Archive for October, 2011

There is no shame:

Monday, October 31st, 2011

Are you an alcoholic? Who gives a fuck! Who cares what you call yourself. The bottom line is that you liked getting drunk or doing drugs (or both). That’s called pleasure seeking - most humans do that, it’s normal. But our excessive consumption was just that – excessive. It may be viewed as abnormal by some, while others would consider it normal. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether other people think your consumption is normal or abnormal – it’s more important what YOU think, and how drinking or drugs are affecting your own life.

Calling yourself an alcoholic, recovering alcoholic, recovered alcoholic, whatever, is limiting to your own mind. You can think and say that you’re an alcoholic, that you’re weak, flawed, riddled with character defects, that you suffer from a disease, that you can’t control yourself, etc. But those are often used as excuses so you can ignore your behavior or to get others to forgive your behavior. It gives you a right (consciously or unconsciously) to relapse or behave in any fashion you want, because when you get caught doing something wrong, you can say, “I can’t help it! I’m weak, flawed, riddled with character defects. I have a disease.” This mentality of: “I’m an alcoholic” can also hold you as a prisoner to your own group, therapist or counselor. If you don’t drink and go on to live a sober life, you may not need them anymore. Crazy huh?

Is there any shame in just saying, “I used to drink a lot because I liked it, but it wasn’t good for me, so I don’t drink anymore.” Isn’t it more embarrassing to carry the stigma of alcoholic around with you all your life? Like it or not, people have stereotyped impressions of alcoholics and recovered alcoholics:

  • They’re weak
  • They’re immoral
  • They’re lazy
  • They’re liars
  • They have poor hygiene
  • They can’t be trusted
  • They could crack at any moment
  • (Add your own)

For example: I no longer drink, but because I really liked getting drunk and I became dependant on alcohol, I’m called an alcoholic, or worse yet, (to me), a recovered alcoholic. People may not intend to use those identifiers for me in a bad way, but those words will still cloud and influence their impression and belief about me.

When I have to call myself something, I refer to myself as a Re-Invented Alcoholic. That statement allows for more curiosity and opens the conversation to multiple areas of discussion. Instead of talking about all the wreckage from my past, I get to talk about what I am doing now.

Some staunch program believers may say that I’m, “in denial,” and that I will always be an alcoholic. I will agree to one point – I will always crave catching a buzz – and that’s it. But as long as I don’t self-introduce alcohol into my system I can’t be an active drunk.

If I’m sober – but I don’t adhere to someone else’s guidelines, steps or criteria – does that mean I’m a failure? Not to ME. Maybe to them, but I’m not trying to please them. If someone takes the time to get to know me, just as I should take the time to get to know them, we might end up understanding and respecting one another better.

There is no shame in admitting that you used to drink heavily. Naturally you should use a bit of tact and refrain from telling everyone you meet  I’m referring to the curious questions that come your way from people you already know, such as: “How come you’re not drinking? Why can’t I get you a drink? You used to drink like a fish. Etc” If those questions come from someone you don’t know or just met, you are NOT obligated to tell them anything, but it’s still okay to say, “Thanks, but I used to drink too much. I don’t drink anymore.”

“I don’t want people to know that I used to be a drunk.” Chances are good people already know, either because they know you personally or they have heard about you, (sorry, but people DO gossip). And wouldn’t YOU rather be in control of what other people say or think about you than have them conjure up their own twisted impressions? So if you feel compelled to call yourself something, why not call yourself a Re-Invented Alcoholic? It’ll open up the conversation towards a positive tone that you can control.

However, it doesn’t matter how well you behave, how logical your case or whatever empirical evidence you present, some people will still think what they want to think about you. There is no shame in being honest about what you once were – because now you are different. It’s their loss if they don’t spend the time to get to know you.

I am powerless:

Sunday, October 30th, 2011

Yup, that’s right – I am powerless over alcohol – but only once I have personally exhibited the willpower to self-introduce it into my body. Once it’s in, I can’t control how much more I’ll put in. Oh sure, maybe for a while I could, (or did), but eventually it takes over. So what? That’s what alcohol does. Is this shocking to me? NO.

I suffer from no disease – I liked getting drunk and I made the conscious choice to pour alcohol into my mouth. There are a couple conditions that I will agree to:

#1 - I developed a physical and psychological dependency on alcohol.

#2 - I received pleasure from drinking (and getting drunk) more so than the average person*.

That’s it. My own willpower propelled me to buy beer, Scotch, Gin, Vodka; and then drink it.

*Average Person: To me, an average person doesn’t receive the same euphoric sensation in the pleasure center of their brain from alcohol as a drunk does. Without getting overly complicated, pleasure centers are in the frontal cortex of the brain. While alcohol affects each one of us physiologically in pretty much the same way (warm body, flushed skin, visual, auditory, balance and dexterity impairment), we drunks seem to receive an added “kick” in our pleasure center.

This is parallel to people who smoke cigarettes. Some people smoke a cigarette and say, “No big deal. I can take it or leave it.” While others have the physiological capacity for the uptake of nicotine to rapidly enter the pleasure center of their brain. They are not “diseased, weak or flawed.” They just have a physical attribute that allows them to get a warm and comforting mental sensation from nicotine.

Some may take the position that because I acknowledge this condition as a physical attribute, that alcoholism truly is a disease. Fine, call it a disease. But this is one disease that can be put into remission by NOT self-introducing it into your body.

“You don’t know what it’s like. I can’t help myself,,, I just do it,” or “Drinking is all an alcoholic thinks about, it takes over their brain.” I agree that it does take control of the brain – the physical organ. But it is still a conscious act of volition -performed by the mind – to physically go buy alcohol and drink it. I’m not being a smartass here. I do know what it’s like. I drank in uncontrollable fashion for many years (30). I have been the recipient of numerous bad consequences due to my own willingness to drink.

