Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Espadrilles are NEVER a good idea.... or a Brief Lesson on Swine Castration

So, as I said in the earlier blog, this week I started the education component– this is the lifestyles, education and career portion of the program. It’s a little different than I suspected, but, so far I like the approach. First of all, the approach isn’t just training in money issues (personal budgets, credit, financial advising, long term planning, and executing a debt recovery plan) – The ability to work in this program and not pay bills is certainly a bonus when I get to that phase – I will leave here with most of my debt paid, repay my parents who have helped me stay in the program and have provided me with the weekly cases of Diet Cherry Dr. Pepper and Diet Coke, beef jerky, sunflower seeds, and Whey Protein (and have generously helped me maintain my car payment), and my friends who have even paid my phone bills on occasion and maybe I’ll leave some money in savings.

The education component also includes the ability to further your education in the hope of getting a better job, and a general wellness class which includes diet tips and tips on how to maintain health – I think this is great since I am less apt to abuse my body if I spend a lot of time getting it in tip top shape – and it also it includes a component which I think is critical.....

One thing that this component focuses on is how the decisions you make regarding your life’s work or your job relate to and even contribute to addiction or alcoholism. In other words, what kinds of jobs do you chose and why do you choose them – status, freedom, hours, expectation, etc. – all these things could and most likely contribute to your addiction (you will spend a majority of your waking hours at work, so you can see this is extremely important).

If you have a job with little or no supervision, and access to lots of money, you may find that these long days alone will result in drinking. If you are working for money or status, then when you fail at this or when it is jeopardized, you may drink. When you are unhappy at work, you may drink, if you feel undervalued you may drink. If you have a job that you think makes you look good, you may want to flaunt this with the kinds of behaviors which will lead to relapse. For me, working in advertising and marketing – well, many a contract was signed over a dinner of dry martinis. You may be unhappy with what you do, so you escape to the bottle. And so, when you choose your career – your talents, history, goals, and the circumstances of how these things relate to relapse prevention are often over looked and frankly some of the most important.
Not to mention, the budgeting helps, as does the health training – Its gonna be great.

So far, at this stage, everything seems great. But it could be because I am not in a full-on brain chemistry recovery mode. And, in a couple months, it might hit, and the tone of the entries may change from happy canyons and sunflower gardens to tirades or rants about injustice or inequity, or just because people will bug me – or they may not. It remains to be seen, I am just warning people that there may come a point in recovery when your brain begins to resist the rewire and it can be a little messy and OF COURRRSE I am gonna tell you about it right now.

Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS) is an adjustment that the brain has to make while in the process of returning to life without chemical substances. It occurs when the neurotransmitters start to function again. In addiction there is artificial stimulation and disruption in normal brain function. PAWS occurs when you have been clean for like 6 months and it can last up to 18 months. When you first quit using a substance (even cigarettes, pot, or gambling) it may take 3-4 weeks just to feel good again. It is really common to believe that the addiction is gone in this portion of recovery. This may be where I am now because I am still not having any cravings. But like a boomerang, your body begins to send physiological signals to your brain that it can’t handle. At around 6 month of sobriety, it may feel like you just drank, smoked, whatever, yesterday - and you really want some more today.

Scary, huh!
I’m a little nervous, but feel satisfied that I know its coming and can make mental preparation. The pig can handle castration when you show him the castration band first – it’s a known fact – they wont fight it (a castration band, BTW is a large rubber band we place on a pigs nuts to cut off blood and the balls just fall off) . And, while I hardly think of myself as a pig, and I hope not to think of addiction recovery as castration – you get the point…. And I AM on a ranch, remember.

Mentally, I may become confused (I might even start splitting infinitives and dangling participles, or start believing things like all women look good in a pair of espadrilles – no you don’t by the way), I might have trouble focusing or concentrating or remembering instructions.

Emotionally, I might be over reactive, have mood swings, depression, anger, frustration, stress or numbness. And physically, I might have sleep issues, cravings, and physical sensations related to using – things like a sneeze (which I would always have when I would take my first swig of gin), might put me in a bad mood and I wont know why.

Some people are regenerative in this response – the symptoms improve over time. The longer you are sober the less time you have the symptoms. Some people are degenerative, the symptoms get worse and sobriety becomes so unpleasant that you will want to start drinking (the likelihood of relapse is very high at this point), some people are stable – which means the symptoms are never too bad or too good, they are constant and frustration comes along because people decide that its never going to completely go away and the likelihood of relapse is pretty high. And there are people who are intermitten, the symptoms come and go.

I don’t know which I will be. In the best case scenario, my alcoholism never reached the point that the long term damage to my brain chemistry will even have a real noticeable PAWS period. Worst case, I may decide in a couple months that this is all too much – pack my bags, walk off the farm and the next time someone sees me I will be dead in a ditch snuggled up to an empty bottle of booze.

And so, the key to all of this is my self awareness, and I have to keep an eye on it. When I bought my new car, I was excited to drive it, but the more I drove it, the more I would notice slight changes – knocks that weren’t there, clicks that weren’t there, small tugs when I would step on the break. I need to treat my body like this – I have to be aware of small changes and make corrections.

