The Power of Persuasion

ten yearsAlcohol was my demon, my primary addiction of doom. I drank from the age of 15 until I turned 26, and through this time my life in many ways was an absolute disaster. There were good times, yes, but the bad ones overshadowed those.

I didn’t see it right away. I don’t know how, but I managed to miss the forest for the trees and I was oblivious to the crap I unleashed on myself. I was revelling in my bullshit to the point I believed in it! There were other people, however, who could see through it and see my becoming worse. My family members talked to me about my problematic attitude to alcohol, but I didn’t listen at first. They’d remind me of my grandfather dying from drinking excessively. All I’d say to that was Grandpa was an old man drinking vodka and I was much younger and drank beer. After all, what damage could a can or two of beer do?! Which reminds me of this joke I read online the other day.

From the latest news: most of the Russians still don’t consider beer an alcoholic beverage. A cop stops a driver on the highway: “have you been drinking anything?” – “no, just beer.” (c)

Each time I’d realize I spend too much money on booze, I’d slow down and cut to cheaper stuff, or quit smoking for a while. I knew how to deal with hangovers. And when I failed to do that properly, I’d dismiss it by a wave of hand and say that “OK, I’ll watch it.” I’d fail with that one too, but I didn’t worry then.

Things became worse in several years and I finally started to pay attention to my worsening moods, classes, jobs. By this time I’d be seeing psychologist on a regular basis. My girlfriend was concerned, so were my parents and instructors. What they had to say about the effects of alcohol on mental and physical health, their points on my losing jobs and failing classes made sense by then, and I was eager to take some kind of action, but it didn’t work for too long. I’d either think that I was OK after a month of sobriety and screw up when I got too cocky or I’d collapse as often as I would when learning to walk for the first time. All the rational seeds of their arguments would dry up and fade away as soon as an opportunity to have a beer after a hard working day. Same way, a necessity to push away unpleasant and worrisome thoughts would ring and I couldn’t resist drinking.

So I “journeyed joylessly” for a while and I kept making a lot of mistakes. Each time I drank, or was faced with an idea to go drink, hopelessness and loneliness would beat me into realization that I couldn’t master alcohol and my life was crawling to a ditch. There was an ever present thick black wall of depression (not clinical, but still deadly alcohol-induced depression) that hung over me like a cloud of radiation, and seemed to be dropping seeds of terror and damnation everywhere I went. Suicide attempts are hardly signs of positive living, aren’t they? Getting fired from jobs and letting relationships falling apart wasn’t fun either. The bottle was always around, with every year more explicitly. Days were becoming darker and longer, full of temptations. Night time dreams were becoming more nightmarish. Eventually all these factors finally started knocking on my head, as if saying “Have you had enough yet? Don’t you feel like kicking booze goodbye?”

It was hard to even start thinking about quitting, though, because for a very long time alcohol seemed to be all around me. For a very long time alcohol was my magic potion, an answer to the world craziness and the load of responsibilities. So by the time I got to the stage I had to quit or else, it seemed like I constantly had to have battles with myself. Should I or should I not? You say I can’t handle the drink? Well, hey, I am so much better than others! Then again I couldn’t understand how others could drink responsibly and I kept making a fool of myself.

My mind was still raging and didn’t feel like giving up, but my body was taking toll. I’d have minor tremors, my fingers would be shaking, I’d be having cramps in the morning, and hangovers were just terrible. So finally I came to the realization that I couldn’t drink anymore. Because you see, when you go around your apartment in circles, speaking it out like a mantra, “can’t take no drink, can’t take no drink” it’s no fun. Life starts looking like a retarded conversation with yourself that starts with: “Which part of NO don’t you understand? Is it N or is it O?”

When I came to AA and listened to the people in there, there was a quite different technique of persuasion at play. Here is another, a bit grim, joke I remember from back home.

