Monday, November 23, 2009

Thanksgiving Week

OK, so I am going to take the week off from blogging - its Thanksgiving, I have recently returned from weekend pass, I had a GREAT time. But I am trying to wrap up my phase 2 packets and find a job so next week, when I go to my final phase, I'll be ready.

Can you believe it, I am entering my final phase of the program... and I'll write more then. Until next week, have a GREAT Thanksgiving.

This year I have SO much to be Thankful for....

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The last thing on their minds.... fuggetaboutit!

One good thing about keeping a blog is that I can go back and look at the speed at which change is taking place while on the ranch. If anyone tells you recovery is a drag, they aren’t doing it right. It’s a really busy time, fixing your past, building your future and navigating your present all at the same time!

There is a sort of urgency in being in a program with a set expiration date, it feels almost rushed. My mom and I were talking a while back and I had to remind her that this is a program that is about half completed for me, and that I am not planning on staying longer than I have to. When I said, “I can’t stay there forever, I have to leave and get on with my life, living on a rehab ranch is NOT normal,” she paused for a minute because I think, somewhere, she thought, or hoped I would remain in the safety of a 250 acre ranch forever.

But, that’s not how this story will end, THAT is the only thing I can guarantee about being in rehab. But until then, I am really busy, as is everyone.

So Brian started working this week, he couldn’t be happier. Curtis got his financial aid and will be starting his degree program in January, Lane tested past several of his prerequisites in school and found out he is a semester further along than he believed. Steve has an interview on Monday morning, and Marty has had five interviews and he is going back this week for round two at a couple good places.

I also had two interviews, both of them went extremely well. I enter my final phase the week of November 30 and would love it if I missed this phasing ceremony because I was, instead, at work.

One of the chaplains said that my physical and mental energy is evident and that he is confident that I will be gainfully employed soon, his exact words were, ‘Your sobriety and health makes you look extremely attractive to a potential employer right now, probably more so than ever before,’ he ended our conversation saying that I wear sobriety well.

Apparently someone told him that playing to my over developed sense of self-awareness (read: vanity) is a fantastic way to keep me on the straight and narrow.

Tomorrow I am speaking to a huge congregation in a mountain town about my spiritual journey to sobriety, Tuesday I will be speaking to a juvenile youth-at-risk facility about what they can expect from a life of addiction and bad decisions. Thursday I will be speaking to another High School in the county, to talk about how the decisions they make now will affect their life forever. I will also be encouraging them to seek help now, to empower them and explain the amount of strength it takes to seek help – statistically, 58% of them have already used alcohol and 22% of them are binge drinkers. Statistically, about 160 of the kids in the school will be alcoholic or problem drinkers. And the number of them who will live with, marry, or have a parent or child that abuses alcohol jumps to about 1400 kids.

Who would have guessed that I would be speaking to people about this. A reporter from the Denver Post, Tina Griego, wrote to me and said, “To read your writing makes me think about how when my dad was drinking it was as if he could only play the highest and lowest notes on a piano. But when he was sober, all those notes in between were once again his and they brought to his life depth and nuance and beauty. I just wanted to thank you. You'll be in my thoughts.” WOW! A columnist for a major daily wrote to me!

I also heard from my sister that her brother-in-law had, out of nowhere, just checked himself into a treatment facility. She said she would like to think that my progress has something to do with him deciding to do this. When I saw him three weeks ago, he said he wasn’t ready and I told him, “If you aren’t ready, don’t go, don’t waste your time or their time. But someday, you will say, enough! And when you say that, you’ll be ready.”

Maybe he said, ‘enough.’ Maybe it had nothing to do with me, but I feel rewarded to have at least have had an answer for him that I hope made sense to him. An alcoholic is always told, “You can do it, now is the time, you’ll feel better, just stick with it, do it for yourself, blah blah,” and these things are meaningless to someone who lives with an addiction, because the addiction is telling you the opposite, and who are we inclined to listen to?

AA tells you that the first step is admitting you have a problem, and I am not going to get into why I hate AA, but this is one of the countless reasons. As an addict we already know we have a problem, geezus, we’re alcoholics not idiots. The problems are endless, they’re not some great big shock to us, its not like we wake up one day and say, ‘WOW, this is bad!’ I mean, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that the mornings of dry heaves, the hidden cupboards full of booze, the lack of real world interaction, the falls, scrapes, phantom bruises, job issues, relationship issues are problems. FREAKIN DUH!