And when any part of relapse begins to happen, I should play the tape… the tape always starts out happy – drinking is fun…. Then I go out, I am social, I might even get hope that later I will go home and get laid, and at this point, people pause the great fun drinking tape (the MIXER tape LOL) and take a drink and then another drink and eventually forget that the tape is even in there.
If they keep playing the tape it may go something like this: then I drive home and try to avoid the cops, I sneak in the house to avoid being noticed, I am late for work, and when I show up I smell like a wino and look like a hobo, my boss and peers talk about me, no one wants to give me more responsibility, I go home frustrated, I meet my roommate who is pissed that I stayed out all night and drank away all the rent money and, at some point, may have thrown up on the toilet seat. So I say ‘I don’t need anyone’ (sound familiar from a couple posts ago), and I go get a bottle, but this time, I don’t go out, I sit at home and drink it, so I am able to actually drink more for less money…. And you can see that the tape goes on and on and on and on. And suddenly I am so disgusted by the idea that drinking that not only will I hopefully not ever drink again, but the idea of even seeing another human being drink or even living on a planet with alcohol becomes repugnant!

And so that’s where I am – it was a weekend of reflection met with a week of intensive study – oh and a misguided and ridiculous experiment in my desire to get my own way (and friendship). See, I have one pen, and I love the handle, I have another pen and I love the tip, and so I got several maintenance guys to help me try to get the good tip on the good handle and ended up making a real mess! Yes, 6 guys – all of them trying different ways to put my bic point tip on my pilot pen cruiser handle. But, I was very impressed with the friendship these guys displayed in trying to do me a small favor. That’s a true group of friends, you must agree, that will spend a Tuesday night trying to repair a disposable pen for a friend's small satisfaction. (Or certainly a bored group with a misguided task)

And, you may think this was a pointless exercise, but, in actuality, it killed a lot of time, and made me a little more grateful at the simplicity of my life these days. If only they could last…. I hope that, in my lifetime of sobriety, this kind of simplicity continues to occupy me as it does now. Or, at the very least, that I can maintain contact with these guys... because there will come a time when I am gonna need people to help me do home improvement work or move apartments and if these guys will do this for a pen, imagine what they might do for a new set of kitchen cabinets or a cross town move!

Have a great week all, and I hope you keep in touch. Thanks for the emails, keep them coming.

Monday, July 27, 2009

It's ALL in the Container!

Well, the weekend away on my pass was certainly a busy one. I was under the impression that three days would go by very quick, but in fact the opposite is true. Most of what I thought about this weekend wasn’t accurate. The people I thought would know how to treat me were unclear how to do it and those that I thought would find my gradual metamorphosis unnerving were completely unphased by it. And while at first glance, this would seem like an unlikely inconsistency, it actually makes more sense this way.

It could be that the people who I thought would know how to react, people who I thought knew me well enough to instinctively adapt ACTUALLY DO KNOW ME. They are the ones that witnessed that person I left as, and can see the person that I am becoming. And because they care about me, I need to give them the opportunities and tools and time to adjust. The people I thought would be shocked by the change, PROBABLY NEVER KNEW ME. These people I am the same person and they didn’t need to adjust the way they treat me.

The weekend went well. Along with the down time I spent with family, I witnessed and heard about the kind of drama that fills my close friend’s lives, the kind of drama I was once a willing participant in, and the kind of drama that seems like such a world shaking event when its happening to you and the world exists in the small bubble that we all, as people, tend to create.
I thought that by coming to the ranch, with limited access to the world, and limited access to people and restrictions on my freedom that I would feel suffocated by the smallness of it all. But in fact, the opposite is true. My circle has grown so large because now I feel like I am being given the time to put things into perspective. My world view is a vast panorama of the possibilities. In horse training, you're told, when you take a horse out on the prairie, if you intend to get very far, you only pack what the horse can carry. You learn to travel light. When I came here, I got rid of a lot of baggage and I’m travelling pretty light. My sister wrote to me about this a while back, that she believes that letting go of things was a critical part of my recovery – and it shall remain a critical part of maintaining sobriety forever. When you have a bad apple in a small basket, all you see is the bad apple. But when you put that same bad apple in the middle of a deep canyon, the apple seems like a speck of an issue.

And my problems were like the apple. And all of this comes as such a GIGANTIC shocker to me because I thought that my recovery would be focused on the contents of my basket, not on the basket. And, while many guys here (and many people out there) want to focus only on this bad apple (how do I fix or deal with my problems) – I’m achieving a good amount of peace by learning how to deal with the container instead (in the big picture, is this really worth this much emotional effort) – the basket vs. canyon approach. (Hmm, this may explain what a ‘basket case is’…. Doubtful, but this makes sense doesn’t it?)

But I realized that the problems I had before – the problems like ,”Am I going to get that job?”, “Is so and so sleeping with so and so?”, “Am I too fat, am I too short, am I funny enough, am I popular?”, things like “You didn’t text me, you didn’t call me, are you cheating on me?” All these things were big issues for me, and I do not discount anyone for dealing with them. But stepping back for a while, it becomes harder and harder to see these temporary problems as the types of things that require the energy I once invested in them. [But, don’t give me a computer virus when I am trying to upload photographs on myspace twenty minutes before I have to leave because I will nearly blow a gasket. (inside joke)]

Because now, I’m beginning to think more and more that happiness is only part of the equation. I know, weird, huh. Everyone just wants to be happy – and I say JUST because I want to point out the limit of JUST HAPPY here for just a minute. Most of my life, I have considered myself happy. Most recently, I had a long relationship with someone who made me very happy. I had a job that made me happy. I had a nice place, a good car, friends, a new cell phone, clothes, a great family, and I was happy. But I’ve only recently achieved JOY. And the feeling of joy is different. I think you can be sad, but not sink into depression. I think it’s possible to be happy and not live joy. And there is a certain joy I feel now.

