A Kitten, a Sponsor, and a Beer Glass

Obviously, one of these things seems out of place…or maybe they’re all kind of strange, lumped together as they are. but it’s all a matter of perspective. I’ll start backward, I think.

Teacher Appreciation Week isn’t something I’ve ever been comfortable with, maybe because (until my current job) I haven’t been comfortable in my work environment. I’ve taught at a lot of schools, and I’ve made some positive impacts, but it’s come at a cost. I’m something of a square peg trying to fit into a round hole when it comes to teaching; I’m most at ease with older adults, and yet a lot of my teaching years has been spent with at-risk and struggling public school kids. Increasing pressure from the county school board and administrators to accomplish what (I thought to be) the impossible resulted in me leaving public education, hopefully for good. I simply don’t have it in me any more.

During those tough years, I received a few gifts from students, all of which I’ve kept. My favorite are hand-written cards, but I love coffee mugs, too. I’m teaching adult ed classes now, and I didn’t expect a gift during the first week of this month. But one of my students was kind enough to give me this:

beer glass.jpg
Oy vey.

I burst out laughing, and my students assumed that I just thought the words on the glass were funny. None of them know I’m in recovery. I thanked my student for the gift and took it home to show my family. My wife and kids laughed, too. I like the glass quite a lot. The most exciting thing its seen thus far is water, which will probably remain the case until I buy some root beer. I’m not into mocktails or non-alcoholic beer. I tried out various mixed virgin drinks in early recovery, but they just didn’t do it for me…much like their alcoholic counterparts didn’t when I was drinking. Beer, wine, vodka. I was a pretty basic (and disgustingly cheap) drunk.

Moving on. Last Monday, when my wife was driving the kids to school, they spied what they first thought was a rat trying to drink from a rain puddle in the middle of the road. The creature wasn’t a rat but a tiny, wet kitten.

miles.jpg
On the count of three: awwwww….

We have quite a few animals in our house, but of course we have room for an abandoned kitten. We debated over names before finally settling on Miles. The vet thinks he’s about four weeks old. We bottle-fed Miles for most of this week, and now he’s graduated to eating solid food. He still hasn’t mastered the litter box, but at least his poops are small. Our two other cats, both of whom are old and kind of cranky, are giving Miles wide berth. They’ll get used to him after a while. Our dog Charley growls at him, but he’ll come around, too.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve started therapy again. Beth asked how many meetings I was attending, and I told her, “Not many. One every other week, maybe?” She suggested I correct that, and she added that she thought I should get a new sponsor. I haven’t talked to my first (and only) sponsor in a long time. We didn’t have a falling out of anything; I just stopped calling and texting him, and I quit attending the meeting where he went. I felt it was time to move on, but the whole situation felt awkward, like I was breaking up with someone.

Anyway, there’s a guy in my home group whom I respect a great deal. I always like what he has to say, so I asked him to be my sponsor (I’ll call him Dale). Luckily, he agreed. We’ve two times so far, and I gain so much from his wisdom. Dale doesn’t play around, either. Not that my first sponsor did, but he was…easy. Calm. He was exactly what I needed when I was freaking out in early sobriety. Dale’s observations about me–my lack of discipline and sticking to a routine, black and white thinking, my tendency to isolate–are spot on, but the truth is sometimes hard to take. I’m getting the no-nonsense treatment from Beth, too. Tough love, but I need it.

I’m working on trusting myself, something I find incredibly difficult to do. That’s kind of my homework this week. I’m also trying to stick to a schedule that includes dedicated time for writing and creating music. I have such difficulty with routine, especially when it comes to my creativity. I tend to be scatter-shot and start an enormous amount of projects, knowing full well that I won’t finish them. Ugh. Progress, not perfection, I keep telling myself.

So that’s where I am on my 1,232 day of sobriety. I wish all of you a happy, sober Monday.

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St. Patrick’s Day? Not a Problem.

