Monthly Archives: July 2014

Getting And Staying Sober

 

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When Enough’s Enough

Getting sober isn’t so tough. Staying sober, that’s another story. But what is true sobriety anyway? We are surrounded by a myriad of psychoactive medications and foods that are legal and easily accessible at all hours of the day, all of which can significantly impact our mental and emotional states. The line can be drawn more clearly once you determine that a substance or activity is becoming a destructive force in your life and cutting away at the activities and relationships that once brought fulfillment and joy to your day to day living. For the purposes of this article, “sobriety” simply means abstaining from alcohol….completely.

By the time I finally decided to stop drinking, I had already begun to suffer various negative consequences of my out-of-control behavior. Among other things, I had picked up two DUI’s, one in which I flipped and totaled my car in a collision with a street median (luckily nobody else was involved,) and another which resulted in jail time. Having to buy a new car, hire attorneys, and pay stiff fines ended up costing well over ten thousand dollars. Not to mention behaving in embarrassing or downright belligerent ways all too often, being kicked out and banned from a local bar, and getting jumped because I instigated a fight. Sadly, despite all of these things happening, there continued to be times when I would have drinks and then drive.

It wasn’t enough for me until the morning I surrendered to 3 days in county jail (a consequence of the second DUI.) As if having to go to jail wasn’t bad enough, earlier that morning, my girlfriend had forwarded me some insulting and mean-spirited texts that I had sent to her the night before in a drunken rage. I had absolutely no recollection of sending the messages. That was the point at which I knew that I needed to do something serious to get my drinking under control, because I could see that if I didn’t, it was going to tear away at the most important relationship in my life. I had many prior attempts to “cut down” on my drinking, but it was always just a matter of time before I was hitting it hard again. I knew that I had to stop, and I knew that verbalizing my intention would help me to stick to it. So I made a promise to her that I was done. I wasn’t promising to do it for her, but rather, I wanted to be the best man I could and keep her happily in my life, and I just didn’t see that happening with alcohol in the picture.

That was in January of 2010, and I haven’t touched alcohol since. It hasn’t been easy by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, sometimes I find myself thinking “never again? really??” and wondering if I haven’t set myself up for a lifetime of feeling restricted and deprived. But, fortunately, it’s not as difficult these days as it once was, and my moments of doubt or frustration seem to get shorter and shorter as more time passes. So, if you want to stop drinking but are hesitant to commit to it, or don’t think you can do it, here are some thoughts and pointers from my experience that you may find useful.

Change Your Social Circle

The truth is, if you’re serious about getting and staying sober, you’re more than likely going to have to change at least some of the friends that you used to socialize with when you were hitting the bottle hard. This is a change that many people will find extremely difficult to make, even if they do their part, because friendships are two-way streets, and often times the socializing that one is accustomed to may be initiated by the other party that is involved. It may be hard to decline party or hang-out invites without seeming like you’re being antisocial or unfriendly. Many people who don’t have trouble controlling their consumption of alcohol find it hard to understand exactly how difficult it can be for a person who does have a drinking problem to merely be around others that are drinking or to even have alcohol within reach, period. But a person who is seriously trying to get and stay sober is best to stay away from alcohol at all costs, especially in the first few months.

Although it might be hard to deal with at first, a true friend or worthwhile acquaintance will understand the decision of an ex-drinker to abstain from any activities or environments where alcohol is present. My own experience was that, gradually but inevitably, I simply stopped finding myself hanging out with some of my old friends that I used to drink with. Sometimes it was a conscious decision on my part, but it was also an indirect consequence of not attending certain alcohol-infused events (like happy hour at work, for example.) But it didn’t mean that my friendships with those people were over. My relationships with those individuals simply took a different direction or involved activities other than alcohol, with the pleasant side-effect of having much more clarity of thought and recollection of events.

Get Moving

One of the most important things when one is trying to avoid alcohol is to keep busy, and physical exercise not only keeps you occupied, but it helps to relieve anxiety and depression, which are two major reasons why many people resort to drinking in the first place. You don’t have to join a gym or purchase expensive equipment, either. Going out for runs or morning walks while listening to my iPod was always quite therapeutic for me. It provided time for me to reflect on whatever happened to be occupying my mind at the time, and gave me the ability to look out into the world as a place with constantly changing perspectives and possibilities. It can also be a great physical outlet for any stored tension in the body, mind and spirit. Strenuous exercise is a great, natural way to get your feel-good endorphins pumping, and if you are dedicated and stick to a routine, you will get the added bonus of getting into better shape.

