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Thank Goodness for Small Favors.

2 March 2017

Two good things in 24 hours. A round of heavy rain in ECC did not result in water in my basement. the new house going in next door now has its rain leader installed, and so water is flowing to the sewer and not to my foundation. Resultingly, my basement was dry even after several hours of a good soaking rain. We’ll find out how today goes in another few hours as a line of thunderstorms is set to slam the city from the west. Hopefully it’ll be dry again.

The other was that BB left her laptop on the train a few days ago, and they actually found it and are going to return it to her. Unbelievable. I figured there was no chance in hell it would ever be seen again. But that saves her the trouble and expense of getting a new machine. It’s a macbook and those aren’t cheap. And setting up a new laptop is always an exercise in frustration and drudgery. Avoiding an unnecessary journey into those hazy dusklands is definitely a good thing.

Tonight I have my men’s meeting, which I badly need. And tomorrow I am going to a hockey game with my sponsor, which I also badly need. I neither care about nor understand hockey, but a night out at the hockey game with my sponsor is always a good night. Men watching sports and talking is a good part of life, and I need that from time to time.

So today and tomorrow bring better things for a day and overall I’m pleased with the latest developments regarding my house and my health. I’m not diabetic, I’m reasonably fit, and my basement is likely to stay dry from here on out. Soon enough I’ll sell the house and buy myself a nice little condo in downtown ECC. Or something.

Emotions are Whacked.

28 February 2017

I don’t know what my deal is right now. This weekend I got in a shouting match with a driver while I was running. He ran a red light while I was crossing with a Don’t Walk sign. So, both in the wrong. He was on the phone. Looked right at me. Ran the light. I slapped his car as it went by. He slowed and rolled down his window and started shouting. I shouted back. He had a kid in the car, or I’d have been much more profane. It didn’t stop him. He called me “an ugly motherfucker”.

Yesterday someone tried to text me some money with a new app and I couldn’t make it work and ended up crying, frustrated and exhausted. It’s infuriating that I can’t make the technology work. I’m starting to be too old for this shit. That’s annoying. I’ve never been stellar at tech. Despite having a doctorate in engineering, I’m really not a tech nerd. I just want to solve health care delivery problems.

I’ve been riding high anxiety and subliminal anger for a while now. But hopefully some of the external causes are falling away. The rain downspout on the house next to mine is connected to the storm sewer now. That means that even though the foundation is still exposed it won’t be collecting water from the whole roof and dumping it right at the foundation. I’m hopeful that that means my basement will stay dry. It’ll be a few weeks still before the front sidewalk is poured, which is the eventual fix. But I’m hopeful this is enough for now.

I’ll find out tonight and tomorrow, as there are supposed to be storms rolling through ECC. I’m so tired of this. I’m tired of the house, the water, the anxiety. It’s all so deeply exhausting. I just want to be out of it all. I am going to consider putting it back on the market after the new house is finished and the summer comes. Prices are rising and I’d like to not have this millstone around my neck. Maybe a nice condo would be in order.

But I can’t solve all the problems by focusing externally. I need to be able to figure out how to manage my own emotions and that may mean more meetings, more meditation. I’m going to a hockey game with my sponsor Thursday night, and that’s good time spent among men and in the program. I’ll talk with him about the issues I’ve been having and hopefully get some peace through that fellowship.

Wither Serenity?

27 February 2017

One of the reasons those of us who get sober do is that we become exhausted with being “restless, irritable, and discontent”. We’re seeking peace. That’s one reason that the program puts so much emphasis on prayer and meditation. Those things center us and help us calm ourselves. They practice an ancient art of self-soothing that goes back probably to the dawn of consciousness in early homonids.

Right now I’m dealing with a lot of restlessness, irritability, and discontentment. My anxiety is in high gear because of the house next to mine being built right now, and thus the water drainage being screwy resulting in water in my basement every time it rains. This bothers me a great deal. Once the foundations are no longer exposed and the concrete poured, it should be fixed, but it’s really getting on my nerves.

My work is good, but I’m feeling stymied by the intellectual contribution I can make right now. I’m getting bored with simulating clinics over and over, and I’d like to do something with broader impacts and more innovation and discovery. I’m just feeling like my job is a little monotonous. I applied for a faculty gig at a large self-sustaining department at MECMC that has connections with VFU. I doubt I’ll get it – in part because it’s at the associate professor level, but I can at least try. They had already invited me to talk, and so now it becomes a sort of preliminary job talk.

I’m gaining weight despite my fitness being on track. I can do seven chin-ups in a row! My strength is good, my speed is good, my  endurance is good. I’m just eating too much. I had my annual work-health screen today, and my numbers were ok. I’m still staving off diabetes. Fasting glucose of 106 and A1c of 5.7. Both of those numbers could be better but neither is in the diabetic range, and they’re not meaningfully moved from last year. My cholesterol was up a tad from last year, but my triglycerides are still unreadably low. And my blood pressure is quite normal.

