90 Days Redux

My second semester of 11th grade, I took the second half of Algebra II from the worst math teacher I ever had. She was so lazy that she used the tests from the other Algebra II teacher, though she herself didn’t even bother to teach us everything we needed to know to do well on those tests. I knew going into the final exam that there was a chance I’d fail the semester. I’d already failed the first semester of gifted Algebra II the first semester of 10th grade and had to repeat it via the non-gifted version the first semester of 11th grade, so my self-confidence level was very low at this point. Back to this final exam for the second semester at the end of 11th grade: I wrote a pleading note on the end of my exam to please pass me. And it worked; I passed the class with a 70, which is a C, which was all I needed to pass and be done with Algebra II forever.

Reaching 90 days of sobriety yesterday should’ve been a happy occasion. It was not. The last few weeks I’ve been so afraid of relapsing that I psyched myself out, to the point I woke up yesterday and was scared to leave the house for fear I’d drink. Instead, I took enough Topamax pills that I felt buzzed out of my skull by the time I met with my sponsor before the AA meeting yesterday evening. I was a mess, tears streaming down my face and unable to concentrate on the resentments exercise we’d met to discuss. I didn’t even stay for the meeting to turn my old 90-day chip in for a new one. It didn’t feel like the right thing to do under the circumstances. There didn’t seem to be anything worth celebrating.

The difference between barely passing Algebra II and staying sober is that the latter is never over. 90 days was a place marker and I made it by the skin of my teeth, but it means nothing if I don’t stick with it. It’s all in my head and I know that. I’m my own worst enemy and I’m terribly hard on myself. I still want to drink so much every single day. Because drinking means ceasing to care, and it would be so nice to not care about my problems and my issues. Instead, I know I need to be grateful for the progress I’ve made.

This is me being honest, without the photos or GIFs or quotes or anything else. I wouldn’t relive the last 90 days for anything–there were some great moments and fond memories made, but overall it was pure hell. But now that it’s behind me, I need to look towards living the next 90 days with a brighter outlook so that I can experience the “light of the Spirit,” as the AA Big Book speaks of. Reliving the past will get me nowhere fast. It’s high time to move onward and upward.

brt

Like an Abandoned Japanese Strip Club

Eery scene from an abandoned, 70s-era strip club in an Japanese mountain resort town

Eery scene from an abandoned, 70s-era strip club in an Japanese mountain resort town

I chose the above photo to open this blog because after seeing a series of photos the other day from this abandoned, stuck-in-the-70s Japanese strip club, I was smitten with them and couldn’t put my finger on the reason. I’m still not exactly sure why, besides that I’m smitten with most any photo of an abandoned place in which it appears people just walked out and left everything as it was. Then I had a very self-involved epiphany: I related to this photo in particular so much because it’s what the inside of my head felt like at the time. I’d switched medicines that day–from Dopamax Topamax to Campral–and was missing the high that the Topamax gave me. That’s the reason it worked so well for the four months I was on it: I constantly felt buzzed and many times high as a kite, so there was no need for alcohol. (Disclaimer: I did indeed drink while I was on it, and many times experienced an overwhelming urge for a drink when I was taking it sober. The handful of days before I switched prescriptions were wrought with the desire to drink, to the point I told my AA sponsor I felt like giving up and just getting the relapse over with.) All this to say that the inside of my brain felt trashed: the Dopamax party was over, the new medicine gives me no sort of high, and I felt lonely, insecure, and scared. Probably the same way the photographer felt who captured this shot in the Japanese resort town where this strip club still sits empty, streamers still hanging from the ceiling and the stripper stages empty and dust-covered.

This week's change-in-tune pick-me-up GIF...I really love this one and it always makes me happy.

This week’s change-in-tune, pick-me-up GIF…I really love this one and it always makes me happy.

