I have very little to write about these days. I run. I don’t drink. That’s been the basic state of this blog for the past year, it seems. I can only imagine my readership is bored as shit, and that’s borne out in the stats: fewer and fewer people are reading this. That’s fine. I’m not insulted. I’m just boring. For an alcoholic, a boring life is a good life.
Exciting things were always happening to me when I drank. I never knew when I’d decide to fuck it and leave the country. When I’d get in trouble. When I’d hurt myself. When I’d get arrested. Life was draining and miserable and eventful. As a sober man, it’s not like that.
Today my life is pretty ordinary. I have a house that needs professional work on a regular basis. I have a partner who lives in a nearby city with whom I get on very, very well. My health is good. My fitness is improving. I have a growing career that supports me. I have professional success and recognition. I’m comfortable.
I have challenges. I’m lazy. I’m sometimes dishonest. I’m quick to judge and often defensive. I have to face those attributes and work regularly to alleviate them. I regularly have to apologize. But I’ve found that addressing those things and apologizing when I fail isn’t the excoriating process it once was.
I have less to say. I’ve stepped away from a lot of the culture wars. I simply don’t have much to offer there, and the world doesn’t really need another privileged voice shouting about what ought to be. I’m happy to follow new leaders there. Fine people have fine things to say, and I’m not usually able to add more.
I don’t have a lot of reason to write at the moment. I’m not solving great problems of identity anymore. I’m not struggling to maintain a new lifestyle. I’ve wrung the blood from all these stones. I normally write when I’m unhappy. But I’m almost never unhappy anymore, except when my house is leaking. And that will get fixed, like all things get fixed.
I’m 40 years old. I’m healthy. I have a life partner. I’m gainfully employed. And I’m happy. This is what sobriety does. This is how Alcoholics Anonymous helps us. It’s opened me up, so that I can experience all the wondrous things in the world. I am a better me, now. And I know how to live here.
My brilliant and incredible Aunt Julie can do anything. She got me a bib for the Marine Corps Marathon. So, October 25th, 2015, barring injury or apocalypse, I will run the 40th Annual Marine Corps Marathon in our nation’s capital. My partner, BB, will be running beside me. I’m so excited and happy. This summer is going to be a long, tough running summer. We are determined to not just go out and run a 5 and a half hour marathon. We want to be fit and ready and not be done and hate running afterwards. Which means running and running and running to train right.
Not just miles. Hill repeats. Tempos. Training well, carefully. Thoughtfully. Running 26.2 miles is not a trivial task, and requires careful preparation to avoid injury. Especially when you’re a 40 year old man without much of a history of fitness. But I’m on my way to being healthier, and likelier to avoid the diabetic-stroke fate of my father.
When we get closer to the date, I’m going to post a link to my Aunt and Uncle’s charity and ask people interested in my journey to contribute to their charity. They help the families of fallen warriors, especially Marines, go on with their lives. Including those warriors who die of suicide after they come home. It’s a very small charity but they do good work. And I love them dearly.
Tonight, I’m excited. I’m going to be a marathoner.
The last day has been a real series of ups and downs. Well, a lot of ups yesterday and a big down this morning. Yesterday, I received notice that I won a small grant to do my hospital simulation research. It will have enough money to pay a student intern and attend a conference. I’m incredibly lucky that my research doesn’t have animals or reagents or consumables of any kind. I just need access and some expensive software which I already own.
Then I got some much-needed data from a collaborator. This is really exciting because I get to be middle author on a very cool project. I would be justified in putting myself first or last (I’m going to do most of the data analysis and write the manuscript), but I’m going to make our project lead the first author. She’s never done any publishing. She led a hell of a project. And she’s eager to learn more and demonstrate herself in a new arena. It’s exciting to put her first. And frankly, my CV will be bolstered by a few middle-author papers. Right now, I’m first or senior on almost all my papers. I need more in the way of “plays well with others”.
