Day 5: Mornings.

I have a short reflection tonight as I’ve had a dull headache all day long. For the first time in as long as I can remember though this headache’s not because of drinking! So, dull haze aside, Day 5 was a success!

One noticeable gift that’s come from stopping drinking is that I’ve been getting lots of sleep the last several nights. Part of me thinks that I’ve been running myself so thin for so long because of my drinking that my body is now starting to make up for lost time. It’s almost like it’s healing itself, and the dull headache today might even be a byproduct of that. In fact, that might really be the case–perhaps there’s some sort of physiological thing going on here. Has anyone else had this experience?

In my drinking life almost every night ended with a “wee bit more” wine (usually after several glasses and a whiskey or two)–you know, “to help me sleep better.” Of course the next morning I’d always wake up groggy. On good days I’d be out the door only slightly late, but on mornings that were particularly painful I’d call into work with some lame excuse saying I’m running just a tad late because I had a doctor’s appointment I failed to mention or some other rubbish. When I finally did get to work I wouldn’t even be fully awake and functional until I mainlined a gigantic coffee. This is a pretty accurate picture of every weekday morning for the last two years at least.

This week however I’ve been going to bed on the earlier side (before midnight) and waking up without any problem when my alarm goes off. That means I have time in the morning to make coffee at home and take my time getting ready for the day. It’s been so long since I actually enjoyed a morning that I’m not quite sure what to do with all that spare time before work, but I have to say that I’m much, much happier in the mornings. As an added bonus when I get to work I don’t feel nearly as stressed about the day.

I’m looking forward to finding some creative ways to spend my mornings now. Perhaps I’ll start running, or reading, or mediating. Whatever it is, I’m just excited that it’s a possibility. It’s almost like the World got together, took a vote, and added an extra 3 hours to the day–you know, just to make things a little less frenetic. So, thanks World!

Art: The Sun, by Edvard Munch

Day 4: Living for Today.

First of all I want to thank those who have commented on my posts and subscribed to my blog. When I started this blog four days ago I had no expectation of anyone ever reading my posts, let alone offering me such incredible support and helpful advice. Also, I feel blessed to have found so many people out there in the “sobersphere,” as Paul from Facing Facts about Myself calls it. The blogs I’ve found along the way these past several days have made the journey so far not only easier, but much more enjoyable. Thank you.

Today I didn’t drink and it was pretty easy-peasy. By that I mean that most of the thoughts I had about alcohol were not about today but instead about what I’m going to do in the next few days. On Friday I have a cocktail party at work. These happen once a month and my company pays for beer and wine and hors d’oeuvres and everyone gets sloppy. It’s a perk they give us for working killer hours and while I’m certainly not the only one who over-boozes, lately I’ve been somewhat infamous at these gatherings. There’s a core group of three hard drinkers in my office–me included, until recently–who are always the first to show up and the last to leave. Then, once we’ve closed the place down we take the party elsewhere. And then from there, elsewhere again. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

…And then I drive home.

The story continues of course when I wake up the next afternoon, hung over, empty-walleted, and filled with shame over the fact that yet again I drove drunk. Nursing a pot of coffee through the early afternoon I think back on all the stupid things I said and then more often than not I’ll call up the person who I had planned to see that day to say that I’m sick and won’t be able to meet up.

I tell you this for two reasons: First, to give you a glimpse of part of the war story that I haven’t told you about yet; and second, because by posting it here it not only gets the “secret” out into the open, but also because it helps to keep me accountable–to myself. In the last four days I’ve found that I not only read other people’s posts, but I also go back and read my own. So, tomorrow or the next day, if I’m feeling weak and I start to think “You know what Dag, I bet you could do just one beer and call it a night”; I can look back at this post and remind myself that I’m the type of guy who can’t stop at just one, who will make any excuse to stay out for just one more, and will then put others and myself at risk of serious physical harm or death by making the awful decision to drive my car home. That is to say that these posts are just as much for me as for others.

Luckily part of my war story is not that I’ve had any accidents or brushes with the law while driving drunk. For that (and many other things) I’m incredibly grateful. But if I go out and drink this coming Friday it WILL turn into a boozefest and it WILL end up with me making some stupid decision, even if it doesn’t involve my car. And then I’ll get comfortable with the fact that I haven’t destroyed something or someone yet and one day I WILL destroy either my life or some one else’s. I’m not psychic, but I know myself well enough to know that this is what awaits me if I continue down the path of drinking.

