So here I am at 4:38 AM, drinking water, and staring rather blankly at the computer screen (well, I was until I began typing). My dog woke me up for a 3:30 AM pee break, and I was completely awake by then time he finished and trotted back into the house. This is pretty normal for me these days; get up rather early (or in the dead of night, as my wife says), eat a little bit, have a cup of coffee, and read or write for a while. I used to stay awake, doing my own thing until rousing the children for school or, if it was the weekend, waiting until they came downstairs. Lately, though, I’ve been crawling back into bed and catching a few more hours of sleep.
This all comes from listening to my body, something I’m much better at than in the super-early days of sobriety. When I drank, there were times when my body sent clear messages like, “Robert, how about we don’t drink today, huh? Or at least drink less?” And I’d ignore my body and continue poisoning it. I’d force myself to drink, especially in the end. It was a horrifying thing.
These days, I sleep when my body tells me to, eat when I’m hungry, and drink when I’m thirsty. Aside from coffee and the occasional soda, I drink water, and I drink a lot of it. I always have, even when I was drinking alcohol, and I even fooled myself that I was healthier for it, though my wine consumption (it was usually wine, with vodka second, beer third, and whiskey last) far outweighed my water intake.
Anyway, on this my year anniversary of being sober, I’ll write the second of my two lists inspired by the blog Time and the Bottle. This one is “What I Expected From Drinking.” It’s past-tense, since I no longer consume alcohol…
…and it’s going to have to wait while I catch a little more sleep. My eyes are closing as I type. I still half-expect that to be because of drinking, even 365 sober days later. More in a bit.
Okay, I slept more and have some coffee on this chilly morning. To the list.
- I Expected Alcohol to Ease My Anxiety – It did, in the beginning. When I drank socially and didn’t think about it every day, a few beers with friends was the perfect compliment to an evening. Alcohol took the edge off, as it were, and I didn’t have so much that I woke up hung-over. If I could have stayed in that world, I certainly would have, but somewhere I crossed the line. It doesn’t matter when; it just matters that I did. As I drank alcoholically, my anxiety increased. It all became a terrible cycle with me drunk and freaked out much of the time. As I’ve said before, my anxiety has gone down since I stopped drinking, and the medication I take is allowed to work.
- I Expected Alcohol to Turn Me into a Fun Person – There were time that drinking made me goofy and fun to be around…I think. I suppose what I wanted it to do was make me into an instant extrovert: simply take an introvert, add wine, and whamo! You have an extrovert who’ll go to any party, take random road trips, and propose wild ideas at the drop of the hat! What fun! That didn’t work. Alcohol rewired my brain and altered my chemistry, but it didn’t change my fundamental nature. Instead, it tried to kill and bury it under layers of deceit, venomous inner voices, and crippling self-hatred to the point that I wondered why anyone would ever want to be around me. So I isolated more and more. So much for being the fun guy at the party. The narcissistic, gloomy, bitter guy at the party? Check.
- I Expected Alcohol to Make Me a Great Writer – I bought into the myth that great writers drink, so I was in good company. Never mind the fact that alcohol killed many of them, or that some of my favorite writers got sober and wrote better as a result. In a twisted way, I figured I had to drink in order to remain a writer. It was like a secret club. I’ll admit that one glass of wine would loosen me up and sometimes I’d write something I was proud of. Usually, though, I blow through three or four glasses of wine and write pig slop that I recognized as pig slop, so I’d get depressed and drink. Then I’d host a big pity party for myself and, to mark the occasion, drink even more. I’d swear one of two things to myself: either I’d find the right combination of alcohol and inspiration one day and stick to that, or I’d give up drinking and writing completely because surely I couldn’t write sober. Wrong. Within the first two days of sobriety, I was writing. Within a week, I had some decent poems. Within six months, I was sending out poems to markets for the first time in years, and now I’ve had two pieces published with two more slated for later this year, all courtesy of sobriety.
- I Expected Alcohol to Make Me a Better Father – This is one of the most shameful parts of my story (and I know what Brene Brown says about shame, and it’s still shameful. I don’t wallow in it, but I’ll continue to call it what it is). There were times that drinking made me Fun Dad, but not usually. Groggy Dad, Angry Dad, Moody Dad, Absent Dad, Cranky Dad, Talks-Too-Much-About-Stupid-Stuff Dad…all of that, I had in spades. What my children need and deserve is Sober Dad. And my wife deserves Sober Husband. I don’t confuse sobriety with perfection, and those of you with children know how difficult the job can be. But I’m present and accounted for; my children can count on me to be there for them without anything clouding my thoughts or flooding my system.
- I Expected Alcohol to Continue Being My Companion – Several writers in recovery talk about alcohol as if it’s a bad boyfriend or a lover who turns out to be toxic but they can’t seem to leave, and I understand that. When my addiction counselor Katie proposed the idea that my primary relationship for the last several years had been with alcohol, I felt something click. She was right. My life centered around alcohol, and stopping drinking felt like the worst break-up in the history of the world. It was physical, emotionally, and spiritually devastating…for a while. And then things got better. And they continue to get better.
Whew, I wrote more than I thought I expected, but that’s okay. It’s my sober birthday, so I can be a little effusive.
One year, people…one year. Woo hoo! And for Rachel…