Alcoholics can related to this. I’m not sure if others will…
But one of the things that made it so easy for me to continue drinking was that I never had any real consequences. I never was in jail for more than a day or so, the bank never threatened to take my house. My jobs were always more than supportive and somehow I still have all my fingers and toes.
It’s not that I didn’t think about the consequences. I could think about them all day long, but if it were in my head that I was gonna drink, there was simply no stopping me. I didn’t resist at all. There was no debate, no trying to convince myself it was the wrong thing to do. I never tried to talk myself out of it. All of that internal yammering was too painful and willpower is nonexistent when I’m drinking. It was easier to just give in, give up, quit fighting a fight I’d never win.
Even just the “knowing” that I was going to drink gave me instant relief. Like pouring water over an Alka-Seltzer tablet. That immediate, fizzy, bubbly chemical reaction — that’s the uplifting, scientific relief I felt whenever I gave in to alcoholism.
A counselor told me once that I should “play the tape all the way through,” meaning that before I started drinking to stop and think about what would happen from start to finish.
Erm. That’s not how alcoholics do. We don’t have forethought before drinking or willpower when drinking. Consequences are irrelevant. We only see the next drink and never the dominoes falling down afterward.
Seriously, when it comes to drinking my thought process is this: I’m gonna get drunk and I don’t care what happens. My house burns down? Good, now I won’t have to pay the mortgage and will have one less responsibility. That may sound ludicrous but that’s the kind of disconnect I’m talking about here.
Yeah, life could taunt me with blackouts, jails, whatever but none of it mattered once the drink was on or even the decision to drink was made. I was at peace and nothing could touch me.
And then there was that one time I walked into the liquor store door. Like I walked up to and in to the door. And then bounced backward off the glass because it was the exit and it automatically opened for people leaving. I’d like to say that it was a simple mistake but really I was pretty much lit from head to toe.
The whole door wobbled and complained during our encounter. I’d also like to say that I was filled with shame but any embarrassment was muffled by my drunkenness. Because drunkenness is like a wet blanket over the fire, a soggy forcefield that keeps the inferno of reality from being real.
So after solving the automatic door riddle and making it inside, two cashiers and a customer were staring at me with slight alarm. I ignored their stares and made straight for my aisle, as fast as I could while maintaining my composure and balance. Only momentum kept me walking in a semi-straight line.
And then back at the checkout aisle one cashier was still around. He was an older, taller guy wearing concern on his face. Like he wanted to say something, to ask me if I was okay because I obviously wasn’t. I wasn’t fit to be walking let alone driving.
But he didn’t say anything. I’m sure it was because working in a liquor store he’d seen the likes of my kind before and learned the last thing you wanna do is confront an alcoholic when they’re drunk and after more. That’s like poking a bear after his honey.
I don’t remember what I bought from the liquor store that day, only that I made an ass out of myself and was too drunk to know it at the time.
Anyways, see: no consequences. I have a grab bag full of stories just like this where there weren’t any consequences for my actions. Almost always nothing happened other than I got drunk. I was rarely even scolded.
But wait. There were consequences even if I didn’t think about them. Even if alcoholism kept me out of touch with them.
There was the perpetual guilt so harsh that I would cringe, close my eyes, and hang my head. Soaked in regret for the constant humiliation I handed out to my ex-wife and then following it up with gift-wrapped sorries and promises that I’d do better.
I tried to be a good person when I was sober, had all the right morals and so on, but drinking drowned them all. Suffocated every shred of decency. I’d be doing and saying things I would never do sober. After five or so drinks I would be uncontrollably careless. I’m an alcoholic so I’d have twice that and then the real fun would start. I’d say things to people that I didn’t mean, completely smashed, flirting with other women, right in front of my ex-wife. Passing out at a friend’s party at 8pm because my party had started at 8am.
Then I’d wake up plumb full of shame, anxiety through the roof. Should I say something to that dude? Do I owe that girl an apology? Most of the time I wouldn’t say anything at all with the hope that they’d just forget. But you commit enough crimes and people stop forgetting, shit stops blowing over. People start looking at you differently.