You remember when I first started writing this blog, I said I felt like I needed something and I couldn’t understand what it was. I kept saying I had a blockage and needed to numb a pain and so I drank – well, drinking (for VERY short times) briefly synthestized the kind of joy I feel now naturally – an undercurrent of euphoria – not overwhelming, but sustainable. It fills you up. But I feel this joy, not because I am sober – instead, because by being sober, I have been able to take the time to see things and feel things and understand things that I once hid from. And I’d like to think that, by travelling on this journey of reflection on the path to lifelong sobriety, I can keep my idle speed in my heart’s transmission on Joy. It’s a nice constant current to experience.

I want the fruits that grow from my spirit to be peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, and love. Against these things, the harshness of the raw world has no real ammunition and the safety I once sought in a fake barrier of inebriation is becoming a real barrier of emotional safety created by JOY. I still have work to do – In my mind, at times, I found myself reverting to some old ways of thinking while I was away for the weekend with what I thought about people, but I was able to come back here before I was lost in these thoughts. Baby steps… and each time I go away from here, I hope to be given the challenges to apply new skills – like practice tests for when I make the launch back into the real world. My peace is not dependent on my sobriety, my sobriety is dependent on my peace.

And when I was there, I saw so much discord from so many friends – relationship problems, etc. One very special friend to me is being consumed by the bad apple in his basket – and as a result, he is changing. He told me its because ‘he just wants to be loved,’ and this makes sense because I chose drinking because I couldn’t notice everyone who loved me. And someday, I can only hope he will look out and notice he is loved already – by many people – and suddenly the basket becomes the canyon. And while my immediate reaction was to save him, I’ve realized that its his journey and no one who tried to save me from myself ever succeeded. Not One Person. And accepting change isn’t easy. In fact, its God given. In fact, the only people ON THE PLANET who love change, who anticipate it, and who welcome it, are babies and children. Somewhere we learned to dislike change, but children and babies JUST LOVE IT!

So saving people can not be part of my recovery. I think its ludicrous when an addict begins to “convert” other people and I WILL NOT DO IT. As if I am standing on a chair and I see someone in trouble. I may want to pull this person up on the chair with me but I have to have a lot of substance, a lot of strength, a lot of balance in order to do this. And I am not there yet and may never be there. So instead, I can just wait and step to the side when this person decides to climb up on the chair on his own.

This weekend, I also noticed that I feel AWESOME that I can now be a source of happiness to people where I was once a source of frustration. There were times that I would be in bed and I could hear Alex crying because I was drunk. I would fall or stumble and once Alex put me safely to bed at night, Alex would cry. Alex doesn’t know it, but I could hear it. And one good thing about the way things are now is that I know that at night, Alex no longer weeps because of me. In fact, when I saw Alex this weekend, there were smiles, there was happiness, light, and we hugged. And I am sorry I ever made this person cry themselves to sleep. Never again.

In terms of recovery, I don’t think that making amends means calling someone up and apologizing, sometimes, it means correcting something you did by making someone feel the way you always wanted them to feel anyway. Making Alex feel like this wasn’t how I really felt – but living a life of deep deception is standard for an addict or alcoholic…. Very little is real. In fact, you don’t ever take drinking to the point of alcoholism unless you are a master of deception whether you know it or not (a true master of deception manages to deceive even himself). And generally, once you’ve deceived your way into addiction, suddenly the curtain falls and no one is convinced except yourself. This is when you should probably get some help.

But, all in all, the weekend was great. The three days were enough. I did what I went there to do and came back unscathed and happier and a new vigor for doing what I am doing here. On the way back to the ranch, I stopped to see Alex and I ran in to a co worker. And at first I was uncomfortable that the co-worker knew where I was and he was asking me about it, this person who was no more than an acquaintance to me greeted me with an enthusiasm, with a support, with so much dignity and respect – and I realized from an almost stranger, that there is no shame in rehab, there is no shame in what I am doing. I realized that when that curtain of deception falls, and people see that the wizard is just a man…. Its quite OK.

So the drive home was shorter than I thought, and when I got back, it was indescribable. From the moment that I got out of the car to the moment I got into bed, I was greeted with ‘WELCOME HOME,’ “We missed you,’ by the guys who are on the new life journey with me. And it was all sincere. And I spent the evening laughing at the countless stories the guys wanted to catch me up on. I felt like I missed so much! The jokes, the events, the stories, they were all eager to bring me back in to the fold and make me feel safe.

And so last week I was nervous that I wasn’t going to fit in to my herd after I visited them this weekend; but like so many things about this weekend I was wrong about, I realized that I DO fit into my herd. And MY HERD, here, was so happy to see me when I got back to the ranch. Again, it was the container that needed to change.

Oh, I started the education component this week, so I will be blogging more frequently because of more access to the computer – which means the blogs will be shorter – I know, WHEW!! (But probably more frequent.)

The only regret I have is that on Friday, I never got a chance to watch Bonnie Hunt’s show…. And so…


Peace all.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Oh, yea, a Baaaad Mamma Jamma!

This is going to be a fairly short week in terms of keeping up – I went on an 4 mile hike at Longs Peak yesterday so I wasn’t around a computer to blog (we also didn’t have an addictions class, so I have nothing to report about that either), and the remainder of this week I am going to be getting ready for my weekend in the City.

I am extremely excited about going to the city – and frightfully nervous. But not because I am worried about relapse. I am a little worried because I will be seeing a lot of friends and I am worried that they wont make sense to me. I have been in this little bubble for a while now and the idea that people outside of it have gone on with their lives is real – but with that, I have to understand that they have changed as well…. Or worse yet, they’ve stayed the same.

