Who am I now?, or, the art of no longer living in denial

18 Jun

12:10 pm

(I wasn’t going to post this, but I’m deciding to do so because, well, remaining sober means necessarily embracing it. And, Wolfie-boy and his ugly mange-y paw, Denial, can ruin the best of intentions. So, in an effort to embrace sobriety–and hang onto it in spite of Wolfie breathing down my neck (Oh, come ON, you’ve gone far enough, you can drink on this trip)–I’m reminding me (and you) of how I got here.)

I have to admit, I thought I was “different.” All these drunks at meetings, saying stuff like, “I had no idea who I was when I first got sober.” Pfft, please. That’s not me. *I* knew who I was, didn’t I? Don’t I? I know who I am, right? In FACT, I was the same person back then…except I drank. I still am that person, I just don’t drink.

Right? Riiiiight.

Anyway, I have accomplished some shit in my life, but one day last year, with my issues coming into crystal clear focus, I realized that it might have all been pretty much fueled by wine. And that hit me in the gut like a punching bag. Oof. Really? Have all my successes and achievements–and failures, even missteps–been a direct result of my drinking? Not in the, I needed wine to do this, kind of way, but in the, Wine was always in the picture, kind of way. And it did, indeed, allow me to do certain things. My sense of motivation–maybe a frenetic one, looking back–CAME FROM THE WINE. Sure, my brain is wired to accomplish, to want to achieve; but, in the later years, especially from about 2004 until now, was it the “wine brain” that was propelling me to do all the crazy, caution-to-the-wind shit that I did? Or, was that me?

Wait, who am I?

As I prepare for this volunteer trip (for which I, gulp, leave on Thursday), I have to admit: I have NO IDEA how to do this sober. I’ve never done it sober. I’ve gone to the country where I’m going three times already, but I’ve never seen the place through the lens of a sober person. That is to say, the past three times I’ve gone to where I’m going, I drank–like, drinky-drank-DRUNK drank!

The third time (four years ago), though, not so much. And, here’s what’s “hilarious” about that: for the past few years, I’ve been telling myself that I didn’t drink *as much* on the third trip because I “wasn’t really an alcoholic” and that I just needed to find something purposeful to fill my hole.

What really happened, I’m remembering more clearly now, is that I was AFRAID OF KILLING MYSELF based on how ridiculously I drank the first two times.

Just to semi-recap: on the first trip (over five years ago), I drank every night, till the end (3 am), and then had to get up every morning at 7 am for work (manual labor–somehow the hangovers weren’t so bad when you were sweating them out). I drank WHILE ON malaria meds, and then WHILE HAVING A BAD REACTION to said meds, such that I was in a state of acute panic/anxiety for a period of 36 hours at one point. It was a nightmare; literally, a waking nightmare. I completely blamed this reaction on the chloroquine as being an older anti-malarial that I shouldn’t have taken based on my medical history of depression and anxiety. Now, however, I have to ask myself, Could it have been the probably-dangerous combination of a shit-ton of booze plus the meds? (tilts heads in mock wonder)

On the second trip, a year later, it only got worse! I got SO drunk one night at a party (thrown by and for my host mother’s family), that I kissed an old guy, got SUPER-emotional and crazy and was yelling at people, then, managed to pass out on the outhouse seat. I fell forward onto something hard and flat with the full weight of my noggin, bashing my forehead so hard that I not only had a huge welt up there, but gave myself a black eye (days later, after the blood drained down). The host mother was chagrined, to say the least, and there was at least one person who bid me an official farewell the next morning (even though I was there for another several days).

I mean, these are just a FEW stories of how I drank there. No, I wasn’t the only alcoholic, and no, others experienced a lot worse consequences (one guy fell off a roof and died), BUT…

It never seemed to click, how exhausting and dangerous all this was–year after year after year. Once the hangover wore off and the bad behavior, forgotten, I simply moved on and pretended that nothing needed to change. Or, at least nothing needed to change *that* much.

This is stuff that makes my (bobble)head spin, like someone threw a brick at my face–how could I have lived in such denial? Not only of what I was doing–and how I was using alcohol–but of how I was lying to myself about what I was doing?! Something must have stuck (was it the outhouse incident?) because, fully realizing that it would be dangerous to binge drink like that again, I managed to control my drinking on the third trip (the dehydration factor also helped).

Fast forward to now, and I seem to have forgotten about all of this! Like, I’ve been telling myself that I didn’t drink heavily the last time because I didn’t need to, didn’t feel like it, realized that this work filled my unmet needs–no, I wasn’t really an alcoholic at home, I was just empty with want and my unmet needs.

Yes, unfortunately, I was an alcoholic at home. I drank and bad shit happened, but I kept drinking. It’s pretty obvious, isn’t it?

All this being said, this time around, I am not going to drink because, well, I’m sober. Right? I’ve thought about it, of course: would it really be that bad to do the two-beers-a-night thing again? I’m sure I could do it, and might even want to. BUT…a part of me really wants to see this world, have this experience, live out this dream…through the prism of a sober mind. And this, somehow, seems much more important and real than all my doubts and fears (of which I have many, namely: Will this place have lost its romantic appeal now that I’m sober? Will this idealized reality–which I could maintain as a drinker–simply become mundane? Will my supposed “dream job,” which I’ll be doing there (as a volunteer), turn out to be something I really don’t like, find to be an actual pain-in-the-ass without the nightly reward and reinforcement of wine/beer?).

You know, I am no different from all those “people in AA meetings who don’t know themselves.” And, that actually makes me feel hopeful. I am living this thing now, for real, and that must mean…progress? I sure hope so!

Well, I might sneak in one more post before I take off, but if not, travel well, my sober friends, and I’ll see you in a little bit (will post from there, but it might be random and/or sporadic).

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6 Responses to “Who am I now?, or, the art of no longer living in denial”

  1. jenisthesoberist June 18, 2014 at 12:04 pm #

    You are brave, my friend. Facing this shit head on, and yes, I would definitely say that is progress! You can try the trip sober and if it sucks you can always drink the next time, right? You never know how it will go down until you try it sober!

    Big hugs!

  2. Sober Second Half June 18, 2014 at 2:55 pm #

    Experiencing the trip sober will definitely be like seeing the place for the first time and through new (sober) eyes, no less! I’m excited to read your updates!

  3. changingcoursenow June 18, 2014 at 6:32 pm #

    Safe travels to you! I imagine your experience will be very different this time. And those around you may appear different as well. I hope it is a positive experience for you and I look forward to hearing about it!

  4. fern June 18, 2014 at 10:51 pm #

    Love the reflection on the past. It sounds like a lot of drinking memories are wrapped up in the place you are going. We alcoholics have drinking memories for a lot of events — people, places, things — in our lives. I am excited for you to go and experience this trip with sober eyes. Stay in the moment and enjoy!

  5. afteralcohol June 19, 2014 at 7:51 pm #

    You know the saying that alcoholism is the disease of terminal uniqueness, right? This reminds me a lot of that.

    Good luck on the trip, it sounds amazing.

  6. Rebecca A. Watson June 25, 2014 at 7:12 am #

    I’m super excited to hear about the trip, and I think it’s great that you’re going to experience it without alcohol. Even the 2-beer thing can change how you perceive things, I think, at least as a boozer because our brains get caught up and we aren’t living in the moment. What you wrote about not being sure who you are? I get that too. I have been doing a lot of things for years and it’s only now that I’m asking myself, “Do I really like this?” A lot of times the answer is yes but other times I surprise myself and say, “Nope, not really into that now.” It’s scary but also exciting I think. Safe travels!

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