A mother brings her six year old to the store and he starts crying about having one toy or dessert or another. The mother has none of that, so the kid starts having a fit. The mother just stands there, shaking her head. A clerk comes over and says, “You know we have a highly trained psychologist on staff, do you want me to call them to deal with this, convince you child to calm down?” The lady is happy for the opportunity, so she says yes. Couple minutes later a young man comes over, looks around, accesses the situation and sits down next to the kid and says something in his ear. The kid immediately gets up, shuts up, and quickly comes over to his mother. Hand in hand they walk out of the store. Surprised mother asks the child: “What did that man tell you, sweetie?” The kid says: “He said that if I didn’t shut up and get out he’d cut my throat from one ear to another!”(c)

Brutal! I know. None of the psychologists I knew used that technique. And yet the way members of AA had their message to me was very close to what happens in that joke. They said to me: “You heard our stories. We heard yours. Sounds similar, doesn’t it? Well, if you keep drinking like that, here’s what’s going to happen to you: liver failure, heart attack, loss of everything you have and mental institution or incarceration possibly await you. You also will be trapped in your spinning mind, knowing that all your misfortunes are the results of your own action. But if you stick with AA, you’ll have a huge chance to experience none of that and get back to life full circle. All you have to do is not take the first drink and come to meetings. If you’ll stick around, you’ll learn how. Would you like that?”

It was blunt. It was a hit right between the eyes. And that sold AA for me immediately. I was tired of the crap I was feeding myself. I wanted peace of mind and I needed a break. In front of me was the best power of persuasion. These were the people who not only knew what massive and repetitive alcoholic intoxication does to people. They lived it. They suffered it. They spent years and some of them decades in mental, spiritual, and physical pain and despair over their addiction to drinking. Their stories were true and I believed them. These people were very similar to me. My parents, friends, partners, instructors, employers – their stories about harms of drinking weren’t their own. That fact doesn’t take away a single bit of the fact that they were great amazing people who cared, but I couldn’t relate to them.

I could relate to the AA people. All of them were strangers to me for a while, but at the same time, these drunks in active sobriety made a world of difference to me while all I knew was wallowing in my own bullshit and my fear of the world, responsibility, and inability to hold it together. And in the long run they not only persuaded me to stick around and do the homework, but also to stay around for years, sober in body, spirit, and mind, for my own sake and for those around me. Stories of a bunch of strangers in strange rooms did for me what I couldn’t even dream I could do for myself.

This weekend I celebrate ten years sober. There is absolutely no way I’d do it without taking in AA wisdom. Thank you all for welcoming me, letting me learn, being persuasive, inviting me back, and being there for me for all this time! Thank you for my good life!

[as for the picture, I didn’t really get that medallion yet, but maybe I will :)]

Categories: Uncategorized

Chemical Woe Fair

I didn’t touch a cigarette for six years. And then yesterday I picked it up again. Was it worth it?

By Winter 2009 I made it through the motto attributed to Mark Twain (“Quitting smoking is easy, I did it hundred times!”) and had smoking gotten to me in such degree that I was oh so ready to quench the addiction. Having poisoned myself enough, as well as educated myself on the contents of the so called tobacco, finally quitting felt like such a relief. I prided myself with quitting smoking in a most smoked atmosphere I ever knew: we had a smoke room in the work building. My girlfriend smoked and my roommate kept failing quitting. Relief became a true sense of victory. I didn’t try to push it on others, but warmly greeted others’ victories over nicotine.

Eventually it became me against the dirty smokers. I knew it was an addiction, I knew it was hard, but I started to forget about the obsession part of it. So I was forgetting at times how hard it was for people to kick it.

Anyway, I went through some changes in the workplaces recently and having a cigarette started to become a bit of an obsession for me. All my clients smoked at one work place, and so they do at the other. My girlfriend and her family kept smoking, so the cigarette smoke and packs were all over the place wherever I went. It seemed every second person smoking on the street was trying to walk my way. I felt like I couldn’t win.

Last night I was sitting at my future in-laws place, watching them all smoking, and no matter how courteous they usually were, trying not to smoke around me (and thank you so much for trying all this time, really!), it felt like some stress and anger wave was rising inside me. I couldn’t get over it. I knew what I’ve accomplished, but it felt like it didn’t mean anything anymore. Once I thought that I could have just one, the thought wouldn’t leave. I went in my head through all the reasons why I shouldn’t smoke, and they all rang true, but the obsession wouldn’t leave anymore. It persisted in my mind through everything.

Finally I picked up a cigarette in the evening after dinner. It felt good. Yes, I said it, it felt good. I thought it would give me this “hammer to the head” blow. It didn’t. I was sitting on the terrace and felt reasonably safe. So I had another one. This one was not so good. I got up and walked around and felt a bit dizzy. The taste of trash in my mouth wouldn’t leave. I told myself that was a dumb idea and agreed with myself, but the obsessed part of my mind kept mumbling that it wasn’t all that bad. I had a third with a coffee half an hour later. My moustache smelled of filth, so did the fingers. I also felt more dizzy and I gagged a couple times. Chemical warfare was in progression and my body wanted to have nothing to do with it. Good times, no? I was watching the smoke dissolving slowly in the air over the yard and recalled how they called a cigarette an idle killer. It is. I inhale smoke slowly, lazily, and it does it’s poisoning work gradually, until it is so hard to kick away. The only drugs that I allowed to get inside me on voluntary basis for several years were caffeine, melatonin, and Tylenol. So the war was not welcomed.

