jazzfish77

Documenting my transition from economist to comedian.

Alcoholism and getting over the sense of hopelessness

Alcoholic drinking sets us up for the hopeless feeling; it is a depressant and it dulls our senses. This alcohol induced despair makes us blind to all the good things around us – problems and bad luck become personal and good things are insignificant. When faced with a life that is hopeless and full of despair, it is easy to begin to hate ourselves, which is a horrible, familiar and predictable place for an alcoholic. Self-hatred combined with hopelessness is so often the starting point to a drinking cycle over again.

For years, I was stuck in a cycle of drinking and despair. Each day, I woke up hungover, feeling awful, and with no motivation to consider my life and health. I hated waking up hungover and I hated myself for doing it to myself again. There was always a desire to get sober, but I wanted it immediately and when it didn’t happen immediately, I would begin drinking again. Drinking for days or weeks on end, the misery and despair would always get worse. I was stuck in a vicious spiral of self hatred and regret. Every person in my life knew it was OK to treat me as if I hated myself. I knew this cycle would go on indefinitely unless stopped.

Getting sober would break the cycle. After a few days of not drinking, I felt healthier with more energy; I had a motivation that I could do things in life; and I wanted to maintain my health. I knew that the longer I stayed sober the more my past would fade. However, sometimes it is hard to not obsess. Unfortunately, trips down misery lane were the way I usually sabotaged my recovery.

The big question is: How do you get sober and make you care about you? The straightforward answer is that you just do it. You give that hurt person inside of you a big hug. You tell that person you’re not going to every hurt them again! And you tell that lost person that from here on out you are going to protect them, make them whole, let them grow in a nurturing environment and then set that hurt person free!

We can decide to take small, simple actions that can put us on a path towards bringing the embers of hope back to life. It can help to start really small and write a few very simple things down that could help. You could start with a question to yourself in the morning. What is one thing I can do for myself today that shows self-caring? Is it taking a shower? Doing some laundry? Cleaning up a mess? Do one nice thing for yourself. Procrastination can be an issue when we don’t care about ourselves, so I need to force myself to keep at it. But by ‘doing’ small ‘actions’ each hour of each day, I am better able to accept the simplicity of Being. I can very gently and non-judgmentally begin to blow on those tiny embers of hope and caring.

I had to learn that Life is what we make it, but it takes time. I need to build faith that things will work out as long as I didn’t drink. It is important for me to understand that the past does not equal the future and that it’s never too late to take control of my lives and make things better – sober and with a clear head.

Getting sober is not easy. It can be uncomfortable, unfamiliar, and scary at times. However, uncomfortable feelings and emotions will pass. I need to remember to be unafraid to experience the uncomfortable; in fact, I have learned to lean in to it. When going through these tough times, I don’t look for what’s wrong, for my faults, but I look for what is right, for the hidden gifts because that will keep me on path and lead me to the greater reward.

A critical part of recovery is to discover and build a purposeful life. By caring for others, we learn to start caring for ourselves. Sometimes it is good to see that there are others who do care about you, especially when you can’t see it yourself. The purpose does not need to be perfectly defined or carved in stone – it can always be changed. But purpose in life gives us the reason to stay sober and move forward.

I also find that as I forgive yourself for one aspect another issue might pop up out of nowhere. That’s OK. My drinking life was messy and sometimes my recovery will be too.

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Blank pages aren’t funny

This fact has never been as apparent as right this very second.

“I’m going to write a funny blog,” I thought. Fuck, that’s tough.

Normally, when I’m funny, I need something to react to, some topic to make fun of. I can’t just start cold with a blank page and be funny.

The big news on my street is that my new neighbors are moving in today. They seem nice enough, but their truck is blocking my driveway so I can’t pull out. I suppose “not pulling out” could be a minor theme of my life as is evident by my two kids.

Anyway…as big a pain as moving is, moving vans stir up the nomad in me. They make me want to pack my bags and hit the road. My wife yelling at me does that, too, but I am writing comedy not country songs, so we’ll skip that bit for the moment.

It has now been over 5 years since I moved into this piece of shit house I have. It was sold as one of those master planned, back-to-nature paradise locations with lots of white people on bike trails, kids at playgrounds, and old people holding hands as they stroll along during a brisk fall day. The problem is that it is in Texas. There are several things wrong with the whole thing:

  1. This is Texas, which is paving over its natural areas as fast as Jesus will bless it destruction. Although, even Jesus would have trouble finding a house in Texas that came with its mineral rights.
  2. Nature apparently involves the never-ending sound of leaf blowers, lawn mowers and chain saws. (That is, nature is nice in pictures, but fuck it in real life.) It takes an awful lot of effort to keep nature under control.
  3. Houses in Texas suffer from “consistency in construction quality”. In other words, they are frequently shit. They were never designed with a wooded area in mind. They make great homes for roof rats and squirrels and the many angles of the roof make great spots for composting leaves, but without constant maintenance, they would be condemned in a matter of weeks.

Which brings me back to the universe and the miracle of life…how can one be funny when their sole purpose in life is to keep a shit house taped together before it succumbs to the local wildlife and environment?