Once I understood that I have a higher capacity to receive “joy” from alcohol in the pleasure center of my brain, I realized that I cannot attempt to be a social drinker. I never was a social drinker- and this explains to me why I never was. Because of this condition, moderation would simply be torturing myself. I would have a drink, and then the pleasure center of my brain says, “Give me more! This isn’t enough.”

The answer is simple: Abstinence is the only safe route for me to not be powerless over alcohol. If I don’t self-introduce alcohol into my system, it can’t gain physical and psychological control over me. Simple – yes. Easy – that’s an entirely separate subject.

Peer pressure:

Friday, October 28th, 2011

My peers, the geographical society that I grew up in and the religion I was raised under influenced how I thought and behaved for many years. It wasn’t until I sobered up did I realize that I must think on my own, ask more questions, acquire more knowledge, make my own decisions – and then live with the consequences of my decisions.

I will not blame my peers; I drank and did drugs because I liked it. However, my mind, behaviors and values were influenced by my surroundings and the people I hung out with. The greatest thing that sobriety has enabled for me is to understand and accept this. Which is why I am now so choosey about whom I will hang around.

My previous choice of peers and values explains why I did what I did – it is not an excuse.

Such as I grew up in a drinking city (Milwaukee, WI), and attended Catholic grade school. Drinking, even to excess, is socially accepted. I saw most adults around me drink (except for my parents – they didn’t drink). My immediate family and relatives didn’t drink either, but my friend’s parents did. So drinking at a young age seemed like the thing to do and I liked getting drunk with my friends. After I learned what it felt like to get drunk – I wanted more. So I had to seek out new peers who could help me discover recreational drugs. And they did.

In my desire to be “different from the rest,” but still be accepted, admired and popular, I did much of what my peers said I should do. I then performed the same ritual and influenced others to join in with the party. I thought I was being individualistic, but I was in actuality a follower. I did many things that I knew I shouldn’t do. I glommed on to people that I knew were of questionable character. But I was having fun – I liked it. I admired the dangerous.

The Catholic schools educated me well; they also influenced how I felt about other people and their behaviors. I was taught that traditions and beliefs are to be followed and never questioned. But I asked a lot of questions and was deemed problematic because of it. The conservative minded (and segregated) society of Milwaukee also influenced me. I am heterosexual and so where my peers. Thus my peers and Catholic upbringing told me that homosexuals were sinners and abnormal. I became a homophobe. My enlistment into the Air Force furthered this.

I grew up in segregation. I was never a racist, but I had impressions and held beliefs about anyone who wasn’t white – I didn’t know any better. After Catholic grade school I attended a desegregated high school. I finally got to learn about other races by being around them. The Air Force also opened my mind up to diversity. I began realizing that my beliefs and behaviors had been heavily influenced by my peers. This was a good awakening for me.

When I began my career in radio and entertainment, drugs and drinking were commonplace (which is probably why I gravitated towards it), and I gravitated towards those with the best drugs. I discovered the cold, harsh, non-human joys of narcotics from my peers. Entertainment is also an industry where homosexuality is accepted. As I got to know a few gays, I became more “tolerant” but still held on to some old ingrained beliefs. Even in an individualistic industry such as entertainment I was still influenced by my peers.

When I started attending AA meetings, I witnessed this same peer influence phenomenon – sober people being influenced by the people around them. I saw the impressionable glom on to the old timers, their sponsors and the program dictates. These impressionable people wanted to be accepted, admired and popular, so they said and did whatever their AA peers told them to say or do. It’s not my job or responsibility to tell others how to live, so I minded my own business. I just wanted to figure out how to stay sober and be happy again.

I wasn’t aware of meeting protocol, so I would ask a lot of questions (just as I had done with the priests and nuns). Ooooops. Can’t do that. No questioning the program, no crosstalk, no unapproved materials or subject matter. So I followed the peers and did my best to keep quiet and simply follow. This made me uncomfortable. This discomfort caused me to start researching alternatives, to begin educating myself and to discover how I can be my own best influence on myself.

I parted ways from AA when I heard an old timer say a very hurtful, hateful and prejudicial thing. (I guess old timers are allowed to break protocol and interject.) A young man had his turn to share. He spoke of his alcohol misuse and the problems that it caused. He mentioned, in passing, that his boyfriend was an alcoholic and abusive. The old timer chimed in and said, “Your problem isn’t that you’re an alcoholic, you’re problem is that you’re a homo.”

I felt pain for this young man. Here he is, looking for fellowship with his addiction and he’s being insulted. He became quiet, hanging his head in shame. Possibly questioning in his own mind, “Maybe that IS my problem?” No one questioned the old timer about his statement; no one (including me) defended the young man or said a word. I got up, left, and have never been to a meeting since.

That incident was the turning point in my understanding of how heavily we can be influenced by the people we hang around. I felt that if I stayed at that meeting and said nothing (because I would not be allowed to), in some way I was condoning it. I realized that if I don’t like where I am or who I am hanging around – then I should leave or not go in the first place.

This has been an important lesson for me in making the best out of my sobriety. If the people I am around make me feel uncomfortable, weak, inept or tempt me – I leave and I won’t hang around them in the future. Sometimes I must end friendships with people that I truly like, but if it’s an unhealthy friendship, I end it.

I no longer seek my peers approval, acceptance, or try to elicit gratuitous responses. I don’t have to drink or do drugs attempting to gain peer attention, love and admiration. I don’t try to impress my peers, make them feel envious or jealous. These are dangerous behaviors because they could lead me to do unhealthy and self-destructive things.

