90 days

+ or – a day need to look up the exact date in mid February

I still have a rocky road many days, but as I have had to relearn multiple times in my life, no external event or persistent mental health issue or genuine emotion or over reaction or dysfunctional behavior is ever made better with a drink, pill or drug.

That first sip just starts a cascade down a hole that is very hard to escape.

trauma conflation

PS: I realize you are here for the sobriety and not the politics.  Please forgive me.

When I was ten years old, I watched the Iran Hostage crisis unfold.  I read the paper daily and watched the national news each evening.  From the newspaper, I cut out each captured American and taped their photo on my bedroom wall.  When Reagan was elected and hostages released, I felt a big sense of relief for them and the country, and felt reassured by our newly elected President.  For some reason, my step-dad (see last post) didn’t like Reagan (later I realized it was because “Bill” was a union man).  So rebelliously, Reagan was very attractive, and he reminded me in a positive way of my Grandpa.  When John Lennon was shot and the assassination attempt on Reagan soon after, as a fifth grader, all you do is root for the commander in chief.  It was my introduction to politics, and first feeling that the world was falling apart and a magical belief for the man in the White House.

A decade or so later, influenced by liberal professors, a progressive campus and a degree in sociology, ironically I found myself attending local protests and active in a student group concerned about U.S. policy in Latin America, and two of my early jobs were as a union activist and as a neighborhood organizer.  My politics are still to the left, and I proudly voted without regret for Hillary Clinton.  In 2016, I was overwhelmed with the finalization of a divorce last year, and stayed out of the primary and general elections beyond voting in November.

My drinking relapse last fall coincided with both the ending of my first post divorce romantic relationship (which terminated with a “ghosting” of me by my former lover – a new trend that may be a topic of a future post) and with the election of Donald Trump.

From the January inauguration on (during which I have mostly been sober, and now going on 75 days straight), I have been obsessed with politics.  Not since the Iran Hostage crisis, have I felt so upset by the state of affairs domestically and internationally.  The 1999 re-count, 9-11, the Iraq War, and Kerry’s loss were all troubling, but none of them has been as traumatic to me as Trump.  I know I am not alone feeling this way, and have something in common with folks from all walks of life.

Right now I am wishing that McCain or Romney were president – I might disagree with their politics but would not worry too much about their ethics, character or commitment to country.  However, Trump’s malignant personality traits (not to mention his policies or stances) trigger PTSD issues for me.  His Axis II tendencies of gaslighting, projection, etc. take me back to past toxic environments.

At the same time, I feel Clinton didn’t do a good job of protecting us (me) from this conman, an apparently aspiring despot.  My inner fifth grader (the current age of my son) wants a soothing leader like Reagan again.  I am alternatively mad at the people who voted for Trump or angry at the people who sat on the sidelines.

Today, my mind as it regresses to a childlike state (due to my past trauma) with an emotional age of a recently sobered-up person is grappling with my adult intellect to make sense of it all.   I can’t integrate all the meanings and feelings into a coherent whole.  It keeps me up at night.  There is a grandiose guilt (like when I was a kid) that it is my fault.  It makes it hard to focus on doing my work.  I want to stay in bed all day and not face reality.  With every Trump Tweet, I feel like and usually reach for a donut.

Ironically, both Clinton and Trump were in public yesterday making comments on the election, and there seems a lot of taking and giving blame, or claiming or denying credit.  Many in the nation are wrestling with what to do, while many of us (almost half of voters) are hopeful and optimistic – and fell gained up on that their choice is not being given room to succeed.  Maybe I am a hysterical snowflake.

I do know I believe in social justice – a world where sick and old people have access to health care without the fear of death or bankruptcy, a world where climate change is not denied for profit and ideology, a world where people of color or people in blue are not in danger of each other, a world where different groups are not scapegoated or blamed for our collective problems, a world where war is not possibly around the corner….a better future for my two elementary-aged children.