I’ve never cared one way or another about St. Patrick’s Day. I’m sure I have some Irish in my heritage, but it doesn’t impact my life. Even when I drank, St. Patrick’s Day was no different from any other day. If I was awake, I was probably drinking or recovering from a bout of drinking. I didn’t need a holiday to crank things up a notch or two, and I never went out drinking in a crowd of people.

I live in Savannah, Georgia, which happens to host one of the biggest St. Patrick’s Day festivals in the country. It gets crazy around here in March, and this year, things are even more hectice because for some reason, Vice President Mike Pence is coming to the parade and festival. My state voted for Trump, but Savannah isn’t especially conservative. There are a lot of folks who resent Pence coming and the extra security his presence requires. I’m not thrilled with him being here, but it doesn’t change my plans. I’m not going to the parade, and I’m not setting foot on River Street the weekend.

st patrick day
Nope. (image credit)

Even though I’m immune to the so-called charms of St. Patrick’s Day, I realize this is a holiday that others struggle with in term of maintaining their sobriety. I imagine it’s hard for extroverts who used to party with throngs of people, who loved the social interaction as much as the alcohol, to sit this one out. While I can’t relate personally, I’m intimately familiar with that empty feeling that comes sometimes when I think, A beer sounds good right now or I can just pop down to the liquor store and get a little half-pint of vodka. 

If you’re feeling that way, I encourage you to reach out to a fellow sober person. Perhaps go to a meeting. Join Sober Grid. Just don’t stay in your own head.

I wish everyone a safe, sober weekend, especially if you’re participating in St. Patrick’s Day festivities. Be well.

Trying to Accept Happiness

Happiness and I don’t have the best track record. Historically (and well before I began drinking), I haven’t trusted myself when I started feeling good. Wait a damn second, I’d think. This isn’t right. I’m not supposed to feel good. The feeling would pass, and I’d be back comfortably ensconced in my mild to moderate despair. It was my standard operating procedure, and deviations from it felt alien.

Me, most days.
Me, most days.

It’s not that I was never happy. I had moments of happiness, but it was always tinged with distrust. When I discovered drinking, I realized I could shut off that uncomfortable feeling. Drown it out. Numb everything. It wasn’t until I went to rehab that I learned that I was only fooling myself that I could choose which feelings to suppress. I was in the process of suppressing all feelings…turning them off one by one, slowly strangling them. It got to the point where I stood in my kitchen, drunk and getting more drunk, and realized I didn’t care if I lived or died.

I have an idea where my inability to feel happiness (or joy or whatever positive emotion you can think of) comes from. It’s wrapped up in my childhood and my home. I accept that. Certain things happened that changed my emotional trajectory, and I have my own brain chemistry to thank for clinical depression and other issues. I’m learning, very slowly, to recognize joy and not run from it. I laugh more easily. I’m not as jittery around overwhelmingly positive, energetic people.

As the AA big book says, “Progress, not perfection.” I had a good day today, and I chose to be positive. Not 100 percent of the time…not even close. Let’s say 60 percent. Compared to what it used to be, that’s pretty good.

That’s all for now. Happy sober Tuesday.

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.

eggos
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.”

“Right.”

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.

 

 

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.

Sober but Twitchy Christmas Eve

There were many Christmas Eves when by this time (1o:45 AM) I would have already been on my way to being drunk. If we were visiting relatives, I’d have little wine bottles hidden in my bag, or I’d sneak into the kitchen and find whatever liquor was available and have three or four shots. I’d keep a good base-line buzz until after lunch when I’d find myself alone as family did Christmas things, and then I got down to the real drinking. I’d chew gum, brush my teeth, drink water, even take an alcohol-induced nap…and no one seemed to notice. Perhaps they were so used to be isolating myself–even during Christmas–that they didn’t notice or get to close to me. I spoke little for fear of slurring my words.

During the evening, when it was more acceptable to drink wine, I’d knock it back and replenish myself by darting upstairs and drinking more. To anyone paying attention, I had no more than two glasses of wine on Christmas Eve. I knew the truth, though I vigorously blocked it from my mind: I was probably bordering on alcohol poisoning, as I had many times before. I’m amazed that my drinking history doesn’t include a trip or two to the hospital.

