Overcoming my Alcoholism

Posted: August 8, 2014 at 2:15 PM

On October 18th, 2011, I quit drinking alcohol.  I have remained sober since.

A month after I quit, I checked into the Betty Ford Center in southern California for alcoholism.  http://www.bettyfordcenter.org/

I checked out by around March 15th, a week shy of four months.  

I spent a Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s and Valentines day in rehab.

I want to tell my story for a few reasons.  First, a few of my facebook friends have tried to quit drinking, and been quite brave, open, and public about it, and I appreciate their leadership.  Second, not everyone will ever have the chance to afford to go to one of the most expensive places around for rehab.  It cost just over $30,000 for the first month, about $65,000 overall; plus, the time off!  Who can afford that?  For that price, I learned a lot, so there is a lot to share, but first, let me tell you what got me there in the first place.

I had what I will call “business difficulties”, and my frustration and anger led me to drink nearly daily for about a year.  I drank because I didn’t like feeling angry about my afflictions and troubles.

During that year, I tried drinking responsibly, and moderately, like an adult would.  So, I tried drinking only wine, and only half a bottle, and only with dinner, and only with red meat, so that the wine would also be “good for digestion”.  But every now and then, nobody would join me, and I’d drink the whole bottle.  Or someone would join me, and we’d break out two bottles.  And then, sometimes, I’d just start on the second bottle myself!  But I quickly found out that I was definitely in love with steak; tri-tip, eating steak 5 nights a week! 

And after about three to four months of that, I developed heartburn.  

So, maybe my attempt at drinking in moderation was not good for my health?

So, it was the heartburn, and concern for my health that led me to give up red wine, and switch to rum and coke, which, without the heartburn, felt so much easier on my system, and therefore so much “healthier”!

From the sugar drinks, I developed a fungal rash on my chest and back; both discoloration of skin, and itchy bumps that didn’t go away.  So, again, for my “health”, I started taking anti fungal herbs!  And I was applying anti fungal essential oils, too, on my skin.  Yeah, I thought that’ll do the trick!  I’ll be able to continue drinking!  That sort of worked, but I kept drinking.  The funny itchy bumps remained.

I also noticed the belly bloat, and I had back pains, so I embraced a new form of exercise, doing “the five tibetans”, which are sort of like yoga.  And those were great!  Doing those really helped me keep drinking!

Of course, I also developed joint pains.  Working the liver so hard probably prevents it from clearing out regular toxins in the body.  Toxins are in the booze and also in the food and from everything else, and the liver can only do so much.  I was doing isometric exercise for my joint pains, and stretching, and that helped a bit, too, helping me keep drinking, but the joint pains were bad, and did not fully go away.

In my last month or so of drinking, I would wake up, and feel thankful that I was not hung over.  I would worry if I was hung over when I woke up.  I was beginning to wonder why it was so hard to quit drinking.  This was never a problem before?  Why am I so jittery by 5pm.  Why am I dying for a drink by 6pm, literally counting the minutes until I’ll let myself drink?  Why do I feel so great drinking?  Why does it seem like pure liquid gold when I drink?  Why does it feel like I have a greater appreciation for alcohol than everyone else?  Why am I pushing everyone around me to drink?  Why do I even feel great on days when I’m supposed to be hung over and feeling awful?  Why does it relax me so much, and seem to be the answer to so many of my problems?  Why is my brain power slipping?  Why are so many routine tasks getting so difficult?  Why am I growing so much ever more impatient, especially on days when I’m hung over?  Why is my digestion getting so horrible?  

My lawyers convinced me I should go to rehab, and on that date, October 18th, 2011, I quit drinking.  They didn’t realize my legal problems had just gotten worse, so I told them.  Even more of a reason to get to rehab.

I called up rehab, told them I intended to go, and I asked “what should I know?”  They said just come on down!  Well, I had to “get ready” first, and finish up some business things, and I was already quitting, so what should I watch out for?  They didn’t recommend quitting by myself, because people can die from that.  They also didn’t recommend delaying getting to rehab, because people start drinking again and change their minds.  They said to watch out for delirium tremors (shaking), but I didn’t have that and I had already quit for a few days.  They said to watch out for dehydration, and also suicide!  Depression sets in when the “high” of the alcohol wears off.  Suicide was a shocker!  Like, really?!  The dehydration hit me about a week later, but not the depression.  