I now choose my peers wisely and cautiously. If they are not healthy minded and productive – I stay away from them. I want peers who challenge my mind and cause me to think. If I don’t exhibit the same characteristics with them, I don’t expect that they would want to hang around me either. And every one of my peers is not a close friend. Some are business peers, some are creative peers, some are emotionally intimate friends, but they all challenge my mind. Even as an adult, I know that I am stilled influenced by the people I hang around.

Be happy with what you’ve got:

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

This post doesn’t have to strictly do with money or materialistic things; it encompasses all areas of life. Such as the acceptance of your physical attributes, your desires and what you are trying to accomplish in life.

Why not be happy with what you’ve got? I am not saying that you stop trying to better your life and accept second rate conditions or live with mediocrity. But it seems as if life is always worse than it actually is. Life is usually better than you think it is, but less than you want it to be. Now some of you may live in a pretty shitty situation or have a horrible existence. I’m sorry for that – but why is that your situation? Is there anything you can do about it? Is there any way you can make it better? Is there any way that you could enjoy what you do have?

What feeds low self-esteem and self-inadequacy is that we feel as if we lack things in our life. People often use phrases like, “I’ll be happy when,,, when I make more money, get married, get divorced, have a baby, when the kids move out, when I lose these last 10 pounds, when I’m sober for a year, whatever.” Always waiting for “when.” And when it arrives they’re still not happy, or they don’t notice that it arrived. Another self-inadequacy statement is, “I’d be happy if,,, if I was taller, if I had bigger boobs, if I had red hair, if I didn’t have this big nose, if he or she would quit drinking, if I wouldn’t drink so much, whatever.”

“I’ll be happy when I get a vacation” or “when I get married.” Okay, so you go on vacation, come home and then what? Then you’re waiting for the next vacation. Or you get married, then what? That’s when the real work starts.

So think about this: What if any of your, “I’ll be happy when” happened tomorrow? What if you woke up tomorrow and you were 10 pounds lighter – you magically lost those last 10 pounds – would your life be complete, would you be happy for the rest of your days? I don’t know, you might be? But chances are good something else will come up and then you’ll be happy when that happens.

And so often, if or when you do finally get what you want, you find out it isn’t all that great – it’s not what you expected or thought it would be like.

I don’t always get what I want, in fact I rarely get EXACTLY what I want, but a lot of times I come pretty close to getting what I want. But I’ve learned to at least be happy with what I do have and to be happy with the fact that I’m trying. What has helped me is that I’ve come to accept that I will be disappointed, let down, deflated and won’t have everything I want in life. But that doesn’t mean I won’t keep trying. If I don’t try I won’t get shit, and if I don’t try then I don’t deserve to get shit. I don’t deserve money, friendship or love if I don’t try for it. I have to work for money, I have to be a good friend if I want friendship and I have to love someone to get love in return. And even if I try, I’m not automatically entitled to those things. The only thing I’m entitled to is to die.

What you get back in life, (a lot of times), is disproportionate to what you put in. Sometimes you get less than you worked for, sometimes more than you anticipated. The Rolling Stones song says, “You can’t always get what you want, but you get what you need.” – Sorry, I have to disagree with Mick on this one. Most times you don’t get what you want or what you need – you just get what you get – and YOU have to make the best out of it.

Did I get what I wanted out of sobriety? No, absolutely not. But I’ve gotten more than I expected and less than I hoped for. Please allow me to bore you with my explanation.

I started my sobriety “expecting” things. I wasn’t aware that there were alternatives, so I began attending AA meetings when I initially sobered up. I’m not going to blame other people here, but I was told that I can expect a lot out of sobriety. But first, other members would remind me that “I’m a powerless, despicable person, riddled with flaws and character defects.” Then they would tell me, “as long as I worked the steps the steps will work.”  I was told that as long as I give myself over to a higher power, that higher power will take care of things and everything will work out for the best and that I should trust that everything will work out. It will be handled for me by the higher power, and I’ll be happy.

So I innocently began to expect that when I sober up my marriage would be rekindled, my wife would love me again, and all that I had lost would be regained and life would be good. Then reality came crashing through my front door like a fucking freight train. My wife and I must have had two different higher powers. Mine was trying to help me get her back; hers was trying to get rid of me. Her higher power won. So I guess things DID work out the best – not for me but for her.

And here is the point with my story – OTHER people are typically involved in our sobriety. We may want something, but the other people in our life may not want the same thing. And maybe what we think we want wouldn’t be good for us, or maybe getting what we want wouldn’t make any difference anyway.

On the other side of this is that what you do get may be better than you thought it would be. Let me give you an example of this.

I’ve got this big ass 40′ RV and it’s called “The Sobriety Coach.” I’m travelling all over the country, meeting people and working directly with people on their sobriety. This is something I never expected I would ever do and it’s better than I ever imagined. Last year I did the same thing in an older RV – which had mechanical problems once in a while, (okay more than once in a while), it wasn’t as nice or roomy as the newer ones, but it suited my purposes. I reminded myself to be happy with what I had, but to strive for more.

So I worked hard, saved my money and got a newer RV with all the fancy accoutrements. But did that make me a better person? Does this allow me to be of help to more people? Does this help me sell more books? Did getting this newer RV make my life complete? NO. It was the doing, the working towards a goal that was rewarding. Having less anxiety about mechanical problems while travelling is nice, but it was the growth from where I was to where I am going that is rewarding.

I consciously remind myself – constantly – that even though I didn’t get what I had hoped for out of sobriety, I got more than I imagined. I’m doing what I want, I’m living what I think is a great life and I need to be happy with what I have. In fact, if I wouldn’t have lost so much of what I loved, I never would have learned how to appreciate what I do have. If everything worked out just perfect; the way I planned it, I wouldn’t be in the position that I am now. Instead of my book being titled: Living Sober Sucks, it would be titled: Living Sober is great and everything works out perfect. That would be a disservice to other drunks because it wouldn’t be reality and it wouldn’t be the truth. Then I would be selling false hopes and false dreams.

