Thursday, February 11, 2010

Red Shoes come in convenient packages.

There are things that you, who may not have alcohol problems, probably take for granted; routines that you have worked into your day or week that you hardly even notice. Alex always knows when it’s Tuesday because Popeye’s has some chicken deal and Alex loves chicken, especially when it’s cheap. A friend of mine in the City was telling me that she gets off work early on Monday nights so she can watch “Hero’s.” Towards the end, when I was drinking, I always knew that Friday would include a trip to Blockbuster so I could enough movies to keep me occupied while I drank a litre of Sangria and one pint of gin. I knew I would pass out by 11:30 (midway through the second movie) with half the pint left – enough to get me through Saturday morning until I could go back and get more.

By the end, my routines always included alcohol in some way. Either I was including alcohol or I was trying to recover from it. I was a very organized drunk, it always managed to make it into my budget as well as my schedule. Its interesting how we always schedule things we love.

Routines are safe and easy for an alcoholic – and as I have said before, we like a nice, easy to package and wrap up kind of life; emotionally as well as in our daily grind. I was surprised when I stopped including alcohol in my life how few routines I actually had. Nothing about my ‘organized’ life was even remotely organized without that one consistent companion. It was alarming at first and thankfully, by design, at the ranch, there is a rigid time structure in place that helps to fill the vortex of a life suddenly out of whack with the void created by instant and immediate sobriety.

But now I am at a point where my synthetic ranch life is transitioning to my painfully real life and I think establishing new routines is pretty important. I still go to devotions in the morning, I think this is important so I can stay connected to the ranch and so I can start my day with friends. I sit with the same guys every morning, Matt and Mike and they have become part of my routine; Mike because he has become my most trusted confident and Matt because he considers himself a “linguistic renegade” and I love to interact with people who elevate normal conversation to the level of art. I look forward to our half hour of friendly banter. Most of my other friends don’t make it to devotions these days because of school or work. Some of the staff sometimes make remarks about the fact that I still do this. Its my routine.

I know that on Saturday I will spend the day with my dad. I will probably do laundry, we will bum around town – we eat, we catch up on the week, we gossip a little, he always has something for us to do. Every week when I leave my time with him we always say, “OK, so NEXT weekend, we need to work on the house, do chores etc.,” but we never do… saying it is part of our routine. When he drops me off, he always rolls down the window and says, “Hey Kid, did I ever tell you that I love you more than anyone in the whole world,” and I usually laugh out load and say, “Yea, you did.” “OK, good, see you next week” he will reply. This is a cherished part of the routine. The kind of routine I might have missed out on had I decided to stay drunk.

Curtis and I have a new routine. Every Tuesday he has a long break between class and his campus is only 5 minutes from where I work so we’ve decided to make Tuesday a standing lunch date.

“We should really try to make Tuesday lunch our thing,” he told me a couple weeks ago
“Cool, that’s great, because you don’t get to see me much anymore?”
“No, because if you don’t take me to lunch then I am stuck at school until 3 and I don’t want to do that. I mean…er…yea because we’re friends.”

His honesty is one of the reasons I enjoy his company. But we used to talk when we were in lower south about how cool it would be to do normal stuff like have lunch with friends when we got to higher phases, so now it’s possible, it would seem stupid to not do it.

This Tuesday he and I were eating and he asked me, “So what are the chances you are really going to stay sober once you leave – like what is the percentage you think you will succeed.”

This is a question that we all ask when we get to this part of the program – real life is pretty real to say the least and most of us are trying to figure out how to incorporate this into our sobriety.

I answered him and then asked him why he was asking. (You want to know what my percentage was, don’t you, but I am not saying). He asked because he told me that he ran into a graduate of the ranch recently and this graduate was drunk. This troubled Curtis quite a bit because I think he saw this failure as a failure that he too could have. It’s a dangerous question when we think, “I can use SOME things, I can’t do others,” because when we begin to bargain with ourselves on what we can ‘get away with’ – well, this is addictive thinking and its relapse time!

It’s shocking to see someone finish the program and then run back to the bottle. One graduate a couple weeks ago left the farm and THAT NIGHT went to find an old friend to get hammered. Its troublesome to think about because it makes each of us wonder - what’s the point. I mean, if I relapse, perhaps I should just give in and give up.

