Random Thoughts

When I drank - When I stopped - How it started - How I stopped - Just one? - Am I in denial? - Why?

When I drank...

I didn't care enough about my body and appearance and let myself get fat, which made me feel awful. One of the reasons I grew my beard, or rather, did not shave it, was that my facial skin had developed flaws that disgusted me.

I drank so much that I no longer got any pleasure from it, I just stopped hurting after the first few drinks.

My blood pressure was 25-30 points higher.

I had to run to the toilet 2-3 times in the hours after first getting up.

I felt like crap the whole time I was not drinking.

I fear I may have taken some of the edge off my intelligence. I certainly could not communicate clearly and precisely in the manner I like to do most of the time I was awake - before or after I started drinking.

Driving became terrifying. I was scared of going 50 mph, I had trouble in the dark, I had trouble in the rain, snow was white-knuckle territory.

My life revolved around getting to the liquor store every three days. Some days I would get out of bed just in time to drive (in the dark, terrified) there.

I spent 8, 10, even 12 hours a day just sitting there, watching bad TV and drinking.

My general productivity, in all areas and ways, was 15-25% of what it was when I wasn't drinking.

I drifted into not dating, not even trying, and ended up letting myself go for years without sex. My sense of disgust at my appearance was a factor here. So was my obvious inability to drive anywhere to meet anyone for most of each day.

I missed events that I would really, really like to have attended, because "I would be drinking then".

My hands shook all the time I was not drinking. This was bad enough that, for example, I simply could not operate a welder. I like to weld.

My vision and general perception of the world had lost its definition. Nothing was as sharp or clear as I knew it to be. I worried I might need glasses for driving.

The idea of going through an unplanned withdrawal (ie, running out of liquor) was horrible.

I was clumsy and careless.

I, quite frankly, could not remember the next day most of what I said or wrote while drinking. Or ever. Likewise, I could not remember what I read, or, more importantly, what was said to me.

I was losing huge amounts of time - of life - to my addictive habit. I would estimate that I literally lost 5-7 years of my life over the decade or so during which alcohol slowly became the most important thing in my life.

There was no glory in this damaging indulgence. I was not funnier, prettier, or wiser. It is very likely that I was less funny, less attractive (both physically and as a person), and less intelligent. I was probably less interesting in bed.

My extreme creativity was almost completely absent. I stopped writing. I stopped playing guitar.

It may have been easier for me to be sillier or frivolous, but this was only due to an inability to truly be serious or genuinely interesting.

I let the things I love around me deteriorate. It took me two years (or more) of care and repair to reclaim my show lawn and the shrubberies surrounding it.

I probably spent close to ten thousand dollars on energy wasted, if we can assume that I might have done some of my insulation (etc.) projects earlier.

I only did what I had to do each day. I never worked ahead of what was needed, and I rarely engaged in projects that would make life better in the years to come.

I certainly spent zero time thinking about what I could do to improve the lives of those around me, let alone my own.

One Spring when I had managed to cut down from 1/3 to about 1/12 of a handle (about 4 drinks) of Scotch per day, I was much more productive and energetic. But a major external stress factor led me to just not caring and needing to escape from the challenge it presented, and I slipped back into the old habit faster than I had crawled out of it. I probably simply had not had time to develop the tools to deal with and remedy stresses like that without it ending up there.

The people I seriously dated during this era were bothered by some aspects of me directly or indirectly attributable to my drinking. Directly, I couldn't necessarily remember anything we spoke about the night before - even if it was important. Also, of course, my acuity and clarity would have been severely diminished the further into the evening we went. Indirectly, it is quite likely that my ongoing attempts to reduce some of my "manageable" negatives, such as talking way too fucking much and not listening enough, would have been pretty much absent. Let me rephrase that. I was talking too much, and not listening enough. And put together, when I was listening, I wasn't really hearing.

When I drank - When I stopped - How it started - How I stopped - Just one? - Am I in denial? - Why?

When I stopped drinking...

My blood pressure dropped to normal in days.

My colo-rectal distress improved within days.

My energy levels returned steadily and were back to normal in a month or two.