My fear isn’t that I will be tempted in to relapse by them – I am pretty equipped for that mentally – what I am unclear about is whether I will bring them back with me when I return. How will I remember this weekend with them, how will I see them once I get back, and at what point does my personal growth involve leaving people in a previous set of memories and experience and who can I bring in to the next set. I suppose this is the part of the story where I will be describing this weekend either as a chapter in a continuing saga, or perhaps, this will be the preface of a whole new volume in my life’s story.

Or, maybe, I’ll go, have a good time, and no one will have changed beyond my ability to adapt and I am wasting good thinking time fretting about nothing at all. This is easy to do in rehab - without other people's problems, or TV, I recently found myself spending a lot of time thinking about the worst case scenario. This is called "catastrophic thinking," and I am trying to stop it!

I am also a little sad because one of my best friends, Nick, was asked to leave this past weekend. He also went on a weekend pass and when he came back he tested positive for the metabolites that your body produces when you do methamphetamine.

Now, Nick is not here because he is any sort of meth head – like me, his exposure to drugs is minimal, and hardly worth even mentioning. He once quipped to me, "I'm just your garden variety drunk." Everyone, including his case manager is convinced that he did not go back to the City on his weekend pass and suddenly feel the need to pick up a crack pipe – no, his dismissal was much worse because, all weekend on his pass, he battled a sinus infection and was taking alka-seltzer sinus medication – which has pseudoephedrine in it (in fact all daytime cold and allergy medicine does) and this causes your body to produce the metabolites in methamphetamine.

And, so it is very disheartening to realize that the whole thing can be derailed by some cold medicine and you can be asked to leave. And I have a lot to say about this situation that I will speak about in a later blog – but for now, I think it’s unfair, and very discouraging that you could follow the rules, want sobriety so bad, and have it taken from you and all for a stupid cold – and, as you might have expected, I have plenty to say on the injustice of it all. But rules are black and white here, and sadly, they have to be.

We also had a new black angus born yesterday. I was pretty happy to see this happen. Baby cows are SO affectionate and love to be loved. There is something that is so pure about the need for a baby to suckle and the need for the baby to immediately feel like part of the group, and to feel the touch of others – animal or humans. And so I was shocked when the mother angus rejected it, the other calves nipped at it, and it was found this morning, starving near the fence, with a longing look on its face and maybe some desperation.

What's interesting is that one of the old bulls was also found near the baby calf - by the fence, rejected by the herd. This bull was never slaughtered because it was a robust bull who had healthy calves - a rare bull because he was gentle with visitors and even the ranchers, and he was a fierce protector on the ranch against predators. So, the ranchers never wanted him slaughtered.

A few of us took the calf and the old bull to the calf huts where we fatten up the lame cows that we buy – we’ve never put one of our own, naturally born cows in this hut. And never have we dared to pen up a bull. But, a lot of the dairy guys said they felt a sort of kinship to this calf and you can only imagine why. Rejection is a real kick in the pants no matter what species you are. So, the calf found a mama goat who generously fed the calf until we could milk the jersey to get enough real cow’s milk for the new calf. The bull was just happy to get some grain.

Funny, I think this will probably be the most spoiled baby cow on the farm now – and much like many of us on the ranch, the rejection eventually leads us to a special place where we can find people to care for us, where we can live long healthy lives and not worry about the rest of the herd while we get our strength up. We’ll eventually send the angus back to the pasture when she is strong enough – and because she is being fed Jersey milk instead of angus milk, she will be a strong, robust cow and probably shock the other cows with how healthy she is. Even in my life, rejection has usually lead to something better once you let the Universe play it out.

We named this baby cow Shaft because it’s a tough little black calf- at any moment I suspect she will get up and say in her angus way, ‘Now Shut Yo Mouth, I’mma bad mamba jamma.’ Or maybe because everyone in the herd gave her the shaft...

But this leads me to the weekend fears I had and fitting in to my own herd. I wasn’t sure if this blog would connect, but sometimes I sit and start typing and the whole thing comes full circle - and little of this is by design, sometimes the thoughts just connect.

So, yea, there have been recent times I have felt a lot like that reject cow– and soon, but its gonna be nice to hit the pasture again and I’ll be a “Bad Mamma Jamma!” too.

But now back to the bull. The bull who now has a new life in a different pasture. He won't be rejected any more. Now I imagine that when someone you love leaves you, or when you face mortality, or grief, or loss of any sort anything like that - and when you seem like the herd is rejecting you - you should take some comfort that, if you led a productive life, if you did the right things, if you were gentle and protective, there should be some comfort in this. And the Universe sends you the right ranchers at the right time to take you to the right pasture. I know a bull like this, and I want to be a bull like this as well.

You surely must, at times, think I must make up these events in order to add substance to my situation, but I don't - and thats the beauty of the world that I've been trying to share with you, that these things must happen all the time, you just need to be open to hearing the message..... I'll be posting photos of Shaft and the retired bull this weekend.

And, I'll be blogging and cleaning up the blog this weekend.... and I am SURE I will have lots to share with you. Have a good week all, and write me if you want.

Days Sober: 75
Days without Bonnie Hunt: 66

Friday, July 17, 2009

Short and sweet...

I'll write more later this weekend if I can - but for now, I just wanted to mention that I phased on Wednesday, had the phasing ceremony this morning. Made it this far and its been awesome! I also found a photo of myself right before I came to the ranch.... There is new life in my eyes these days! I'll scan the photo and post it in a future entry. CRAZINESS! I love looking at it, and carry it with me because its physical evidence of the changes I am making. The picture is expressionless, unhealthy, and tired...
I am heading to the City in a week, looking forward to seeing my friends and getting a real haircut! And this weekend I am gonna spend Sunday with my dad, its great to be able to have him to myself for the weekend.

