A couple of days ago, I passed out at my desk. Now, I have a lot of experience passing out from alcohol. This was not like that. I felt hot and tingly. It came on very suddenly. I felt very disoriented, and then I lost consciousness. I awoke a moment or two later, drenched in sweat and feeling very weak.
It took me a moment to gather myself. I took off my jacket, and found my shirt soaked through and I was still dripping. After a few minutes, I felt strong enough to stand and head to the bathroom, where I locked myself in a stall and called a friend of mine who is a physician, and he ran me through a long series of questions.
Short version is, I think it was something called Vasovagal Syncope. I’ve passed out like that once before that I recall (about 7-8 years ago), right after a very hot bath. In both cases, I was very dehydrated. Tuesday, I was down almost 4.5 pounds of water weight. I drank a Gatorade, and then had lunch. I felt better and yesterday I felt fine all day.
Yesterday evening I wanted to skip my meeting and work out. I found myself thinking: “I don’t need a meeting, I’m doing fine.” Yeah. That’s how desperate my disease gets sometimes. I’m not fine. My anxiety levels are so high I’m passing out, apparently. I needed to get to my meeting, so I got to my meeting. And shared about the episode and these other feelings.
So, we move forward and on. And I hope I stay upright. I’m seeing my doctor Monday, to talk about the “hernia” and the fainting episode. We’ll get me straightened out.
I’m in an impatient place at the moment. My anxiety has been off the charts lately, about everything. Health, home, work. I’m disappointed at how rapidly my fitness falls off when I take a break. Even just a few weeks off and I feel like I’m substantially degraded from my peak at the end of November. And I’ve been injured.
My big injury from the scooter crash is mostly healed. My knee will need a couple of months before it’s back to normal, but it’s just a scab at this point, and doesn’t hurt unless I kneel on something hard. My ribs, which were significantly bruised, are at about 95% now, and I can do things like push-ups without shrieking in unholy agony. But I also have a more enigmatic injury.
I pulled something or tore something or did something to my right lower abdomen. Reasonably close to where it would be, I think, if it were a hernia. It doesn’t hurt, exactly. It’s just there. And has been for a month now. I’m terrified and very anxious that it’s a small hernia. But it doesn’t seem to fit what I know about hernias in other ways.
It doesn’t, for example, have any bulging or hurt a lot. It seemed to get better after a two week rest, but then got worse again when I started running and working out again. But the truth is, I don’t really know much about hernias, and so I don’t know if this is one or isn’t. I should probably go see my doctor. And I will if it doesn’t get better. I did a good hard workout yesterday, including a bunch of stuff that hit my abs, and it feels fine today (though it is not gone, just there, but not painful).
So I’m annoyed that I’m injured and not healing rapidly. I’ve been working on doing pull-ups for about two months now, and I can do two sets of eight, as long as I have a support strap assisting me. I still can’t do one with no assist. I’m getting stronger, slowly but surely, but it takes time. I’m just vaguely disappointed that it’s so hard to get into shape, but easy to get out of shape.
Getting reasonably fit has been, now, nearly a four year process. In that time I’ve dropped 55 pounds, and gone from being able to run a quarter-mile to being able to run 14 miles. Now, of course I could have done that faster and better by being scientific and disciplined about it from the outset. But I did it the way I’ve done everything: idiosyncratically, foolishly, haphazardly. Without direction or plan. It’s worked, mostly.
Now that I have a partner who actually understands how to train and improve rapidly, I’ve make great strides in a short time by following her advice (mostly). That’s wonderful. And I’m now in a place where the training needs to be more disciplined because it really is easy to injure yourself when running for hours at a time. And I suck at that discipline.
I want it to be fast. Just like I wanted to suddenly be 20 years sober, and wise. Learning how to slow down and enjoy the journey is hard for me. I can see it in the way I run, versus the way BB runs. When I run, I stare at the pavement 6 feet in front of me. BB looks around and sees things, like deer and other people and bicycles about to run us down.
I’m tempted to say, “I need to do a better job of enjoying my journey.” But that’s placing more pressure on myself. I should relent and let go of needing to do a better job. Relax. Let myself miss things, let myself be imperfect. Here is my life. This is my time. Pause. Breathe. And then run.
I give up. I am pulling back from things I tried to force because I wanted to be popular and important. I like being popular. I like people respecting me and wanting to be around me. But none of that is good for me. Pursuing it is not good for my ego, and I don’t like the me I become when I do it. I don’t need to be spotlighted.