And then I’d start drinking all over again as soon as I could and it was like magic. All the guilt and shame would be washed down the drain like dirty bathwater. Alcoholics have mastered tuning out the guilt when we’re turning the drunk dial to 11.
I drank to get drunk from the time I was 15. The last few years I did try really, really hard, though, to keep myself in check, to keep myself from doing stupid shit. But that never happened. I’d stumble around the house, fall into shit, make jokes that weren’t funny. I absolutely hated feeling embarrassed the next morning. All I wanted was to drink, feel that drunken serenity and not make an ass of myself. Lubricated but not falling over if you will.
That’s not something I can do though. My drinking always led me to a black hole I couldn’t pull myself out of.
And there was that piper to be paid.
I read something years ago about civilizations that’s always stuck with me, or it might’ve been on a documentary on TV or whatever.
It was about one of those cities that set up shop at the base of a volcano. And of course the volcano blew its top because that’s what volcanos do. People were running around with their asses on fire and all that shit. But guess what? That’s exactly what the civilization needed, a major catastrophe to make them change. It took a volcano spewing lava all over their whole damn city before they decided to move.
It wasn’t until my ex-wife said that I’d “taken it too far last Christmas” on a Sunday afternoon that I experienced my own desperation, that smashed my cherry, fizzy glass of Alka-Seltzer into a thousand shards. She didn’t say anything more than that but that was enough. She had been on her phone with someone else and I saw a look detachment from her that I’d never seen before. A broken heart set free. She had let go and moved on.
The panic and fear overtook me that afternoon. I was sure that she was going to leave with Maggie, that she had found someone else, that she’d never come back from that day emotionally. The terror was endless, the horrifying possibilities and outcomes laid out before my eyes rattled me to the core. Shook my bones and instilled a fear of rejection in me that I hadn’t felt for a long time.
What I felt in one word was despair.
Tony calls it the “gift of desperation.”
There’s times when we see things off in the distance and they don’t mean much. We don’t pay much attention to them. Because they’re way, way over there. And then there’s other times when things are right in front of us and everything is all too real. We take those times seriously.
There comes a time when we, as alcoholics, know it’s time to stop. We turn a corner and everything changes. The desperation moves us along.
I played dangerous games, took incredible risks and lost. The consequences caught up to me. People went away and then I was sitting on the floor in an empty bedroom a couple of weeks past Valentine’s Day. Sitting with nothing but my own thoughts and cat hair tumbleweeds.
Maybe it’s obvious now that nothing, I mean nothing could plug my jug other than desperation. I’d fritter about and be sober for a day or two, a week here and there. But for longer spells, I really needed to be punched hard in the soul. I needed to wreck my car and not be able to drive away. Well, that never really happened. I always totaled the cars but you get my point.
I had to be filled with desperation from head to toe to fundamentally change, to get to that “soul shift” point. Where I didn’t want to drink any more because the pain of staying the same was greater than the pain of change. As it goes.
And then the good news to counter my sad is that if I, as an alcoholic, continued to drink like I did, continued living at the feet of a volcano, when I least expected it the volcano would erupt and my alcohol fantasy land would collapse.
So why did I write all of this since I’m so far removed from it in the here and now? I don’t know. A few paragraphs from this were originally in an email I sent to a friend a few years back and I needed to put it out there to the cosmos. If you’re an alcoholic, struggling with despair, you’re not alone.
I was telling Sara last night about the time I was in a grocery store and they had 12 packs of my favorite soda. Unfortunately I couldn’t buy just one, the man was sticking it to me (and the world) by forcing me to buy all 12.
So I did what any teenage anarchist would do. I ripped opened the box and pulled out just one can of my favorite soda.
Delighted with myself I took le single can of soda up to the checkout aisle and fetched a crisp one dollar bill from my wallet, feeling confident that would more than cover the cost.