On January 5, 2017, I’ll have two years of sobriety…and I have no plans of fucking that up. But under the guidance of my psychiatrist, I’m in the process of switching anti-depressants. I’m tapering off one, and it’s a quick taper. I spoke to my psychiatrist before leaving down because I felt I was going to explode out of my skin…I also felt like running into a brick wall repeatedly. On top of that, I felt like I had an enormous hole in the middle of myself that I desperately needed to fill. I know what I would have filled it with before, and the thoughts whizzed through my mind, but I didn’t act on them.

Today is hard, but I feel better than yesterday. I have an anti-anxiety pill if things get to bad. I wanted to type this entry to hold myself accountable and reach out to some fellow alcoholics.

I hope this finds you all well. Merry and sober Christmas Eve.

 

 

Emerging from Radio Silence

*taps microphone* Hello?

Hi there. If you’re new to this blog, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Robert Crisp. I’m an alcoholic, and I have 633 days of continuous sobriety as of today (10/9/16). I’m a public school teacher slogging his first way through 8th grade ELA. In the past, I’ve taught on the technical and four-year college level, but lacking a doctorate limits the amount of money I can make. With a family to support, turns out money is important. If I had my druthers, I’d make my living with poetry and music. I’m working on that, but in the meantime, it’s me and the 8th graders. And it can be pretty damn tiring.

I blogged a great deal after I first got sober, and many of you helped me tremendously. I want to reforge those connections.

I live in south Georgia, and my family and I evacuated (with all our critters)to the Gulf side of Florida in anticipation of Hurricane Matthew. I’m worried about me house, my neighbors, and my friends, but the evacuation has given me time to reflect on what’s important. I’ve reassessed my sobriety and found my recovery less-than-active. I have a wonderful AA home group, but I haven’t participated in it much. I certainly haven’t passed on the gift that was freely given to me. I have excuses for that, of course: OCD, anxiety, bipolar spectrum disorder, depression. I’m treated for all these things, and I’m not unique. As someone once told me, if you’re scared to do something, do it scared.

I suppose I’ve been scared to start this blog again, though I haven’t figured out why. Also, until now, I’ve spent too much time with my job. I’ve worried about it, stayed later than I should at school, bitched and moaned about it, and neglected to do what I knew I should do all along–feed my soul. Go to meetings. Talk to people. Write. Make music. Enjoy life and, for God’s sake, enjoy being sober.

I still wake up nearly daily surprised and thrilled not to have a hangover. I put my sober head on the pillow, grateful to be falling asleep without the room spinning. I look at my children and rejoice in the fact that they no longer have a father who makes multiple trips to the freezer at 10 AM on a Saturday to take pulls from a hidden pint of vodka. I look at my wife with clear eyes and don’t worry if she smells liquor on my breath.

This is me. I’m a 42-year-old man in recovery who needs to do better. Part of doing better means being accountable and reaching out for help. And so I start this blog anew.

Happy sober Sunday, good people. I hope this post finds you well.

me_in_black
Good day to you.

 

Lessons from Jesus and Master Yoda

Firstly, I’m still here. I’m much more active on my creative writing blog lately, but I thought it was time to make an entry on this on. I suspect as I go further into recovery, the less and less I’ll write about alcohol and cravings (which still happen, but they go away pretty darn quickly…whew).

I find myself without a job for the first time since I was in my early twenties, and even then, I picked up a job within a week. Granted, it was at a Barnes & Noble bookstore, but I still got it. As a teacher, I’ve always been able to find jobs, and even if they weren’t the best fit, I learned a lot. Some of the lessons were painful, like when I worked with at-risk kids, but they were lessons nonetheless.

Now, though–despite interviews and calls and emails–I have no prospects. There’s a ghost of a chance one of the schools I interviewed with a few weeks ago will call me up, but I imagine they’ve already filled positions. I also interviewed with schools that I hope don’t call, and it wasn’t until I sat down with the administrative team that I thought, “Um, this isn’t going to work for either one of us. Good day!”

good day sir
Indeed!