Its been a FUN and hilarious week, and I have been light with joy. I hope that you have been also, and, please feel free to write to me via email or via this blog, whether I know you or not.

I want people to read this and take something from it - its a long road (thus the photo selection today), but its great to be able to share it with you all. I checked the dashboard last week and I'm getting about 200 - 300 hits on the site per week - so give the address to anyone who you think may get something from it - Or anyone who may just need to feel better about themselves that THEY'RE not in rehab - Maybe my misfortune might boost someone else a little, I can only hope. :-)

Anyway, happy Friday, happy weekend. I am gonna go to town and celebrate my phase advancement with a Dairy Queen blizzard - happy that the long-standing myths about me are on the verge of mutating. Stories that have remained fixed for years are being rewritten. I hope that the effects are pretty spectacular. If I just work at it, I suspect it'll be the equivalent of Sleeping Beauty waking up from her long sleep without the help of the prince's kiss, or like Little Red Riding Hood devouring the wolf instead of vice versa. Who you thought you knew, you may not have ever known, but.... I forgot about him, too.
Geeze, that was such a bad apple that I once bit into!!


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Hanging on the wind's songs.....

Einstein said, "Thinking is hard work, that's why so few people do it." Little did Einstein know that he was describing one characteristic that would eventually be considered one of the roots of addiction or alcoholism.

So I spoke a little last posting about the neocortex and the limbic system, but didn't spend a lot of time describing the process of how these two things work together to help create addictive behaviors.

As I mentioned, the neocortex is the place where learned memories are stored, and when you saturate this with alcohol or drugs or other quick fixes (like sex, gambling, smoking, eating, working, etc.) as a means to escape - and you receive the gratifying emotion from the limbic system, your brain, in a most miraculous way of connecting the dots begins to identify these cause and effects together. Its like Pavlov and his dog on a human scale.

And you have to realize that addiction takes years to saturate your thinking and your brain, and so, as a survival mechanism you begin to run on the signals from the limbic system (which, as I said, still behaves the way you did when you were a three year old)....

UGH! Its getting very clinical, and I just can't think of any good farm analogies to make this even slightly more entertaining to follow - but, trust me, when you let it absorb, it makes some sense. And the only real cure to this kind of saturation overload in the neocortex is TIME.

And, that is the anti-drug to an alcoholic! As I mentioned earlier, alcholics and addicts want changes immediately and so TIME seems like a preposterous solution.

So when it comes to relapse, there is something called a dry relapse. In fact, mentally you start drinking long before you actually take that drink. This is called a dry relapse. And, if you thought I would describe this to you, you are absolutely right. [note: you are to read that last paragraph with the kind of smug tone of voice that might come from someone who is about to write the most clever thing ever written by anyone except for the possibility of Mark Twain....]

As with most things in psychology these days, there is a nice little acronym to help you figure out where you are in the scale of dry relapse. I appreciate psychologists for these acronyms because they must understand that should I ever find myself knee deep into a possible relapse, the last thing I want to be wrestling with is "WHICH DAMN STAGE IS THIS!" Plus, these kinds of acronyms will help me to entertain people at parties. Now that I am sober, I will no longer be able to do things like wander around with a bandanna tied around my head quoting lines from the movie Napoleon Dynamite so I have to have a "thing".... and acronyms might be it.

Anyway, F.A.S.T.E.R is the acronym. I am still digesting the irony in this acronym, but, hey, I didn't make it up.

F -Forgetting Priorities: The first sign of a dry relapse becomes evident when there is a sudden change in plans. A recovering person who wants to go back to school, or look for a new job, or even move or get a divorce, might change their minds as soon as the plans become too real or possible. New plans that don't require immediate action or holding on to previous plans are now the goal. Consciously or subconsciously a person wants to avoid this. Now, stay with me, because this is gonna be something you may nod your head at, but it will make sense at the end. Procrastination produces a low level of anxiety that releases chemicals in the brain which speed up the body and kill pain (mainly norepinephrine, endorphins and enkephalins). These chemicals keep us from feeling fear and depression.

A - Anxiety: The set of emotions that causes the next level of neurochemical release is brought about by drama or over reaction..... Did you hear me, D-R-A-M-A!! And some people, drama queens, like to create it, and may not even know they are creating it, because thriving in drama becomes a drug - the chemicals it releases become addictive. Like dating the wrong people OVER AND OVER, talking about people knowing they will find out, blaming people, places and things for how you feel. Happiness and worries can not exist in the same mind at the same time. When we choose to worry about things that we can not control we get an emotional charge. Our brain releases a set of chemicals to speed us up, our brain begins attempt to outrun depression by supercharging our way of thinking.... and drama creates this charge on a continuous scale.

S - Speeding up: This level of neurochemical anaesthetic tries to out-run feelings of fear and depression by going faster. An inability to slow down, an inability to be alone, workaholics or being too closely identified with your job, irregular eating, the compulsion to begin to consume caffeine and sugar - think about yourself, are you trying to outrun depression or avoid dealing with a problem? Are you procrastinating dealing with something?

I hope you know, this is long, but this is an important thing for you all to read. And, well, for chrissake, I take exhaustive notes so I can tell you guys this stuff, so please let it soak in if you need to (I have more fun farm stories coming up, so keep reading)

T - Ticked off: This level of full blown anger indicates an increase in the release of endorphins and norepinephrine. Here is where you may feel BIG, RIGHT, STRONG, CONFIDENT, ASSERTIVE and UNAWARE OF PAIN. Remember, neurochemically, the emotion of anger is almost identical to cocaine.