I struggle over and over with this. I feel like I’ve written this same post half a dozen times. That’s ok. I learn slowly, and it takes me time to understand what I’ve done wrong. Recently, I’ve been trying to have my opinion valued by people who don’t value other people’s opinions. I want them to consider my thoughts and experience, despite knowing that that’s not what they do.
I want to be important. But import rapidly becomes a negative quality in me. When I start struggling to make myself heard, I am struggling with my own sense of worth. I try to bolster it externally, by convincing others of it. As if their opinion of me could change how I feel about myself.
Sobriety is in large part a journey of serenity. I seek peace of mind first of all. But I’m easily confused. I can convince myself that I will achieve peace of mind by having people agree with me, and value my ideas. But external gratification is a phantom. Being validated is ephemeral. Finding serenity and peace can only be achieved by looking within.
I do not need to convince others of my value, of my opinion. Because I do not need to be right. I do not need to have influence. I am not important, and that’s a good thing. I need to return to my center. My peace is found in recognizing my limits, not striving against others, and doing the good that is available for me to do. And to do that, I need to remove myself from some places that I don’t belong.
One of my friends (with whom I often clash a bit) over on twitter is Sciliz. A while ago, she commented that as an alcoholic in recovery I had finally found my hammer and now everything was looking rather nailish to me. That was about seven months ago, and I’ve been thinking about it periodically ever since. And I have come to believe that she was exactly right.
I have found my hammer, and yes, a lot of things look like nails to me. Huge swaths of the negativity in my life were centered around the fact that I couldn’t stop drinking. And I couldn’t stop drinking because I’m an alcoholic. And because I felt ill at ease with the world, and needed to address that ill ease with chemical obliteration. When I became sober, and worked the steps of AA, I discovered that I was able to remain sober, yes. But far more important, I was able to address the terrible discomfort I felt in the world in a new way.
And it works for me, as it has worked for millions of sober alcoholics. And as I believe it will work for any alcoholics able to devote themselves to working the program. I cannot say if every alcoholic is capable of that, I don’t know. But for the ones who are capable, the program works. We learn to re-enter society as productive, healthy, happy contributors. People who face life on life’s terms, as we say, and make progress.
But I need to respect that this is my hammer. And these are my nails. I recently had an experience where trying to advise someone who is not an addict or an alcoholic on using program-type tools to address other issues has not worked. And it hasn’t worked in a couple of important ways: first of all, it hasn’t addressed the issue they have; second, my suggestion was not useful in our interaction. My insistence that their problem was a nail, and that they should use my hammer resulted in friction.
Looking at where this comes from in me is crucial to my own development. Many people tell me that AA doesn’t or can’t work. Many scientists tell me that because AA doesn’t “work” for everyone that means it’s just an elaborate placebo. I confess that this makes me somewhat defensive. It’s important to me that the program “works”. Because I use it, and I stay sober, and I’ve watched so many other people recover and become happy and productive through it.
Of course, there’s no science behind AA’s program, and there’s never been any useful science studying it, because we don’t really have the first clue how to measure sobriety or effectiveness for something like AA. The tools we use in science actively prohibit appropriate analysis of AA’s program. It is, in my opinion, currently impossible to study at the level of rigor required by academic science. As such, I can ignore it when scientists draw profound conclusions about AA. They don’t get it, and they don’t need to.
But I want the program to work in the lives of others, because I want them to gain what I’ve gained: relief from addiction, anxiety (Often, not always!), depression, self harm. But the fact is, the program doesn’t work for everyone. And it is far less likely to work for people who are not addicts or alcoholics for things that it was not really designed to address.
And that’s ok. This is my hammer. These are my nails. I can support non-alcoholics through their own trials without needing to guide them along the path I’ve walked. It’s arrogance to presume that that’s the right thing to do. But arrogance is one of my nails. Defensiveness is one of my nails. And I have a hammer for them.
In 2006, in early May, I was arrested for drunk driving. When I used to drink, I drove drunk a great deal. I believed I was “good at it”. And, compared to merely occasional drinkers, maybe I was. After all, I never had an accident and I frequently drove with blood alcohol levels that were dangerously high. The day I was arrested, my BAC was 0.19%. More on that later.