However, when the checkout guy in his maroon apron tried to scan the barcode it failed two or three times. He then gave me a puzzled look and asked me where I had found this particular can. I told him that I got it outta a box in the soda aisle.
His bepuzzlement quickly turned to annoyance and he firmly let me know that I couldn’t do that. The cans weren’t marked for individual sale and therefore wouldn’t be in his system.
Avid readers, that was the day I learned the customer is not always right.
I talk about my dentist now and then because he and his staff are part of my life. And I talk about what’s going on that’s had some kind of impact on me. Granted, sometimes I talk about shit that doesn’t have an impact but whatever.
So anyways awhile back my dentist said he wanted me to use a water flosser to get below the gum line. I brush my teeth and use floss picks because that’s what I do but obviously if he said I should use the Waterpik® then what I do is not enough.
Mostly I’m open to other people’s ideas. I’ve learned that I don’t have all the answers so I picked one up on Amazon and then after I got it, I tried it a few times but always ended up making a huge mess. The pick would be spraying all over the mirror, all over the walls. Water would be in my eyes and ears. The cats would be floating by on their inner tubes. I’m not even kidding.
It was like I had a firehose in my mouth and all that turned into too much chaos for me to deal with. Right before bed is when I’ve always brushed my teeth and having a waterpark in my bathroom when I’m winding down the day is not something I have the patience for.
And then of course every time I go to see my dentist he’d ask me if I’d been using the Waterpik and I’d be like, “well kinda sorta, not really.” A couple of times he’d be kind stern and on my case and that never sits well with me. I seem to have an aversion to people bossing me around. If someone tells me to do something then my standard response is “no, I don’t think so.”
And then of course we got cheated in the teeth department. I mean really, sharks get new teeth all the time and here I am stuck with the same teeth I’ve had since I was 10. That’s bullshit. But sharks are beside the point.
The last time I went to see my dentist we had our typical conversation about the Waterpik and I was fully expecting the hand of judgement to come crashing down. But this time was different. He said that he’d personally just made it part of his routine. He wasn’t telling me something that I needed to do but was instead telling me something he had done for himself.
And I do better when I hear things phrased like that. I admire and respect my dentist so if that’s what he had done, make it part of his routine, then that’s what I wanted to do, too.
I just needed to figure out how. How without my next Amazon purchase being a scuba suit.
Here’s the real story: when I became open to the idea of change it quietly occurred to me that I could brush my teeth and use the Waterpik firehose earlier in the day. Instead of right before bed when I’m tired and just want to go to sleep.
So now I brush my teeth, use my Waterpik, gargle with peroxide mix, and all that razzle-dazzle right when I get home from work. Instead of fighting against something that wasn’t working I found a different way that would work. If I’m frustrated then that’s a sign that I need to “pause, pray, and proceed.” Take a step back and solve whatever problem by another means. Even with something as simple as all of this.
And then this whole affair became all too easy. It’s part of my daily routine now. Using the Waterpik after work I wasn’t tired and had the patience to figure out how to actually use it without turning my bathroom into a carwash. I still brush my teeth right before bed, too, so now I’m up to brushing 2-3 times a day. I’m practically a dentist myself.
I’m pretty grateful that I can be flexible today. That I can let go of the rigidity of this is how I do things because this is how I’ve always done them. Dogma is bullshit. Even more so when I enforce or inflict it upon myself.
If I want what I’ve always had then all I need to do is what I’ve always done. But if I want something more maybe I should try something new.
Also, if you need a dentist mine is great. His whole staff is awesome. Well, one of the younger techs is kinda bossy so I don’t pay much mind to her.
As he should be because it’s his job to take care of me when I’m not taking care of myself. ↑
It’s funny that I struggle with the trivial things probably way more than the complex guys. I think that’s because I go into “I don’t wanna deal with this insignificant bullshit. I got other shit to do” mode. ↑
For whatever reason the Chicago Tribune left newspapers on my sidewalk for three days in a row. I like that because reading the paper from start to finish broadens my horizons. I come across articles and the like that I wouldn’t have sought out on my own.