I mean, really, why am I spending this whole year doing all this if my chances of success are so slim. What in the world am I thinking, and who the hell am I fooling with all this. Statistically, I have not finished drinking – statistically, there is still a 78% probability that I will drink again. (Out of the hundred guys who enter the program yearly, only about 25% will graduate, and only about half of the graduates will remain sober – 12% of the guys who enter the program)

So Curtis and I began to dissect the situation. One thing we both agree on is that the guys who tend to fall are the ones who come in with the absolute, gung ho, this time there no turning back attitude. The guys who have no margin for error. Rigid, unbreakable willpower to stay sober. 90 meetings in 90 days guys – the guys who were drunk and high and probably ‘bangin some whore’ Friday, entered the program on Saturday, and Sunday they were Uber-Christian and 'living sober'. Those guys drive me nuts.

I’ve always maintained that the possibility of relapse is real – and I am far far from an Uber-Christian. Heck, I probably sin in my sleep. My relationship with God is real, however. The package of sobriety to me isn't pass or fail and I used to challenge my attitude and say that I was too passive about the whole thing.

But the point is, as an alcoholic, we like things simple, in boxes, with names. Things like “drunk” “sober” “recovered” are all easy packages. It’s not an accident that cheap wine comes with a twist off top, that the curve of a pint of liquor fits nicely in your back pocket.

And real life offers NONE of that. There are no easy packages in real life, there is no twist off top to drink from life’s solutions. It's blurry. It takes time. Sobriety is an endurance race – and the 90 meetings in 90 days guys are almost always successful at GETTING sober. Hell, I was sober every Monday morning by 11am. Hung over, but sober, and I maintain that GETTING sober is a cinch. Staying sober is the hard part. But how I define success at this isn't always going to fit into a package.

I have inched along in this rehab at a painfully slow rate. You may recall, I hadn’t planned on staying past June of last year. Then I was convinced that I would be home by fall. Christmas was out of the question and there was no way I would spend New Year’s on that stupid ranch.

But, here I am – beginning my 10th month in the program and life is purring along with new routines and I have made only baby steps. Sometimes I feel like I have traveled only a short distance, made only slight course adjustments.

Is this the solution? I have no idea, but it is a solution for me, for now. The baby steps, just a few small things which result in a few big results. There are many times, most times, I don’t feel like I have done much, gone far, my journey hasn’t seemed particularly difficult. It’s almost been comically easy in some ways. Has the solution ALWAYS been this easy to grasp? Sobriety.

And then I rest because there is some comfort in knowing that my real life, my new happy real life, has always been only a small distance away from me. I am able to stop beating up on myself for ‘letting it get this far’ because, maybe it didn’t. This makes it possible to forgive myself for many things, things I have harbored and resented about myself through this whole program. It’s like Dorothy in the Wizard of OZ, when she sees that home was only a click of her red shoes, away. And forgiving myself for messing up is gong to always be part of my sobriety.

I know you may be thinking that I should consider this work. I can hear my parents now talking about how much more I will appreciate things when I work hard for them, but this doesn’t seem like work to me. It seems like something I am able to do naturally, like walking. Maybe I shouldn’t stress out because I am not stressed out. Maybe I don’t need to feel like I should be feeling something else; maybe my new package is emblazoned with, ‘Tastes great, less FEELING’?

So here’s how I will wrap this up. Like all the guys here, I worry about relapse, I worry about staying sober, I feel like I should worry about it. I catch myself feeling rigid, like if anything happens and I have a drink, I will be immediately transported through some cosmic tornado to a distant land where my companions will be scarecrows, tin men, and "linguistic renegades." But then I think, that’s not how it has to be. In the crappy event that something happens, I need to get up and click my shoes, and remind myself that my reality isn’t so far away and its time to get back to it. I am less scared by this.

Does this grant me permission to relapse. Hardly. But it also grants me permission to forgive myself and start over if I do and NOT give up, grab a litre of Sangria and go back to old routines. Is that an easy package to live in?


So, if you see me walking around town, clicking my heels, never you mind, it’s just part of my new routine. And if it’s a Tuesday, I will either be on my way to eat cheap chicken with Alex or have lunch with Curtis. If its a Saturday, I am probably playing hookie from chores with my dad, who loves me more than anyone else in the whole world.
All in all, my life comes in a pretty nice package.

Have a good week all - enjoy your routines….

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