The first step to recovery is just simply saying, ‘ok, enough.’

My dad was taking me back to the ranch one Sunday afternoon and I was showing him my running route – its my endurance run that I run each week, it’s a little less than 10 miles. He clocked it and was a little surprised that I do this with ease, heck I ran 4.5 miles today before the sun was completely up, and it was 17 degrees!

And he was silent for a little bit of the car ride, I think he was absorbing the idea that my life is becoming what it is becoming, and the speed its happening.

He spoke up and asked softly, ‘Think back, kid, to where you were last year at this time….’ (its cool that he still calls me 'kid')

The answer broke my heart. I thought about my relationship with someone I truly loved which failed miserably because of the drinking. That person had had ‘enough.’ I thought about the half assed comfort I was able to provide my family when my cousin killed herself because I was so far into my bottle that I could only emerge for brief moments of clarity, take a breath, realize the landscape of grief sucked too bad, and then grab another drink.

I thought about my ballooning weight and the fact that I had completely given up on the hope that I would ever again look in the mirror and like who or what I saw. I remember that I was so uninvolved with my job that I only showed up at work, awaiting the lay-off, I don’t think I even showered or combed my hair, I was relieved when they told me they were downsizing my department. Maybe they had also had ‘enough’

I remembered the strained relationships with my family. The apathy I felt towards them was painful for them, but, I really had lost the desire to stay plugged in or connected. Spiritually I had none of my sparkle, no energy, no real joy at all. I was black inside, a bottle of gin filled the hole where my soul once lived.

Through all this my companions were limited to the nice Asian lady who owned the liquor store and my dog – and even the dog was losing interest in me – she would sleep in her kennel even when I invited her on the bed with me. I remember I was so exhausted. ‘Tired’ is the only word that comes to mind. I had finally, just about, had ‘enough’.

And these memories brought me back even further – two years ago, right about this time, I nearly murdered myself – I word it like that intentionally because it would NOT have been a suicide, it would have been a murder, a manslaughter because it would have been my own carelessness and negligence that killed me. After aspiring on my own toxic vomit, I spent two weeks in the hospital on breathing tubes, unconscious, with a caring family who didn’t know if I would wake in a vegetative state or even worse.

My parents would come to see me daily and encourage me to wake up, Alex would take the bus or walk to the hospital to spend time with me. Everyone prayed and what a great tragedy to have died during the holiday season, Geezus, talk about crappy timing! The consequence would have been catastrophic for everyone, probably forever. What a great legacy that would have left, the guy who selfishly stole the holidays from everyone.

The doctors told me that if I kept it up I would die in 2-3 years.

Its now 2 years later. I am alive and well. Better than I have been in almost 20 years. My mom has always said how much she dislikes Thanksgiving – for whatever reason, every year for as long as I can remember, she laments on the holiday. She loves Christmas, 4th of July, hell, I’m sure she even celebrates Flag Day somehow, but Thanksgiving is a holiday that she really isn’t all that excited about every year.

This year, however, after the standard and almost required Thanksgiving family argument, I hope she takes a second and forgets all about me, because this year, I’m A-OK, and back from wherever it was I was for so many years. I hope Alex enjoys the day, drowned in indulgence to the point of sickness (Alex REALLY loves to eat), worry free, and I hope that I am the furthest thing from Alex's mind! Alex deserves a worry free day after all the days spent tied in knots concerned about me. I hope my dad spends his day watching football and thinking about a great meal, not wondering if I am going to spend the four day holiday drunk. I hope my absence is hardly noticed by my nephews and niece and their parents because they won’t need to wonder if I am gone because I am in some altered state of intoxication. Last year, my brother’s son asked where I worked, my sister’s son said, ‘He doesn’t work, he drinks.’

There is something that lightens my load to know that this year I am not the source of worry or anguish for the people I care about. Its kind of cool to know that my well-being isn’t even a thought. For the first time in a long time, I can say, ‘I’m doing just fine!’ and that’s ENOUGH for me to be thankful for!

Peace all have a great week.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Don't microwave a steak.

