The Ol’ Alcoholic Brain

I went in this afternoon for my yearly physical which included fasting bloodwork so I could see how my cholesterol levels are. Not that I was terribly worried. I don’t have the worst diet in the world, but it could use some tweaking. I’ll admit a penchant for Eggo waffles in the morning.

Yaaaaaasss. (image credit)

Anyway, my doctor pulled up the results of my bloodwork on the computer. The screen showed my bloodwork, liver function, and all manner of things for the last few years, going back to before I got sober. My cholesterol was a tad bit high, just as it was last year, and the year before. My liver function was fine, just as it was last year, and the year before…

…and the same when I was drinking, except for one July when the functions were a little elevated, but not an insane amount. “That’s weird,” I said to my doctor. “My liver functions weren’t all that bad when I was drinking, and there’s not much difference now.”

“Well, there’s a difference, but it isn’t huge,” my doctor agreed.

“Huh,” I said. We moved onto other topics, but my alcoholic brain began whispering, Hey, man, looks like you weren’t that bad off. You didn’t ruin your body. That liver has some good drinking years still in it.

“It’s not like I’m going to start drinking again,” I blurted out, apropros of nothing. My doctor gave me a quizzical look and said, “No, that wouldn’t be a good idea.”


There were a few seconds of silence, and we picked up our rhythm again. She’s a good doctor and a nice woman, though I don’t know her well. She’s not like my last primary physician, who specialized in addiction (and was fantastic). There’s no reason my current doctor would know how much I drank and how wrecked my life was. I’ve never told her, and I don’t see a reason to. She just needs to be accepting of my quirkiness, which she is, and know that I’m in recovery, which she does.

The rest is up to me, with the help of my AA home group and others in recovery (I’ve found SoberGrid quite useful for inspiration and for positive, encouraging feedback). I didn’t shut down the lies my addiction started feeding me in the doctor’s office and that continued on the way home. I let my alcoholic brain say what it would, and eventually the voices subsided. Now I’m going to go make supper for my family in a kitchen blessedly free from alcohol. It was a very different scene this time in 2014.

As you were, folks. Happy sober Tuesday.




Of Writing and Music

I’ve considered myself a writer since I was thirteen and I wrote what I thought was the beginning of a novel called The Quest of the Golden Dragon. It was a Tolkien and Dungeons & Dragons rip-off. I managed 32 hand-written pages, and my mother was kind enough to read it and offer encouragement. I can’t imagine the experience was pleasant for her.

I was going for this and fell decidedly short (image credit)

I started writing music when I was sixteen. I took piano lessons and was a mediocre student. After I quit, I didn’t touch the piano until one day I sat down and out poured this long, rambling, dark song I called “Bury Our Bones at Sunrise.” Once again, my mother had to listen as I cranked out song after song and recorded them my battered tape-recorder. I have those old tapes somewhere, and I wince when I listen to them.

My writing and music composition has changed over the years, and both have improved dramatically since getting sober. Both still serve as personal therapy as well as channels through which I express myself artistically, and I’m not so attached to my art that I can’t stand make and evaluate it critically and objectively. But if no one ever reads another poem or listens to another song, I’m okay with it. I average about three listens per song on my Soundcloud page. I post the songs there and forget about them. I can’t even perform the songs I’ve written; once I record and post them, they vanish. It’s good thing I have no ambitions to become a performing musician.

Artistic expression is hugely important to my continued sobriety. If you’re curious what that looks like, I post poems and stories here and post instrumental music here.

That’s all for now. Happy sober Monday to all.

Sunday Morning Courage

I woke up this morning and meandered downstairs. The rest of my family was still asleep, and the house was quiet save for our two indoor cats demanding food. The dog was still sacked out with my oldest son. I also fed our two outdoor cats, a big tomcat named Ben who’s missing the tip of his left ear and has world-weary eyes. His voice belies his size; he has a tiny, sweet meow though he looks like he should growl like a bear. The other cat is Sara, and we think Ben’s her father. She’s not thrilled with his relaitvely new presence; she lowers her head and makes a low, moaning sound which I interpret as I know who you are, but you haven’t been around for most of my life, and now you come in the backyard of my human? In my territory?! Not cool. Ben just blinks at her.

sara and ben.jpg
Sara and Ben

I put on my cozy robe and started the kettle. I looked around my kitchen and once again found myself enjoying the silence. And then, this thought: a shot of vodka would be nice. Hell, maybe two shots.


There was no vodka on hand, luckily, or anything remotely alcoholic (I’m not even sure if mouthwash is a good idea to have in the bathroom. Though I never went that route, I get it). I let the thought play out, and eventually it went away. I made some oatmeal and a cup of coffee and started my day.