Below is how I made sense of this crazy situation; I need to move forward to the next stage where I articulate my voice, join like minded folks and be active in my small part in   solving problems.  Meanwhile I need to have faith that American institutions and checks & balances will endure and prevail.   Now that is working the Third Step.

why clinton lost trump won

1,000 x better versus 1,000 x worse

So if I had drank on Saturday, I would be such a mess now.  The dread and turmoil that hit me was passing and temporary.   Now I am still sober and sane X 1,000!

It is hard to be a garden variety drunk with co-mingled mental health issues.  AA, step work, meetings, sponsorship, service duties, and prayer have been the most effective way to stay sober.  It hasn’t helped much with my dual diagnosis symptoms.  The lack of not feeling better mentally has led me to lose faith in the 12 steps, and back to drinking given my relapse history.  Staying sober (and no pills, drugs, etc.) is the only way there is any hope.  1,000 X better.

# 1) My mom was 19 when she married and 9 months later I was born.  My father had schizophrenia, and was in out of hospitals and on and off meds.  My little brother came soon after.  My mom had her hands full as a single parent and poor in the early 1970s.  My earliest memory is laying on the couch as an ambulance taking my mom out on a stretcher, and my baby bro in his crib.  Later I learned she had tried to commit suicide.  To this day, I have a horrible time with “emotional regulation”.  It is really difficult for me to just feel “ok”.  Over many years, I have turned to booze, food, caffeine, spending, screens, and more.  Even with my periods of work and exercise addiction, while more beneficial for the wallet and waist line, those did not solve things with my day to day ups and downs. Yes, things like yoga and meditation have helped a little (but sometimes lead me to use those activities to avoid and check out from reality). I have been taking Lexapro for a year, and it has taken the edge off things recently.  Nonetheless, I don’t have a smooth emotional baseline (who does right?), and experience great anxiety at times…even after a decade of sobriety (and excluding times when I indulge in a “dry drunk”).

# 2) So my mom signed me up for a Big Brother though the formal program given the situation and try to help me with a male mentor.  Well, he eventually married my mom, but along the way, he sexually abused me and my brothers.  I engaged in great denial becoming an Eagle Scout, honor student and going to the top university in my state.  When my brothers and I finally spoke up, “Bill” killed himself with a gun.  Fortunately, he was out of the house by then but as a I child, I thought it was all my fault, guilty about feelings of sexuality, and fearful for my family’s lives – both in terms of breathing and materially.  While he lifted us out of poverty, it came at a great cost.  My little mind didn’t think my mom could handle it, and he was a big man (6′ 4″) with weapons.  As a human, he was not all bad either.  To cope, I focused on his good qualities, and literally – did NOT think about the abuse until much later.  A nine year old boy is not responsible for his then younger brothers being abused, but that is what happened.  As a result, to this day, I have great capacity to deny and avoid, and stick my head in the sand, even with an elephant in the room on fire – while feeling terrible guilty, frozen, distressed and stuck – while painting my self into a corner.

So the end result is I am a garden variety alcoholic and addict with very persistent and treatment-resistant depression and anxiety.   It is a cross between PTSD and emotional regulation disorder (a.k.a. borderline without the social challenges typical with personality disorders).

I am blessed with above average IQ and work drive, and with an upbringing with good values.  For some reason, I am able to shield my kids from 80% of my mental health issues (but 0% when I am drinking).   Like many others, I am good at taking care of others, but have an incredible block on self-care.  I regress to childlike inaction or dissociative states.  Recently, struggling with getting out of bed and obsessing on politics every other week the kids are with their mom, or when they are in school on the weeks they are on me.  I only have a couple work meetings a week…thus my public library and gym blog posts of late.

For five years now, I have been in 4 days a week traditional psychotherapy with the same analyst.  It has helped so much but I recently took a break to get perspective.  Just like all the time I put in AA, there seems to be limits and ceilings with therapy despite the investment and progress.  At times, it just feels SO hopeless.