At this level anger is not only an emotional pain killer, but an effective physical pain killer as well. Over reaction is much greater than situations require - and we ALL know people who are always angry, or angry for no reason, or fly off the handle at stupid things.... these people are often numbing other pain with the natural painkillers released in this emotion.

E - Exhausted: This is the last stage before using. Pain, anger, panic and anxiety attacks are common in the stage. You may experience waves of doom and you can't cope. Remaining in this stage is critical, you may become hopeless, depressed, tired, and when a crisis occurs, your limbic system turns on full throttle and says, "C'mon, baby, you can have a drink, you'll feel so much better."

And you may not have the will power to disagree. So you...

R - Relapse.

All these stages have one thing in common: Procrastination. In each stage, there is a problem at the very beginning that was never dealt with. Procrastination always results in crisis. And here's something really telling about it..... TO PUT SOMETHING OFF OVER AND OVER AND GET AWAY WITH IT PRODUCES A SURGE OF BRAIN CHEMICALS THAT ARE HIGHLY ADDICTIVE AND WE TRY TO SYNTHESIZE THIS WHEN WE DRINK OR USE DRUGS.

So, to avoid relapse, I have to take responsibility for where I am on this scale at any point by being conscience of my behavior. And this isn't easy for anyone, especially someone who has been hiding from the man in the mirror for some years now.

But here on the ranch, I have plenty of time to think and reflect. In the past, my heart frequently sensed doom or sadness for some long forgotten trauma, or newly discovered trauma. My mind balked at the attempt to deal with this and I found solace in a tasty refreshment.

Before I came to the ranch, I would try to sit and think - Believe me, I tried to find peace without looking for help. I would hear the wind, the trees, when I got here, I would hear the animals, the cars, the planes flying over head. I remember my first weekend here and it seemed like such a noisy quiet. There was no song in my heart. But lately, I sit, I smell, I listen now to a symphony of my senses. Now I don't hear the wind, I hang on it. And if you want to know how it sounds, please place the mouse to your ear now and right click to hear what I hear....

Just kidding (but I wonder how many of you tried that - hey, like I said, there isn't always a lot to do on a ranch)
But I've been sharing this part of the rehabilitation process because the heartfelt part, the part that is inspired by a newly freed limbic system that is now trying to feel real emotions again has a lot to say too. And rehabilitation isn't just about chemicals, behaviors, triggers, etc., its emotional as well, its about finding new joy and seeing this new joy all around you and not on the shelf of a liquor store on sale for $8.99 -

And when you look, This joy is easy to see, it's everywhere, its all around us, it embraces you. Much like the hug I got from my dad that I spoke about a couple weeks ago - its startling, its unexpected, a little uncomfortable, but it feels good, and when you give in to it, it just feels like the right thing, it feels like enough, and its memorable. And trying to ignite or create memories in my neocortex is my new mission!

And so I share this stuff as well because happiness is only real when it is shared, otherwise its pretty pointless. And I could wait and I could sit someday and try to explain it to you or I could explain it to you all along the way - Why procrastinate on dealing with the good stuff either, right? Rehab doesn't always have to be a focus on the negative!

But I hope that in reading this blog, there are times when you read something that may touch your heart, and you can feel what I feel now.

Its nice.

And even though Einstein said its a lot of work, "Think" about it....

I still have much to tell you about whats GOING ON, and I will, I promise - Life on the ranch has been REAL fun this summer.
Days Sober: 70
Days without Bonnie Hunt: 61

Monday, July 13, 2009

The rainbow and the canyon....

Its been a really busy week, and so last week I was a little behind. Its funny to me how much busier my life now that I don't have to work at preparing to drink, and I thought the void of TV and the void of being single for the first time in years would, together, be deep vacuums where my time would seem endless. But I am busy - and I seem to have more to do now that I have nothing to do if that makes any sense.

Last week we continued in Relapse Awareness - this is the part of addiction awareness that is most important to me. One of the characteristics of an addict is that they don't want to wait for change. Alcoholics and addicts need change to happen right now, and drugs, alcohol, smoking, eating, gambling, other compulsive behaviors - all these things teach us that immediate change is possible. This is a chemically learned reaction.

Simply put, we have two parts of our brain - the neocortex (located in the front of the head) - it allows us to store information. It allows us to make decisions and to remember these things. The other part is the limbic system - which controls the automatic systems of the body and the emotions - its beautiful in that it the part that controls the emotions is also the part that controls the survival responses - fight or flight. The limbic system does not have a memory like the neocortex, it doesn't know the difference between yesterday and 20 years ago - I think this is why childhood traumas and past events can trigger a relapse - your brain says, "there is no danger, you aren't going to be hurt by this," - but your heart is saying, "WHOAH! I know this means I need to escape, where's my booze!"

Basically, an addict trains some behaviors to be triggers:
I have needs but my needs are not being met, so I feel hurt of abandoned, well SCREW YOU, I DONT NEED ANYBODY, I found comfort in some gin, (repeat) - now I am an addict.

So, you need to reprogram your brain, and this takes time. Its strange how being here, I am encountering some of the same events of my past - things that I identified as triggers last week, and I am reprogramming my brain - almost one by one, on how to cope without booze. This can be done without rehab, mind you - but if you're gonna do it - this is a pretty good place to be.