I had a good run after a long day of work. A little more than four miles. My legs were a little tired, but I eased up around mile 1.5, and was able to put in a good 40 minute run only two days after finishing what was, for me, a very fast half-marathon. Today I run again, same distance, same speed. Trying to keep my legs and aim for sustained, long-term fitness. Managing fitness is a lot like managing sobriety. I have to do the things I have to do in order to stay where I want to be. Sometimes that feels arduous, sometimes it’s fabulous. But it’s simple and straightforward.
And then, this morning, I didn’t get in to the Marine Corps Marathon. BB did. She has a bib. I don’t. And I’m very, very sad. I feel really crushed right now. I wasn’t expecting not to get it, and I really wasn’t expecting to feel this bad if I didn’t. I’m sad and feel kind of hopeless and miserable. I know it will pass rapidly. There are other ways to get bibs. More expensive. They require luck too. I’m tempted to just snap-signup for a different fall marathon to fix it. But that would be a mistake.
I need to sit with my disappointment. Experience my emotions. I always drank to avoid feeling. I thought emotions were for weak people who couldn’t apply logic and stoicism. Now, I’ve realized that acknowledging and experiencing emotions is a sign of real strength. Façades of (usually male) bravado and perfectly even-keeled temperament are just ways to hide fears of weakness and vulnerability. But I’ve found that real vulnerability isn’t a weakness.
So today I’m sad about a thing that isn’t really a huge deal. Just a thing I wanted. I’ll find another marathon to run, or another way to run this one. And I’ll be perfectly ok. Because not getting to run one’s first choice of recreational marathons isn’t a real problem. It’s only barely a pretend problem. But I still get to be sad. I get to be me.
What a race! BB and I ran the Virginia Beach Shamrock Half-marathon side by side, and we destroyed our previous personal record. We went from 2:14:44 to 2:05:03. A reduction of 9 minutes and 41 seconds. Or, essentially, more than a mile faster. Meaning, compared to our last half-marathon, we were finishing this one while we still had more than a mile to go in the last one. We’ve now taken more than 33 minutes off of our time since our first race, last May.
So, in less than a year, we’ve sped up by about 20%. And, for the first time, I finished in the top half of the field. I was beaten by only about 35% of the people running this race! I was still in the bottom half of men, and of men my age. I find it interesting that the half-marathon was run by almost 3000 more women than men. I don’t know if that’s a trend, or if it’s peculiar to this race, this time.
The first four miles of the race were hard. It was crowded, slow, and we hadn’t had anything like an appropriate amount of coffee. After the first 45 minutes though, it spread out and we loosened up. At the 10K mark, we realized we were making pretty good time, and had conserved a fair bit of energy. We picked up speed without really meaning to, and continued to accelerate through the end of the race. Our final mile was our fastest, turning in an 8:40.
I feel confident that if we’d started a few corrals closer to the front, we’d have taken a minute or two off our time just by not being blocked up with the slower runners. Something to fix next time perhaps. Though our next race is going to be slow on purpose; hillier and with a friend who’s running for the first time.
But overall, I could not be happier with this race. We had great company, a great run, managed the course reasonably well, and shattered our personal record. My new Hoka One One shoes felt great, and my neuroma didn’t bug me. A completely stellar day, all around. The kind of day you run for. The culmination of a lot of work, and a lot of tough days. Bad days. Hard days. Well, this time, it all built up to a great day. That’s a great reward.
This weekend, BB and I, and our friend @SciTriGrrl, are running the Virginia Beach Half-marathon. I’m super excited even though my foot is not in great condition. I’m fit for the race, legs, lungs, heart, etc., but my left foot has been bugging me for a little more than a month. I get shooty nerve-things in the toes of my left foot when I walk barefoot on hard surfaces. And I get tingly and fiery feelings when I run too far, or too fast. I’ve bought new shoes and made a few changes to my training routine. I think I’ll be ok for the event.