I have to say, my experience being arrested for drunk driving wasn’t terrible, as such things go. I had had two bottles of wine and some bourbon. I don’t know how much. Over the course of several hours. I hadn’t been intending to go anywhere that evening, but my then-girlfriend called me and asked me to come over. So I hopped in my car and off I went. That’s not to place any blame on her: it was 100% my decision and my error. If I had told her I couldn’t come over because I was drunk, there’d have been hell to pay, but she would have told me not to come over.
I made it almost all the way to her home, about 20 miles away. I had taken the highway exit near her home, about half a mile away, when the lights came on behind me. I quickly lit a cigarette to try to hide the smell. The cop, already in my window, said, “That won’t help.” Someone had called about my car weaving. The officer asked if I’d been drinking, and I said I’d had three drinks. He asked me out of the vehicle and told me to stand on one foot. I said, “I doubt I could do that if I hadn’t been drinking.”
I couldn’t. He told me, “I’m going to take you into custody for driving while intoxicated tonight.” I said, “That sounds about right.” The officer made an obvious point of sizing me up, and asking me if I was ok, and calm. I said I was. He told me to hold my hands out, and he cuffed me in front, rather than behind my back. Then he led me to the car, and asked me, “Are you ok? Not going to try anything on me?” I said something like, “Certainly not, sir.” He said, “I’m going to have you sit up front. I’ve got my dog in the back.” Indeed he did. A huge and frightening German Shepherd.
He emptied my pockets. Then he asked me, “Do you have any cash, your bail is going to be about $300.” I said I didn’t. He said, “I’ll drive you through an ATM so you can get some cash.” It occurred to me then, as now, that perhaps he was intimating at a bribe, but on the balance of things, I think not. I got the cash, and he tucked it into my wallet. Then, he took me to jail where I was processed. About two hours later, I was brought into a small room. I asked if I needed a lawyer, and the person there (a different officer) said, “You can have one if you want, but it’s late and they probably won’t get here until morning. If you want to wait…”
I didn’t. I was guilty and I knew it. I took the breathalyzer, more than two hours after I was arrested. A few hours after that I was given my things back and released on my own. My car was towed and I was informed I would not be allowed to pick it up for 24 hours. Overall, this was a reasonably pleasant experience as miserable experiences go. I paid several fines and fees. I attended a victim’s impact panel and 12 or 16 alcohol counseling sessions over the next six months. I didn’t quit drinking for almost two more years.
Does anyone believe that my experience would have been the same if I were black, or latino? Does anyone believe that I would have had the option to be cuffed in front, sit in front, be driven to an ATM? Have a pleasant conversation with the officer? Even have been given the opportunity to converse with the officer? Obviously, I don’t know anything about that particular cop. But I doubt that my experience is typical for non-white offenders.
Here’s what I think: Some cops are racist assholes, but lots of cops are simply scared shitless every time they put on the uniform and fire up the lights. They’re told their job is dangerous. And it certainly involves a lot of difficult and dangerous situations, though the numbers I’ve seen suggest it isn’t among the most dangerous careers. I generally respect the cops I’ve encountered, and appreciate that they do difficult work, and take risks. And that fear drives many to act rashly.
When that rashness and fear are combined with institutionalized racism, entrenched poverty, and societal fears about the supposed dangers presented by “threatening” black men, it makes for a cocktail that ends in death for many, many innocent people. And many people who may not be innocent, but still didn’t deserve to die. And the people that suffer the gravest consequences of that systemic and specific violence are disproportionately young black men.
While I truly wish we would see consequences meted upon the individual perpetrators of police violence, I don’t believe the systemic problem can be solved that way. We need to change our culture that confines generations of people of color in poverty. We need to demilitarize the police. We need to address the gun culture which makes police fear that every time they approach a suspect they’ll be faced with a deadly weapon.
But most of all. First and most of all, we need to listen to the voices of those within the communities so often beset by this violence and brutality. We need to recognize the truth of their experience. We need to accept that it will mean that we look very closely at ourselves and how we are complicit in the culture of dismissal, and degradation; in the perpetuation of a culture that devalues black lives. And we need to follow those who have been fighting this fight their whole lives, rather than trying to lead now that we’ve finally arrived on well-tread ground.
For the longest time, really up until about four years sober, I liked to think of myself as remaining in early sobriety. That felt important. By feeling like I was early in my sober life, I guarded it very carefully. I learned as much as I could about being sober and staying sober. I did the things that I knew I would have to do to maintain my defenses against alcohol. I worked very hard, and learned from everyone I could to develop my tools.