So, even though I was blessed to not get triggered to drink today, I write this post for the day that I think I can do it all on my own. This post is sort of like a bank, I guess: I’m saving my sober realizations for a day that I’ll really need them.

Which brings me to my last thought for the evening. I realized today as I was worrying about the next few days that I should just be worrying about this day. All I had to do today was make it through today. Tomorrow will present its own challenges and I’ll challenge them back one by one.

I guess that’s the whole thing, right? One day at a time. One day at a time.

…Yeah, I can do this.

Art: Spring 1942, by Grant Wood


Day 3: Light Moments.

I just finished watching the US Presidential debate and I’m proud to say that I didn’t drink! The frustration of the political discourse in this country drives many to drink–but not this guy! Not anymore!

I had one moment at work today that made me feel so overwhelmed that I thought, “Dag, cut out early, go get a drink. You’ll feel better.” The moment passed when I stopped, took a few deep breaths, and read the history of the Serenity Prayer on Wikipedia. While not exactly a moment of prayer–reflection maybe, or looking for another perspective–reading that post did help to bring another, better voice into my racing mind. That’s not to say I’m against prayer in any way–I’m just not there yet. In any case, the words of that prayer stopped me from doing something stupid and fortified me to make it through the rest of the day.

And what a day it was! This morning I had a meeting at a hotel in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I parked my car in the hotel garage, took the elevator up to the hotel lobby, and who was there? None other than the Dalai Freakin’ Lama! What struck me most was how the whole lobby was abuzz yet the Dalai Lama was calm and compassionate. His energy seemed to waft over all of us. It was pretty magical, really. What a great start to my day.

Speaking of which, I highly recommend the Dalai Lama’s book The Art of Happiness. I read it in high school back when it came out. I remember being incredibly inspired by his words, so much so that for about six months I considered myself a Buddhist. After today’s chance encounter I think I’ll take another look at it. In fact, I still have my original copy of the book with my 16-year-old-self’s margin notes. It’ll be interesting to see what I saw in the book then and what I see now.

Completely unrelated to that, when I got home around 7pm we had an EARTHQUAKE! The epicenter was in Maine, which is probably about 60 or 70 miles from my home in Boston, but I could definitely feel it shaking my house. It was small by California standards–just 4.6 on the Richter scale last I heard–but it was still big news around New England. No major damage, no injuries; just the buzzing of the earth. Good times.

So, in honor of the devastation brought by the Great New England Earthquake of 2012 I offer you the following memorial:

We will never forget. We will rebuild. Amen.

Letter From Bill W. on Emotional Sobriety.

The Red Sox Saved My Life


“Those adolescent urges that so many of us have for top approval, perfect security, and perfect romance — urges quite appropriate to age seventeen — prove to be an impossible way of life when we are at age forty-seven or fifty-seven.

Since AA began, I’ve taken immense wallops in all these areas because of my failure to grow up, emotionally and spiritually. My God, how painful it is to keep demanding the impossible, and how very painful to discover finally, that all along we have had the cart before the horse! Then comes the final agony of seeing how awfully wrong we have been, but still finding ourselves unable to get off the emotional merry-go-round.

How to translate a right mental conviction into a right emotional result, and so into easy, happy, and good living — well, that’s not only the neurotic’s problem, it’s the problem of life itself…

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Day 2. (Take 2).

Grr. I just lost my entire post! I had literally just written the last word of the last sentence of a post I was really proud of when somehow I managed to refresh the page.

I’m not going to lie, I’m completely frustrated at the moment. It really was a great post. And now I’m too tired to recreate it.

Lesson: Don’t type and edit directly in WordPress.
Lesson learned? Hopefully.