BB and I have been really working hard. Training 5-6 days a week, gym and running. I’ve put in almost 50 miles running so far this month, and I did 60 in February despite taking a week off while sick. In the next two days my final training runs will be about 4 miles apiece. Then, 13.1 miles Sunday morning after two days of rest. I have fancy new shoes that are super cushiony, and supposed to be good for returning from injury. I’m hopeful that they, and the sensible training/rest regimen will allow my foot to heal.
We’re aiming for a personal record. And I think we’ll hit it. Currently, our record in the half-marathon is 2:14:44. But we’ve been consistently running at well under that pace in our long training runs. Less than two weeks ago, I crushed my personal record for a practice run in the 10K. 53:32. The idea that I can run six straight sub-9 minute miles is absurd. This former drunk, obese, pack-a-day smoker. All it takes is time, consistency, willingness, and the luck not to get too badly injured.
I’m thinking I may need to take another whole week off from running, let my foot heal, and build back up slowly. I don’t know what the best plan is. But I think a lot of shorter runs and slower paces will help. Luckily, the next race we have planned, in May, is not a race we’re going to try for any speed in. It’s a hillier course, and we’ll be running with a friend for whom it’s his first race. Our plan is to go slow and steady and just finish. I think that I can handle that.
And now I’m looking for a good challenging thing to do the week of August 10-16. BB will be traveling internationally for a trail running and yoga women’s retreat. I’m going to do something fun and physically challenging so that she can’t say she was the only one to do something hardcore that week. There are trail half marathons in Europe and the USA that week that I might do, including the possibility of the Pikes Peak Ascent, which is a 13.3 mile run straight up a 14,000′ mountain in Colorado.
We’ll see. I’m excited about various possibilities. Right now, I just want to run this weekend and have a great time doing it. Which means a 4 miler today, and again tomorrow. And then some rest.
I guess this is the seventh March 17th in a row I’ll be sober. I have nearly no memory of St. Patrick’s Day as a drunk. Not because I was too drunk to recall, but because I never bothered to note it. I was a daily drinker. In the 5 years prior to my getting sober, I bet there were only 5-10 days I didn’t drink at all. And probably only 15-20 I didn’t get drunk. So for me, there was nothing special about the holiday. But for many other drunks, holidays were really special.
First of all, let’s dispense with the notion that all alcoholics drink or drank the way I did. Yes, I was a pretty common archetype, but there are no rules when it comes to alcoholic drinking. Science and medicine have defined “abuse” and “dependency” and those are useful for studying physiologic effects, etc.. But they don’t define alcoholism the way we do. The way that’s important for recovering from alcoholism. There are alcoholics who drink every day, like me. There are alcoholics who drink monthly. The frequency and the amount don’t define an alcoholic. We tend to use this:
When you drink, can you reliably predict and control how much you’ll have? Do you drink more than you want to, and do things that wish you wouldn’t?
People who answer yes to these questions may or may not be identified as alcohol abusers or alcohol dependent. But they are likely in need of recovery, lest they end up suffering severe consequences in their lives, and cause irreparable harm in the lives of others. Which is why people like this, like me, tend to hide their drinking. We pour vodka into coke cans, we hide bottles around the house. We fill the gin bottle back up with water. All the little things that add up to attempting to conceal how bad the problem is.
St. Patrick’s Day, and other drinking holidays (which, let’s be honest, is most of them), allow us to throw off the cloak. It’s socially acceptable to get drunk today! No one can hector us and criticize us. The whole world is drunk today! Why shouldn’t we be as well?
The answer, of course, is long and categorical. First of all, we alcoholics manage to get far too drunk even for other drunks. We ruin even things that are centered around inebriation. I’ve done my share of that. And yours. And as well, when we are able to drink in public, instead of in secret, our resentment at having to hide our ordinary drinking often reveals itself in hateful ways. Recriminations against those who love us but who want us to be different. Against bartenders who think we’ve had enough. Against decorum and society itself.
But I preferred the closet. Or strangers. I preferred to drink around people who wouldn’t judge me. Didn’t hate me. I liked to drink alone and in quiet. I could get what I needed from the alcohol and not have to justify myself to anyone or expose myself to greater risks than I was used to (driving drunk was habitual.).