Like this particular Dear Abby-ish piece about a couple that was having a fundraiser with the funds coming from a cash bar. Another couple had shown up with their own wine and proceeded to drink out in the yard or something.
So then the columnist’s advice was to just bluntly ask them about it.
“Daisy and Tom, we found a pile of wine bottles on the lawn near your car, and I think they came from you and your guests. What’s up with that?”
The thing I like most about this was the such few words the columnist offered to the person who wrote in. It wasn’t War and Peace, it was two sentences.
“Here’s what you did that upset me. Why did you do that?”
When I have something to say to someone about something they’ve done I can get nervous. And when I get nervous I can talk too much. And talking too much dilutes and pollutes what I’m trying to say. Those extra words make the conversation harder than it needs to be.
Emotionally tip-toeing around the subject can put me on the defensive with an aggressive person. It can give them the upper hand since the spotlight is on me and my nervousness instead of on them for what they did in the first place.
Confrontation isn’t easy for passive people like me. I regularly deal with a guy who’s consistently combative, who’s in it to win. Well, he’s in it to be right. At all costs. Whenever he gets a chance to be “right” he stomps the gas, squeals and smokes his tires, and barrels ahead full throttle. He swerves all over the road with pure emotional adrenaline fueling his words and actions.
I’m not a fan of funny cars so I do my best to diffuse those situations with objective facts. Because I don’t care about being right anymore. I care about having great relationships with people. If I’m wrong, so be it. Me saying that I’m wrong let’s me have those phenomenal relationships. Me saying that I’m right when I’m obviously not only makes us both lose.
But back to my point. Me calling people out has never been my strong suit. I don’t like it. It makes me uncomfortable. I want other people to feel safe and I want to feel safe as well.
And then the cosmos goes and puts me in situations that make me uncomfortable, to teach me things I need to learn. And often it seems as if those same lessons come up again and again until I do get comfortable with them.
The good news is that when I need to confront someone, I don’t need to minimize or maximize what they’ve actually done. I just need to be clear, concise, and direct. Just like the columnist suggested. It made me feel good reading her article, too, to be reminded again that this struggle is real for a lot of people and not just me.
In related news: when I’m done writing what I try to do is go back and take out all the bullshit, all the fluff that gets in the way of what I’m trying to say. Because I over complicate. I want to talk about this and then I want to talk about that and then there’s this other thing that I want to say. Really though, it’s about condensing what I’m trying to say so people understand.
Confrontation is in the same realm. What is it that I need to say? Once I figure that out then all that’s left for me to do is say it.
I tell this Microsoft story now and then because it gave me a little spiritual insight. It changed everything.
One afternoon I overheard a conversation between a sales guy and his boss. The salesman had had a hard conversation with a customer and it frazzled him. He was still upset when replaying the conversation to his boss. The boss said to him plain and simple, “you need to take the emotion out of it.”
Now that’s in the true spirit of detachment. I don’t have to get all emotional about things. I make situations worse when I do. I only need to take a minute to regain my composure. Then simply state the obvious. It doesn’t hurt for me to first say a little prayer either. Tapping into the universe will give me all the strength and courage I need in hard situations.
Moving from someone who’s anxious to someone who’s confident has a lot to do with me just getting fundamentally okay. My past can hold me back in the present so letting go of my garbage from yesterday frees me up to be fully present and able today. It frees me up to confront roaring lions and noisy drag racers.
But still… I’m only human.
So yesterday I got a little cranky with one of my neighbors. There’s a retention pond behind our houses and she’s gotten in the habit of dumping her lawn refuse under one of the retention pond’s trees. And then when I look out my back window or am in my backyard, I see a big pile of her yard garbage.
I don’t get how people can be so selfish and it pisses me off to no end when that spills over onto me. What is it with these people? It’s always me, me, me. It’s like the other neighbor and her little barking dog. Why does she let him be outside barking all the time?