My focus this last week has been on changing the way I think. There’s a line in the AA Big Book that says something to the effect of (and this is a liberal paraphrase), “We all have God inside of us; it’s just a matter of unclogging our minds to seek Him.” And I think that’s so true. I’ve always prayed daily and gone to church and the whole nine yards, but that doesn’t necessarily equate to a truly intimate relationship with God. So very rarely do I sit still and just listen to what He might have to say; my prayers are very rote lists of requests (mostly for others) and things I’m thankful for. I’m trying to learn how to meditate, which should be easier on this new medicine. It was difficult for me to wrap my mind around the concept that there isn’t a big secret to meditating–it’s more or less breathing exercises which then facilitate calm thinking (or at least that’s the way it was explained to me). Starting at 30 seconds and working my way up to longer meditation sessions is something I’m working on, though it’s a challenge.

I follow some great recovery-centric Tumblrs and one of them posted this a couple of days ago. Reading these two simple lines is what made me realize I have to change my thought patterns. And it’s easy to throw up my hands and give up before I start…how exactly does one “change their thinking?” For someone who overanalyzes everything, it made me want a drink or four just pondering this. I know from the Boundaries book my first addiction specialist had me read that a big part of this is not entertaining negative thoughts. The minute they pop in your head, just don’t entertain them. I’ve wasted hours years obsessing over negative thoughts that I shouldn’t have entertained. I’ve worked myself into frenzies over problems that ended up essentially being imagined…imagine that, if you will. It’s letting go of frivolous, time- and energy-consuming behaviours like that which morph into a renewed way of thinking. Like most changes, it doesn’t happen overnight. I had a situation this past week that really got me worked up. I vented about it on Facebook (and then deleted the post…it was that negative and needless, though it felt necessary when I posted it), but thankfully I didn’t entertain the thoughts much past the venting. And I needed to vent because I was very upset; but I couldn’t change what the other person had done to me. The only thing I could change is how I chose to react to it, and so that’s what I did. Realizing his behaviour isn’t worth my time, energy, and negative thoughts is realizing he has no power over me. That’s what changing our thinking does–it gives us power over our emotional, mental, spiritual, and even physical well-being.

I feel like that deserves a 'Mad Men' clap, especially from Roger Sterling.

I feel like that deserves a slow ‘Mad Men’ clap, especially from Roger Sterling.

Here’s some quotes I’ve found this week, again from the recovery-centric Tumblrites:

“Renewing the mind is a little like refinishing furniture. It is a two-stage process. It involves taking off the old and replacing it with the new. The old is the lies you have learned to tell or were taught by those around you; it is the attitudes and ideas that have become a part of your thinking but do not reflect reality. The new is the truth. To renew your mind is to involve yourself in the process of allowing God to bring to the surface the lies you have mistakenly accepted and replace them with truth. To the degree that you do this, your behavior will be transformed.” – Charles Stanley

abundance

“Life always give us exactly the teacher we need at every moment. This includes every mosquito, every misfortune, every red light, every traffic jam, every obnoxious supervisor, every illness, every loss, every moment of joy or depression, every addiction, every breath. Every moment is the guru.”–Charlotte Joko Beck

“Our anxiety does not come from thinking about the future, but from wanting to control it.”–Kahlil Gibran

“You’re under no obligation to be the same person you were five minutes ago.”–Unknown

This one cracks me up...I think Carrie had just had her apartment redone and was hosting a tea or something.

This one cracks me up…I think Carrie had just had her apartment redone and was hosting a tea or something. Clearly the ban on cursing didn’t last long.

“The disapproval of those we love most is amplified so much that it overpowers the rest of the opinions that actually matter– like our own. It is a long road before we learn to turn them off, to release ourselves, and to remove value from how they think and feel before we’re able to hear everything clearly again. That’s when we start to hear the great opinions about us again; they’re so evident, so refreshing to hear. And we, more than anything, realize how the voice of that one person sometimes sounds a lot like ours, but we just don’t have control of theirs when it gets out of hand. And when it becomes louder than our own, we lose our way. It is through giving everything we have that we find all that should come to us. Loving ourselves is usually the aftermath of loving another so much that we’re exhausted and broken and have no other choice. Because loving someone more than they love you isn’t inherently a problem, but it becomes one the day you finally hear yourself say I deserve so much more.”–Unknown