There’s a difference between periodic thoughts of drinking and the obsessive drive to drink, the drive that would have forced me to arrange plans to sneak off to the liquor store after 12, get some vodka, hide it in the back of the freezer, and then start making bargains with myself that I’d only drink half of the bottle, only to drink the whole damn thing and then drive to get another one under the pretense that we needed something at the store. Dear lord. I don’t miss those days.

The thoughts of drinking are still whispering in the back of my head, so I’m digging into myself to find some Sunday morning courage. Coffee helps. Writing helps. My family and the animals with whom I share space help.

Deep breaths. I’m a recovering alcoholic, not a practicing one. I will get through the day and night without drinking. And tomorrow, I’ll do it again.

Cash for Pills

The medical saga continues…well, it’s not really a saga, but it kind of feels that way. Both the insurance company and doctor’s office are closed for the holiday, but I just got off the phone with my pharmacy. Since I’ve had a prescription for Cymbalta before, they’re able to sell me a few pills rather than fill a prescription. It’s without insurance, so I’m paying cash for three generic pills of Cymbalta. $30 for peace of mind and spirit, I suppose.

Even though my prescription is for 90 mg, I’ve been taking 60 (due to another doctor/insurance kerfufle) and that seems to work. Rather than taking one pills a day, I’ll have to take one every other day until Wednesday, when I have my annual physical.

When my medicine is ready, I’ll zip over to Publix and get it…and start monitoring myself thoughts and feelings to see if I need a pill today or can wait until tomorrow. I can usually skip a day without feeling any side-effects. It’s not ideal, but I’ll make do.

I just wish I didn’t feel like I was self-medicating. Perhaps that’s not the correct term. Managing my own medicine? Perhaps. It’s better than being in the Upside Down, which is what it felt like a few days ago.

Hurray, it’s my untreated, unhealthy mind.

Grinding it Out

I haven’t felt this way (mentally, that is) since early recovery. More specifically, I haven’t had such negative thoughts. On top of that, I’m mostly emotionally numb with periodic burts of overwhelming emotion. As Ron Weasley would say:

bloody hell

As I told a few people yesterday, I’ve gone through enough episodes of withdrawal to know the difference between the physical symptoms and the unhealthy mental processes that have begun to creep in (and that hopefully won’t stay). The circular, hateful thoughts that say things like, “Robert, you’re a shitty excuse for a human being. You know that feeling you have right now that there’s no point in writing stories and poetry? Go with that. While you’re at it, stop doing everything worthwhile, because you’re doomed.”

Sigh. I recognize none of that is true, and right now, I’m strong enough to shrug it off. Not diminish its importance as a warning sign, but learn to exist with it. There’s a story related by Pema Chodron about learning to live with our demons, which makes sense to me, as does this quote:

pema 2

Right. I agree with her, but perhaps I’m not there yet. At least, not there enough to give up my medication.

It’s been seven days today without Cymbalta. And it’s Thanksgiving, to boot, and all I want to do is crawl in a hole and lick my wounds. I’ve decided to call my insurance company again and go through the necessary hoops and try to at least fill the medication. That way, I’ll have it on hand. I can discuss with my family how they think I’ve been without the medicine. That’s a huge part of this equation. I know how awful it is growing up with a mentally ill parent who didn’t recognize the need for treatment.

In the meantime, even though my creative writing seems to have given me the middle finger, I’m still able to write music, which helps. Here’s a recent song that depicts the suffocating sadness that overcomes me…oh, at least twice an hour. Weee.

ray of pitch black
I am, at that.


Not from alcohol, though. That would be awful. This time, due to a snafu with insurance, I haven’t been able to take Cymbalta. I’m on day six and am incredibly dizzy, cranky, fatigued, and am having difficulty thinking straight.

None of this is surprising or unexpected, so I’m not freaking out. I’m resigned to it, and I’ve decided to stop taking Cymbalta altogether and use other methods of treating my mental health.

What I didn’t expect, though, was the almost complete loss of interest in writing. Not on this blog, which I rarely use, but creative writing. I sit down at the keyboard and write, but nothing decent comes out. Writing is one way I deal with my mental illness, and I’m bummed that it isn’t doing the trick. Even writing this post is difficult…not because of the topic, but because my brain doesn’t seem to want to cooperate.

So it goes. I’ll keep hanging in there. I’d appreciate good vibes and thoughts and prayers.


Reflections on a 1001 days of Sobriety

I recently installed Sober Grid on my phone and noticed yesterday that I had been sober for 1,000 days. That aint nothin’. Now it’s a 1,0001, which has a nice ring to it, as well. So here are some thoughts at 1,0001 days sober.

Like many recovering alcoholics (and just peope in general), I’m good at isolating. I’m very good at telling myself and others that I just need some time alone to recharge. While that’s true sometimes–say, after a long day or work or being in a hectic social situation–it’s usually just an excuse to separate myself from the world. And why not, right? Why not forgo interaction with other people in order to write poetry and music and enjoy your own company?

