One Year.

Actually, it’s a year and a day. Yesterday was the official one-year mark.

I didn’t celebrate, or I should say I didn’t celebrate any differently than I celebrate any other day. I spent time with family. I coached a Little League baseball practice for my son and his teammates. I made dinner for my ageing and ailing parents. I gave my son a bath and put him to bed.

Pretty good ways to celebrate, huh?

Two thoughts come to mind with the one-year mark under my belt:

First: I Can Do Anything. Because in powering through an entire year, I encountered every potential drinking situation. My birthday. Christmas. Easter. Summer barbecues. Camping trips. Dinner parties. Golf outings. Business trips. Family vacation. Ski trips. Good days, bad days, work days, awful days.

In a year, you see a lot. And if you can make it through everything the calendar throws at you, well then you can pretty much make it through anything, right? No excuses. Just keep going. Because you’ve just proven that you can do it, so there are no excuses.

Second: The Town Drunk. Last week we took a trip to the mountains for one last ski trip of the season. It’s a long drive through mostly desert, including some tiny desert towns that are straight out of the movies. It was a magical trip, with huge blooms of desert wildflowers for miles and miles, and me and my wife chatting in the front seat as our son read through a few mystery books in the back as the miles flew by.

We stopped for lunch at a cafe in one of those tiny desert towns. I could hear a friendly but slightly-too-loud conversation from near the front door, and knew in an inkling what it meant. My discomfort grew. When it came time to pay the bill I walked up to the register and within sight of him, a white-haired and wrinkled man drinking beer at 11 am. He was trying to be friendly, and the small-town waitresses clearly judged him to be harmless. He tried to engage me in a rambling conversation and I replied as politely as I could without encouraging him. Of course, he didn’t get the hints. He kept loudly talking, asking me questions, telling me about his life. We were able to escape his attention when he was distracted for a moment. My son was confused and a little scared. We left quickly.

It saddened me. It painted a picture in stark relief, showing that alcohol never makes anything better. Whatever regrets he had, setbacks he’d faced, or sadness he felt, the beer wasn’t going to make them any better. If he remembered us at all, he’d surely look back with regret at the family of travelers that he’d amiably harassed.

I don’t know what the future holds, what setbacks I’ll face or sadness I’ll feel. I just know that I have no interest in using alcohol to ‘help’ me through them.

And I hope that friendly, drunken, grizzled old man gets some help.

Now, back to something happier: One Year! It really is something, isn’t it? I never did figure out what to get myself as a reward. I’ll figure it out. Believe me, it will be something good!

One Year.

Getting Closer

I’m a few weeks away from the one year mark.

Soooo, I’m open to suggestions on how to celebrate and what to get myself as a ‘one year treat.’ I’d like it to be something that will be a lasting memento. Hmmmm.

A quick update on my word of the year, “listen”. I’ve had a couple opportunities to consciously put it into effect. These were times when I really wanted to chime in make a point, but told myself to shut up, sit back, and listen. It was a good choice. I’m going to keep trying.

All else continues apace. The regular stresses of life are with me every day, sometimes more so than others. Lately, my worry level has been through the roof. I’m starting to think I need to specifically address it through meditation, yoga, or some other stress-management technique.

Importantly, I’m still very happy to be sober. There’s just no substitute for waking up with a clear head and energy for the day. If I were drinking I don’t think I’d be able to do half what I’m doing these days, including my absolute favorite current activity: coaching my son’s Little League baseball team. Those boys run me ragged some days, but it really is a joy to be on a ballfield with a group of enthusiastic seven-year-olds.

Peace to you all.

Getting Closer

Life Comes to You

It’s my 326th day and I continue to move through life, happy in my sober moments. As I climbed into bed last night I had a momentary flashback to bedtime a year or so ago: drinking as much water as I could, taking a few deep breaths and feeling the buzzy, alcohol-induced coolness in my throat. But fearful of what was to come, knowing that no amount of water, oxygen, or aspirin could result in a good night’s sleep, a clear-headed morning, an energy-filled day.

I still get the urge sometimes, especially in social situations. Last Saturday we got together with my wife’s family, including some visiting from out of town. They are all pretty heavy drinkers, and as I arrived to find them all on the their third or fourth drink already I felt a strong tug: it had been a long day, a drink would anesthetize me a bit, ease me into the awkward social situation.

I shook it off. And over the course of the evening I came to a realization, one I’ve had a few times: you don’t always have to meet people on their terms. You don’t have to drink to join the drinkers. Sometimes, if you act as you know you should, life comes to you. You don’t need to jump out to meet it. So as the evening wore on, and I enjoyed some pleasant conversation with my wife’s relatives, I noticed they’d stopped refilling their wine glasses. Was it because of me? I don’t know. But the conversation stayed clear and upbeat, the evening was enjoyable and any urge I initially had was in the past.

It was a good realization. Maybe we don’t all need to try so hard. Maybe if we just make good choices for ourselves, life will come to us, on our terms.

 

Life Comes to You

300

Tomorrow will be my 300th sober day. I won’t be posting tomorrow because I’ll be on the road, driving my family up to the mountains for a few days skiing with friends. It’s the same trip, with the same friends, that we took last year and the year before that.

What amazing differences can be wrought through the passage of time!

Two years ago, the first time we took this trip, I drank every night. Martinis, then wine. Got tipsy, laughed a lot, played silly games and watched funny movies with our friends after the kids went to bed. I remember the final morning of our trip, waking up with a crushing hangover. Playing in the snow with my son, trying to smile and have fun but feeling miserable and unsteady on my feet.