So back to this weekend, when my personal bank account was levied and lost a total of $1,500.  I was so upset – angry at myself for the self-inflicted problem.  So upset that my kids savings accounts were also drained as they were linked to me.  Usually, external events are not very triggering, but this was my personal not fixing the roof leak moment hitting me in the pocket book.  I was just frozen to deal with the issue (like many micro-mental paralysis I deal with on a daily basis e.g. I have a graduate degree and am expert free-lancer in my field, but some times it takes tremendous effort to do the dishes – which I know I am not alone).

As a result of NOT drinking this last weekend, the following are now just days later:

A) I called the people I owe money and started the steps to resolve the issue I was ignoring.  In the last couple months, they had phoned a couple times but I went through a spell when I did not answer my phone unless it was about my kids.   I swear, these folks are the nicest most professional – I am not kidding – they have the opposite customer service than United Airlines.  They had 0 choice but to levy my bank account so I can’t even direct my anger at them as it was all my fault and they have been pretty nice.

B) It could of been way worse as my business account was not touched and there was much more money in there – and I would not have been able to pay rent or child support this month.

C) I spent an hour and resolved a bunch of other bills I was avoiding.  Half the issue was my bank cards were switched to the chip so a bunch of my auto-pays were cancelled.

D) I found $150 in a drawer that I thought I had lost…from when I was drinking in January.  So I am 10% back to where I was.

E) AND I am sober, and doing the best I can, and taking care of kids (soccer season is killer, FYI).

The alternative would be 1,000 X worse!

F) Last, my local public radio station is playing my top five song list……this weekend.  Unfortunately, this was a playlist I sent in drunk by email one late night this Winter.  But I am sober now, and I still like the picks:

  • Fast Car by Tracy Chapman

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uTIB10eQnA

  • All Lost in the Supermarket by the Clash

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qsrEAWcAvRg

  • Please Let Me Get What I Want This Time by the Smiths

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-T8R_VDTOYQ

  • Closer to Fine by the Indigo Girls

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HUgwM1Ky228

  • Box of Rain by the Grateful Dead

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V4SqDx1vi4c

PS: I have probably outed myself as a white, Midwestern Gen-Xer.  Please forgive me (:

Uggg….close call!

I found out about a $1,500 financial mistake I made in my personal life.  I had the worst urges today.  Just so mad at myself for ignoring the issue and now I have a cash crunch.  I thought about drinking a lot as a result – but I remembered the crippling hangover, the awful need to drink again and the whole-can-of-whup-a** that would be unleashed.

I hope it serves as a wake up call.

60 days

Not drinking still.  Made it to a meeting on Monday and on my way to one this morning giving someone a ride.

F. Scott Fitzgerald tried to quit often, unsuccessfully. In periods of sobriety, he drank 30-40 bottles of Coca-Cola a day.

This is me right now but could alternatively be coffee, Diet Coke, Mexican Coca-cola (with cane sugar), Neuro brand drinks, over-the-counter sleeping pills, ice cream, triple-chocolate cookie from local coffee shop (oh my god)….

I use the food, Neuro drinks and sleeping pills (I buy them individually) as downers and the caffeine as uppers.

But I am sober today.

I am convinced to achieve long-term sobriety and not die a young man like Fitz or a drunk old man…I need to find whole life sobriety and not switch addictions.

During my long periods of not drinking (96-99, 01-12, 13-16), I have always battled consuming too much of alternative substances, albeit non of them resulted in a smashed car, arrest, broken bones, etc.

One day at a time.

 

Made it to a meeting

Yesterday morning, I had a once a month work meeting from 9:30am to 11am – I facilitate it and have so for over a decade.  I still stress about it each month and always procrastinate prepping.  I pulled it all together in about 45 minutes right before its start.   Unfortunately, I consumed way too much morning diet Coke and coffee, and left super wired and anxious, even though the meeting went well and was uneventful.

I arrived home.  I was hungry, so I ate a salad and calmed down a bit but still felt distraught.  I had a long list of things to do, but wanted to go back to bed.  I thought – I should just drink.  Then I thought – it is easier to go to an AA meeting.