So, because I need to go to bed, I’ll just quickly highlight today. And here it goes:

  1. Went to a Meeting this evening. Yay! Heard a great testimony from a woman who, in her life as a drinker, judged others’ inner lives by their outward appearances (e.g., material success = you must not have any inner struggles such as fear and loneliness), but then judged her own life solely on her own feeling of inner chaos. She’s now 3.5 years sober and realizes that just because someone looks successful on the outside doesn’t mean they’re happy; and just because someone doesn’t have a new car doesn’t mean they aren’t filled with joy.
  2. My point number 1 didn’t do the speaker’s story any justice. It was beautiful and sincere, and I’m incredibly happy for her. And, I’ll try to write more on this soon.
  3. I’m glad I went. I almost didn’t go.
  4. I’m sober 2 days now. So, another Yay!

I’ll try to write more on today tomorrow. In the meantime, goodnight!

Dry Run.

I love the article from the New York Times below. Take a gander.

For me, a few things immediately come to mind:

1. Sobriety in and of itself isn’t enough. Or at least it should be more than about just not drinking. Sobriety can free you to flourish, but in order for that to happen you need a community for encouragement, support, and enjoyment.

2. I certainly don’t want to be a work-dinner-couch boring sober-man, but I can see that the bad habits I’ve cultivated over the past several years might lead me in that direction. Of course a work-dinner-couch boring sober-man is light years better than a work-dinner-couch drunk, but nevertheless I realize I’ll need to stay motivated and active. I want to use my health and my clear mind for something worthwhile, so for the time being I should probably avoid the couch at all costs. Which brings me to my last point.

3. What is it that I used to love before my idea of fun revolved around alcohol? I didn’t start seriously drinking until late in college, but given that college was quite a long time ago now I have some soul searching ahead of me. I remember that I used to read all the time and competitively row and run. I used to go on long hikes and bike rides with my friends, and fish and swim. And, I remember loving it all without alcohol in the mix.

Over the past several years alcohol has pretty much destroyed my attention span for reading–it’s hard to sit down with a good book half a bottle of wine into the night. Drinking has also diminished my health to the point where I have a lot of work to get back to the point where running, swimming, and/or rowing are in the cards. My smoking isn’t helping on that front either, but that’s another battle for another day. At least I have my friends, but the big challenge for me will be to find ways to maintain those friendships without re-introducing alcohol. That’s another post for another day as well.

In any case, I found Sacha’s article thought-provoking, entertaining, and inspiring. Enjoy!

Dry Run
By Sacha Z. Scoblic
New York Times, Proof: Alcohol and American Life
March 30, 2009

After I’d been sober a year and the haze of recovery began to lift — that is, when I began to widen my daily travels to broader spheres than the short distance between the video store and my apartment — I noticed that, outside of B-movies, I had no appreciable interests at all. Years before, in graduate school, I had been forced to fill out a little get-to-know-you questionnaire to break the ice with my fellow students. Having no hobbies or any discernable extra-curricular interests to speak of (save drinking, of course), I winged it — which is to say, I lied — and wrote: “skeet shooting” and “rapping on the mic.” Imagine the disappointment of my classmates when they discovered I had neither a talent for weaponry nor hip-hop.

Now it struck me that I ought to do something about all of those blank “about me” boxes on every social-networking Web site I encountered; I ought to capitalize on my newfound health. Because despite eating out every night, not exercising a whit and generally burnishing my form into the couch, I did feel like sobriety was indeed a newfound health. Naturally, I signed up to run the Marine Corps Marathon.

Despite eating out every night, not exercising a whit and generally burnishing my form into the couch, I did feel like sobriety was indeed a newfound health. Naturally, I signed up to run a marathon.

“If you can run three miles, you can run a marathon” was the promise of the National AIDS Marathon Training Program. I couldn’t run three miles. And yet, in a kind of momentary insanity, I decided that hardly mattered. Neither did the fact that I had only recently quit smoking. And so, in May 2006, I found myself standing with my new marathon training team in the shadow of our nation’s Capitol. I had not run but loped through three miles of paved hell before being placed in a training group based on my time, such as it was. There were few teams slower than us and what seemed like dozens of faster ones, including the herd we nicknamed the Gazelles, which seemed to be comprised entirely of supermodels and N.B.A. All-Stars. We, on the other hand, were the C students of the marathon, the Sweathogs. To complete the mission at hand, we were asked to follow some simple rules: run with the group every Saturday for ever-increasing distances and then run 45-minute maintenance runs just two more times each week.