My ability to focus has gradually improved - from noticeable almost right away, to what seems, after three years, to be slow but steady gains. I may actually be better than before, now. Except when I am tired.

Likewise, my precious mind, my intelligence and how I apply it, has been steadily rebounding. At this point I may be roughly back to where I was, taking into account that with age this trait becomes more measured in wisdom of thought and action than in sheer raw intelligence.

Driving is not only safe once more, it is fun.

The world came back into sharp focus. My hands became steady once more. These did not take long,.

Eventually, I met a fine woman and fell in love - which is a very complex process for me, where I need every ounce of my mental energy and ability to manage my emotions and imagination. She has a drinking disorder...

As an outcome of the scheduling weirdness and energy expended "thinking" due to the above, I started losing a bit of weight. I then realized I could continue that process, and am now experimenting with how to stay stable and comfortable at a healthy weight, having managed to lose all the excess I gained while I was drinking. This is tremendous. I feel handsome and sexually attractive again for the first time in well over a decade.

I can be somewhere at 7 in the morning if I need to be (I'd prefer not, though!).

More importantly, I can be somewhere when I am needed to be there. I can be someone's emergency contact. I can be present whenever I am needed. I can be responsible to others again.

I have discovered that I can fall asleep without needing to feel tired first, and that I can wake up when I want to - literally. I have finally, after over five decades, managed to handle my body's (or mind's) desire for a day longer than 24 hours. (I don't think this is attributable to stopping drinking, but it is a thing that has fallen into place since then.)

When I drank - When I stopped - How it started - How I stopped - Just one? - Am I in denial? - Why?

How it started...

Like many stories, this one begins once upon a time. More specifically, this phase of this story begins in May of 2000, when I hosted a "Spring clinic" for a bunch of Audi fans. We did a whole bunch of work on some cars that day. A couple of the guys (and, yes, they were all guys) had brought beer - two or three six-packs of some varieties of Heineken or something. Nobody drank any beer, though, as we were all wrenching and/or driving. I ended up with that beer in my fridge. It was in the way.

At that time in my life I had been used to keeping some Rolling Rock on hand for the occasional guest, or possible a bottle of wine for a friend. Actually, both of those phases had ended, so I likely had had nothing of the sort in the house for a while. (Supporting note: I had stopped drinking, from a far lighter habit, back in about 1988.) Those were never really in the way. Three six-packs of beer were.

So one evening I thought, ever so wisely, that I would sample one, and perhaps gradually eliminate them. I didn't really like the beer - was it Heineken or Beck's? I don't really remember. But it was ok, and I liked the little tingle I'd get in my brain from drinking one. So I did just that for several days - had a beer in the evening. Then I remembered that I had a small bottle of Johnny Walker in a cupboard that my Dad had given me over a decade ago, around the time I stopped.

So one night, just for amusement and experimentation, you understand, I also poured a shot or so of that to drink with one of the beers. This was somewhat like, I suppose, going from sniffing a little opium to mainlining heroin... the strong alcohol has an almost instant kick, a feeling just like the slow one from the beer, except it all comes on at once. You feel a little giddy, a little silly. It is fun.

I'm not sure how rapidly this proceeded - I may have only tapped the Scotch every few days, or I may have started a "Scotch and a beer or two" habit pretty rapidly. However it happened, I most definitely started a habit like that. Perhaps a "Scotch or two, maybe doubles, and a beer" habit. I switched to Bass after a little experimentation, and started buying my Scotch in the more economical 1.75l bottles.

Within a couple of years, the habit had increased. I assume this was largely due to two things - becoming tolerant so I needed "a bit more" to get the desired effect, and my tendency to want the things that please me every day, if I can. For quite a while, I was probably getting 4-5 days out of one of those bottles, but it ended up getting down to three.

For the next decade, with the exception of a couple of months one Spring, I drank a beer or two and a sixth of a gallon of Scotch daily.

When I drank - When I stopped - How it started - How I stopped - Just one? - Am I in denial? - Why?

How I stopped...

This is probably the least interesting and most useless part of the story.

It probably took me about five years to quit. Perhaps more, depending on when I really began to face up to the fact that I was killing myself - both in the literal sense of drastically shortening my life expectancy, and in the sense that a lot of the time my heart was beating and I was breathing I was pretty much absent from "life".