“In the end loneliness is the most terrible and contradictory of my problems. I hate having only myself to come home to… It’s not that I want a sexual partner, a long-term partner, someone to share a bed and a snuggle on the sofa with – although perhaps I do… It’s a lose-lose matter. I don’t want to be alone, but I want to be left alone… And perhaps I am writing this for any of you out there who are lonely too. There’s not much we can do about it… But I want you to know that you are not alone in your being alone.”–Stephen Fry

rockin' chairs

“The loneliest people are the kindest. The saddest people smile the brightest. The most damaged people are the wisest. All because they do not wish to see anyone else suffer the way they do.”–Anonymous

Mark Corrigan from 'Peep Show', one of the best Britcoms currently on the air

David Mitchell from ‘Peep Show’, one of the best Britcoms currently on the air

“The area dividing the brain and the soul is affected in many ways by experience. Some lose all mind and become soul: insane. Some lose all soul and become mind: intellectual. Some lose both and become: accepted.”–Charles Bukowski

Office of the Asylum at old state hospital in Milledgeville, Georgia. I took this photo three years ago on a visit there.

Office of the Asylum at old state hospital in Milledgeville, Georgia. I took this photo three years ago on a visit there.

“The Universe loves grateful people. The more grateful you are, the more you get to be grateful about. It’s that simple. Life is really that simple. We make it enormously complicated, but it doesn’t have to be.”—Louise Hay

snoopy dance

“There is mind-bending beauty in the fact that we are eternal. We come, we go, and we travel so far beyond our conscious understanding we’re left blindsided and brush it off as fable or tall tale. This is who you are now, but it is not who you will always be. This may be how you feel now, but it will not be how you always feel.”–Unknown

spiritual beings

I like that last typed quote and pictured quote especially, because they put into perspective how transitory our everyday problems and irritations are. Yet so much of our time and energy are consumed dealing with just those issues! Oh, the irony of life…for most of us who’re given the chance, it’s not until the end of it that we realize how petty and inconsequential most of those things we stressed over and tormented ourselves dealing with were. Yet we must deal with them daily or they get bottled up. And then people like me hit the bottle, and it’s off to the races. Realizing, too, that I was drinking simply so I wouldn’t care about my issues has been eye-opening. It was also the reason I wanted to drink so badly this time last week. I felt like I was doing everything I was supposed to do towards my recovery, yet I was so unhappy. Choosing to look on the bright side and reminding myself of all I have to be thankful for is what’s going to keep me sober. Not the medicine; my way of thinking.

stronger

I’ve written a book this week, but I do want to give a shout-out of congrats to my beloved Connie Britton from ‘Nashville’ on her fourth consecutive Emmy nomination (for three separate shows!). This speaks volumes about her acting ability and how well-liked she is in the industry, because as much as I love ‘Nashville’, the writers didn’t give her character much to work with past the typical primetime soap dramatics. So congrats, Connie…I can only hope you’re flippin’ your hair over your nomination.

Thanks for reading, and thanks for the support from those I’ve leaned on in the past week. Sylvia Plath once said, ““I’ve been needing, more than anything, to talk to somebody, to spill out the tight, jealous, envious, apprehensive, neurotic tensions in me.” I can relate, and not in a suicidal, put-my-head-in-the-oven kind of way. I feel overwhelmingly blessed to have great friends and family in my life who’ve had the patience of saints with me, so thanks to those who’ve been there when I called, e-mailed, messaged, or saw them in person. You really are all saints in my book.

brt

One last bit of priceless advice from Horse ebooks. Best advice ever, to be honest.

One last bit of priceless advice from Horse ebooks. Best advice ever, to be honest.

The Image Awards

“You seem much more concerned with the image you put out there than anything else in your life. You hold what other people think of you higher even than your own happiness and self worth. This concerns me and I’m not so sure it concerns you.”