It took me about 30 days to get my business affairs mostly in order, enough to go to rehab at least, without shutting down JH MINT.  In fact, I managed to open up a second shop in Auburn!

Before going to rehab, what kept me sober was just knowing that I was going to rehab.  The cost of “detoxing” if you show up drunk was going to be an extra $5000.  So, I began viewing every beer can as a potential $5000 can!  No way!  

After I got to rehab, they said we should begin by listing the bad consequences of our drinking.  They said, let us help you so far with the first one.  So far, it’s cost you the entrance fee here, the $30,000 or so!  Right.  That’s a bit more than the $5000, how silly of me!

After just a bit of reflection, I realized that everything about alcohol is a lie.  I would drink it to relax, and it ended up making me nervous and anxious to drink again.  I would drink it for courage, but in the long run it gave me fear, fear of my own emotions.  I would drink it for confidence, and in the long run, it stole that too.

I really liked rehab.  It was nice.  Everything seemed so mellow, and at such a slow pace.  It was a nice break for me.  I instantly thought if I ever am going to take a vacation, this is the place!  It was beautiful, a great campus, and they feed you three times a day with great food.  And there was no temptation to drink and party at night, like on a “normal” vacation.  The vacation from drinking was about as good as the vacation from all the other life stress. 

My blood pressure was 149 over 90 when I went in.  A month later, it was 115 over 70. 

I felt like it was also like a kind of bodybuilding camp, because they had us workout an hour every day.  That was difficult at first!  A lot of the guys there gained about 20 pounds of muscle in the first month or two.  I went from 200 to 217.

After my first week in rehab, I had my first major alcoholic craving.  I was about 35 days sober (because I had 30 days of sobriety before going), and I was sore from my new workouts.  I had just watched an evening movie from 6-8pm.  I was excited from the movie, sore from the workouts, and I wanted to relax.  I wanted to drink!  But I was in rehab!  And that thought, to just drink, was strong, persistent, and driving me crazy.  It made me upset, and more nervous, and as I got more nervous, I wanted to drink even more!  ARGH!  

It was like there was a voice inside my head, my own voice, that would not shut up.  It wasn’t like I was hearing voices or anything, it was just that there was like a loud war in my head, the devil and the angel, battling it out.  “What, like you want to jump the walls and run out of here?”  “Shut up, that’s crazy, you paid to be here.” “But you can leave any time, this is voluntary!” “But that’s what I’m here for!” “No, you don’t have to be here!”  “No, it’s good that I’m here now, really good, especially now!” And this went on for an hour and a half!  I tried yoga.  That didn’t work.  I was too tired and even getting jittery.  I ended up talking about it, but that didn’t work, well maybe just a little.  What worked?  Time worked.  An hour and a half of just mental craziness, and it just began to subside and go away.  I didn’t expect that.  But I learned that it’s typical to have those kinds of craving episodes, especially around the 30-60 day mark of sobriety.  Who knew?  I didn’t.  So that’s why I’m sharing this detail.

The next one was about two weeks later.  I got the results of my liver tests back:  all liver enzymes at normal levels!  But that was typical if you quit drinking for a month, which I had already done.  Whoo Hoo!  I wanted to celebrate!  With a drink!  What?  Crazy!  You are in rehab!  Shut up!  But it’s ok for you to drink, your liver is normal!  What?  Like you want to drink until your liver is not normal?  Shut up!  Again, it was like there were two of me inside my head, and it was strong, but not as strong as the first time.

It was helpful for me to be around people who understood.  Everyone who was a staff member at rehab was a former alcoholic.

The Betty Ford Center (BFC) is centered around Alcoholics Anonymous.  Anyone can go to free AA meetings nearly anywhere; AA is everywhere, and they encourage you to keep going after you get out.  Rehab is basically a very safe place, where they isolate you away from all of the potentially bad influences and potential chaos in your life (and drugs and booze), and do lots of talking therapy.  Is there really any other kind?  They try to teach everyone there how to listen without interrupting, and without judging another person.  They also teach you that isolating yourself is bad, that you should “call a friend” if things get tough.  But while in rehab in the first 30 days, phone contact with anyone outside is limited to once a week, or emergency/business situations.