I find the ridiculous paeans to drunkenness of St. Patrick’s Day mildly annoying, at least at some point during the day. I can often tell who’s spiraling toward irretrievable alcoholism and who’s just having a fun time. Not always. But I’m not tempted by the holiday. I count myself lucky for that. I know lots of sober drunks who really miss it on the manufactured drinking holidays. March 17th. May 5th. I’m fortunate that those have never been stumbling blocks for me.
Because I still like to be alone. Or, now, in intimate company. Real companions, quiet places. I just don’t need the alcohol to be there anymore. So go enjoy your St. Patrick’s Day. Get drunk if you like. I’ll be going to the gym after work, and then relaxing in the bath. Without my booze. Without my razor blade. I have roasted pork loin in the fridge. And a much simpler life than I used to. And a much happier one.
I had some bad dreams last night. Drinking dreams. I dreamed that on my recent vacation with BB, I had actually had a few drinks. Never been drunk, but had a drink or two from time to time. And in fact, I dreamed that I had done that several times since quitting my alcoholic-level drinking. In the “present tense” part of the dream, I was sitting with my old sponsor, Mickey, in a hot tub. He asked me if I’d drunk on the trip. I told him I’d had one sip. I said I didn’t want to give my coin back just because I’d had a sip. I hadn’t gotten drunk.
And there is my own signature brand of lying. Mixing truth in to the lie so that it’s easier to tell and harder to detect. The lies I tell when I drink. Using that ability to say false things convincingly, to sand edges off of sharp truths, to get what I want. To get others to agree I deserve what I want. I like to think I don’t tell lies in sobriety. But sometimes I still do.
In “How it Works”, the chapter of the book Alcoholics Anonymous, there is a paragraph on those who cannot seem to recover. It describes them as people who cannot or will not be honest with themselves. We say, “They are not at fault. They seem to have been born that way.” I am capable of being honest with myself: I know I am an alcoholic. I know I have a tendency to deceive. To manipulate. To jerrymander.
The most difficult part of my honesty with myself is deciding when I’m at fault. The easiest thing to do is to find reasons that someone else is to blame for my indiscretions. Or that no one is. But the truth, the difficult truth for me, is deciding that I am to blame, and that even if I don’t “deserve” the consequences, I still earned them. I feel this way about a lot of things. That even if I did contribute to my own difficult situation, I didn’t deserve the fallout.
The truth is, well, complicated. But I’ve earned the vast, vast majority of the bad things that have happened to me are largely of my own making. Through bad decisions, or lies. Telling the truth has gotten more natural to me. It takes training. I think it’s associated with fear, all this alcoholic mendacity. I am so terrified that someone would find and see the real, broken, ashamed, miserable, small, pathetic me, that I’d rather fabulate something entirely and risk that being exposed. Because even if you did uncover my lies, you still haven’t found the real self you could hurt. Pitchfork all my scarecrows. You can’t hurt me.
But that kind of dishonesty protects us from intimacy in addition to harm. I have come, in my sobriety and my maturity (such as it is) to respect and value intimacy and vulnerability in ways that I entirely abhorred as a young man; a drunk. Isolation is the helpmate of the drunkard. As a sober man, I’ve learned some of the value of being known. Being explored with tenderness rather than scrutiny.
Intimacy, as a younger person and an addict, all felt like a throat culture; a needle biopsy. Being penetrated painfully and scraped and examined and tested and torn. It was horrible and clinical and violating. It took several things to recover from that state. Including the careful and gentle efforts of a very fine psychologist. With whom I fought bitterly for a long time, only realizing after a long time that I was fighting with myself, my past, my fear. My lies.
Emotional intimacy in sobriety, now that I’ve done the work, is better. It’s… intimate. And sometimes still painful. It takes a long time to heal. But I have slowly put this self back together. One false step. One long stride. And now I’ve begun to run.