Which is why, in five years, I have gone from being a greeny environmentalist to a desperate homeowner who takes great joy in cutting down every. Single. Fucking. Tree. around my house. And if I see a squirrel’s nest in it, I am even happier. Don’t get me wrong, I love animals, they just need to stay the fuck away from my house.

But even if I finally succeed in clearing a space around my house, I am so fed-up with it that I still want to move.

Which brings me back to my new neighbors – it is now almost 11am and their moving truck is still blocking my driveway. I remain trapped in my shitty house and now I have to continue looking for a shitty job.

At least this page isn’t blank any more.

Yoga and Sobriety

I’ve seen quite a few people who have or who are trying to give up alcohol turn to yoga. I also found yoga a little over two years ago. I first tried yoga as a way to improve my flexibility and it quickly became my sole source of exercise. As my yoga practice grew, so did the depth of my understanding of yoga. It was an incredible source of stress management during almost 2 years of a horrible project and probably saved me an enormous amount of physical and mental damage.

It is now a priority in my life. I like to think of it as part of the foundation that allows me to execute on the other parts of my life. But recently I have been wondering about this.

I used to drink alcohol by the truck loads. It was a central part of my social life, and then my alone home life. Alcohol was how I sought escape from responsibilities and stress. Alcohol is how I relaxed and had fun; although, all of those could only be temporary because alcohol really delivers none of those. Alcohol is a shitty drug that eventually robs you of everything you cherish.

The attractive thing about alcohol is that is a low effort. It takes no real effort, no commitment, no struggle, nothing. Just drink and you will get the result; although nothing is really produced and no progress is ever made.

I think what I like so much about yoga is that it is also low effort. Yes, it takes commitment and getting through each session takes effort, but it is a simple type of effort. I just follow directions to the best of my ability. I feel great at the end of each session, but I haven’t really achieved anything. I’ve made no progress in my life.

Don’t get me wrong. I love yoga and I think it has enormous benefits for mental and physical health, but…you will never resolve problems in your life with yoga (just like drinking). You will never make progress in your life only through your yoga practice (just like drinking).

Of course, yoga is much healthier, but the point is that resolving life problems takes real, direct effort. Making progress in your life takes real, direct effort.

Sobriety is easy: simply don’t drink. However, I have a nasty habit of making it so complicated. I will read one recovery book or memoir after another. I will post all day long of recovery forums. But, none of those get me sober or improve my life. If I want a better life, then I need to…(wait for it)…do the actual things I want my life to be about. If I want to write comedy, I should probably start writing comedy and stop reading about sobriety and daily lists of writing tips.

What the hell happened to my blog?

This blog was supposed to be about my big transition from being a consulting economist to being a stand-up comedian and writer. My first post was so long ago followed by a long gap and all the recent posts have been dry posts about getting sober. Where is the fucking funny?

I’m getting to it, but first I had to deal with the drinking mess. My drinking was bringing me down on all levels. It was especially bringing down my thinking abilities. It was eating up my mind at a furious pace. I had poor memory, no discipline, no funny, nothing. I had to tackle the drinking just to get back to a point where I had the option to move into comedy. I’ve done that and, not to take my sobriety for granted, it is now time to move on to bigger things.

Another thing is that while drinking, I had very poor cognitive abilities and couldn’t make decisions worth a shit. I could make lists of wishes, options, and dreams, but I couldn’t commit to anything. I could never make a decision and take definitive action in that direction.

So, where do I stand now? Stand-up comedy is not an easy profession and it involves LOTS of travel, LOTS of alone time, and LOTS of time in clubs with drunks. Given that those were the very reasons I wanted to quit being a consultant, I finally realized that I would never be happy being a stand-up comedian unless I lucked into the very highest levels right from the start.

I then saw that if I wanted to pursue comedy and make people laugh, then it would need to be primarily through writing. Regardless of what I eventually want to write about, I simply had to start writing, and that’s why my blog is like it is right now. The first few posts are me writing about what I am facing in the day-to-day. Now that I have some momentum, I will turn to my other interests which are comedy, yoga, and trying to make the world a better place.

I promise.

An Easier, Softer Way

I was going to title this post “The Book that was Most Effective for my Sobriety”, but I decided on “An Easier, Softer Way” because it was closer to the point I wanted to make.

The book that helped me the most was Allen Carr’s “Easy Way to Control Alcohol”, but probably not in the way that the author would appreciate. I will explain this, but first I would like to say that it was not the first book I had read on solving my alcohol problem, not even close.

I had read many books on alcoholism: AA’s Big Book, memoirs, how-to books, and science books. I had watched many movies, both fictional accounts and documentaries. I had endlessly investigated the many options for quitting and from what I have seen on several on-line forums, I am not the only one to bury myself with sobriety material looking for the magic solution that will work.

This brings me to Allen Carr’s book. I was reading his book, sort of hoping for the solution, when it finally it hit me. I just did not want to read another book on how to get sober because I knew that there was no magic solution. There was only one way I was going to get and stay sober and that was to take responsibility for my drinking and never, ever pick up another drink. That’s it and that is the basis of EVERY approach available for quitting drinking.