Those were the closing words my psychologist spoke to me a couple of days ago in my session with him. I was emotionless, because I knew he was right. As I left his office, I thought back on all my 33 years and realized those three sentences he spoke summed up much of my entire life. Not all of it, obviously, but a great deal of it. Always pleasing others, always craving approval, always doing what I thought was expected of me…until inevitably I cracked under the pressure, most of which was self-inflicted pressure, for lack of a better way of putting it. All of this to say that I’m very proud of the person I am, and if I had it all to do over again, I’m not sure what I’d change other than not to’ve started drinking. Because I always knew I’d have an issue with alcohol due to my chronic battle with depression, yet I started drinking anyway when I started back to school at age 30. But what’s done is done and I’m at the point now where I’m learning a lot about myself that I might’ve not learned otherwise, so that’s the way I have to look at it.

How about a little Dowager Countess to lighten things up?

How about a little Dowager Countess to lighten things up?

So I’m not exactly sure where I go from here. Obviously the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing, as the preacher in the church I grew up in was so fond of saying. And in this case the main thing is my sobriety. I don’t know how to un-learn 33 year’s worth of behaviour overnight, nor do I think my psychologist expects me to. Who knows if it’ll ever be unlearned; but I can continue to make strides–as I’ve done in the last two months–towards being happier and valuing myself more. Life’s funny like that, that it takes something like this for a cataclysmic change to take place in oneself. All I really wanted was to stop drinking, but it’s not as simple as that. Because the drinking was merely a symptom of deeper unhappiness. And the unhappiness stemmed from how much I devalued myself and my own self worth…it all makes sense now.

As I did last week, I’d like to share some more quotes and GIFs and memes which I’ve found helpful this past week. Please feel free to copy and paste and right click them to your heart’s content…or refer your friends here to read them firsthand! (Well, second- or thirdhand, since I myself got them all off Tumblr.)

calvin negative

“That is why it is so important to let certain things go. To release them. To cut loose. People need to understand that no one is playing with marked cards; sometimes we win and sometimes we lose. Don’t expect to get anything back, don’t expect recognition for your efforts, don’t expect your genius to be discovered or your love to be understood. Complete the circle. Not out of pride, inability or arrogance, but simply because whatever it is no longer fits in your life. Close the door, change the record, clean the house, get rid of the dust. Stop being who you were and become who you are.”–Paulo Coehlo

“Slowly, the realisation emerges that the choice to continue what you have been doing is the choice to live in discomfort, and the choice to stop what you have been doing is the choice to breathe deeply and freely again. Once that realisation has emerged, you can either honour it or ignore it, but you can not forget it [Edit: I could forget]. What has become known cannot become unknown again.”–Gary Zukav

let things go

“Every single person you know has something in their life and past that is probably worth collapsing to the ground in an uncontrollably sobbing heap over, so be nice to each other and tell good jokes.”–Anonymous

This was a kind-hearted joke that Meryl Streep played on her friend Sandy Bullock during the Oscar campaign a few years back. Bullock ended up winning for 'The Blind Side', so all ended well for her.

This was a kind-hearted joke that Meryl Streep played on her friend Sandy Bullock during the Oscar campaign a few years back. Bullock ended up winning for ‘The Blind Side’, so all ended well for her.

In summation, I think I’ve done a decent job of protecting my image over the years. I may’ve failed at many other things, but I think I’ve succeeded at portraying myself in the best light possible given all the circumstances. Even when I was dealing with debilitating depression and/or drinking 6-8 drinks a day, very few people knew. To sit here and type, “I’m proud of that” is probably colossally screwed up, but I am. I’m glad no one saw me out at bars getting wasted and that I was doing all my drinking behind closed doors or at work or in my car on the downlow. (Clearly I don’t condone anyone drinking in their car or at work; that’s actually the whole point of drinking in bars, I suppose.) I’m glad that when I was 20, I pulled myself up by my bootstraps and got myself to a psychiatrist of my own accord and played musical chairs with anti-depressants until I found one which worked for me. If I had it all to do over again, I really can’t say I’d do anything differently besides the not drinking. I’ve done the best I could given all the circumstances, and I think that’s what most of us who are being genuinely honest say when it comes right down to it. We’ve done the best we could.

charlie brown stupid things

That’s all for this week. Monsoon season is beginning a bit early here in Vegas and rain is predicted all day today. The rain is needed to help put out the wildfires up on Mount Charleston, so I’m certainly not going to sit here and bellyache about flooded streets when I don’t have to drive on them during rush hour. Hope everyone had a great 4th and is staying cool this summer!