Start A New Hobby

Another way to keep your mind off of drinking is to stay productive with a hobby or activity, specifically one that is not conducive to alcoholic beverages being around. For example, I wouldn’t suggest taking up becoming a Blackjack dealer in a casino. Try to find something that needs your participation often, such as a tennis class that meets every week. An activity in which you are learning to do something new, such as play a sport or musical instrument, is particularly helpful because in order to complete it successfully, you will need to stay lucid, and it will discourage you from showing up in an alcoholic haze. Social activities, such as taking a class or learning a team sport, also brings the opportunity to meet new and diverse people, and importantly, you won’t be meeting those people based around drinking.

Consider AA

Okay I’ll admit, the only reason I can say that I’ve been to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting is because I HAD to. It’s one of the many things that you are forced to do when you get a DUI. But I’m glad I had the opportunity to attend several meetings, and it was definitely a positive experience. I had read a lot about people being scared or nervous about going to AA, but it’s not anything to get apprehensive about at all. In fact, there were a lot of friendly and really approachable people in the meetings that I attended. Importantly, nobody pressured me into speaking or attending any other kinds of activities. I think that is one thing that scares some people off intially. I eventually did speak at one of the meetings, and it felt good to be able to express my thoughts to a group of people that I could relate to. And I’m a person who HATES any kind of public speaking. It wasn’t a big deal to talk about my story because one unique component of AA is the common bond that can be felt amongst those who attend. Everybody there has an issue with alcohol (or possibly another substance,) so there is no judgment, and you can really get a sense that the others in the group know exactly how you feel, especially after hearing their stories. The age range of the participants was very wide, and there was a good gender and ethnic balance. Of course, these factors will vary depending on each group’s location, but it’s good to know that meetings like this are out there.

Another part of AA that can be a major turn-off is the whole idea of a “higher power” and the “God” component. It is there, but importantly, it is presented in the form of God “as you know Him” and leaves it open to your own interpretation. If you don’t believe in God, or believe in God but don’t believe it’s a “Him,” or don’t know, or don’t care either way, it won’t get shoved down your throat. I would best be defined as agnostic, and I personally interpreted the issue of “God” in AA as simply an acknowledgement of a universal force or meaning outside of myself, as a way of submitting to the idea that there was a problem within me that was to be overcome, and that (obviously,) I didn’t have all the answers. In other words, I see it as a way of putting the ego in check, and making it easier to admit that you have a problem.

AA is not for everyone, but I think it’s definitely worth a try, especially if you find yourself with little hope or support in your attempts to stop drinking. I don’t currently attend AA, and don’t feel that I need to. Thus far, I have luckily been able to stay off “the sauce” through my own means, and am very fortunate to have a very supportive girlfriend, family, and friends. But if I ever found myself extremely tempted or on the brink of drinking again, I would most likely start going to meetings again.

Closing Time

“The Best Way Out Is Always Through” – Robert Frost.

I think the above quote holds true for alcohol abuse, in that I think every individual has to come to his or her own point of realization that their drinking has become out of control; it’s not something that can be dictated to them by outsiders. That point of no return will be different for everybody, but a person has to experience that threshold in order for the depth of their problem to truly sink in. Unfortunately, sometimes a person has to cross the line in order to realize that it’s there. It’s not as simple as PSA warnings about the dangers of alcohol or beer ads reminding people to “think when you drink.” What a concept; I used to drink in order to NOT think!

Though it is often extremely difficult to abstain from drinking, just keep in mind that, in time, it will get easier. A person most likely does not become a hardcore alcoholic from one day to the next. In the same way, getting to a comfortable place in life without alcohol may take a long time. It’s very tempting to forget all of the long-term misery that was caused by drinking too much and focus on the short-term benefits that it seemed to bring. Especially when drinking is so ingrained in our culture as an essential part of socializing and having fun. Sometimes I still find it extremely difficult to go to the store and not eyeball the liquor bottles and think back to the fun I had in days and nights of reckless alcoholic abandon. During these moments, I force myself to remember how depressed I also felt when the consequences of being out of control began to take over my life. I think about my kids and my spouse and how much better I can provide for them if I stay in control. And I think of how nice it does feel to know that, if I’m fortunate enough to wake up tomorrow, I won’t have to look back on these moments through a hazy fog and not remember what happened. In good times and in bad, it feels good to be awake, aware, and living life on life’s terms again.