Some people might say, “See Mark, your story supports that everything works out for the best.” Oh contraire my friend. Everything doesn’t work out for the best; I had to make the BEST out of how everything worked out. I had to make this happen – it was not given to me.

By living sober I am able to think clearer, make better decisions and I don’t foolishly waste money. But sobriety and no higher power gave it to me – I worked for it. This is not arrogance – this is personal pride and self-esteem. I don’t expect anyone to give me anything – I have to work for it and earn it. I’m not just talking about money here. I’m talking about the developing of worthwhile and meaningful relationships with people, furthering my education, furthering my knowledge base and ultimately rebuilding my feelings of self-worth.

So back to my original point. Don’t wait for, “I’ll be happy when…” Appreciate, enjoy and be grateful for what you DO have now. Be happy while you’re working at getting to, “when this or that happens.”  Yes, keep striving for more. Keep trying to further and better your life, look forward to reaching goals, but be grateful for what is there now and enjoy the process of getting to the “I’ll be happy when.”

Don’t expect sobriety to give you shit. You will have to work and strive for more. Then you will be deserving of the rewards – but you won’t be entitled to them. Who knows, your rewards might be better than what you had hoped for.

What drunks/addicts hate to admit:

Sunday, October 23rd, 2011

What do you think is the one thing most drunks and addicts hate to admit? Before I get to that, allow me to set the stage a little.

People will often complain that, “I’m always broke, I can’t make ends meet, I don’t make enough money, I don’t get paid enough.” Bullshit! I’m poor (based on national averages and standards, I’m actually poverty level), but I can make ends meet. I’m going tell you how shortly. So if you’re poor, if you can’t afford your rent, mortgage, car payment or daily bills, what in fuck makes you think that you can afford beer, booze or wine? And let me ask you, will buying beer, wine or drugs help pay the rent, pay the bills or earn you more money? I doubt it.

It’s interesting that we drunks can always find money for drinking. So if you can find money for booze, drugs, partying, lottery tickets, whatever, you can find money to live on and to pay yourself. And today I’m going to be your personal finance coach. No, I’m not going to give you any hot stock tips are tell you where to invest your money, that’s for you to decide, once you finally have money. And now you’re asking, “Where the fuck am I gonna get all this money from Mark?” I’ll get to that shortly.

So, back to: What do you think is the one thing most drinkers hate to admit or don’t want to talk about? Go ahead and think about it, I’ll give you a few seconds…… Okay, times up.

First I’ll tell you what we WILL admit to. We’ll openly admit to being an alcoholic, we’ll say that we’re “powerless” over alcohol, we’ll give our mind and our decision making over to a higher power; some group or sponsor. We’ll go apologize to the world, we’ll make amends to everyone we’ve ever known and spread the good word of sobriety – but we’ll do anything to avoid sitting down with a pen and a pad of paper and do a realistic accounting of what our drinking has cost us – in terms of actual money. Because that’s personal, the numbers really hit home and it hurts to see these facts.

I can talk this bold because I lived it. I always came up with money for drinking, even if I had to charge it. The last 5 years of my drinking career was a financial sink-hole for me. I was continuously getting slowly, but surely, further into debt. I would go to Sam’s Club, buy food, house stuff and always threw in a couple cases of beer and a few bottles of wine. I could rationalize out the debt – “hey I’m buying food.”

Look, if you can afford to live the high life and you like drinking, what do I give a fuck what you do with your money – it’s your money. But most of us barely make enough to cover our bills, buy some nice things, let alone pay for drinking AND still put some money away into savings.

My financial situation turned around the very next day after I quit drinking. No, all of my bills didn’t magically disappear – but I wasn’t literally pissing money away anymore. What I used to spend on getting drunk I set aside and within the first 30 days I began paying off my debts. It went from paying off credit card debt, to paying off my car to paying off my home and then to saving and investing money. Hey, I’m a shit-fer-brains, and if I can do it YOU can do it.

We’re going to do a little math. Let’s come up with an average of what this drinking hobby costs you every day. You might say, “Well I don’t drink every day.” Humor me and follow along here. You don’t have to be Pythagoras to figure this out.

So let’s do some simple math. How much would you say you spend when you go out on a weekend? $20, $50, $100? Take everything into account: the cover charges to get into clubs or bars, dumb shit you buy while you’re there, your drinks, drinks you buy for friends, maybe a pack of smokes – because maybe you only smoke when you drink – and then the food afterwards. Consider what you spend on drinking when you go to festivals, carnivals, state fairs, concerts or sporting events. Let’s not forget about going out to dinner, (holy shit, my bar bill used to be more than my meal when I went out to dinner). Then let’s say you got a drunk driving ticket once (or twice) – how much was that? How much was the attorney or how much did your insurance increase? Once you start jogging your memory you might find thousands of events when you spent money on drinking. Now add all that up. Ya, it’ll take time, it might be pages and pages. So what? Do you want to know the truth or do you want to keep hiding from it?

Once you’ve come to a rough total, divide that by the years you’ve been drinking, then divide that by 12, then divide that by 4 and finally divide that by 7. There’s your answer of what you spend every day, on average, to support your drinking hobby.

Here, I’ll give you a simple example. Let’s say you go out on Friday night and spend $30 at a bar, then you go out Saturday and spend $40 at a club. On Sunday you go to a festival or Sports Bar and spend another $30. (I’m probably being conservative here.) So based on this example, you typically spend $100 over a weekend. $100 divided by 7 is $14.28 – EVERY DAY!

