’t unique. Others were going through the same struggles and there was a long history attached which meant lessons to be gleaned from a shared experience. The most important lesson was that first hardest one I mentioned earlier. There is a path of recovery and it begins with not drinking, but that is only the first step of a long journey that takes dedication and resolve. I’m not an AA fanatic or even die hard. It is a part of my life and part of my recovery and I will always be grateful for it. Through people I met in AA I have been introduced to the Buddhist inspired program called Refuge Recovery, and I find myself more comfortable with that program. The Buddhist teachings and traditions are more in line with my personal beliefs. Different strokes for different folks. The important similarity is acknowledging there are underlying reasons for engaging in behavior that becomes addictive. Facing those reasons and compassionately accepting them instead of ignoring them or purposely running from them is the foundation of the healing process.

Other than that spontaneous cry for help that started the year there have been no hallelujah moments. The heavens have not split and the hand of god has not come down to mark me as special, simultaneously fulfilling my wildest fantasies. There has not been a flurry of musical inspiration resulting in a trove of new material. Just the opposite in fact. This last year has been the least productive of my writing career. Not that I’ve recorded and released much, but there are reams of paper filled with lyrics and ideas and many a lost personal recordings of attempts at songs, all old at this point. Not much current and that’s okay. With steady progress I am healing my family relationships. Particularly with my mom. We are closer now than possibly ever before. Although there is still a long way to go and I have yet to extend my efforts to my siblings. I am more engaged with my own kids and more aware of the moments that make up their lives, not just how they relate to mine. I am trying to be more present. This last year I have moved closer to defining what it means to me to be a musician and an artist. The projects I choose to be involved in hold a deeper meaning for me that transcend merely being fun. But I am learning to accept that sometimes fun is enough, so long as it’s not destructive. I am learning that the love and compassion I try to extend to others is meant for me as well. Self acceptance is starting to dispel my deep seated lack of self worth and lack of self confidence that manifests in a desperate need for the acceptance of my peers. The insight required to even write that last sentence has been no small feat, and for that I am grateful. And so I will continue on this path, taking one small step at a time. Making progress. Finding purpose.

January 1st 2020 marked one year of sobriety for me. Now I’ll work on doing it again.


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