Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Holidays

James Joyce, Araby

I read this short story every holiday season. It's magic is in its simplicity - the youthful vigor for life on those cold and quiet wintry evenings. It takes me back to those days when the Millwood boys would meet in the snow-dusted front yards of the neighborhood and play until our cheeks were rosy and snot dripped from our noses; those wintry evenings when the rest of Millwood hibernated indoors, chimneytops puffed steam into the frozen air, and the cries of the coyotes echoed from the backwoods. 

- 41 days sober

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Hockey Night in Canada: a Fateful Night on the Road to Recovery

It was a February Saturday night in the dead of winter of 2012. The weather outside my single apartment - the one my girlfriend and I were supposed to share that year - echoed the current state of my soul: dark, cold, tree branches jagged and frozen. I was doing what I did that whole year, drinking beer in some vain attempt to wash away the past from my brain. Half drunk, I grabbed another beer from the fridge as the Hockey Night in Canada game ended and transitioned into the After Hours segment. That segment would change my life forever.

In that After Hours segment, Hockey Night in Canada streamed an interview with Brian McGrattan and Jordin Tootoo. Both recovering alcoholics, McGrattan and Tootoo candidly discussed their battles with alcoholism. As anyone who has dealt with the disease knows, that's exactly what it is: a battle. McGrattan's story hit me hard. It goes something like this: after yet another long bender, McGrattan woke up from a drunk in that depressed, withdrawal state; he knew, in one of those classic alcoholic moments, that things had gotten far off track somehow, that he needed some help; in tears, he called his mom, and said, once and for all, that he desperately needed some help. On some subconscious level, I knew that I was on that road.

Yet I was still in denial of my addiction at the time. I knew things were getting bad, but just not bad enough for me yet. I was transitioning into the alcoholic phase. In that phase when the fun still outweighs the non-fun. But the fun started to fade pretty quickly. Over the next several months, however, my own alcoholism began to spiral out of control into depths I never even imagined possible, quite rapidly.

It's a dark place, alcoholism. In one of his candid interviews, McGrattan states, "staying drunk for four or five days is not fun". By the Fall of 2012, that's where my alcoholism had taken me. Hiding bottles of vodka in my bedroom dresser, taking shots of liquor at 7 a.m. in the dark, skipping work and drinking out of a soda bottle at the park, going through withdrawals, ten-mile long walks in a withdrawal-induced haze, staying drunk for four days at a time: these were all places I encountered. They are dark places indeed. Alcoholics often get glimpses of the spiritual world that a non-addict would never have access to - they catch glimpses of hell itself. If that sounds bad, there are still things I am unable to admit, at least on a blog.

I went through a pretty vicious cycle. Sober for 3-4 weeks, feel better, forget the addiction, drink again, 3-4 day bender, withdrawal. This, I know now, is classic alcoholic behavior. But I was still in denial. Until the biggest bender of my life brought me to my knees. I remember quite distinctly during that bender that I watched the McGrattan-Tootoo Hockey Night in Canada video on repeat. I listened again and again to Brian McGrattan say "I needed to ask for help". I often woke up with earnest intentions of putting down the bottle during those seven days, only to find myself pouring more liquor hours later in an attempt to stave off withdrawal symptoms. I looked to that video for strength to ask for help, which it finally gave me. There was no denying it anymore.

Honesty is critical in recovery. As is evident from the last couple posts from this blog, I don't really care to deny what I've been battling, to anyone, anymore. And to be honest, I haven't been continuously sober since that day I finally asked for help. I went back out into the deep end, a couple times or so, and I learned what is common knowledge for alcoholics - that each relapse gets worse and worse. I had 3 and a half months of sobriety at one point before I threw that away. It brought me straight back to that glimpse of hell that I had witnessed before. I woke up one day and I had been drunk for 3 days: and it's moments like that when you really have no idea how you even got to that point.

 But today I have 30 days of sobriety, again, and I'm doing everything in my power to ensure that I never have to get that brief glimpse of hell ever again.

And I have Brian McGrattan and Hockey Night in Canada to thank for that, in a big way.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Groundhog Day

While watching the Michigan-Michigan State game at my brother's house today, I commented, after yet another pitiful three and out and another poor punt to midfield, "this is like groundhog day". Michigan was outplayed and outcoached by a superior Michigan State team today. I went home and felt the oncoming of the usual depression that is spurred by such a loss, an all too familiar feeling these days. I was OK during the game, I really was. I expected the loss. But afterwards, it felt like a new low in a relationship already studded with lows. Groundhog day indeed.

As always, of course, Michigan football seemed to symbolize my personal life. I'm on day 15 of sobriety, which, like Michigan football, feels like for the hundredth time. At this point I'm damn tired of talking about changing or saying I'm gonna change, it's time for me to do it. I've been to 15 AA meetings in those 15 days, and I'm determined to put this groundhog day to an end once and for all.

Maybe it's time to put the Michigan Football groundhog day to bed, too. For the first time, I really felt that maybe I have too much invested in a game that I cannot control. I'm not that young anymore, and depression induced by a game played by a bunch of college kids is starting to feel really immature. And the funny thing is, maybe sobriety and a more rational relationship with Michigan Football go hand in hand. In sobriety, you learn a lot about serenity - accepting the things you cannot change.

Enough saying things are going to change, though. It's just damn time to do. If nothing changes, nothing changes.