Anyway, according to my notes, in the late Winter of 2012 was when I managed to cut back. March of that year was when I put in the listening room walls and moved the stockroom. So, by then, I was down to probably the equivalent of 4 drinks a day - I'm guessing that was 2 or 3 double or less Scotches on ice with a bit of water.

The trouble is that as Spring progressed, I was facing my dreaded annual deadline of another property tax bill being put into lien - and another old one potentially going to deed. That would mean losing my building - becoming essentially homeless and unemployed.

That sort of thought eats at one rather. It occupies one's mind every night while trying to fall asleep. I started having more to drink of an evening in order to quell the anxiety. There was also an element of "giving up" in this - a sense of my own self not being worth the effort to work through the stress. After all, all I had to do was have another drink or two and my thoughts would become cloudy enough that I could sleep without caring about ways to deal with the looming crisis.

(This may have been the first year of the recession - yes, it lasted that long - that a tax bill was headed to deed with my having no hope of covering it in time.)

It was not long before I had allowed myself to drift back to drinking 1/3 of a handle a day again.

That kind of sucked.

I knew I had managed to cut down, I had tasted the benefits, and then let a tough time in life coax me back into my self-destructive ways.

This never really left my mind as the next couple of years went by.

I tried, quite unsuccessfully, to cut back again, but those last few drinks of the night just seemed to happen, with somewhat of a "who cares, fuck it" approach.

By late May of 2014 I was really trying to figure out what I could do. And in the end I came up with a sort of a plan - to separate my work and living conditions in order to be elsewhere during those evenings and nights. To hope that shift would help me just stop entirely, and go from there.

I sent an email to my friend George on May 30th, 2014:

"I'm gonna kick tomorrow" is the junkie anthem.
I have a customer coming at about 2-2:30 PM Saturday to pick up his speaker I repaired.
Then I would like to come over.
And stay for a while. Detox will suck, badly and hard, but rehab will be commuting to HUMAN Speakers and coming home to your place.
I haven't been able to do it on my own, so any help you can offer - and I think this might work - would be very appreciated.
What do you think?

George agreed to let me stay at his home in Greenland. My plan was open-ended - I had no idea what this would be like, or how long it might take before I felt comfortable - or safe - moving back home. I had some cash, and a bit of money in both my Paypal and checking accounts, so I was flexible on how I might have to spend money to make things work.

I packed up a suitcase with 3 or 4 pairs of jeans and t-shirts, and a week or so of underwear, a jacket, and some toiletries.

I wish I remember how I actually felt at the time. Was I scared, nervous, adventurous, bold? I do not remember now.

But late that afternoon - May 31st, 2014, I got in my car and drove over the George's, leaving 1/3 of a handle of Scotch behind at my house. I think he was moderately uncomfortable in some ways - perhaps not sure what it would be like having me stay there - but I know he also really wanted to be of any help he could be. George's father was an alcoholic, and he says it has colored who he is his whole life.

We made a pimped-out frozen pizza, although it was a bit early for me, and I had only been eating when drunk for, oh, over a decade. It went down ok, sort of. Later, he had retired, and I was down in the basement where the room was I would be sleeping in. In somewhat of a nightmare scenario, I couldn't get the TV down there to change channels - it was stuck on a PBS station running a fundraiser featuring a 1950s rock compilation as a donation bonus. I tried every remote I could find in his house to no avail.

I sat there on a futon that was too deep to be comfortable for my back, working a crossword, and going outside every once in a while for a cigarette - that part really sucked. I am so used to just smoking while I continue what I am doing, as opposed to to taking forced "breaks". I thought of going out to grab some food at Cousin Ritchie's or something, but didn't act on it.

I finally went to bed, probably around 2-3 AM, maybe later. Sleep was fitful. I woke up a lot; I sweated a lot. It got light outside. Eventually I got up. I might have showered briefly, and I got dressed. Oddly, I suppose, I felt relatively ok. But I had to go outside to smoke.

Seriously. I had just gone my first night in a dozen years without drinking, most of which time I was drinking almost a fifth of Scotch a night, and all that was getting on my nerves was having to go outside to smoke.