One of the hardest parts about going on weekend pass isn’t returning. I love to come back. Last weekend, before I even left my parents’ house I was being bombarded by messages and emails from the guys at the ranch who wanted to know when I would be back, I had been away from home for two days and we had a lot of catching up to do.

The hard part about returning is the fact that I know how long it will be before I return for a break, and the minutes after I return are the farthest minutes I will have from the next pass. Waiting!

There’s a lot of waiting in recovery. It doesn’t just happen. If only we could take a magic pill and it would all be fixed! We’d probably have to open a new rehab with people addicted to magic pills. But it takes time. I say this because one of the hardest parts for anyone who is living an addiction is waiting.

(note: I’d like you to notice I stopped saying ‘suffering an addiction’. I started using this term in an essay to my case manager a month ago and he asked me to explain it and my answer is this, I don’t feel like I need to ‘suffer’ from addiction forever. I have one, and I live with it, but it shouldn’t have to make me suffer. He liked the answer.)

Anyway, waiting is real tough. In fact, I haven’t written this blog in a week and a half because I’ve been super busy getting ready to phase in a couple weeks, and so you’ve had to wait; anxiously, I am sure (riiiight)

Part of what makes it difficult to wait is the immediate gratification offered by alcohol or drugs or tobacco or sex or gambling or food or shopping or whatever you are addicted to. Addiction becomes much easier when you can just say to yourself, ‘This is all too stressful, I think I need to go have a smoke,’ and you feel the immediate effects.

Its very interesting to me that one of the best tools in rehab isn’t the groups, isn’t the meetings, isn’t the therapy, it’s the waiting. Sometimes it’s ENDLESS, all the damn waiting. But it takes nearly a year for your brain to detoxify itself from the saturation of alcohol, sometimes it takes longer. Nothing can speed this up, nothing ‘fixes’ it except time. It’s the closest thing you’ll ever get to a magic pill.

Around this point in my sobriety (about 6 months) Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome should be setting in. This is your brain’s last ditch attempt to convince your body that it needs to drink or do drugs or smoke or whatever. At about 6 months your brain is beginning to realize that you aren’t going to be giving it the immediate gratification it’s been expecting and it begins to play tricks on you.

During PAWS, the brain begins to mimic phantom inebriation or phantom intoxication or phantom satisfaction. Its the brain’s way of ‘reminding’ the body, “Hey, remember how good it felt?” This is where the rubber meets the road for addicts, this is where most who will fall off the wagon just decide to pull the wagon over and get a frosty beverage. This is when a smoker will most likely begin smoking, a drinker will take a drink or a gambler will make a ‘friendly wager.’

Its also when it is the most dangerous because the body’s physical tolerance is so low yet the mental tolerance has skyrocketed and many who do relapse in a PAWS episode don’t come out of it with any forgiveness from their body. Many die.

I’m a little bit afraid of this. I haven’t had any real cravings or any real phantom inebriation, but I am clumsier than usual and slightly more irritable and having some sleeplessness and these are symptoms of PAWS. Because I wasn’t a daily drinker, the effects may be less pronounced, but that doesn’t mean that I am not equally as vulnerable as the daily drinker to grabbing ‘just one.’ And the cure for PAWS.... you just gotta wait.

Yes, can you believe that? More waiting! Ugh!

Brian just phased this week, he’s the first of my friends to phase and he’s ready to go to work. He has been looking for a job for a month now. He finally got an interview and then we had snow, it got canceled, they didnt call back to reschedule for three days, then they did and he went but the person who was to interview him was sick, so he had to wait longer. Then he had the interview and they asked him to take a drug test (which he is excited about because this is one drug test he KNOWS he doesn’t have to worry about), and now he is waiting to hear a start date. Waiting.

As an addict who is being forced to wait, he is absolutely miserable to be around I might add. He obsesses on it, he can’t stop thinking or talking about it. Curtis quipped, “I hope they hurry and call Brian back, it will be good for all of us so we don’t have to go ahead and kill him like we are all secretly planning.”

Lane is waiting to take his math entrance exams so he can start school in the spring semester. He is waiting because he wants to get into the math he needs for his degree, and not have to take a refresher course which will require money and more waiting!

I am ready to phase, I am waiting to start work too. I am waiting to have money, pay my parents for helping keep me afloat here, waiting to start living like a normal person. It’s killing me. I am waiting for someone to hurry up and leave so I can move to the other dorm. Once I phase in a couple weeks it will be the last time I ever phase in this program. But I gotta wait.