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What was left of my car after I decided to try some off-roading in the middle of the street one night.

What Would Jesus Do?

La Murrieta Immigrant Protests

The question of “what would Jesus do?” has become a bit of a cliché regarding decision-making and whether something is morally right or wrong for people who proclaim to be Christians. But it is relevant as a gauge of determining political action regarding issues that affect the well being of large groups of people. If you consider yourself Christian, you should try to live up to the ideals of your religion.  And in general, with a hotly debated and complicated issue such as immigration, I think people should probably go with their gut instinct in terms of what is the right thing to do.

Which brings us to the issue of undocumented immigrants and the current situation at the border, in which thousands of children are showing up unattended, fleeing home countries that are rife with violence and despair.  There are many people protesting the arrival of these immigrants,  who feel passionately about the issue and believe that they should be deported immediately. There are even people in America who suggest that guns be pointed at immigrant children (and some suggest that they be fired upon) in the name of border security.

Now, whether or not Jesus would be welcoming to people who are breaking a man-made law in order to seek refuge in another country seems to be an easy question to answer. He would probably put people’s safety and well-being above the issue of whether they are legally in a country. But, at the very least, I don’t think Jesus would approve of adults blocking bus loads of children and hurling hateful and divisive rhetoric fueled by fear and greed. I don’t think he would agree with making an enemy out of children who are seeking an escape from a world of turmoil and hopelessness.  I just don’t think that’s what he was about.

I don’t know how some of these protesters can really feel good about themselves at the end of the day, Christian or not. When they lay their heads to rest at night, do they think “that was such a good deed I did, fighting those evil immigrant children.”  I suppose in their minds, they are fighting for “justice” (because all they can focus on is the fact that these immigrants are illegally entering the country.) But in reality, they are being extremely exclusionary and acting in a way that I don’t think Jesus would approve of. Many of them may call themselves Christians, but I think they have the wrong idea entirely.

Murrieta Immigrant Protests

Are We Becoming Immune To Police Brutality?

Nearly 25 years ago, the videotaped beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles Police officers caused outrage in Los Angeles and throughout the nation. The video became a singular, notorious representation of the use of force by police. The case came to represent a hotbed of racial tension, and the officers’ subsequent acquittal of criminal charges lead to the outbreak of the Los Angeles riots in 1992.

Flash forward to the present day, there are high-quality video cameras on countless types of mobile devices and phones. In addition, the advent of portable video recorders has lead some police departments to equip officers with cameras that record the arrests they make and the people that they encounter. As a result, there have been more and more incidents of questionable (at minimum) police uses of force that have been captured on video that, with the advent of the internet, are readily available to the public in an instant. However, there seems to be significantly less outrage these days when incidents similar to the Rodney King beating occur.

Case in point, the recent video of a CHP officer repeatedly punching a black grandmother in the face and head along a Los Angeles freeway. The video has gone viral on social media, but it does not seem to have the galvanizing power that the Rodney King incident did in the 1990’s. Perhaps it is because the officer is using his fists instead of batons. Maybe.

But even beatings that result in death do not seem to enrage the community or the nation as they did with the King beating.  In Orange County in 2011, Kelly Thomas was severely beaten by two Fullerton Police officers and later died of his injuries.  The incident generated some local protests, but it was not national news on the level of the King beating.  However, like the King case, the officers involved were later acquitted of murder charges, much to the disdain of many who followed the case.

Perhaps we have simply become desensitized to real-life violent imagery, made accessible largely through social media and the web. In an age of videotaped beheadings and other forms of extreme torture and murder easily accessed on shock websites at the click of a button, acts of brutality (whether by the police or not) sadly become a little more mundane. Violence has become digitally watered down in the public’s consciousness, and public sensitivity has waned as a result. Ironically, the more cameras and outlets that have become available as objective witnesses to police use of force, the less people seem to care.