Around this time, I noticed that maintaining my sobriety was starting to feel like its own marathon. I found myself bowing out of social events and even faking illness when the famously alcohol-sodden corporate retreat rolled around (brainstorming and mojitos anyone?). Replacing one marathon with another seemed only natural. Instead of hiding from alcohol, I would run from it! Besides, I figured I had nothing to lose: The coaches told me, if I followed their rules, I would finish an epic race and experience incredible joy. I thought, worst case, I would descend into a dehydrated spider crawl, call it a day and forget the whole enterprise.

I decided to act like I could do it before I decided whether or not I believed I could. For a long time that worked.

So I did my two 45-minute maintenance runs and then joined my group in the inhuman pre-dawn hours for long Saturday runs. We guzzled sports drinks the color of Windex and ate gumdrops made from salt. We were, among other things, a mortgage broker, a schoolteacher, a nonprofit administrator, a corporate consultant and a scientist. Together we were friends. “Put a shirt on!” I would yell at a lithe, eight-foot-tall Gazelle in a bra top and athletic skort as she flew by. “And eat a sandwich,” another Sweathog would add as we crammed those salty sport beans down our throats and continued to discuss in precise detail all the food we would be eating when the run was over. It was a true camaraderie of athletes.

I had set myself up for marathon success: I had a cohort of supporters, I followed the training rules, I hydrated for fear of splitting headaches, I had my guilt-inducing early morning car pool in place, and I had faith in the coaches. And yet, when it came to sobriety, I resisted help, I resisted talk of higher powers, I resisted the notion that a few simple rules and a cohort of support could be helpful. I was in control; I had stayed sober for a year all by myself. And that’s right about when I started to get very cocky about running, too. Maybe the training had just kick-started the latent runner in me. I started to have fantasies about the Iron Man triathlon (I suppose I’ll have to buy a bike, I thought) and marathons around the world. I even imagined what it might be like to run with the Gazelles — the first 5-foot-1-inch woman to make the cut. Who needed support when you had the steely resolve of a champion coursing through your blood?

And then I ran 23 miles. I had already completed 18- and 20-mile runs, accomplishments that had bolstered my confidence and secured my allegiance to the training program. But on the 16th mile of the 23-mile run, I plummeted into crisis. I was suddenly and acutely aware of the seven miles between me and the end of the run — and that felt like a mind-numbing expanse. My legs were able, but my brain was seized with terror and my pulse echoed in my skull. I took uncomfortably shallow breaths and my heart fluttered; I wanted to wrest open my rib cage and let all the air outside in. Overwhelmed by the thought of continuing the run, but scared of quitting and watching my Sweathogs go on without me, I was in a panic.

I thought I would be unmasked, that the coach would see I was not a runner but a crazy person in high-end technical fabric.

How could this be happening? I mean, I was exercising! Shouldn’t endorphins or some such be coursing through my body? Shouldn’t my brain be bathed in serotonin right about now? And where was that runner’s high I’d heard so much about? Instead of seeking support from the Sweathogs, I told them I was feeling tense but didn’t elaborate; I didn’t want to mess with their heads by explaining the whole seven more miles thing. A giant part of me begged to stop; an equal force pleaded to go on. I was trapped, and neither route led to relief. Split in two, I clenched my teeth and fists and barreled through. It was the first time since that initial white-knuckled three-mile lope that I had relied on willpower alone. It was no way to run.

There was no reprieve at the end of the 23 miles, just rage, tears, panic and an uncontrollable urge to beat at the hollow, edgy sensation in my chest. I thought I would be unmasked, that the coach would see I was not a runner but a crazy person in high-end technical fabric. When I told the coach about my struggle, however, he was unfazed. He explained that I was not stuck out there on the course, that I had never been trapped. He gave me permission to take a break any time I wanted. He also gave me permission to fully confide in my teammates without fear of sucking them into my madness. And if I kept running, he told me to remember that I choose to run. No one was forcing me to run. He had taken me this far, and now he asked me if I still trusted him. I did. “You had me at ‘You choose to run,’” I said as I exhaled.