I’m just going through a period of malaise and anxiety. I’m managing it, but I feel like I could be doing a better job of doing things I know help lower my anxiety levels: better diligence at work; better eating; meditation; more contact with other drunks in recovery. I joined the Friday mindfulness group at work. And I am setting up a sort of pan-Asian meditation room at home that I can use for mindfulness, reading, and music.

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You can’t see the Japanese room-divider or the stereo in this, but they’re there. It’s a small room and so feels a little close, but I’m looking forward to it being kind of cozy and comforting. A place I can relax and focus on being present and relieving myself of my anxiety and frustration. Letting go of things I cannot change.

I need to do more of that. Because life is not letting me change a lot of the things I’d like to change right now.

Abusers in Recovery.

24 February 2017

I’ve commented before that AA is not a “safe space”. What that means is, there are no rules about being kind and gentle and accepting. People who are assholes are as welcome as people who are supportive, uplifting, and generous. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. Most of us in AA are good people working on ourselves to improve our lives and the lives of others. Not all of us are.

AA publishes a pamphlet called “problems other than alcohol” about other substances and whether those addicts are welcome (or not)  in AA meetings. And many AA meetings will be labeled “dual diagnosis” if they also deal with other mental health issues like depression, schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, etc.. There are meetings that include sex issues, and discussing difficulties in relationships is part of most meetings.

But there’s a class of alcoholics that none of that seems to serve very well. Emotional abusers. It is my hastily-developed opinion that emotional abuse is one of those broad-spectrum things. Almost everyone occasionally takes a bad mood out on a loved one inappropriately. Most of us occasionally lie or manipulate to get our way. A few of us act out on jealousy and suspicion to isolate or control our partners. And a small number are full-blown controlling emotional abusers who degrade and torment our partners.

Being in recovery, even longer-term recovery, does not necessarily move us from where we are on that spectrum. It can. If we choose to see that we are abusers, if we choose to see that we are controlling, if we choose to see that we are harming others, then the steps allow us to make changes in that if we are willing to work for it. But it does not guarantee that we will do so.

Unfortunately, the program also gives us powerful tools to enhance our abuse. The program gives us a powerful language of recovery that most people don’t use or know. If we choose, we can deploy that to make ourselves seem healthy and normal while actually twisting it to control or degrade or gaslight our partners. It’s also an incredibly powerful shield. It makes it very easy to say, in effect, “I’ve done the work on myself, and I know when I owe amends. So I know better than you that this is your fault, not mine.”

Alcoholics are master manipulators. We have to be to keep drinking the way we drink. We have to be able to lie, cheat, steal, and convince others to enable us. These are the textbook tools of abusers. I have said before that most male alcoholics are rapists. I say too: most alcoholics of any gender are emotional abusers. We either choose to see and understand it about ourselves and change it, or we end up using the tools of the program to increase its effectiveness.

Most of us, I believe, are in the former category. Most alcoholics, when we sober up, see how our emotional abuse has harmed others and work to change it. I did. I am quite a talented manipulator and liar, and many things I did when I drank fall squarely into the realm of emotional abuse. I am mortified now about them. I did what I could to make amends, and worked with both therapists and sponsors to change. All that work is ongoing, but the difficult bulk of it was long in my past when my current relationship started.

Not everyone does all that work. One of the reasons is that (and here I’m talking about males*) emotional abusers first come off as deeply charming, because that’s part of the manipulation. And charming men are able to easily get something that we tend to want a lot of: sex. But relationships require sacrifice and compromise and other things that mean often not getting exactly what we want exactly when we want it. And so when a sexual partner starts to want that stuff, she becomes disposable. And if you don’t care, if you’re just manipulating, if she doesn’t matter as a person? On to the next.

Emotional abusers often feel like they suffer in this too. It’s frustrating: why can we not find a wonderful loving relationship where the other person has no needs and just gives us exactly what we want all the time? To the alcoholic (even in recovery) abuser, that doesn’t seem like such a ridiculous thing to want. And not being able to get it is a constant source of suffering and misery.

It takes a lot of difficult work even to understand that we’re looking for something totally unreasonable. The selfishness of the alcoholic is deeper than you think, even taking into account that it’s deeper than you think.

It can be hard to tell, at first, who among us is worth the investment. Relationships with alcoholics, even those of us in recovery, can be a bit perilous. Most of us are good decent people working hard to be sober, useful, and kind. Some of us are not. And some of us still can’t tell the difference. Be cautious. It’s not stigma or discrimination to decide that dating a recovering alcoholic isn’t for you. But if you do find someone working the program hard about themselves, and not applying it to you – not taking your inventory, as we say – then we make good companions.

 

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*I am barely qualified to talk generally about men in recovery. I am utterly unqualified to talk about women. I will say only this much: women are as likely to be emotional abusers as men, especially among alcoholics. But my experience of the manifestation is different from that of males. I have not had the extensive interaction with and discussion of female emotional abusers in the program as I have with and of males, and so I’ll stay quiet about it.

A New Personal Record!

20 February 2017

I have never really been a 5km racer. Even though track and field athletes consider it “long distance” it’s not what I think of when I think of an endurance event. And thinking of myself as a “recreational endurance athlete” has become a somewhat important part of my identity in sobriety. I can do hard things that were once completely beyond me. I can go run for 2, 3, 4, 5 hours at a time. Hopefully, by the fall, I will be able to complete a 70.3 mile long triathlon.