Let’s say you were to save that money instead. That comes to $428.57 a month. Think that would make your car payment? Think that would help pay your rent or pay down your mortgage? How about you do that for 3 months, that’s $1,285.71 Would that pay for a vacation? A new TV or something nice for your family or kids?

I’m not lecturing you here; I was guilty of this shit myself. I didn’t want to admit what drinking cost me. But once I did figure it out, I realized that I could be doing a lot more for myself with that money than just getting drunk. I urge you to do some math homework. Even if you don’t quit drinking, maybe it’ll help you spend less.

I’ve had some people tell me how depressed they got after realizing how much money they wasted in their life on drinking. Look, that money’s gone, never to be seen again. Don’t hate yourself for it – you can’t get THAT money back. But what you can do is learn to start stashing away some of that unspent booze money. I give a pretty basic plan on how to do this in both of my books: Living Sober Sucks and Okay, I quit. Now what? It’s simple stuff; not some wacked out get-rich-quick bullshit. You’ll learn to control and save money, based on what you currently make or earn. What, do you expect me to give everything away for free? This is America and I gotta make a living too.

Look, it’s your money, do what you want with it, but if you are going to quit drinking, then let that drinking money work for you and let sobriety reward you – with less debt, less stress, a few nicer things and maybe even a savings account.

(You can hear a similar podcast of this post at my website.)

12 Steps down memory lane:

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

I was going through some of my old file folders and I came across a folder that I had started when I first sobered up (6 years ago). At that time I was doing much of my writing the old fashioned way – handwritten with a pen. I’m not sure why I saved all those notes and writing? I guess I wanted to be able to see if I was making any progress. This file folder was specifically filled with AA materials and many of my handwritten notes; my thoughts and activities.

Before I bore you with my observation of my notes, allow me to give you a brief history:

I attended AA and Al-Anon for close to one year when I first sobered up. I had no idea of what else to do.  My wife was not supportive of me. In fact she taunted and emasculated me (I’m not bashing her, I’m just stating fact). I had nowhere else to turn and I thought that AA was where every drunk was supposed to go. I attended a couple of meetings and they made me feel uncomfortable. I was already in a weakened state; then I was told that I am weak, flawed and filled with defects. I thought, “Why come here? I can go home and my wife will tell me that and drink in front of me to make me feel even worse.”

I didn’t know what to do or where to turn, I had no support from the one person I needed most, so I continued going to meetings. I attended about 6 different locations in the Milwaukee area and eventually found one in a suburb that wasn’t smoke-filled. It was in a classroom at a Lutheran Church (what a surprise). I also attended Al-Anon meetings. What a heartless group that is! I’ll get to that in another post.

To make a short story long; I figured that I should at least make an attempt at following the steps. I had stopped drinking and I had enough self-determination to not drink again. So picking up a drink wasn’t really my problem – my problem was all my heartache, the lack of support, the mental anguish and my newfound boredom – I didn’t know what to do with myself and my time. And I was vulnerable, so I began believing that I was this awful, weak person, filled with flaws and defects. I was reminded of this constantly by the materials I read, by other meeting attendees and by my wife.

At some future writing I will go over many of my meeting experiences, the types of people I met and my impression of each step. For right now, I want to talk about all of my handwritten notes that I found. My notes were written during the first six months of my sobriety.

I wrote out each step, as the heading on 12 separate sheets of paper on a legal pad. I then wrote my impression, thoughts and what actions I must do to fulfill or perform each step. (I was under the “told” belief that if I work the steps, the steps will work and all that I have lost will be regained.) Even at that early stage, I could see that I couldn’t agree with most of the steps. What does a higher power have to do with my own behavior, my own actions, my own decisions and being responsible for all those things? If I was to improve my life and stay sober – this had to be solely my own responsibility.

I can read the mental struggle I was dealing with. I knew I was the only person responsible. I am not weak, I am not some horrid person – I just drank too much – and I will not relinquish my power to no one or no entity. But then I would also write, “I must learn to accept and follow these steps. My own mind is weak and flawed, filled with defects. What makes me think that I know a better way?” This mental battle was raging. I wanted to be ME, I wanted to be responsible for ME, and whatever I was to do in my life. But these steps seemed to be an attempt to sap me of all my own pride, self-esteem and self-worth. So I called upon my own strength and my own willpower and worked the steps with purest intention and effort. (I’ll write about strength and willpower in another post.)

As I said, I wrote out the step, listed what actions I must perform to fulfill the step, followed by the results. What an awakening! This involvement and exercise is what allowed me to walk away from AA and begin developing my own philosophies and principles.

The results that I attained, which I wrote down, were laughable. Things didn’t work out as I had been “told” they would. All the people I felt that I was supposed to apologize to and make amends with either stared blankly at me or would say, “What are you talking about? You’re not a bad person, you’re not weak. You just drank a lot. But thanks for the apology.” Some people I never apologized to – they are scumbags and don’t deserve my apology. The close friends that I shared all my wrongs with said, “I think you’re being a little too hard on yourself Mark. You’re not a bad person. You just drank a lot. But it’s very admirable that you would go through all this.” (They were non-drinkers.) I look at my notes on all the steps. So much writing and mental struggling over a six month period.

At the bottom of #1, I can see that I wrote in big letters: “I AM NOT POWERLESS! I HAVE POWER OVER ALCOHOL – I DON’T DRINK IT.”

At the bottom of #2, I wrote: “I’ve tried. I cannot honestly say that I believe in a God. I will not lie to myself.”

#3: A lot of painful notes, reminding myself that I must try. Eventually I put a big “X” through the entire sheet.

#4: Beneficial. Any mature adult should do this – even if you’re not a drunk.

#5: I did just that. I mention above what these non-drinkers said to me.