I used to close down emotionally, but you are all witness to this process and I am an open blog. Resentment used to creep into relationships, but now love is replacing those resentments (forgiving my friend for doing something crappy), I used to isolate but now I seek out people, where once my critical bitchy attitude pointed out what drove me nuts about people, I am beginning to notice more of their good qualities.

By no stretch is this a cure for me, but rehab isn't just about a new way of behaving, its a new way of thinking. And the guys on the ranch approach it many different ways - mine is to approach it from a place of peace of mind - where once the conflict of conscience which blared noises in my head encouraged me to drink in order to pass out or ignore it, I now face it head on, boldly walk over, turn down the volume and then, as I walk away, I blow it a kiss good bye - hell, I'm still a nice guy!

Speaking of peace and quiet, I went with a group this past week to scout out some open areas where I would like to ride the horse. Talk about peaceful, its BEAUTIFUL out there. The canyons, the swallows nests embedded on the side of the rocks, its amazing. See the pictures.

I also will be phasing this week to phase 2 (hopefully) which means more time and freedoms - so I'll keep you posted - this is another reason I was so busy last week, I had a ton of homework in order to advance to the next phase.

A couple weeks ago on my birthday, I walked outside and saw a brilliant rainbow - amazing! It was like the ranch was telling me happy birthday too! It was a nice way to start a new year. Here is a photo that I took.
I also visited the City, and unlike the last time, this time, I was prepared for it and it didn't startle me. I am heading back in a couple weeks and can't wait to see everyone. I am not the least bit nervous about relapsing that weekend, and its a nice feeling to have that kind of security in myself for the first time in ages.

Enjoy the photos, and I have some REALLY interesting stuff to tell you about this week. It was an AMAZING weekend!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The gypsy is again on the move....

First of all, this weekend was a Holiday weekend, and with that went some relaxing activity – more on that in a bit.

Lesson 4 in the addictions class is called the Road to Relapse. It sounds like a fun journey, doesn’t it…. But it’s hardly that at all. Many of these lessons in addictions class are very clinical and I try to describe them in such a way that they don’t read like some sort of medical journal.

I look at maintaining sobriety and rehabilitation like I look at the ranch. The ranch is a useful place where I can get a lot done, it’s a relaxing place, and living on a ranch requires many things to work all at once. It also requires maintenance, it requires dedication, feeding, cutting, plowing, milking, even the tragic- like slaughter – sometimes it sucks and I wished I lived somewhere else, but for the most part, I think of it like that. Constant work, constant maintenance, but a lot of good things come from the ground when you work at it.

I also think of alcohol addiction much like maintaining a ranch. I had to maintain that as well. People who are not addicted to anything hardly realize that addiction is not for the lazy, and that addiction requires a LOT of dedication. I had to schedule time to drink, find money to drink, I had to work on when I could and could not see people based on drinking – I would plan my whole life around drinking – and it was a lot of maintenance – A LOT! Hell, I would venture to say I didn’t have a ranch, I think I had a whole damn territory…. Perhaps the size of the Louisiana Purchase – and imagine the kind of work that required.

I am in the process of building a new ranch, I am planting many new crops and leaving the old ranch. And sometimes, in a weird way, when I am on my new farm, I look across the street and see the old farm – it looks so nice from here – I remember the safety of being drunk, the ease at which I could satisfy myself, the lack of effort I had to put in to my relationships – I never had to worry about visitors, from this side of the street, sometimes it seems so beautiful. I forget that behind the beautiful manicured hedges is a desolate wasteland of dead crops and skinny animals. But sometimes it calls to me.

Relapse is sometimes sequential, sometimes methodical – there are cues we get and behaviors we begin, which lead to relapse.

Some relapse is not sequential. These are a result of triggers, so I’ve had a whole weekend to think about these.

People ask me all the time, “How are you doing?” And immediately, I answer, “Fine.” Even in the throes of a binge, I usually answer, “Fine.” An alcoholic or an addict understands the cost of admitting that we’re really sick – the looks, the remarks, the idea that I can’t control it, the cost is uncontrollable. It would seem ludicrous to say to someone, “You know, sometimes I feel like having a drink so bad I can’t stand it and I want to choke someone.” And so we don’t – instead, we draw neat little analogies on the internet about pretty little farms and hedges.

But hey, you got a nice visual, so enjoy the ride, it’s not over yet.

Part of the exercise was to think about what has caused relapse for me in the past and there are many things I’ve decided. Some were very hard to admit, and made me a little alarmed and sad when I thought about the specific situations that were the impetus for these details and triggers for me.

Refusing to talk or discuss feelings of fear and anxiety is a stressor and a good indicator of my relapse – and so, as long as I keep blogging, I feel like I am avoiding this behavior a little. Low tolerance for frustration is also a signal (so that means most of my family is on the verge of relapse to something! Kidding). – but seriously – constant snapping or getting short is a good indicator – for me, at least.

Becoming defiant- I’ve seen when lingering hostility and even anger begins to replace situation where love existed in my relationships (this is a deep one and you should think about it in yours because it happens with such stealth) – when you get on my nerves just because you are you, and no other reason, when I become too very self-centered, in other words, I feel like I am always a victim (many people have this one in my life), I tend to isolate. I get a critical attitude and things that bug me about people are often things that are bugging me about me. Except for people who breathe out of their noses – that bugs me just because it bugs me…. And I don’t do that – but you get the point.

Increased dishonesty about small stupid things – I think this is because deceptive thinking takes over as I may try to hide the drinking and the need to drink. Sometimes I am over confident (“I will never drink again”) and other times, I am under confident (“I’ll never make it past 6 months, so why bother”).