brt

Childe Hassam's "The Avenue in the Rain," 1917

Childe Hassam’s “The Avenue in the Rain,” 1917

I’m Just So Glad to Be Here

After I got my new two month chip at last night’s meeting–I did the thing again where I traded in last year’s old one for a shiny new one–I left the meeting room to use the bathroom. (Thank you, Topamax, for no control over my bladder due to all the fluids I drink.) As I was walking back towards the meeting room on the lower level of the hospital, a bald-headed cancer patient was walking with her IV drip cart and she smiled at me. I smiled back and got tears in my eyes. The meeting went on and I didn’t plan on sharing. Finally, what I assumed to be the last person shared (she was sitting right next to me), and our leader said we had time for one last person to share if they could keep it very brief. I spoke up and said the following:

“I’m Brian and I’m an alcoholic. For anyone who doesn’t know, I came to these meetings last year and didn’t take them seriously. Well, that’s an understatement. Anyway, that’s why I’ve been turning in my old chips for new ones. I bought ‘The Big Book’ last year and read it all the way through, but I drug my ass in here late for the one meeting a week that I begrudgingly made it to, and I refused to get a sponsor. Now I have the greatest sponsor in the world–thank you, Matt–and, well, I’m just so glad to be here. Thanks.”

So much has happened in not only the last two months, but in the last week. But all of it’s been positive, and all of it’s been changes precipated by things which–while seemingly out of my control–I know for a fact are completely within God’s control. And knowing that and being at peace with that is–let me tell you–being in a completely, utterly different place than where I was a short 60 days ago. Not that I don’t still have panic attack-ish moments…I was telling my sponsor yesterday that I couldn’t find something I was looking for when I was fixing to leave the house to meet him, and I was so worried about being late for our session that I just nearly started crying. I popped a Topamax (instead of a drink, which–let’s be honest, is what I really wanted), found what I was looking for, and still made it to the session on time. So no, my life is by no means all unicorns and roses. But no one’s is. The joy of living is finding those moments in-between the hard stuff, savouring them, and being thankful for them. God never promised us a problem-free life. We somehow wished or imagined that up in our head, or at least this guy did. But He did promise us that He’d be there with us every step of the way if we’d trust Him and let Him do what He’s always promised to do from the start. All that being said–and this coming from someone who’s made a plethora of poor decisions–it’s so much easier said than done to let “Jesus Take the Wheel,” as Carrie Underwood sang.

I wanted to share a few quotes I’ve been hoarding saving up that have really been helping me along, so I think I’ll just “spill it,” as Thelma Harper once recorded on her outgoing answering machine message on ‘Mama’s Family’. Here they are, in no particular order:

“Breathe. You’re going to be okay. Breathe and remember that you’ve been in this place before. You’ve been this uncomfortable and anxious and scared, and you’ve survived. Breathe and know that you can survive this too. These feelings can’t break you. They’re painful and debilitating, but you can sit with them and eventually, they will pass. Maybe not immediately, but sometime soon, they are going to fade and when they do, you’ll look back at this moment and laugh for having doubted your resilience. I know it feels unbearable right now, but keep breathing, again and again. This will pass. I promise it will pass.”–Daniell Koepke
Carve Out Un-distraction Time. When are you going to do your most important work? Schedule it with a block of time (1 hour, 2 hours, 4 hours, whatever works for you). Make this your most sacred appointment. Become incommunicado. Close the Internet, all notifications, hold all calls. Just do the most important task, then the next one if you have time. Slow Down. We rush through our days, almost in a single frenetic anxiety-filled non-stop movement. Instead, slow down. Life won’t collapse if you aren’t rushing from task to task, e-mail to e-mail. You can pause, take a moment to reflect, smile, enjoy the current task before moving on. Mindfully Single-task. Stop multi-tasking. One task at a time, with full focus on that task. Practice mindfulness as you do the task — it’s a form of meditation. Watch your thoughts wander to what you need to do later, but then return to the task at hand. Your day will be much simpler, and much more enjoyable, when you practice being present with your current task.–Leo Babauta
“Do not resist events that move you out of your comfort zone, especially when your comfort zone was not all that comfortable.”–Alan Cohen
t
“What a lovely surprise to discover how un-lonely being alone can be.”–Ellen Burstyn (Might I just say how much I love this woman.)
“You can accept or reject the way you are treated by other people, but until you heal the wounds of your past, you will continue to bleed. You can bandage the bleeding with food, with alcohol, with drugs, with work, with cigarettes, with sex, but eventually, it will all ooze through and stain your life. You must find the strength to open the wounds, stick your hands inside, pull out the core of the pain that is holding you in your past, the memories, and make peace with them.”—Iyanla Vanzant, ‘Yesterday, I Cried’
“Have you ever analyzed things to the degree where you can’t really remember the difference between what’s real and what you’ve created in your head?”–Edie Sedgwick
“Some periods of our growth are so confusing that we don’t even recognize that growth is happening. We may feel hostile or angry or weepy and hysterical, or we may feel depressed. It would never occur to us, unless we stumbled on a book or a person who explained to us, that we were in fact in the process of change, of actually becoming larger, spiritually, than we were before. Whenever we grow, we tend to feel it, as a young seed must feel the weight and inertia of the earth as it seeks to break out of its shell on its way to becoming a plant. Often the feeling is anything but pleasant. But what is most unpleasant is the not knowing what is happening […] Those long periods when something inside ourselves seems to be waiting, holding its breath, unsure about what the next step should be, eventually become the periods we wait for, for it is in those periods that we realize that we are being prepared for the next phase of our life and that, in all probability, a new level of the personality is about to be revealed.”–Alice Walker
That last one by fellow Georgia native Alice Walker really got to me when I read it. I actually read it before the huge precipating change which took place late last week actually took place. But once that change happened and I was so at peace with it–and I handled the situation with such dignity and calm–unlike the old me, or even the me up until this very point in my life here on this earth has ever been capable of doing or has reacted to situations such as that–I realized that I was a-changin’. And I was telling my cousin on the phone last night that I’m certainly not patting myself on the back or tooting my own horn, because it’s not me that’s facilitating the change. And it’s not the Topamax; goodness knows the Dopamax isn’t changing me! It’s my Higher Power, or as I’d like to call Him, God. And to Him be the glory. I’m humbled beyond words, as I always am. He’s seen fit in all His mercy, and He’s known that this is the right time for me to finally be open to all this change. Change is scary and most of us resent it kicking and screaming. But this time I’m not. I’m absolutely not. I’m at God’s mercy and am willing to do whatever He sees fit for me to do. And being in this place, at this time, is right where I need to be. Nothing could possibly give me more peace of mind than that.
Well, I hope everyone has a magnificent 4th! We as a country have much to be thankful for. We’re a wondrously flawed nation, but we’re a United nation. I, for one, am thankful every. single. day that I was born here. Although, I won’t lie, it would’ve been fun to’ve been born in the UK as well. But anyway, here’s to a great 4th!
Liberace stole my 4th of July outfit

Liberace stole my 4th of July outfit

BTW, I’ve not changed so much that I won’t illustrate the precipated change that took place late last week with a couple of GIFs. I still won’t get into the story because the end result is that life goes on and we’ll both be the better for it, but needless to say I had a very heated phone/e-mail/texting conversation with a friend who’s no longer my friend and who was never supportive of my sobriety. Okay, that’s pretty much the whole story right there. It went a little something like this…

catfight
joansie telephone
Thanks for readin’, and thanks to all my new followers! Oh, and I hope everyone noticed the couple of Southern-centric pics I spliced in-between the quotes! Thanks to the *Simply Southern Tumblr* for those images…again, just mosey on over there for your fix of Southern Aristocracy for the time being. They really have so, so many neat pics and I’ve enjoyed following them the last few weeks.
Here’s one last GIF to end with, and I’ll call it a day. Life advice from Bob Ross is the best kind of life advice. Until next time–brt

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