#6: At the bottom I wrote: “It is up to ME. God will not do my work for me. If there is a God, She will be glad that I took personal responsibility.”

#7: Another big “X” across the entire page.

#8: That was a two page list. A checkmark by each name shows me that I had apologized to them. Again, I refer to the earlier paragraph, where most said, “What are you talking about? You’re not bad. You just drank a lot.”

#9: I wrote on this page: “Don’t make amends,,, LIVE amends with the people you love.”

#10: Once again, this is something any mature adult would do. I noticed that I had also written the name: Dale Carnegie. His books have helped me learn to be a better person and a better friend far more than Bill’s.

#11: “I cannot pray to something I don’t believe in. I will however spend time to be more reflective on myself and my own behaviors.”

#12: “Open my mouth when I am asked about it, help others if they ask for help, otherwise mind my own fuckin’ business.”

There was much more writing and many, many more notes, all written at different stages and on different dates. This is only a synopsis of what I had written.

In summary: I found it interesting (to me at least), when I came across these old notes. It helped me see how far I have truly come with my sobriety. I believe that it was beneficial for me to educate myself by reading AA approved materials, attending meetings and making a pure attempt at the steps. It helped me realize that I am an individual and I must take sole responsibility for myself and not just blindly follow the antiquated dictates of generations past.

I believe that anyone who is serious about living sober should do that for themselves – educate yourself on AA. It might be the answer to your problem?  It may also inspire you to dig a bit deeper within yourself, to take responsibility for yourself and get YOU thinking about what YOU want out of sobriety. When you address your sobriety seriously – do something about it and make your own decisions – you will build your self-esteem and you can be proud of yourself.

Fear! The fear of what?

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

Some fears are genuine and valid, but so many of them are simply made up in our own mind. Those made-up fears are debilitating and limiting to us in life. Like the fear of stopping destructive drinking. “I’m afraid I’ll get DT’s. I’m afraid I’ll lose all my friends. I’m afraid I’ll be bored. I’m afraid that I won’t have fun anymore. I’m afraid… of… (of what?)”

I wanna talk about  the fear of quitting drinking. Just the thought of never drinking again scared the shit out of me. How would I ever go through life without ever catching a buzz again? How will I deal with my friends, how am I going to handle social situations, what the fuck am I gonna do when I want to drink but I can’t?

Here’s what I learned: The fear of something is far more intense than the actual “doing it” part. (I imagine that must be what it’s like having sex with me – the fear and anxiety is far worse than the actual “doing it” part.)

So let me give you a goofy example. Last year (in 2010) I drove down to the end of Key West in a 34’ motor home. (I happen to be here in the Keys right now – in a 40′ motor coach.) Ever been there? There’s all these bridges, and it’s a two-lane highway. I drove out there during the day, and some of these bridges are really, really high above the water. I’m driving this motor home and I was terrified. So I decided that when I come back, I’m gonna come back at night so I can’t see all this shit. Bad fuckin idea – it was worse. My mind kept telling me how scared I should be. I’d look at the GPS screen and all I could see was water around me. I remembered all the bridges and how high they were and my mental fear took over.

I’m driving along, I’m sweating and farting and peeing my pants, all nervous and jacked-up over what I think I’m afraid of. I’m getting myself all worked up for 20 minutes before I even get to a bridge. Then the bridge comes, it takes me 45 seconds to drive over it, I’m alive and nothing happened. I spent all that time getting worked up over nothing.

I’m not saying that fear isn’t real, but I spent MORE TIME worrying and getting anxious about what could or might happen, than the amount of time it took me to do the scary thing itself. I couldn’t enjoy what I was doing because I was too full of fear. And ultimately, nothing happened and I made it back safe and sound.

And that’s like the fear over making the decision to quit drinking. You don’t know what you don’t know until you know. Ya, that sounds stupid, but it’s true. You get your brain all worked up thinking, “What if this happens or what if that happens, what if he does this or she does that?” You don’t know until you do it. Yes, you have to use common sense, you don’t shove your hand in a blender and think, “gee I wonder what will happen?” I’m talking about all the fears we have that limit us from doing things and all the fears we have because we think about all the things that COULD happen.

So, back to the fear of quitting drinking. Your fears are valid – you might get sick, you might go through DT’s, you might lose some of your friends, you might lose your spouse, you might be bored out of your fucking skull – but then you might not. You might end up rekindling and rebuilding your marriage or relationships, you might do better at work and get a promotion – I know for sure that you’ll save money. And if you don’t drink, I can guarantee that you won’t be arrested for drunk driving.

You don’t know what good or bad things will happen until you try. And I don’t mean try for a day, you have to be willing to make a long-term commitment to this. If you just get sober for a day and then say, “well that didn’t work, nothin’ good happened,” that’s fucked up. Sobriety pays off in the long-term, where getting drunk pays off now, cuzz you get drunk. Ahhh, but then come the consequences. Getting drunk now can have some good short-term consequences, like taking home some strange, or having a wild time, but then you get more long-term bad consequences, like and STD that you can’t shake for the rest of your life, or an unwanted pregnancy, a car accident or some other bullshit. I’m not trying to scare you, these are facts. The odds of something bad happening to you in life a far greater if you’re getting drunk every day than if you’re living sober every day.

So if you’re thinking, “Drinking isn’t good for me, maybe I should quit.” Then just quit – don’t be afraid. Some things may turn out better than you expect, some things may turn to total shit. But you won’t know until you try. And don’t worry that you’re going to go through DTs – you probably won’t. But you will go through some things that seem like DTs. Your sleep patterns will get all fucked up, you will probably be irritable, probably have headaches, sweat a lot, get a case of the shits because your body isn’t used to eating good food on a regular schedule.