I decided this was going to suck, so I drove home. I retrieved the bottle of Scotch and brought it to Marc to "dispose" of. He seemed quite delighted to be tasked with this. I sat there in my dining room and smoked and drank coffee.

I stayed at home that night. I slept reasonably well, if I recall correctly. But I was pretty disoriented. I had removed the scheduling agent for my entire life. I had no idea when I was "supposed" to eat or sleep. So for the better part of that week, I just ate when I was hungry, and slept when I was tired, or close to it. I got up when I woke up, basically, whenever that was.

By the end of the week I had fallen into somewhat of a rhythm - much to my horror. I was getting up at about 7 AM, which is far too early for me! But I lived with it.

I was sleeping fine. I was not in pain. I wasn't fighting any urges or cravings to drink. This really surprised me.

Over the next few months I managed to drift my schedule back to a more comfortable day beginning around 10-11 AM.

I suppose this was the beginning of some sort of new life. I had made a list of mostly physical symptoms that really bothered me about my drinking, with the idea of tracking when or if they resolved, but I forgot to really keep track, other than noticing that my blood pressure dropped to normal within days, and the colo-rectal issues also vanished very rapidly.

Things seemed to be relatively ok.

Then one Sunday in June, I was at loose ends. I didn't feel that great mentally or emotionally, and I was nervous about that. I managed to drag myself around to the idea of making a batch of chili. Thsi tends to be an all-night project for me, and is kind of fun, and certainly distracting. I was pretty sure I needed a distraction.

I drove the Market Basket around 4 or 5 to pick up supplies. I had my dried beans, a few pounds of steak (I thought it odd that all the lowest-priced steak was gone, but it was Sunday, after all). Then I hit the produce aisle and went into shock. There was none. This was the beginning of the Market Basket leadership disruption, and the truck drivers had gone on a protest strike.

This is the boring part of the story, isn't it? I improvised, I made chili, I survived.

I did not have another bleak afternoon (or any time) like that again, really. Not at least until confronting my insecurities (and relatively failing) over a rather complex relationship with a wonderfully interesting, but very difficult woman three years later.

When I drank - When I stopped - How it started - How I stopped - Just one? - Am I in denial? - Why?

"Just one drink?"
(Alternative title: Will I drink again?)

Now that I do not drink, the question arises, could I drink? That is, could I have "just one drink", or, more generally, drink in moderation?

The trouble with this question is that I simply do not care about the answer.

I have had enough to drink, and enough time spent drinking, for more than a lifetime or two.

In the 3-1/2 years since I stopped, I have had perhaps 3 or 4 days where after 10-12 hours of hard work, the idea of a nice cold Bass was momentarily appealing. Of course, I have no beer in the house, so I would have to go buy one. Judging by the short time for which the idea appealed to me, I wouldn't even want it any more by the time I got to the store. And I just don't get this feeling often enough to make it worth having beer in the fridge "just in case".

Also, on about two occasions, perhaps three, I have seen someone drinking some fine Scotch on TV, or an image a friend posted on the web, and literally been able to taste it (the good stuff) in my mind. But on those occasions I had no desire to actually drink it myself. It was just a reminiscence.

So the question becomes theoretical.

I certainly would not go on a massive bender if I consumed "just one drink". I could buy some beer and just keep track to an extent - don't have one, say, if I had one yesterday - but I don't want to be bothered keeping track of how alcohol fits into my life. Because I don't need it, I don't crave it, and, basically, I don't miss it.

Of course, when I stopped, it made sense to not have anything to drink for a while. The long process of re-learning how my life worked, its rhythms and habits, had to occur in the absence of what had once essentially ruled my schedule every single day. I never had a goal of one day returning to occasional, or even moderate daily drinking. I might be more likely to, if it became legal, smoke a little bit of marijuana of an evening. I'm not sure on that one. They both fog the brain - and I like having my brain back. They not only provide a short-term fog, which is, of course, part of the desired effect, but they have a lingering shadow of dullness or numbness that I don't really think I want to bother with.