I had been hoping for something to appear that would get sober for me, either a higher power or group to do it for me, or an approach that would somehow allow me to avoid exerting my own effort. I had buried myself under so much information on sobriety that I was actually making things worse for myself. I had convinced myself that quitting was some dramatic, extremely difficult, hard to achieve, endeavor. It’s not. It is a straightforward process involving a very clear act: Don’t Drink.

That doesn’t mean sobriety is easy. It is as difficult as any other bad habit to change. Perpetually exploring the different paths to sobriety is a waste of time. It is simply a way to over-think and over-explore the issue, which is really just procrastinating getting started. All methods are based on the same fundamental act: Don’t Drink.

The best  thing is that by taking responsibility for my sobriety and realizing that it would be based on the simple act of never picking up another drink, I had actually found an effective easier and softer way. There would be no meetings to attend, no steps, no CBT worksheets to work, no therapy sessions, no online meetings, no monsters in my head to tame, no sitting in the corner rocking back-and-forth seeing if my hand was shaking like Sandra Bullock’s in 28 Days, nothing. I was truly free.

The key to sobriety is: Realizing that there is no magic solution, only not drinking, and we have to take responsibility for that. Now, get started!

Accountability and Sobriety

Accountability – the quality of being accountable. It is the obligation or willingness to be responsible for one’s actions.

The definition is clear, but to who exactly should you be accountable.

Accountability is important as it reinforces adherence to your healthy habits. If you are accountable, then excuses begin to look weak and insufficient at best and plain whiny at worst. Addicts love excuses because they can create the illusion of credible reasons to use one more time. With addictive behaviors, though, there really are no acceptable excuses. I have never heard of an excuse holding up after using. Using again is simply a result of YOU yielding to the addictive urges and cravings.

When you are accountable, you acknowledge and take responsibility for your action. This implicitly means that you are aware of your actions. You observe them and recognize the intentions driving the actions. This kind of observation and analysis can be accomplished by writing in a journal, by going to therapy, or by attending support group meetings. The more you are aware of intentions and drivers of unwanted behaviors, the easier you are able to change them and get into a healthy lifestyle.

But… to who should you be accountable?

There is one perspective that believes that the only one who you can or should be accountable to is you. For an alcoholic, it can be both frightening and freeing to come to this realization. However, realizing and accepting responsibility for the life you lead and want to lead is the true path to freedom.

The flipside is to be accountable to another person or group. This requires vulnerability, but can pay off with trust and respect. This can help build friendships and communities. Society is much better off when we can trust each other. When we all act as checks on each other’s behaviors, lending a collective guide to healthy living. That is, we can learn how to act in society. And how many alcoholics are repeatedly undermined by the belief the belief that sobriety doesn’t really matter because they think they lack the ability to know how to act normally around people in a normal, healthy and meaningful manner?

So, you can be accountable to yourself, to others, and to your community. In fact you should be accountable to all of them. It provides you with the greatest degree of freedom. However, you must remember that people are fallible and if a person you are being accountable to fails you, then that does not free (or require) you to return to the old behavior or to pick up a drink. You are still accountable to yourself. On the other hand, if you feel weak, then your accountability to others can be used to get you through the weak spot.

Changing behaviors, especially addictions, is not easy. Accountability can be a powerful tool to find success.

Day 5 of sobriety and on into the Land of Right Decisions

As I enter into Day 5 of sobriety, I leave behind the physical withdrawal and move into the Land of Right Decisions. From here on out, continued sobriety will be based on making the right decisions each time I am confronted with a choice to drink or not. This will be difficult in the coming days, weeks, and months as my body and mind start to heal. However, it will get easier with time and eventually become a new habit.

This morning I no longer feel the subtle hum of withdrawal, but my mind feels strange. I do not know quite how to describe the feeling; it is as if my brain is coming alive again. There is an abundance of both giddiness and nervous energy. I am simultaneously thinking better and more fogged. In other words, I am bouncing all over the place.

However, this is a good kind of bouncing. I do not feel the cravings for a drink, but I do feel odd.

Writing seems easy, but I imagine it is also all over the place. This is just something I need to get through and get back to a normal mind.

How does one successfully negotiate this journey? This is how I am doing it.

  • I have made myself very aware of the increasing costs of drinking, primarily in terms of impacts on physical and mental health, but also as an obstacle to achieving my goals in life. I reinforce this through my journal writing.
  • I remain aware that urges are inevitable, but I do not have to yield to them. Meditation helps me to become an observer of my thoughts rather than a slave to them. Yoga and walking help to dissipate urges when they arise.
  • I keep a stable, healthy diet during this time minimizes wild swings in my mood. I do not subscribe to the notion that upping sweets is a good way to get over cravings. I believe it sets you up for trouble as you come crashing down from a sugar buzz.
  • Finally, I work to build my commitment and motivation for sobriety. Commitment to sobriety is the key to success. It overrides the efficacy of any method. I do this by remembering why I needed and wanted to stop and also staying focused on the good things sobriety brings.