And, strangely, good moods are a trigger – I tend to drink when good things happen – and, I read somewhere that ‘high’ moods are equally as stressful as ‘low’ moods in terms of brain chemistry.

And I thought about all this and I realized that one of my best gifts is also by biggest curses. You see, I am almost tragically emotional. I feel everything – every nuance in a person’s behavior I notice. I am beyond compassionate – and I think the receptors in my brain at some point just decided that it was too much to feel – and so I withdrew into a nice safe plastic bottle of McCormick’s Gin….. oh such a nice place to hide for a decade. (The bit of descriptive irony in detailing that particular bottle as a hiding place is that it seems like it’s a safe place to hide, and being plastic its unbreakable…. But the plastic bottle happens to be transparent – and everyone who looks can see inside. Anyway…)

This weekend also marked a turning point in one of my most important relationships – the one that’s been troubling me for a couple weeks. One that saved me and helped me decide to come here is also the one that is hardest to change – And while I am not mad AT ALL, I am certainly sad about this. It’s interesting how I am changing – at one time, this situation with this person would have sent me through the roof with anger and hostility, but the forced reflection of being at the ranch has certainly softened my heart and my mind – and the lingering resentment and animosity has ebbed into a peaceful acceptance of something I can not control, and someone I am not responsible for.

What’s important to me now is not that people please me by doing things I want them to do– but instead that they love me and I want to develop the wisdom to love them back, as they are, on their terms. In trying to practice this, I’ve realized there is so much good that’s spread out throughout my life, and these good things I live are only getting better – and not because I am manipulating the situations, or trying to illicit behavior from people, but because I am ready for the goodness that’s coming my way in all of my life. You know, forgiving someone for how they mistreat you is simply loving them on a higher level. I learned this from my dog.

I’ve also gotten a project as a horse trainer. My boss and my therapist both each have a horse and they house them together. I mentioned to both of them at different times that I would love to be an animal trainer and that I really wanted to work with horses. And they decided to help me make this happen. I can’t wait to explain all the things I am gonna learn from a horse. But – I had been thinking a lot lately about the future and where I would be next year at this time – and it was stressing me out thinking about work and an apartment, etc. I don’t know if I want to go back to my old job in Marketing – so I made a list of things I would want to do – we’re talking pie in the sky kind of stuff here and I decided no profession would be off limits….

Number one on my list was to be a correspondent on the Bonnie Hunt Show. You see, I am real funny on TV, too, and I had been on television for several years and well, Oprah has Nate, her clever little designer, who decorates and does all sorts of amazingly creative stuff and looks trendy with cool hair and can make all the women in the audience say, “Is he… for real? No way!” – why the hell couldn’t Bonnie Hunt have me! Besides, I have way better hair than Nate…. Well, its OK to dream.

But – strangely, the second thing on my list was to work with animals –

The list continues and includes such things as social secretary for the First Lady, a newspaper columnist, and nutritionist.

So, I left this to the universe, I slept on it, and on Monday, my counselor came to me and said he was having trouble with his horse because it’s a lot of work, and would like to try equine therapy with me. So I will be horse training couple days a week with a trainer and I couldn’t be happier.

In my family, I have always been somewhat of a traveler. I moved away to live in Vegas out of a van when I was 21, I lived in an apartment alone way before my siblings did, my travels have sometimes required me to live out of a car for brief periods, showering in libraries and swimming pools, surviving on my charm and my own devices – I have moved away to the east coast, visited hundreds of cities when I was working as a television host, etc. Lately, my life has been in suspended animation – paralyzed by inebriation, stalled by intoxication.

And, I feel like my inner gypsy has been released again – and it’s not a wanderlust I’ve ever experienced – as I begin to accept the goodness of my life, of being alive, it’s almost like the earth is moving beneath me, that I am not traveling to some place, that the place is coming to me. I have to wonder why I didn’t try sobriety a long long time ago – I am telling you – if you have something holding you back, once you decide to release it, it releases you, and life becomes magnificently fluid – better than anything I’ve ever drank. And, if I relapse, which is a real possibility, I hope someone shows me this paragraph so I can be reminded.

So, this weekend, we went to watch fireworks in the small town adjacent to the ranch, we had hot dogs, I bought a small necklace with my birthday money. I had fun with friends, and watched fireworks from the softball field in town, I was happy that my friends who went on weekend pass all came back and didn’t relapse.

Then, I rode the three miles back in the dark – happy to be heading to my “new ranch” – the one I am building and the one where I sleep. The whole time, I was thinking that same thing I mentioned earlier, ‘When you give it a chance, the good… it only gets better.’ I like living that way.

Peace, all, and I’ll talk at’cha later this week.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

A good birthday

Today is my birthday - the guys in my dorm pitched in and got me a case of Cherry Diet Dr. Pepper and a bag of lemons. Then at breakfast, during morning devotions, the whole ranch suprised me by singing "Happy Birthday" to me - this was a shock.

So far, I have received 17 Happy Birthday emails, 39 Happy Birthday wishes on Facebook (not exaggerating), and one Happy Birthday e-card from my cousin Marn. Also - so far, three Happy Birthday phone calls.

Its a nice feeling when you wake up from a decade long brain hybernation to such a warm "welcome-back" from people who have never forgotten about you. Its a good day and I am happy - probably the best birthday I have had since I was 17 and my friend Jennie threw me a suprise birthday party in her pool.

I have the whole weekend off and plan to rest, and enjoy some time - and I have a LOT of homework.

Hope you all have a great and safe weekend as well.