I spoke to my girlfriend of the reasons that made me smoke this time, but I also said I may have a cigarette in the morning. To see where it would get me. Dumb? Maybe. I keep hearing these folks in the meetings every once in a while saying they needed that relapse to see where their substance abuse addiction would get them, because they were starting to forget. I couldn’t relate then. Now I can. Picking up is easy. Justifying it is even easier. But staying away…

I slept less than usual last night. I woke up at 4:30am. I still had a smell of tobacco on my hands. I made some coffee and had a smoke on the balcony. I gagged more and felt dizzy immediately. Chemical warfare was working right. I felt like crap. Now I could see much better how it worked. I could see that obsession was so easy to kick in and take over me. I could see how much my body got intoxicated after all these years of me keeping intoxication at bay, focusing mostly on the damages of alcohol drinking. It may sound strange, but I was thankful that my body hated this shit so much. I didn’t get too far with this. I didn’t do too much damage. I am having slight stomach cramps now that I am writing this. Dizziness is walking away. I praised my Higher Power for that. That was a gift of the day. I really needed that.

So no, it wasn’t worth it, but it was a very good lesson. For several years I didn’t even feel like I needed to include non-smoking in my morning prayers. I didn’t feel threatened in any way. Now it came this close to falling really hard. I am not having another one for the whole of the day. Let’s hope I’ll get through another six years nicotine free. One day at a time. One morning prayer at a time.

Thanks for listening. Have a glorious free day.

Yours Truly in Weakness

I keep reminding myself that people are always just people, not gods. We are all vulnerable and weak, no matter how strong and wise we think we are. I kept (and still sometimes do) idolize men and women who I follow, love their books or music, but when they act weird or do something stupid, and it goes online, I feel like I was betrayed in a sense.

I have to remember none of us perfect and never will be, neither will I be. No matter how smart and intelligent we are, some things people make me wonder, get angry, freak out even. People are strange creatures, and even though we think we know our loved ones very well, we will never know everything, even if we communicate very well. We are very impatient, intolerant, and very not sober at times.

Those are exactly the qualities we need to keep a relationship alive, whether romantic or not. So if someone runs away on you after promising you mountains of gold for eternity, no matter how painful it is, life has to go on for the sake of your finding what you need, want to accomplish, how to be yourself in the first place. Sure, another person in our life compliments our living, colors it a bit more, but we first need to have something of our own to get it complimented. I guess we look for it all of our life.

Categories: Uncategorized

Good Times, Bad Times

goodtimesI think I’d speak for everybody that we prefer to remember the good times over the bad ones. It makes sense – why look at the experiences that are hurtful, embarrassing, and disgusting?! Things we prefer to forget or erase from our memories – let them be gone, right? Let the memories of the parties enjoyed overshadow the disasters!

It happened too many times that I remembered good times drinking over the bad ones. Bad ones that makes me shake my head at myself. Bad ones that I can’t shake my head at because of the memories of how my poor head ached then. Bad ones that I couldn’t even remember, just bits and pieces, resulting from a black out or whatever else. On the whim of the memory of good times drinking I’d go for another bottle of vodka, not worrying about the memories of total disasters of having vodka driving me to the edge.

Man, I wish I could forget some of those ones. But the paradox is that I realize I have to remember the bad ones. Here’s a tip: “remember”, not “concentrate”! Not focus and dwell on shit and get all depressed from that, but remember the mistakes in order to avoid making them again. If I remember and remind myself on a regular basis what kind of a mess I made every time I picked up a drink, I’d keep it in my memory for a bit longer that every next time could be just the same, or worse. I am not getting any younger, so my body will respond to abuse through alcohol in a raging way.

“On regular basis” for me personally doesn’t mean that I meditate on the terrible intoxication experiences recollection every day. Instead, every time I see a person passing with a beer box in a plastic bag in their hand, each time I see an alcohol billboard, each time I see a bar and hear people yelling inside, each time I see the poorly clothed and poorly behaving people sitting by the liquor store, – each of these times I recall why booze is not an option for me. I recall the dark, the despair, and near killing myself experiences and instead of crying out “Alcohol is coming to kill me!” I say a “thank you” and sometimes a prayer. It works much better that way than being paranoid and wondering when I will stumble next time.