But 5km is a long way to run any way you slice it. 3.1 miles is no little walk in the park. It’s a real distance. It’s to work and back and then some for me. When I’m doing training runs, it takes me around half an hour. Running for 30 minutes is a long time. Even for someone who has run for five hours. A half-an-hour run is a long run. It definitely counts. 5km is an accomplishment.

So BB and I went out to a 5km race about 30 miles into the suburbs of ECC, at a nice highschool in a pretty little town. The course was a very-slightly-more than one-mile loop. According to my GPS watch it was a tiny bit short. Maybe 140 yards. But maybe not. GPS is always a bit off from device to device, and if mine shaved corners or the person laying out the course didn’t run tangents very well, then it could be a legit distance.

It was a serpentine course around the various buildings of the high school, and had a little hill on the back side for about 36 feet of elevation gain. Doing it three times meant the overall hill height was a bit over 100 feet. I went out fast, ran hard, and finished the first mile in 7:36. That is pretty close to the fastest mile I’ve ever run. Back when I used my phone for GPS, it thinks I ran a 7:26 once. But it reads long.

I had to slow some for the next two miles, because I’m not in good enough shape to hold up that pace for three straight. I dropped back to 8:10 for the second mile and 8:06 for the third. My heart rate jumped all the way to 192 by the end of the race, which is about 14 bpm higher than the doctors say is my “maximum”. So I was working really hard.

But I crossed the line in what the timing chip said was 23:59! Even if the course was 140 yards short, that would put me at 24:37 or so which would still be a PR (my old PR was 24:39).

I can’t begin to relate my disbelief that I can run five kilometers in 24 minutes. That’s so far from anything I could fathom only a few years ago that it still doesn’t make any real sense. But I can still be humble: there was a 9yo girl running the race whom I beat by only about 45 seconds. BB had a great race too, finishing in about 25:21. It was, all around, a great morning. And I’m grateful I can do this, I have a partner to do it with, and a life where I’ve learned to value healthy things.

A Random 5K Race.

17 February 2017

This weekend BB and I are running in a random 5K race. For my readers who aren’t runners, that’s a 3.1 mile road race. The weather in ECC is unseasonably warm, but not hot (it’s expected to be in the low 60s this weekend for the highs) and the race-time temperature should be in the mid 40s. Perfect speed weather.

I don’t know anything about the organization putting it on. It’s held at a high school about an hour away. I haven’t run a 5K since November of 2014. So it should be fun to strap on those legs for a try again. My personal record at this distance is 24:39, which I don’t expect to touch Sunday. If I do anything like sub-27 it’ll be a great run.

But I also have a 45 minute run today, and a 10-12 mile run tomorrow. So the race will be after two days of hard workouts. Therefore, I’m not really setting any important expectations. Basically it’s a chance to get up early on a Sunday, drive out to the far distant suburbs, and run like hell for a few minutes and then get pancakes.

I like that I can do those things today, as I start my tenth year of sobriety.

Nine Years Later.

16 February 2017

Anyone who’s been here a while has read my story over and over. I don’t need to tell it again today. It’s funny how the details fade and fade and then erupt into shame in my mind suddenly, unbidden. Embarrassment I’ll never be rid of. But perhaps one vignette I’ve never shared before:

Once I was out with my ex-wife and friends at a bar and there was a live band one of her friends knew. During a break I met them and then they asked me if I wanted to sit in on the keyboard. I accepted. Even though I’ve never played in groups, and don’t know how to do it. I must have been awful, because someone sneaked in behind me and unplugged the keyboard. I continued banging away.

Alcohol humiliates us. I am immune from shame when I drink, only to find myself pointedly susceptible to it when I sober up. It sticks to me like a tar – uncleansable. One of the promises is that we will not regret the past, nor wish to shut the door on it. I am challenged by that one when I think of the times I made such a fool of myself.

But perhaps even those experiences can be useful to others. That’s my role in sobriety now. That’s the role I’ve tried to take for myself in life. I want to be useful to others. I can help people relinquish alcohol and drugs. I can volunteer and donate. I can work for an institution with a noble mission. Perhaps I can atone, slowly, for my catalog of misdeeds.

Being sober is a good life. I’m hopeful I can be of service in helping others achieve it. I hope people can see the changes in my life. I hope others out there struggling can recognize in my story that there’s hope for them. There is life and love and health and freedoms all to be had. For anyone. No matter what your situation is: if you drink too much, and need to change, you can.

Nine years. Nine years of putting my head down sober. Nine years of waking up clear-headed, unafraid of what I might have done the night before I can’t recall. Nine years of living, instead of dying. With love and loss and fear and deaths and joys and all those other things that happen in our lives. Experienced in unaltered reality.

This is how I live. I have a good life. And I even if I cannot unburden myself of all my past shame, at least, today, I do not add to it. And now, after a smile and a tear, today goes on like any other. I don’t think I’ll drink today. Tomorrow looks pretty good. And for now, Saturday will have to take care of itself. One day at a time.