Rehab really is much like a mental hospital, but more compassionate and gentle.  They never use force on anyone there; and there are no padded rooms.  But alcoholism is a mental disease.

For me, I discovered why I’m easy prey to alcoholism.  It’s often genetic.  My father was an alcoholic, off and on, and he died from it at age 59.  He bled to death from liver failure.  We found 4 cups of very strong vodka and gatorade all in his favorite spots; the kitchen, the bed, the TV room, and the garage.

Even that was not enough to keep me sober.  It kept me thinking about it; aware of it, and trying to moderate, but I didn’t succeed at that myself.

I have always been able to drink a lot.  As a freshman in college, age 19, I was able to drink 10 beers at a frat party without stumbling.  Others said I was drinking like a senior.  Others were puking at 6 or 7.  Others said I must have “a liver of steel”, implying that my liver just processes the stuff great.  

But it’s the opposite.  My liver does not break it down very quickly into the things that cause people to feel nauseous, so I never experience the nausea that many other people might feel after one or two drinks that would encourage me to stop.  For me, it can take from 10-20 drinks to feel nauseous.  I have had evenings with 20 drinks, and I never threw up.  That’s tolerance, another sign of alcoholism.

For me, while I’m drinking, it feels like it’s all gain, no pain, it’s just a feeling of pure awesomeness.  For me, that’s what makes it very dangerous.  And often, I don’t really get too hung over, like others will feel much worse after drinking much less.

And I have blacked out at least 13 times or so from drinking?  That’s bad.  More than most others in rehab will admit, and people in rehab admit quite a lot! 

They say the secret desire among alcoholics is to be able to drink moderately.  They say, if you have never tried, go ahead, and check out of rehab, and try to do that.  Funny.  I already tired that with my “iron will” and failed miserably.

What happened to my iron will?  They say that the will is what gets us into trouble.  After all, if your will is to drink, what then, how can you remain sober; you have no defense against your own strong will when it turns against you!  How true!  How can you trust yourself if you can’t trust yourself?

So, they begin giving us new skills to rely upon, instead of our old skill set.

“Going with the flow” and “doing what everyone else does”  are not skills that work anymore.

Planning in advance helps.  Never let yourself get too tired, nor too exhausted, nor too hungry, nor too cold, and certainly not all at once, and certainly not right outside of a warm bar!   Don’t hang out at a pool if you don’t want to get wet, and don’t hang out at a bar or other drunk people if you don’t want to get drunk.

Don’t try to do too much at once.  Tomorrow, you can continue the project.  Get to bed early.  Have a nighttime ritual.  Get your sleep.  Get your exercise.  Get regular meals.  Take time to meditate.  Take time to enjoy yourself.

“Take care of yourself”  

A funny mantra I liked in my first year sober was “You have to give a shit, every day!”  Sort of irreverant and funny.

Calling other people helps.  Talking about your problems to other people will help.  

Speaking about your major life problems in front of a group of strangers at an AA meeting can help.  After all, if you can tell a group of strangers the worst of the worst, while you have that adrenaline rush of public speaking, then you can get through the emotional difficulty of merely thinking about your worst problems without needing to drink to forget about it all. 

Avoiding other people who drink or do drugs is essential. 

I think there is a lot right with AA, and maybe a few things wrong.  They encourage you to confess your sins, so to speak, yet without using that “sin” language.   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twelve-step_program

I think that AA is a program designed to keep you truthful, and away from hurting other people.

There were things I didn’t like about AA, and I stopped going fairly quickly once I got out of rehab.  I have two boys, and I needed to give them my time, and I had two businesses going that needed attention.

I went back to AA if I was more afraid that I might drink.  But I have developed a friendship with a man who used to be my sponsor.

BFC warns that excessive behavior can manifest itself in many other areas besides just alcohol.  Workaholism.  Excessive candy or food.  Excessive video games.  Excessive working out.  They try to teach moderation as a virtue.  