DTs can happen, especially if you’ve been drinking heavily for an extended period of years. Your body and your organs are accustomed to functioning with alcohol in its system, and when you take away the alcohol, bad shit can happen. If you do end up feeling light headed, passing out, puking, can’t eat or your heart is pounding away, go to an emergency room. Tell the nurses and doctors that you just stopped drinking – they can’t help you if you aren’t honest with them.

So I would like you to let go of your fears about quitting drinking. If you’re gonna quit, then quit, and let shit start happening, both the good and the bad, and deal with it, if or when it comes along. And as you start to live sober, (or maybe you’ve been sober for a while), remember this about fear: Fear can only stop you or upset you if you let it. You don’t know what you don’t know until you know, or it happens.

I’m sure you can think of plenty of things that you got all anxious and nerved up over that never happened. And if you keep being fearful and thinking about all the bad stuff that might happen, you can actually bring the bad stuff upon you – you can make it happen yourself.

Use your common sense, be cautious, but don’t let fear hold you back from taking the first step towards something. Don’t let fear run your mind and get you all anxious and nervous.

When does it all get better?

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

For some of you, the turnaround into a fulfilling life, once you stop drinking, may be rapid. You may start seeing and experiencing positive results immediately. For most of us, it will be a slower evolution because it takes time to see major improvements occur. I’ll grant that there will be a few immediate improvements for all of us – no hangover headaches, not feeling like shit, probably some extra money left in your pocket.

Most people that I’ve talked with have told me that it takes anywhere from a year, up to two years before they really see sustained change and good times become the norm – regardless if they’re single or in a relationship (I’ll get to that later).

It took me close to three years before my mind, body and emotions began enjoying sobriety as the norm. I believe that this extended period was my own fault. I wasted too much precious time relearning to socialize without my crutch of beer and Scotch. Sure, I would go to events and places where alcohol was served, but I would leave early or I declined more invitations than I should have. I didn’t feel like I was having any fun.

I had recently become single and didn’t have any close friends who were also non-drinkers. Going out by myself and meeting drunken women wasn’t very appealing to me. I did go out with a couple of my old drinking buddies a few times, but I just didn’t enjoy myself – watching them get drunk. I had a few sober friends, but our schedules never really allowed us to go out socializing together. In hindsight, I should have extended offers to more people to go out and socialize and I should have accepted more offers. All I did was rob myself. Don’t rob yourself of fun and socializing. It may be a good idea to become more of a homebody for the first 3-6 months of your sobriety, but eventually you want to go out and live. Extend your friendship to others and look for new sober friends. (I dedicate an entire chapter to this in my book: Okay, I quit. Now what?)

My financial problems and burdens dramatically improved within the first few months of my sobriety. I wasn’t wasting money on getting wasted and my performance at work improved within the first month. I was in commissioned sales (and am currently self-employed), so my mental clarity and increased energy has had a powerfully positive influence on my work ethic.

Without question there are still struggling moments and temptations even after 6 years sober. There are still many things that I wish I had as part of my life. But with a sober mind, I can pursue those missing things with a strong attitude and detailed plan. And when I use the term missing “things,” I am not just referring to money and materialistic items. Those things include: close friendships, a romantic partner, more time spent with another human being – just enjoying other people’s company.

Look, if you wanna drag all that shit from your drunken past along with you – go ahead… but it’s a heavy load and it’s a lot of shit to keep dragging along. And not many people will want to help you drag a load of shit. Accept factual consequences that may be due to your past, but if you commit to making the best out of how things are now and making the best out of your sobriety – things will get better. It’s up to you.

So, on to people who are in relationships. There are those who are Re-Inventing themselves and then there is their partner.

If you are the former drunk and your partner is supportive, you are in a very luxurious position. You will have someone to hang out with and go places with. You will be able to plan your sober life together, as a team. It’s important that you ask for their input. Remember that this is YOUR problem; not theirs. Don’t expect them to do all your sobering up work for you. Don’t expect them to suffer and struggle with temptation and emotional issues. (I’m sure they’ve suffered and struggled enough while you were a drunk.) You can lean on them, use them as a confidant to talk with – but they cannot do it for you. Just because you sobered up does not give you license to be a shitty partner.

If you’re the partner of a former drunk, you too will have some struggles ahead of you. The former drunk will be awfully moody, maybe even irrational at times (during the early stages). I ask that you have some patience. I’m not saying that you should give them a license to be shitty with you, but be patient. Let them rant or vent a bit, but then take control of the conversation or situation. Let them know that you’re on their side, “Just slow down and let’s figure this out.”

A very good friend of mine has been married almost 30 years. His wife sobered up 2-1/2 years ago. “Holy shit Mark, the first year was awful. I never knew (my wife) could be such a bitch! Blaming me for shit, crying, didn’t want me to touch her. I was miserable, but I stayed calm. At one point I asked her if she wanted me to move out or get divorced. I gave her her space, but I always let her know that I was on her side. After her second year anniversary I started noticing our bond becoming stronger. She was much happier around the home and our sex life has gone wild. I can honestly say that our marriage is better than it ever has been. Ya, she still has her mood swings, but she’s in control of them now and we really have gotten much closer than we ever were.”

In summary: As long as you take it upon yourself to make the best out of sobriety, it will get better. Who knows what great things you might accomplish and what wonderful things might happen? You won’t know until you try and make a solid commitment to enjoying your sober life.

Why I don’t trust many people.

Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

This is not a criticism of humanity or an outburst against people I know. When I say, “I don’t believe or trust many people,” this statement truly helps me understand people better and I can like them as they are. I find that I’m not disappointed as often.

Here is a simple fact. Very few people actually do what they say they are going to do. I happen to be fortunate enough that many of my close friends are people who actually do, DO, what they say they will. (This could be a result of another fact that I am very choosey about who I consider as a close friend and I feel an obligation to be reliable with them.)