A year later, last year’s trip. Again, I drank every night. But some realization was starting to set in, and I took it a little easier. No crushing hangovers, but I didn’t exactly feel like a picture of health.

This year? Well, that goes without saying. It’s become ‘normal’ to me. I’ve gone through family holidays and vacations, trips with the boys, ballgames and birthdays, and any number of other events that, in the past, would have been drinking occasions.  But this time, without a drop of alcohol. So I’ll still get silly and laugh a lot (I’ve found, to my great joy, that’s in my nature — I really don’t need the drink to act stupid and laugh!), but I’ll sleep a lot better.

I’ve got to be a little careful not to get complacent. But it no longer feels like a daily battle. It’s just the way I live, and it feels pretty good. It’s certainly a million times better than the self-inflicted mental torment of the past.

So tomorrow, it’s up to the mountains with family and friends. I can’t wait!

300

Word of the Year: Listen

Whew. I’ve been incredibly busy what with work, and the holidays, and plenty of other things. So I’m rushing to write this in the little time I have, but I am bound and determined to make a final post before the end of the year.

I’ve never had a ‘word of the year’ before. I got the idea from you folks, many of whom have chosen wonderfully thoughtful and inspiring words. I thought about it and decided to choose one of my own.

Listen.

That’s my word for 2017. I’m a doer and a problem solver by nature, and I often rush into action. It works most of the time. But not all the time.

For 2017, I’m going to try to pause and listen first. Really think about what I’m hearing and learning. About others, about myself, about the world I’m living in. I’ll still be a man of action, still tying to accomplish things and solve problems.

But I suspect I’ll be more effective, and more responsive to those around me, if I listen first. Pause. Think about it. Try to understand what they are saying, where they are coming from. What the real issues are. Not judge, not worry, not explain, not suggest. Just listen. For a moment, maybe two. Sometimes literally. Sometimes figuratively, listening by researching, or reading, or just sitting in silence and contemplating what the world is telling me.

Then the rest can follow.

That’s my goal. It won’t be easy because it isn’t my first inclination. So here goes, 2017. I’m taking a deep breath, stepping in joyfully, carefully, confidently. And I’m listening.

 

Word of the Year: Listen

Merry and Bright

I haven’t posted in a long while, but that’s only because life has gotten in the way. I’ve lost count of the number of times I started a blog post in the last month, only to be interrupted by ‘real life.’

I’m still here. I’m still (happily) not drinking. I think the count is up to 251 days now, and the non-drinking habits are becoming ever more ingrained. I will admit to some urges in the last couple weeks as the holidays have always been a time to eat, drink (alcohol) and be merry. But it always passes, and I need only remind myself of the horrible hungover mornings of old to push all thoughts of drinking out of my mind.

One of the wonderful things about sobriety is the mental space it frees up for other things. Now that it’s a habit (rather than a daily battle of wills), I can turn my focus to other things.

Right now I’m putting my focus on two other things. First, focusing on health. I’m still riding my bike to work — I’ve logged over 1,200 miles on my bike — and would like to start some yoga, too.

Second is a tougher nut to crack. I don’t feel quite right about going into details, but I’ll say that it’s an issue with a family member and their behaviors. They’ve fallen into some bad habits over the years that have gotten progressively worse, and it’s been the source of many fights for us.

I’m trying to take advantage of the mental space afforded by my sobriety to attack the problem a bit differently. The old method of ‘have two cocktails, bring up the sore subject and commence arguing’ obviously wasn’t going to work.

So instead, I’m doing some research. I think there are deep psychological issues associated with these behaviors. I’m reading up on the root causes, trying to see things from their perspective, and trying to understand how others have successfully dealt with the issue at hand.

Soon, I’ll try to have a discussion on the topic rooted in compassion, understanding, and a desire to help. I have no idea how that will go — there will likely be a lot of defensiveness. But it’s an important issue for both my well-being and theirs. And yelling about it won’t do any good. Wish me luck.

Overall, I really am feeling pretty merry and bright. I have much to be thankful for and little to complain about. I feel that the problems in my life (such as the above-referenced issue) are solvable, if addressed in the right way. Apprehensively hopeful is, perhaps, a good way to put it.

And yes, I’m really looking forward to Christmas. My son is excited, the house is decorated, and tomorrow I’ll spend most of the day baking up some old family recipes. It always makes me happy.

Happy holidays to all of you, whatever you may celebrate.

Merry and Bright

Thanksgiving

Here in the US, tomorrow is Thanksgiving. It’s by far my favorite holiday. It’s the least commercialized of all the major holidays, and in the modern incarnation of holidays it is the purest in spirit: the whole point is to spend time with family and loved ones and reflect on that for which we are thankful. (Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas and Easter and all the rest, but even for those of us who try to hew to the true meaning of those holidays, it can be tough to avoid getting caught up in the overt commercialization).

As always, there is much to be apprehensive about but, if I really think about it, far more to be thankful for. I am thankful for my wonderful family, especially my beautiful seven-year-old son and my wife. I am thankful for all the advantages I have living in a  wonderful, flawed, messy country. I am appreciative of all the natural beauty I’ve been able to enjoy in the last year, from oceans to rivers to mountains to deserts. Breathtaking, all of it.

I am thankful that I’ve been sober for 228 days. And I am deeply, truly thankful for this little online support community, without whom I wouldn’t have made it a day. That’s the simple truth. You all have done something wonderful, and for that I thank you.

Thanksgiving