I heard so many stories of people who got sober, then lost their sobriety again.  Two stick out.

One man quit drinking for several years.  He started bike riding, even in competitions.  One time, he drank half a beer after a ride.  Nothing bad happened.  No bad consequences.  So, after a month, he tried a glass of wine.  Again, same thing.  Nothing bad, see?  So, he started drinking moderately.  Again, nothing bad, see?  Yet within 4 months, he was drinking heavy again.  It just snuck up on him slowly like that.

Another lady had nearly an opposite story.  She was a pillar in AA.  Even traveling city to city to tell her story.  On the tenth year sober, she ended up as a blackout drunk for a week straight in some hotel somewhere on the road.  She never drank like that before.  Just snuck up on her extremely quickly like that.  

Those stories stuck out for me because of the contrast.  Alcohol can be dangerous!  

My other mantra that helps me is that “alcohol is brain damage”.  Well, for me it is, because I don’t have a very good signal of nausea to stop like other people have.

As for the reasons why people drink; the stories vary wildly.  Usually though, it seems that people drink for emotional reasons.

Alcohol works!  It really does.  It makes people feel better, for that short time.

People drink when they are happy and they want to get happier, people drink when they are sad, people drink when they are angry.  

One young woman was a party drunk, but ended up drinking alone.

One older woman drank over her husband’s death.  For 13 years!  

So, in rehab, they have “trauma therapy”; because people often also drink over traumas, to help cope with the things they cannot emotionally cope with.  It consists of nothing more than talking about your traumas until you don’t feel like doing that anymore.  That helps the feelings process, and helps people heal.

Alcoholism seems to affect the part of the brain connected with desires and emotions; the deep “reptilian” brain associated with rewards.  It seems to me that drinking stunts the emotions, or shrinks the human ability to feel and express emotions, and then makes people more likely to freak out over traumatic things.

Trauma is being overwhelmed by an event; events such as deaths, injuries, rapes, accidents, betrayals, things like that.  

Most people’s worst traumas in rehab seemed to take place when they were drunk, and therefore, not being able to “be there” for their loved ones in times of need.  For example, missing a funeral, because they were drunk precisely because they were not capable of dealing with the emotions of going to the funeral, and then, on top of that, having to deal with the shame of not being at the funeral.  

It seems to me that people in rehab had a very hard time dealing with their emotions, which were overwhelming to them.  They would cry telling their trauma stories that ranged from suicide attempts, to love betrayals, to incest, rape stories and just anything and everything you can imagine.  And then, I noticed that if the trauma story telling was particularly intense, they would be “wiped out” for the rest of the day, as if they just had an intense workout.  I felt that too, but I noticed I was getting emotionally stronger over time; and the emotions were less exhausting to feel, over time.

For me, there was one time, about 60+ days sober, when I began crying, and I was happy to cry.  I had a conversation with my 3 year old boy on the phone.  And I told him that I missed him, and that I was away, in rehab, because I had a disease in my brain.  But, you know what, I said?  I am getting better!  And he replied in that simple, honest, astonished 3 year old voice, “You are?!” And I could hear that he was so happy about that.  It just crushed me to hear him say that with such eager understanding.  My three year old boy. I didn’t expect those kinds of words.  He was so happy to hear I was getting better!

Later that night, I just started crying, thinking about that.  And oddly, I didn’t want to stop.  It felt good to cry, and I just let it out.  I had not cried in years.  My roommate got a bit freaked out with me crying in the dark, but that’s ok.  I was ok.  I could feel my emotions, and not be afraid of them.

My father’s emotions scared me.  He was an angry drunk.

I used to like to think I was above emotion.  I loved the characters on Star Trek like Data and Spock.  I would not be like my father, I used to say.  But of course, over time, I have become much like my father, especially now that I have kids.  Emotions are a part of life.  Emotions are an essential part of the human experience.  Emotions are like our “sixth sense”.  If we pay attention to them, they can clue us in greatly.  Denying emotions is like denying reality.

Even God gets happy, sad, regretful, and wrathful, at times.

I learned that to stay sober, I have to be prepared for the worst of the worst things that I can imagine in life, and then, know to not drink over that.  There will be deaths, traumas, violence, loss, pain, misery, agony, defeat, success, victories, elation, and through all of what will come, I must know not to drink.