For me, too much time spent by myself reinforces the idea that “it’s about me.” If I stay in my head and keep my own counsel, I don’t run into trouble, but I also don’t grow. And I sure as hell dont help anyone else.

Take as much time to yourself as you need, my brain says. You’ve got two little kids who take up a lot of energy. And if you don’t have time alone, when will you write? 

Valid points, but that doesn’t mean I get a pass. It doesn’t mean that I get to extricate myself from the world and carry on like I have nothing to offer anyone except my family. Ugh, it’s painful for me to write this, but I have a lot to offer people. I just read that sentence and shook my head. Gah! What’s that line about an egomaniac with an inferiority complex? Maybe that is the line. I think I’m pretty darn great, but that’s fine because think that. Anyone else who would willingly spend time around me must be weird, and if they knew better, they’d steer clear. It’s like I have a monopoly on me being a good, talented person, and I’m automatically suspicious if anyone thinks that. Weird shit, I know.

I wasnt always like this, but I became more and more convinced of my worthlessness the more I drank. Depression and anxiety certainly play a role, too. One of the reasons I drank was because alcohol deadened the negative voices…for a while. Like they say, it worked until it stopped working, but that didn’t mean I stopped drinking.

I have to go forward acting as if I have things to offer people. Not being disingenuous or manipulative, but kind of faking it til I make it. To that end, I’ve started going back to meetings. I’m going to church and making an effort at talking to people, though the idea freaks me out.

Most importantly, I’m not drinking. It’s tempting every now and then to take a break from myself, which alcohol could certainly offer, but the price I’d pay is too dear. I’d pick back up where I left off and would drink with a fucking vengenence. No thanks.

That’s all from me. Happy sober Monday to you fine folks.

Musical Interpretation of Anxiety, Depression, and Mood Disorder

As I’ve indicated before on this blog, I write instrumental music as part of ongoing personal therapy, and for the simple joy of it, too…it’s usually not a chore, but it can stir up strong and not-aways-pleasant emotions. Ultimately, writing music is cathartic for me, even if the process is sometimes painful.

When I wrote the first part of a piece I’m tentatively calling “Losing the Sky of my Mind,” I didn’t expect it to cause such an emotional reaction in me, but in listening back to a rough cut of the track, I felt uncomfortable, uplifted, scared, anxious, and happy all at once (perhaps because I haven’t been able to refill my medication?). Like I do with poetry, I’ll go where the music takes me, though I suspect I’ll write two more parts and combine them all in one piece.

Until then, if you’re curious, you can check out the track on my SoundCloud page.


Anxiety Continues to Rear its Dreadful Head

“Dread” is quite an appropriate word with it comes to anxiety, at least for me. Usually, every day around 9:00 AM, a pit of cold dread forms in my stomach. It’s the same feeling I’d get before teaching a class of middle-schoolers. Since I no longer do that (the story of that year will have to come in a series of posts when I’m ready to think about it again), I was surprised when the anxiety struck with the same ferocity and at the same time. I suppose there’s no rationale for irrational emotions; I know I’m fine, I know I don’t have to be in battle/survival mode for eight hours a day, I know that my family is safe and healthy, and I know I’m on the right track with sobriety.

sober time
Sadly, this pic is from two days ago…it’s not a drunken selfie.

As I’ve said before, I see a psychiatrist regularly and am on a good combo of meds. I try to remind myself to breathe properly, and I’ve started using essential oils to help combat depression and panic. I also gave yoga a shot for eleven day before concluding that it wasn’t for me. Writing poetry and music also helps, but I’d really, really like to avoid anxiety altogether.

I know that’s unrealistic, and it’s one of the reasons I used to drink. I could change my mood in under five seconds by taking two or three shots of vodka; I could be pleasantly numb to most things by drinking a bottle of wine. It’s tempting to think that I’d drink like a normal person again if I ever picked up a glass, but that’s utter and complete bullshit. I’d drink my face off and would do the same thing the next day.

So I do what I can to curb the anxiety. I began this post a few hours ago, thinking the dread would pass like it normally does, but it’s still with me. Slightly lessened, thankfully, but hanging around like an unwanted guest.

Such is life these days. It will still be a victory to put my sober head to sleep tonight.

Thanks for reading. Happy sober Monday.

me and the lady
After looking at the picture above, I shaved and got a haircut. And then cut my eyes at the Lady of Shallot



The Storm Inside Her (song)

Hello, there. It’s been a while since I posted here, and while this isn’t a typical post for me, I wanted to share this nonetheless. I wrote a song called “The Storm Inside Her” (instrumental, as all my songs are, and in this case it’s just piano). As I wrote it, I knew “storm” was going to be in the title. When I finished it, the full title came to me, and I realized the song was about a woman struggling with depression, anxiety, and addiction. There’s strength in her, though–I hope you can hear that in the middle of the song–but she has a long, hard road ahead of her.

I hope the songs helps some people.

Happy sober Friday to all.