I stripped my bed of the sheets and put them in the washer.  Nothing like wet sheets to eliminate that issue.  I did the dishes and took the garbage out.  I texted a couple AA people that go to my morning meeting.  I got out of the house and to the gym (see my post from last night).

I ate something healthy afterwards from Trader Joes and made it back home.  I was physically tired due to 40 minutes of cardio but with a nice flow of endorphins.   I was asleep by 10pm (instead of after midnight) and I woke up before my alarm to make it to my 7am meeting.

It was great to be back at my home group.  It was nice to see positive people.  I have gained some weight and now have a beard, and since this was only my third meeting this year, I got some double takes from folks I have not seen much of lately.

There are aspects of AA that sometimes are not my favorite (I tend to be agnostic though I can also be skeptical about my disbelief, some members/meetings are anti-therapy or dual diagnosis, etc.)   However, it is a democratic self-sustaining worldwide community of people more like me than not, and it the most accessible antidote to my forever pull toward…

ISOLATION…to trying to do it alone.  To not asking for help.  To pulling the shades down and turning the phone off.  To drinking, to laying in bed all day.

Needless to say, one step at a time, one foot ahead of another, a “small bite at a time” as someone said at the meeting, if you don’t mind the eating and walking metaphors.   Today, I am in a way more peaceful place than I was just 24 hours ago.

Thank God for washing machines, gyms and their cafes, and AA meetings.

Made it to Gym

Uggg, finally broke the bed habit.

I am working on my computer at my gym’s cafe, and will exercise later and eat a salad from Trader Joe’s on my way home.   Need to improve my sleep hygiene, e.g. eliminating screen time in bed and dedicating the space to night sleeping.

I also am going to my home group tomorrow.  It requires me to go to bed at a reasonable hour so I can make the 7am start.

For almost two years, I went to that AA meeting 5 days a week and woke up at 4:45am to go to the gym before the meeting!  I was sober, though still had the mental blocks and anxiety.

Small steps out of addiction and depression…

Public Libraries

Sober for a month and half, what a miracle!

Meanwhile, I have gotten into this horrible habit of laying in bed for the entire day.  Even when I work, I will just hole up in the bedroom with my computer and get stuff done, if there is a deadline.  Without an eminent deadline, or a work meeting, or having to take my kids to school and pick them up every other week when they stay with me, well not much gets done other than napping.

If it wasn’t for the 7 days the kids are at the house, it could be a lot of worse of a habit as they have lots of soccer, tutoring, gymnastics, scouts, skiing plus love of board games, reading plus lots of laundry, dishes, etc.  Its a new symptom of depression that didn’t emerge until midway through my life until last fall.

I used to have an office but gave it up to save money.  When I go to coffee shops, I always end up drinking too much coffee and eating lots of food.

So I am going to try going to public libraries.  There are a bunch of them here in suburbia lots of nice ones, several with free parking, others in downtown areas where I will feed the meters.

Hopefully, this will get me out of the house, not drinking copious amounts of caffeine and cookies and saving from paying rent.  I can rotate locations for variety and to not wear out my welcome too much.

That’s my goal this this week, along with bringing my lunch with me, and – well, of course no visits to bars, liquor stores and other venues not conducive to sobriety.

PS – my break from following politics has been an epic failure.

inner politics

I could really relate to this column:  http://www.mercurynews.com/2017/03/18/headline-stress-disorder-i-have-it-do-you/

And found some promising solutions here: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/17/opinion/depressed-by-politics-just-let-go.html

I originally wrote about the problem in this post.

I have lived next to immigrants that were hard-working and made my neighborhood better.  The call for a wall and travel ban will not make us safer. It truly just collective scapegoating driving ideas like this.  My kids’ mom is African-American.  The children face racism at times (and enjoy privilege in other situations). Someday soon, I have to have that talk with my son about interacting with the police (as he likely won’t get the many passes with the cops I got in as a lily-white youth).  Though he looks a lot like Bruno Mars right now, some people just see brown.  I could go on and on about the threats that the country faces…of war, or an economic recession, or the crumbling of the safety-net for our most vulnerable community members.