For me, alcohol is just brain damage in a bottle.  

One of the most dangerous situations is getting into a physical accident.  Doctors will prescribe pain killers.  These are all very similar to alcohol, and can easily cause a relapse back into drinking.  Many have relapsed in this way.  If something like this should happen, one of the ways to avoid trouble is to give someone else control over the pills, so you don’t just start taking too much.  Or maybe, no pills at all if you are that brave.

So, part of not drinking is learning other ways to reduce pain, and ways to relax, in ways other than drinking.

Some things to help me relax are hot showers.  Lavender essential oils.  Early to bed at night.  Naps.  Food.  Sex. Talking it out with others.  Being truthful (but that was not my problem.)  Yoga.  Exercise.  Not trying to do too much in one day.

When I first got out of rehab, I developed a coffee habit.  I never drank much coffee before, but hey, this was at least a great pick me up that was deemed “ok”.  But about a year later, and I was drinking up to four large cups of very strong coffee per day.  I didn’t forget about moderation; it just wasn’t working for me, again!  

During that time, I got sick, and I quit drinking coffee, and just started eating fruit for a few days.  Then the coffee withdrawals hit me.  Wow.  I felt major body aches and pains and stiffness; like the flu times ten.  

Now, there are people who have made themselves my enemies; and I wouldn’t even wish that body pain on them; it was pure torture.  So, why should I put myself through that?  So, it was time to stop the coffee.

Quitting coffee was way worse than quitting alcohol.  I looked it up online and the way to avoid the pain was to taper.  So I did.  One large pot of coffee later, and I was in heaven; no body pain.  Three days later, the pain was acute again.  One weak pot of coffee later, and the body aches and pains had mostly vanished once again.  And that was the last of the coffee for me!  So, it was about a 9 day taper.

Right after that, I also decided to finally quit all pain killers.  No ibuprofen, no tylenol, no aspirin.  For me, I get nosebleeds, and all of those make nosebleeds worse!  I was taking those for the tiredness and achy back pain that I would get late in the day.  Well, I felt I had to stop. 

Without pain relievers, I began to really pay attention to things that increased or decreased pain in my body.

Things that increased pain:  lack of sleep, stress, lack of water, lack of protein.

Things that decreased pain were the opposites: sleep, relaxing, water, protein. Amazing! 

For a few months, in the afternoons and evenings, when I used to take pain killers and coffee, I had to take a nap, instead.  Finally, that went away. 

About the time I quit coffee, I also discovered green smoothies.  April, 2013.  See rawfamily.com  A green smoothie is greens and fruits and water in a blender.  Spinach, banana, apple, water is a staple for me.  I also like cilantro, water, banana, blueberries in a smoothie.

As you can see, I was always trying to eat healthy, even when I was drinking, but this took my health up to a new level I had never been at before.

My life is not a bed of roses now that I have quit drinking.  But in many ways, it’s a lot better.  I still have troubles, still chasing after me from before when I was drinking.  But now, I’m more capable, and I’m handling it.  Or, at least, I’m still working on it.  And that’s life, and I’m sober, not drinking, and enjoying life much more.  My brain continues to spring back to life, and I’m no longer doing brain damage to myself.  That alone makes life a lot better.

Six months ago, I had lasik eye surgery, because I trusted that I would be able to be healthy enough for it, and I finally trusted that it just might work.  Of course it did.  

My itchy chest bumps went away when I started drinking green smoothies.  Occasionally, I get itchy bumps on my back, and they seem to come and go due to stress and sugar, and I’m trying to kick sugar next.  I’ve made it a month at least.  Then one day, stress kicked in, and I went to a new old standby; sugar in an apple cobbler.  It was awesome!  A few of those over a few weeks, and it was less so.  And my boys are eating less sugar now, too.

I have really developed a method of exercise that makes all my body aches and pains go away; and I’m still experimenting with it.  It’s basically just isometric stretches once a week, while drinking green smoothies.  It’s fantasic!

I’m trying to think of an appropriate ending to this story, but this is just one part of the story of my life, and my life is continuing.  So, to be continued…