Anyway, I’ve done everything I can do on my end. I attended a job fair, applied for every middle and high school position in my county (and a neighboring one), updated my teaching certificate, wore my fancy duds at interviews, and now…I have to release it. I’ve done my part. God will take care of the rest. Right?

Yes, technically, but then I get antsy and say, “I’m going to stew on my predicament for two or three hours and work myself into a tizzy. That’ll help. And I bet my family will get a kick out of my sour-ass mood.”

And this isn’t the best time to be in a sour-ass mood since I’m doing VBS with my kids at church, and for the third year, I’m the puppet. I love puppeteering, and I take my role seriously and have a blast doing it (though it’s bit harder these days to crouch down and perform). Along with that, the fine folks during Bible story telling time needed someone to play Jesus, and they asked me. Well, after others declined or were helping with other activities, they asked me. I hesitated, because even if it’s just pretending, I’m not super-comfortable portraying the Lord. Still, I said yes, and the disciples and I acted out the time Jesus calmed the storm on the Sea of Galilee. After calming the storm, I turn to the disciples and say, “Where is your faith?”.

jesus calms
I was having such a good nap…

I got the picture, especially since we performed our little skit three more times. Everything will work out. I don’t need to panic. If I truly have turned my life and will over to the care of God, as outlined in AA’s third step, then I need to quit worrying so much.

Also, I realized how dangerous it is for me to futurize because then I come up with all kinds of unlikely scenarios, like becoming homeless and never being able to find a job again. You can take alcohol out of the boy, but it takes a little more work and time to take the boy out of addictive thinking and circular logic and just plain bad self-talk.

I began thinking about Yoda’s words to Luke when Luke visits the Jedi Master the first time on Dagobah. Luke’s all gung-ho about becoming a Jedi, and Yoda tells him to hold up.

This one a long time have I watched. All his life has he looked away, to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was, hmm? What he was doing. Hmm. Adventure. Heh. Excitement. Heh. A Jedi craves not these things.” – Master Yoda

yoda and luke
You must unlearn what you have learned. Also, a ham sandwich I want.

I can be present, interact with the kids at VBS, write a little poetry and music, and enjoy the fact that for the first summer in a long time, I’m not teaching. I can walk my dog during the day. I can read. I can wash and fold clothes (ugh). I can say the Serenity Prayer and mean it more than I normally d0.

That’s all from my sober neck of the woods. I hope this post finds you well.

 

The View from My Cave

I’m a bit of a recluse.

reclusive wolf
Hurrah!

But every now and then, I venture into the world. Most recently, I had to go down to the public mental health clinic to follow up on a psychiatric referral my doctor made. It seems he’s no longer willing to dole out my Depakote. So I waited in line with a bunch of people (including two of my neighbors, which was a bit odd). Anyway, when I went back for pre-screening, I found myself on the receiving end of a Likert scale questionnaire. Ppfh, this’ll be a breeze, I thought. I’m sound as a pound.

I scored well on most questions (meaning I answered in the affirmative with things like “Are you productive at work?” and in the negative with things like, “Do you have any thoughts of hurting yourself?”). Then came a few questions that threw me off.

“Do you have a good support network?” the counselor asked. “Friends?”

“Uh…no,” I said. “Not really.”

“Okay.” I saw the counselor check a box. His expression didn’t change, but mine did. So much for breezing through the questions.

“Do you have difficulty controlling your anger?”

“Yes.” Before the questionnaire started, I’d decided not to lie, and I wasn’t going to start. It wasn’t like years ago when, if the doctor asked how much I drank, I’d say, “Just a little on the weekend.”

“Okay.” He checked another box, and then moved onto some questions about depression, which is mostly under control these days. We chatted some about it and the medications I’m taking, and then he said off-handedly. “So you’re not wearing the same clothes every day?”