The “good times” are memories that can play as illusions of what my drinking “really” was. Deep inside I want to believe them, because some part of me still craves alcohol. I can’t let it break through. So although I often laugh at the fun time I had drinking, and some I recall with endearment, still I have to remind myself: there were plenty of experiences that I am not proud of and that drinking chapter of my life is over. I cannot afford going back to it. The price is too high, because I most likely will mess it all up.

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The Endless Debate

April 26, 2015 Leave a comment

bsr005The thing about drinking times is that voices in my head never stopped the commotion. I wrote about it before: being an addict was a messy full time job. As an active addict, I was always immersed in obsession, temptation, and doubt. I had to watch out for smelling of booze and walking straight.

Besides the stuff that was happening on the outside, there was plenty going on inside. Mostly in my head. I disputed having a drink or not having a drink; going for more, or not. Majority of these disputes were solved in favor of having and having more, but they always were coming up again.

Eventually I figured out I had to stop drinking somehow and the debates became even more aggressive. Now I was battling with the reality of sobriety, holding jobs and relationships, making friends, and somehow fitting into the world that seemed to misunderstand addicts. Every ordinary problem that usual people deal with every day was becoming a world war to fight for me, for in many ways they were all somehow connected to my history of insobriety, which in turn called out for the memories of infidelity, pain, anger, loss, and regret of ever making connections in the first place.

When facing the world of responsibilities, be it finding a new job, or applying for a loan to pay for education, or asking a girl out, my mind would go what felt like thousand miles per hour, refusing to even start dealing with this task. And I am sure a lot of people feel the same way, whether they are addicts or not, because there are no supermen out there. At the same time the thoughts regarding each little new thing that I had to face within my first year of sobriety, like meeting new people, ending a long term and long distance relationship, locating a new recovery meeting place, or finding a right bus stop to get there created a philosophical shit storm, most of which was a rave that had no right for existence in its absurdity, and yet somehow in my mind it managed to ring true and meaningful.

That was my reality and each attempt of accepting and dealing with it was creating another turmoil. I already had plenty by then. I was tired of dealing with things. I just wanted to stop worrying about shit. It is by the grace of the Gods that I didn’t have to go through it alone. Chances are I wouldn’t make it even through a month by myself. Talking to people who knew of my problems with accepting life on its terms and not drinking over it helped a lot by getting more and more out of my head. Reducing the pressure by letting things out in front of others who were dealing with similar issues was a true salvation. Continuing to do it through the number of years, having this community of addicts in long term recovery is a blessing I thought I’d never find.

The debate still goes on in my head, after all these years of sobriety and connection. I’ve rebuilt some of the foundations that it managed to rot through after years of active drinking and mental freaking out about every possible thing. The voices, however, are still alive and every once in a while they have a crazy war when I am facing another important decision to be made, change to face, people to meet, anger to quieten. And yet this is so much better than ever before. I don’t feel like I am enslaved to my bizarre mental processes the way I used to be. I feel more in control of a situation even if I know I’d rather run to the edge of the world from it without looking back. Crap still happens, like with everyone else. Life didn’t become paradise, but I wasn’t promised such thing to happen in the first place. Life is still a war at times, but I think I have a better idea of how to fight it. And I have to fight myself less these days. That’s always a bonus.

[front picture was copied from ‘ere. thank you.]

Sober Insane

April 19, 2015 Leave a comment

soberinsaneAfter all these years I still catch myself on thinking insane. Because thinking a justification would work after I proved it not working for years is insane.

This is about going to meetings. But it starts with me thinking of me going to more meetings.

My job description has been altered slowly through the last couple of years. I used to be involved in recovery at my rehab work quite a bit. I did recovery coaching constantly. I was regularly meeting with people giving it a shot at recovery from substance abuse. I did a lot of writing about it and for it. I used to do relapse prevention classes. With my work shifting, all of these slowly were swept away. In the last year I coached two people. The case management sessions we started at work were moved from me to another person. This post is not about work and consumption of work load and restructuring. It is about me learning from what I am facing. That is what recovery really is, isn’t it?