Throughout that summer, friends inevitably expressed admiration at my willpower to take on 15-plus miles at a time. And though I did not always disabuse people of this admiration, I knew a different truth: willpower is what happens when you have to muscle through; but I didn’t have to muscle through. I had an arsenal of support and ballasts in place to keep me on the right path. Those kooky coaches — who yelled out cheesy and embarrassing cheers, like “I see some heroes on the Mall today!” — were like hyper-euphoric angels, hell-bent on seeing us through the bizarrely human act of running exactly 26.2 miles. And, when the road was really tough, the day particularly hot, and the edible runner’s goo low, I would repeat, in a singsong whisper, I choose to run. I choose to run. I’d look around at my sweet Sweathogs. I choose to run. I’d stare down at my feet. I choose to run. One in front of the other. I choose to run. Sometimes, I’d look up to see I’d gone several miles in a kind of trance.

By the time I crossed the finish line that October and wrapped the silver space blanket around my shoulders, I had found not only a new respect for my body, but a new respect for faith — a concept that would become integral to my recovery but one I had always disdained as illogical and submissive. I realized that I hadn’t known everything, that the “possible” consisted of more than what I had experienced or conceived in my own head. What’s more, I stopped seeing my sobriety as some kind of endurance test consuming every scrap of fight I had. Like marathon training, it’s not about willpower and white-knuckling it; it’s about making the next right choice. I’ve since set myself up for sober success; I follow a few simple rules and surround myself with sober Sweathogs. And sometimes, when it gets difficult, I close my eyes and think, “I choose to run.”


Art: The Biglin Brothers Racing, by Thomas Eakins

A Poem.

By Dag

I’m always waiting for my life to begin
And I’ll get right on it, of course
Right after the next project at work is done
Right after Jen’s wedding.
After I get through that
I’ll stop drinking and start living.

So, next Monday for sure then,
After drinks with Joe
But just because it’s already planned.

But then again it’s the family reunion at the end of the month
I’ll want to wait until after that, certainly
It’ll be a hellish couple of weeks
You know, family and all
I’ll want a brew or two to take the edge off for sure.

So, really, after that I’ll stop drinking and start living.
Then things will be different
I’ll have space to work on my life then
I’ll have time to call my sister back
I’ll start making healthier decisions
I’ll start saving money
It’s about time after all.

It’s a deal then.
After the project
After Jen’s wedding
After drinks with Joe
After the family reunion
That’s when I’ll stop drinking and start living.

That’s when it’ll all change
That’s when I’ll really have space to grow
That’s when I’ll open myself to becoming all I feel called to become.

Of course, things come up
Life is messy
So, I swear
For real, real, real this time
After the next party
Or maybe after whatever mess is after that
Because, let’s be fair,
That one could be a real problem
That’s when I’ll stop drinking
And that’s when I’ll start living.

And that’s when my life will begin.

Art: Wheatfield with Crows, by Vincent van Gogh

Day 1: I’m Dag, and I’m an Alcoholic.

Today is the day. The day I quit drinking. I can’t say that I haven’t said this before, but this time it’s different. It’s different because it has to be. Because I know I can’t go on directionless any longer, spinning my wheels, pushing those I love away from me, passively waiting for something or someone to come along and save me from further degrading my life. I have to take the first step, and today is the day.

I’ve created this space to record my journey. This blog will hopefully be one tool among many to keep me responsible to myself and others. If people happen to stumble across this blog, welcome! I can certainly use all the support I can get. And, as I get the hang of blogging, hopefully I’ll be able to lend a supporting hand to others as well.

Later this evening, I’ll be going to an AA meeting. I went to a few AA meetings earlier this year when I turned 30. Given that it was a milestone year, I was motivated to make my life better and I went hoping to hear stories that resonated with my own. I was moved and inspired, but I wasn’t convinced I was really an alcoholic. A workaholic, sure. A man who likes to knock back a few beers after work, certainly. A guy who occasionally has one too many glasses of wine at dinner, absolutely. But an alcoholic? “I can stop at any time.” So I stopped going to AA meetings and continued drinking.

Forty weeks of hard drinking, close calls, and embarrassing blunders later I know that drinking is ruining my spirit, my friendships, my work life, and my relationships with my family. Today is the day that I stop slipping into the abyss that’s surely waiting for me and start to work toward actually flourishing as a person. Today is the day.

Art: Impression, Sunrise, by Claude Monet