I sighed. It wasn’t an official question, I know, but I tend to do that. I go days without shaving, saying, “Eh, who cares? Guys have scruff.” And as far as clothes go, I tend to wear the same jeans and t-shirts over and over. Concert and graphic t-shirts, in particular. I have other clothes. I’m just lazy.

At least, I think I’m just lazy. With the Likert scale, there’s no right or wrong answer, I know. And I know there’s a difference in being a slob and being unmotivated to care for personal hygiene due to depression.

Still, my answers to the questions irked me. So, in order to change things up, I got my hair cut. I dug out some clothes that a reasonable 42-year-old man would wear. I went back to my habit of shaving every other day, since shaving every day tends to cut my face up. I called a friend from rehab who’s sobriety date is close to mine, and we spent some time catching up. I went to a AA meeting yesterday at my home group.

And I’m writing this post. I haven’t been terribly active in the sober blogosphere, and I’d like to change that (like maybe post more than once a month).

So maybe the view from my cave is a little more appealing that I first thought.

 

 

Working My Program

Yesterday, a friend who’s also in AA stopped me and asked how things were going. After we dispensed with things like work and family, he steered the conversation toward recovery. We talked about home groups and his sponsees, one of whom I went to rehab with. Then my friend (I’ll call him Nathan) asked about my meeting attendance and my sponsor.

“I haven’t talked to him since before Christmas,” I said. “The relationship just kind of came to an end. We texted a few times, and that was it.”

Nathan looked at me for a long time before saying, “How many meetings are  you going to?”

Oh, dear, I see where this is going, I thought. I wasn’t worried or nervous, but I felt a flash of discomfort. I knew enough about Nathan’s role in AA to know that he was a huge proponent of the program and the Big Book and all that. “These days, about two, but lately it’s been one,” I said. “I have a lot going on, so I make it when I can.”

“How long have you been sober?”

“A little over a year. 13 months and some change. I have a sobriety tracker on my phone, and–”

“And you think you know what you’re doing, walking around with just a year sober?”

The last question had a bit of an edge to it, but I didn’t shrink away. “I guess so,” I said. “I’m working my program.”

Nathan shook his head, flustered. “I don’t even know what that means, ‘working your program.”

I felt myself getting defensive, but I calmed down. We were just having a conversation, and Nathan was clearly worried about a fellow alcoholic that he viewed as possible slipping away. “My program includes AA, but it’s not just AA. I read a lot of books, read sobriety blogs, listen to podcasts, and I’m active in private accountability groups on Facebook.”

“I just don’t get it,” Nathan said. “At a year sober, I was still getting toxins out of my brain. The fog was barely lifted. I didn’t trust myself to do anything, so I relied on my sponsor.”

At this point, I wasn’t really sure what to say. I shrugged and said I was really enjoying being sober and at home with my family, paying more attention to work, and writing more poetry. Nathan continued, “But you’re just one drink away from being a dick again, you know? Maybe your bottom wasn’t as bad as mine.”

I have no use for comparing bottoms, so I let Nathan share his story, which sounded remarkably like mine. I told him as much, and then he circled back around to the essential roll of AA in his life. And he told me I needed to get a sponsor (followed by the disclaimer that he didn’t want to tell me what to do).

“I love you, man,” he said, rubbing his tired-looking face. “You’re one of us. I don’t want to see you go back out there.”

“I’m not planning on it,” I said, and finally we shifted the conversation back to a less contentious topic.

I’m sure why people feel the need to preach AA as if it’s the only solution. At one point, Nathan said, “AA saved my life, plain and simple.” I let the statement hang there and I nodded. Though I could have, I didn’t say, “Well, rehab saved my life. AA is part of my story, but it’s certainly not the only thing keeping me sober, and it’s sure as hell not what got me sober in the first place. If I’d just gone to AA, it wouldn’t have worked. I needed the structure and, more importantly, the knowledge I got from rehab to get and stay sober.

If AA works for you–if you find it helpful to go to three, four, or five meetings a week–great. Do what ever  you need to do to stay sober. Just don’t except everyone to worship at the feet of Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob and AA. AA isn’t only path to sobriety and contentment.