I learned how to avoid trouble by steering myself clear of tempting situations. I learned how to guard myself emotionally and set boundaries. I learned, crucially, to not be afraid of offending or insulting people if I needed to leave a situation. Going along to get along is a fabulously dangerous behavior for newly sober drunks, and I’ve seen it derail and kill people.
These days, I’m much more comfortable feeling like I’m establishing myself as a long-term sober person. I’ve been blogging about my recovery now for seven years. Which means I’m approaching eight years of continuous sobriety. And through adhering to the basic principles of Alcoholics Anonymous, I’ve managed to make my life a conscious, deliberate process of living.
It’s been hard work, but well rewarded. And I see that echoed over and again in the fellows and friends I have in the program of AA. Little is more rewarding than seeing new and bewildered people, in terrible pain, gradually rise from the sloughs and establish themselves into a life of sobriety and purpose. I see it constantly. And it thrills me every time I do.
Today, I have good grasp of my tools. When I go out with friends and they drink, sometimes I look briefly at that glass and wonder how it would feel to pick one up. But it doesn’t tempt me. I don’t crave. And I know how to keep my addiction at bay today. By accepting it, and myself, for the truths of what we are. By surrendering to the immutable conditions in which I persist. I am an alcoholic. I will always be an alcoholic. And being an alcoholic is not a terrible thing.
In fact, for some of us, being alcoholics is wonderful and strange and enlightening. I have learned things about myself, and about others, and about connections and communities that I think I could not have learned any other way. I have come to understand what is meant by a “grateful alcoholic”.
I am grateful to have come into remission from my alcoholism. I am grateful that I am no longer welded to the bottle, sick and miserable and useless. I am grateful that I am capable of participating in society. But that’s not all it means to be a grateful alcoholic. I am grateful to be an alcoholic. Because, through my sickness and recovery, I have learned how to live in a way that I think very few people have the opportunity to learn.
Recovering from the depths of alcoholic desolation, and the work that must be done on one’s self to initiate and maintain that recovery, is a kind of emergence that is, even for those among us who are not believers in deities, spiritual. I have no other word for it. It’s not magic. It’s not supernatural. It’s simply a kind of spiritual nourishment. Something good for the mysterious places in the human heart.
Now, in long-term sobriety – or at least medium term – I am capable of accessing the resources I built, the energy I invested, the efforts I stockpiled to confront and surmount new challenges. These resources I might not have had if I had never been forced to confront my addiction.
I’m fond of saying that wealth is built through labor. And the same is true, I think, of spiritual wealth. I have invested years of hard labor in my heart and spirit and mind. I have had to, because I had incurred deep debts through my addiction. But I have paid my debts, or most of them, anyway. And I am now able to collect the dividends of all that work.
That is no excuse to stop working. It is all too easy to squander amassed fortunes – of any type. But I have settled into a life of steady but slow progress. And that’s a good life. I have a good life. And I think it’s a better one than I’d have had if I had not been an alcoholic. And so I’m grateful. I am in remission from a generally terminal illness, which could (and often does) relapse. And yet I’m grateful. Because today, I’m sober. And sane. And happy. Because I’m useful.
For the second year in a row, I spent Thanksgiving in Bermuda with BB. Four days of balmy weather and sunny skies and tooling around on a little death machine. Friday, having rented the little scooter less than three hours earlier, I took a turn badly and down we went. I took the brunt of the fall. Luckily BB landed sort of mostly on top of me. She scraped her hand and both knees. I tore up my left knee, and earned some kind of deep scratch on my right shin. Scraped an elbow.
The luckiest part for me was that though my chin hit the ground pretty hard, my reasonably thick winter beard meant that I only suffered a bruise, and didn’t leave my face on the tarmac. A few scratches to my nose and some bruising hidden by my beard. I managed to elbow myself in the ribs, which has resulted in dull pain whenever I breathe deeply. I figure it’ll all heal soon enough.
But the things we saw were still amazing! Bermuda is glorious, and late November is a great time to go. We saw the Crystal Caves:
And a lovely spot called “Blue Hole”:
And we took the ferry from Hamilton to the Dockyards:
And explored the most glorious beachy nature yard:
And finally, of course, my knee, below the fold, for those of you not good with blood.