There will always be situations or conditions that don’t allow the other person to fulfill their word. But even when that does occur, it’s not massaged over with outrageous excuses or repetitive apologies. It’s explained and the friendship moves along without any hard feelings.

Examples of people not doing what they say they will do are:

“I’ll email you that information/picture/article/whatever.”
“I’ll call you and we’ll set something up.”
“I’ll pay you back right away.”
“I’ll take care of that.”
“I’ll be there by 7.”
“This time I quit for GOOD.”

Shall I go on? I’m sure you’ve heard plenty more that you could add to this list.

I’m not bitter or cynical, but the reality is that few people are consistently reliable. When you say you will do something and you can’t fulfill your word, a simple phone call will suffice. Often, an explanation isn’t even necessary. “I’ll be 10 minutes late,,, I didn’t get that done but I’ll have it done tomorrow by noon,,, I screwed up and I won’t let it happen again,,,” is all it takes. This shows me that the other person respects me and cares enough about me to let me know that they are unable to fulfill what they said they would do.

Many would rather hide from addressing a “let down” than own up to it – very similar to hiding from substance misuse issues. “If I ignore this maybe they will ignore it too and it’ll just go away.” A lot of people will ignore it, but you run the risk of them treating you the same way in return. Then resentments are harbored, respect is slowly whittled away and eventually no one believes you and people do go away. Then your only recourse is to find new friends to start the entire process over with.

Many people hide from me because I will openly hold them to their word. I won’t get shitty with them, but I have no problem addressing their failure to follow through. I let them know that I am aware of the infraction. I may offer some conciliatory statement like, ” Ya, I know,,, life gets busy. But hey, we’re talking now.” But once I have experienced (and accept) their lax attitude, I then have choices which I can make:

  1. I won’t count on them in the future.
  2. I don’t believe much of what they tell me.
  3. I will avoid interaction with them.

When I find those rare, completely reliable friends, I cherish them and I hold them dear. I look at their lives. They have struggles and disappointments – but they always seem to be in demand. Whether it’s being in demand by employers, friends, business colleagues or family, they are in demand. I can learn from them. I ask them why they are so reliable and how they maintain that high level of consistency. Most tell me that it is something within themselves.  They want to be trusted and believed, so they hold themselves to this high standard. This builds their self-esteem, they respect and value themselves.

A great example of me being reliable, was when I received a phone call from my friend Paco, at 2:30pm, saying, “Hello my friend. Welcome to Coral Springs.” He was at work, he wasn’t at his house – but I was. I told him a week earlier that I would be at his house by 2pm on a certain day. He didn’t even have to be there – he knew I would show up or I would have called to say that I would be detained. He counts on me to be reliable and I count on him to be reliable; that is why we are good friends.

It can scare some people when you follow through on what you say you will do. Regardless of whether it’s good or bad, they know that you do not make idle threats – you do what you say you are going to do. They also know that you will hold them to that high standard as well.

Reliability gains you respect. It takes about the same amount of time to be reliable as it does to be unreliable. It takes only slightly more effort to be reliable than unreliable. If you want to liked and in demand, become reliable. Do what you say you will do. If you can’t fulfill your word, let the other person know – this shows that you respect them. Reliability and self-esteem go hand-in-hand. Become one of the people that others believe and trust.

The life of a “loner” – Part II

Monday, October 17th, 2011

I said that sobriety can “seem” like a lonely existence. And in fact, it might be lonely for a while. That’s because you will be leaving some old acquaintances behind and making new ones. During this transitional period is when the loner feeling comes in. You don’t have to spend the rest of your life as a loner, but I believe that this alone time is an important part of re-inventing yourself.

As a drunk (or user), you really never got to know yourself. Most drunks and users are social (at first). It may turn into becoming a closet or recluse user. Even if you were a recluse user, you were never with YOU – your time was spent in a mind altered state. Sober, clean and left within your own mind can be scary. But again, this is an important time to be in your own mind and body. To think about what you want out of sobriety and how you want to approach life.

For many of us, our entry into drinking and drugs was our social network and the media. Our peers said, “Come party with us,” and the media professes that, “No one should be alone during… The Holidays, Birthdays, etc.”  Advertisers promote, “The only way you can enjoy football, Holidays, etc., is by drinking our product. The only way your life will be complete is if you use, buy or wear or product.”  That’s okay – they’re selling a product. Just because someone tells you that you should do, buy, wear, smoke, drink or take something doesn’t mean you have to. That is being a loner.

You may think and feel as if you are alone, but hey, you’re reading this blog – you’re communicating with me. So you’re not alone. I’m sure that you have friends or relatives that you can call or email. So you may be physically alone, but you are not alone if you make the effort to reach out to other people.

Solitude goes against the crowd way of doing things. Solitude does not mean that you are antisocial. It is just a transitional period. Being alone, with your own mind, does not make you inferior. You will be celebrating the Holiday called YOU.

Many people fear and are afraid of loners. “What, you hate us now? You’re too good for us?” or “Are you okay? You need to get out.” The world and civilization will continue along if you don’t go out with your friends tonight, if you don’t go to that party or a certain club. In fact, some people will survive because you didn’t go out, drink and drive.

Solitude and being alone is where creativity has its roots. You may attend a class to learn skills and techniques – but creativity is done within your own mind and during solitude. Brainstorming and groupthink can reveal new concepts, but the core of your own creativity is within you. As loners, we do not do what our friends, the media, church or program pushers tell us to do. We are just us. We make decisions on our own and that are in our own best self interest. And there are a lot of us. Spend some time to discover YOU. Once you are comfortable and confident with YOURSELF, you won’t be as easily influenced by others. Being a loner can be your first stage to sobriety and self preservation.