Anyway, yesterday the first neighbor and her wheelbarrow of yard bullshit were headed over to the retention pond. It was the first time I’d literally caught her in the act. When she saw me, she and her wheelbarrow did a 180 back toward her yard. I pointed to the spot she’s been dumping and said borderline belligerently, “you can’t dump that there.”
Oops. I came across more aggressive than I would’ve liked. Definitely had some punch in my words. Too many times seeing her trash pile, though, and then I was blurting belligerence before I knew it.
And that’s where I went wrong in yesterday’s confrontation. I shouldn’t let emotion build up until it comes spewing out. Most importantly, I should never be an asshole when confronting someone. I need to “take the emotion out of it” first.
It’s true that sometimes people need to get a little feeling in their scolding. Seems like it motivates them a smidge more when they know what they’ve done has really gotten on someone’s nerves or hurt their feelings. But still, everybody is human and even though some are selfish, most people are walking around as clueless as me.
What I should’ve done (long ago) is simply knocked on her door and said, “Your yard debris belongs in refuse bags and not under that tree. Please don’t dump it there anymore.”
Yeah, that looks good on paper but I don’t know if I’m that spiritually advanced.
Going to someone’s house is a nice idea and all but most likely something I’ll never do. I’m not that guy. I’ll never be able to bench press 200 pounds either because that’s not the kind of personality that I have.
But even if I never get to be the guy who walks up and confronts a neighbor assertively after the fact, just knowing that’s the loving and true way to handle those situations, makes me a bigger person. Just “knowing” even if we’re not capable of always “doing” puts us on the right spiritual path.
And I’ve had above average success confronting people when I just make my point in a loving manner. I’m grateful that the people in my life aren’t jerks, don’t mean to be an asshole anymore than I do.
Believe it or not the majority of people are receptive to hearing that they’ve made a mistake. And then they feel bad just as I do, just as we’re all supposed to when we screw up. Dropping the ball is all part of being human. It’s how we learn and grow and become better people, become more than who we’ve always been.
While I was sitting with my nicotine withdrawal earlier, I was saying my morning prayers, asking god to take my nicotine addiction away, take all the pain and discomfort. And then I started to get crabby because these withdrawals have been going on for well over a month. Fucking Greg.
And then I kind of scolded myself, “God’s got nothing to do with this.”
My nicotine withdrawal is the consequence of decades of smoking. My smoking. No amount of praying is going to take that physical pain away. Sure, the cosmos can give us everything we need to make it through our struggles but we still have to deal with any bullshit that we’ve created.
And then I think, “haven’t I suffered with this enough?”
And then I think again, “no, karma is fair and balanced.”
Karma doesn’t torture us. We do.
Sometimes I think that I struggle more than I should, though. I can and do make life harder than it needs to be. I’m just not good at it. I know how to make crazy. Because it’s my go to.
And then I was thinking of what Scott Peck wrote in the late 70s:
Life is difficult.
Nothing else stood out in The Road Less Traveled more to me than that. Not that I’m on the same cosmic level as him but I think it would’ve been more appropriate to say that “life is balanced.” He may have wrote that, too, but I don’t remember.
Sure, life is hard and full of struggles but it’s absolutely magnificent, too.
Just living can be frustrating, disappointing, aggravating but it’s also fulfilling, magical, and surreally spectacular.
So what to do when I’m annoyed with myself and the mess I’ve made? When there’s nothing left for me to do on my end? I stop thinking about me and my horrors and look around to see what else is going on. What’s good happening in the cosmos?
Because even when the sky is gray and the air rainy, the world is beautifully overflowing with sweet Jesus goodness. It’s got flowers and everything.
This scene is my truck. I’m barreling north on Randall Road and need to turn left at the next intersection. There’s a handful of cars that are also barreling south toward the intersection. Because everybody’s got to get to work.
The light is green for both sides. Timing will be close but the southbound traffic has the downhill advantage. I add a little acceleration to the equation. A little horsepower to even the odds.
The light turns yellow so I slow down and then stop at the red light.
I’m always grateful when the cosmos saves me from myself. 😊