But it’s more than long-standing Blue state versus Red state arguments.  I would do most anything for McCain or Romney right now. Instead, it is like a train wreck you can’t avert your eyes from.  I seriously need an Al-anon meeting.  If you have ever been exposed to someone with a serious major personality disorder – the constant chaos, finger-pointing, detachment from truth, projection, attention-seeking, deflection, gas-lighting, etc. – this turmoil feels familiar.

Intellectually, there is a steady steam of new information and different perspectives.  Info-tainment.  At this point, it is about the same as binge watching a TV show but the episodes never end in a “finale”.  It is a distraction from my real problems in life, or from the live people or work that need my attention.  As I read about it all, the distress it induces matches what is lingering inside.  But I have zero or no control of these external events – when I have much to do with my inner peas and immediate circumstances.

I have talked to my therapist.  Yes, it feels like mommy and daddy are fighting, or it all taps into some kid-like grandiosity about my influence on things, or I catastrophize the situation more than reality, among other dynamics.   I grew up in a home with significant abuse, so this is not just “triggering of liberal tears” – the dysfunction and problems of my family of origin would create existential issues for the most psychologically-sound among us.  But yet it goes beyond that.

I have this lack of faith that the institutions of this country can survive.  That the constitutional checks and balances will be able to maintain a fair and just society.  That the free press and grassroots opposition can make a difference. That at least some members of the majority party will take a stand.

For my personal life, beyond my kids, lots of the proposals, if enacted would help me.  The bill repealing Obamacare will give me some tax credits that I don’t get now buying my own insurance (though my rates will likely get higher as I get older).  Hey, I am all for cutting back on IRS agents, since I am working out some income tax issues. Ha, ha.  But as someone that doesn’t have much of an IRA, and has paid into entitlement trust funds for 30 years now, will Social Security and Medicare be around for me in 20 years (right now they are slated to implode when I am to “retire”)?

So, my point – I am taking a “break” from politics.  I am shooting for 30 days.  I cancelled my newspapers in February, and I got off of Facebook and cut cable TV 2 years ago.  So that just leaves me refraining from going online to read blogs, newspapers and Twitter, and from listening to talk and news radio.

Paired with sobriety, my politics “fast” will hopefully lead to some new healthy behaviors:

1) Putting away the electronic devices for better sleep hygiene – no “screens” in bed.

2) Getting to the gym for a light workout or outside for a brisk walk every day.

3) Eating a little healthier with meals planned ahead and bought at the grocery store, especially not eating right before bed.

4) Trending down on caffeine consumption.  I don’t have a daily habit but sometimes I drink too much coffee or diet soda and get all geeked out.

5) Eliminating over the counter sleep aids.  I buy a two pack of PM pills at the gas station a couple times a week when too much caffeine or stress make it hard to sleep (#4).  Usually if I do some exercise (#2), I sleep like a baby.

6) And a new symptom that I have never had my entire life until last fall, is staying in bed all day to either work (I have had very productive days when under a deadline) or to just lay around to read everything about politics for 36 plus hours – boxing out the real world.  I am pretty sure this will go away if I cut back on caffeine (#4) and eating right before bed (#3), increasing exercise (#2) and eliminating screens in bed (#1) and OTC sleep aids (#5).

These are all aims.

I know complicated rule making for oneself is a little akin to the drinking bargains we would try to make when drunk – like “no drinking” in the mornings or just on Friday / Saturday nights.  Or no more than a “six pack”, etc.

I know the rule making activates the “Black or White” thinking of my “All or Nothing” mind.

But if I can trend no politics, no screens in bed, more exercise, less caffeine, healthier eating, cutting out sleeping aids, etc. things will get even better.

And of course, nothing gets better if I take that first drink.  And that is bright line with no crossing.

30 days

It snuck up on me.  Got here real quick.

One of the highlights of the month was taking my 8 year old daughter sledding on a unseasonable snow day.   She insisted on bringing a box, and it must had a wax coating because she really had fun zipping down the hill.

It sure is easier to stay sober, than to get sober, that is about all I know.