Recovery is a gradual process. Just like a relapse doesn’t come out of nowhere, but is a gradual process of the voluntary corrosion of the mind, recovery needs time to flourish. You put a brick in every day and eventually build a wall. Or a house. Depends on a perception of life. You do the right things, you do them as prescribed, you meet the right people and hang out with them, you learn from the lessons, – all this will reap in good fruits you can use safely and productively for the rest of your lives if you watch your step.

Why all this? I know I have to go to meetings. I know I’ve been taught to. But I also know this because I’ve learned through the years. There must be people who think going to meetings and doing Steps is a waste of time, that it enslaves your independence, self-esteem, and freedom. Peace be with them. I know what I know. I’ve been at it for a while. I saw how staying in isolation eats my brain. How I separate from the good things if I tell myself I am just OK on my own.

Funny thing is, though, I’ve been telling that to myself for years. I’ve been telling myself for years now that since I work in rehab and face and talk to so many people who are going through the harshest perils of addiction and working recovery I don’t have to go to meeting as much as I used to in the first three years of my sobriety.

And yet each time I’d fall under such assumption, it would kick me in the ribs. Couple weeks without a meeting would make me feel angry, impatient, and very much intolerant. I’d finally go to a meeting, and after attending go out and wonder: “What was I thinking?! How could I let it go so far? I could injure someone!” Especially that would hit home if I heard someone sharing about being away from meetings for a while and now hurting real bad.

So my justifying not going to meetings is not a “funny thing”, after all. It is insane. Certainly it is insane to keep repeating doing the same thing, expecting different results.

My work has brought me to be less involved with things I loved doing. Work is still going quite well, but the passion of sharing recovery with others at work is not supported anymore. It sucks, but it is a reality. I have to face it. I am still inspired with being of service to others and doing my Step Twelve by reaching out, but I have to look for support and the release of my creativity somewhere else. I need to start going to at least twice more meetings. It always worked well. I just have to be sane about it.

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Letting Go, part X

April 12, 2015 Leave a comment

driving2

Being in recovery, taking recovering seriously, being involved, working at a rehab, – all these create a certain outlook on life. And carrying that outlook through the years certainly affects the connection to people. For me it rings very true.

Having quit smoking on my own for several years and having friends or loved ones who smoke is not easy. Talking to them about it must be laying bricks in the wall of “coming to reality of recovery” for them eventually, but it is a slow process. Having quit drinking for another number of years and having friends drinking, drinking hard, drinking harder with very little chance of full recovery is even more difficult to take.

I understand, however, that if I really love them and want them to be good and healthy, but also free, I must either let go or get out. Either love them as they are and accept them with their weaknesses, or bail. I’ve been working on realizing these ideas for years now.

But then there are also people who I don’t know, who are not substance addicts, and yet they are around me all the time. Careless drivers in particular. They don’t see where they turn. They don’t care if there is a pedestrian crossing, minding their own business and the rules of being on the street. Sometimes I feel we as pedestrians are ignored, our rights smashed.

Letting go of this frustration is harder because I feel threatened by their actions every day. It feels like disrespect and lack of responsibility guides these people, and I often feel hatred toward them more than I’d feel toward thieves or liars. Drinking and driving has a larger stigma created for years, so driving and texting hasn’t made its way into our minds at that degree yet. Nevertheless I find it impossible to let go of these frustrations. Quite on contrary, I feel like each time I face these feelings I could blow up in righteous rage.

Why is this rant in my addiction blog? Hmm, well, I see these people to be ensalved to the necessity of being in touch with something that promises to be the most important thing in their life (at least for the next five minutes). We seem to be caught up in a need of connecting all the time, even to people we never met. Texting and phoning is so important to us and we feel so righteous to execute that right that we don’t even see how we can hurt others by doing so. We can’t let go of trying to connect to others 24/7. Some time ago we wouldn’t even care about that. Nowadays it is the most important thing in the world. Are we scared of silence? Are we scared of feeling alone?

I get it. And I hate that. Because while you are connecting to your boyfriend after a hard day at work, I am in danger.

There are things I understand and I can let go of them. There are some things I can’t stand and don’t understand and I still can let go of them. I just have to remember that I can. Prayer and meditation are my only saviors in these situations, for I find no forces to simply accept these driving and texting nutcases as sick, lost sheep who don’t know what they do.So instead of blowing up, I take in a long breath and take a long one out. I keep on doing that until I know I am OK. I am still raging deep inside, but at least I don’t get myself in trouble for it.

Another week is coming. Another peak hour madness is around the corner. I need serenity more than anything.

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