I also like being able to be "on call". It was never important when I drank - I am, or was, nobody's "emergency number". But now it is rather nice to know that at any time I could run a mission of mercy. This could literally mean getting in my car or truck and making a physical appearance, or it could mean offering a friend in need some company or consolation safe in the knowledge that I am fully in my faculties - that I will remember what they have been saying, and that what I say will be carefully considered. And, let's face it, a midnight tampon run with one's girlfriend (who has been drinking) is just the sort of adventure I was born for.

Considering how low my desire for a drink of any kind is - damn close to zero - there just doesn't seem to be much point in worrying about whether or not it would be ok to have one.

The few times it has occurred to me, it is not even something I have to wrestle with - the desire or urge simply goes away as fast as any passing fancy.

Oh, I have forgotten to address why this section is titled the way it is. The reason is that there is a dire warning out there that someone with a drinking issue - or, at least, an "alcoholic" - cannot have "just one drink". To take that one drink means an immediate tailspin into a binge, and the loss of everything one has achieved. I am not concerned about that. If I brought home a six-pack today, and had one beer, I would have five beers in the fridge tomorrow.

My main concern would be more long-term - that if I were to start having a drink or two every few days, perhaps in a few years I would be back at the limits of my consumption ability. That is, the process might be slower and more insidious for me.

When I drank - When I stopped - How it started - How I stopped - Just one? - Am I in denial? - Why?

Am I in denial?

I suppose I ask this relative to the unanswered question "am I an alcoholic?"

There are people who are highly invested in having other people use the term. This is not about them or their lives, though.

I'll probably never "know" in a meaningful way. I do know that in this, the second round of consuming alcohol recreationally in my life, I lost control of it, and it ended up in control of me. That certainly sounds like an alcohol use disorder to me.

Perhaps the word "alcoholic" seems too limiting because of the way it is often defined. Calling it a disorder is certainly fair. I was not able to stick to a pleasant routine of moderate drinking. But I fixed that.

When I drank - When I stopped - How it started - How I stopped - Just one? - Am I in denial? - Why?

Why did I drink?

I am adding this postscript because someone recently asked me why I drank. I promised to see if I could come up with an answer.

(This is partly covered in the "How it started" section, but I figure, why not try to answer it explicitly.)

The "reasons" go something like this:

  • To feel like I was "ready to write" - that seemingly limitless high - ie, I liked it. At least at first.
  • It was easy - legal, and moderately safe, as I lived alone and worked in the same place.
  • There was a lack of contraindications that might have slowed me down. I didn't get hung over - no headaches, no stomach upset, and mornings suck anyway.
  • I didn't want to go through withdrawal - this is more of a "why I didn't stop".

In my thinking about it, I have not found any real "classic" reasons, like "self-medication", deep scars soothed, avoidance (that came later), or numbing of pain.

The thing is, there isn't much of an answer to the question in that list. It's boring. There's no reason to drink listed. The first item was something that happened on its own anyway - when I actually was ready to write.

A few days later, I was momentarily "basking" in the glow of, I don't know, probably either managing to play a new song noticably better, or perhaps coming up with a "new" idea, when it hit me:

It simulated the high of achieving something -
without actually having to do so.

It was a shortcut to a great place, a mood that ordinarily would take some effort to get to - but one I reached quite often anyway. It gradually replaced that self-guided process that happened to involve actually creating something out of my own self.

Everything else was just the habit of addiction and fear of the pain of cessation.

So that's my answer. It got me high.

And that suckered me in. I like to "get high" every day - I want to feel good. Don't we all? The stupid part is that I can usually do that on my own - often just by putting some effort into something. By getting what I need to do done, then getting some things I want to do done. But this turned into a "cheap" short-circuit, a cheat. It ended up meaning that I got a hell of a lot less done.

It's been four years since I stopped. The only reason I even know how many years, or the exact date, is the research I did to write the main essay last Autumn.

I was lucky - first, in that those "highs" were something I already knew how to get to without drugs, and secondly - and far more luckily - that the ability to get there on my own returned, in every way I can remember doing it. I may have lost a lot of a decade of my life, but I got my life back.

Main essay 9/17/17

Postscript added 5/31/18

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© Huw Powell

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