I think back on all this progress. My body and mind are in excellent shape. My heart is in great shape, my spirit is ALIVE again. I don’t feel polluted mentally or physically. Hell, even my teeth are clean sub-gingivally (that means they fold the gum back, scrape the tooth and fold it back, yes, it hurts like a motha!!) When I get back, The Drover-v2.0 is gonna be one hell-uv-a-guy, friend, son, brother, uncle, employee. And guess what, you’re all just gonna have to wait; just like me.

And all this good feeling is part of the PAWS period in recovery also. Your brain, in all it’s sneakiness, is telling my body – “OK, um, so maybe you don’t remember how good it felt to be drunk.... but you feel GREAT now, you’re cured, go on with your life.”

That feeling of well-being can not get out of control. The guys on the ranch call this the phase 3 slide. It’s when the guys in phase 3 (the phase I am entering) begin to forget the bad that addiction caused, their brain begins to remember the good. We feel great, feel attractive, feel smart, look better than we have in years. We slide. Boom roasted, relapse.

The hard part is staying with the program and working the program because, as I said earlier, it takes at least a full year for your brain to detoxify. I’m only 6 months in to it. The euphoric confidence I am feeling is not real. I firmly believe that if you are trying to change a lifelong behavior pattern, an addiction, a year is a minimum. You can’t relapse if you haven’t been sober for at least 365 days. You can’t ‘start’ smoking again if you haven’t stopped for at least 365 days. Neurochemically, your brain is still under the influence of your addiction and absolute detoxification can take up to 7 years.

It’s a little cliche to say that its worth it to wait, but it is. My sister is finally going to get her chemistry degree after a decade in school. My parent’s are beginning to think about retirement, I can run 5 miles a day but when I started here my goal was to be able to run ONCE to the dairy barn without stopping (um, 200 yeards - shaddup, thats far). Sobriety is like that. It takes a lot of waiting, and thinking, and dare I say it, praying. But eventually, one day you do run past the dairy barn.

Take a steak and throw it in the microwave for 5 minutes and it comes out cooked, but its jerky-like. Its tough, it has no flavor, it does nothing for your pallet. Now take a steak and put it in a crock pot. It takes 12-15 hours to cook. But its juicy, it has flavor, it satisfies the pallet.

One night right before I came to the ranch, I was sauced and my mom went to pick me up to have me stay with her. A rescue of sorts. I asked my mom, “Why is this me? Why do I have this? Why do I have to be the one who drinks?” and she didn’t have a real answer that could satisfy me. Despite what we sometimes think, our parents are only human and sometimes as lost as we are. I was seeking an answer and she didn’t have one. I remember thinking that night that I would need to figure it out. But I would have to wait. Again with all the damn waiting.

I waited and since then I’ve realized the answer was in the question. The curiosity about why I was like that was what lead me to seek help – I couldn't get an answer, so I began to live this question. Its why I work on this all day and night when I am here. I am passionate about understanding this malfunction in my nature. There may not be a magic pill of an answer, but in the quest to understand myself because I dared to ask the question, I am healing.

In all that asking, I’ve begun to conclude that I feel like being here is preparing me for the rest of my life. I feel like I am about to live some real blessings and getting the upper hand on this addiction thing was just to get me ready for it. The weight of real blessings will crush you if you aren’t ready for them. The journey to get them just fortifies your ability to receive them. And, well, you’ve got to wait. I spoke recently to Bob, a trusted chaplain and he helped me make some sense of all this.

Like so many people, I used to believe that every bright morning concluded with a dark night, and now, I’ve learned that every dark night is concluded by a bright morning. You can’t see it coming, dark is dark, then its light, and you’ve just got to wait.

Bob passed me something that Sister Maria Rilke wrote:
Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart,
Try to love the questions themselves,
Do not now seek the answers, they may not be given because you would not be able to live them, And the point is to live everything,
So live the questions now,
Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it,
Live along some distant day into the answers.

There you have it, don’t expect the answer, release yourself from ‘suffering’ from your addiction, and quit microwaving your steak; live the questions, live your addiction, live for the juicy meat in the crock pot.

And how do you do this? Well, you’ve just got to wait.

DAYS SOBER: 187 (6 months, 2 days)