Acknowledge the negative dwell on the positive

I’ve been at the freedom forums (takes my vote for the best resource for quitting smoking on the internet) a lot lately.  And since we are counting days, it’s been a full three months since I last smoked.  Yay!  didn’t think I’d get this far, but here I’am.  I did some quick math.  I’ve not smoked about a 1000 cigarettes and not drank 600 beers since I quit the two.  I Should be celebrating, feeling happy etc., right?  However I’am not.  I’am feeling sad and depressed, especially  last week, which has been a real bitch.  I’ve been trying to understand all of this and it seems that folks who are prone to addictions often get hooked on to something or the other to hide some other problem.  As an example, somebody who is depressed might self medicate with alcohol.  Hmm.. sounds like me.    I had to get a professional opinion, so I went to my doctor.  Here’s how it went.

Me:  Doc I quit smoking and since then I’am unable to sleep, feel tired when I wake up

Doc: Great job on quitting.

Me:  I also quit alcohol and it’s been a few months since I had any.  Since I continue to be tired and since people on average sleep better and report they have more energy in a few weeks, I felt something might be wrong.  Perhaps I’ve issues with my blood sugar level etc.

Doc:  Let me check your last report .. checks that everything was fine … Do you also feel sad or depressed?

Me:  Yes, the last few days have been pretty bad.

Doc:  See,  you have used a stimulant (nicotine) for a number of years and your brain does not know how to function without nicotine.  The brain is not manufacturing enough of the good stuff (serotonin, dopamine, ***mine)  hence the tiredness and depression.

Me:  So what’s the way out?

Doc:  You should exercise, your body needs to learn how to  produce endorphins which will make you feel better.

Me:  Sure, I want to exercise, but I haven’t been able to do so.  No time, work, family and also, I feel tired.

And I’am thinking, thanks a bunch Sherlock for telling me I need to exercise.  Gee, how come I didnt thunk of it till now.  See, I would if I could, but right now my brains all scrambled up and I don’t feel like going and exercising.  And hold on, don’t tell me I need to be strong willed and make it happen – All my strength and strong will is being used to keep a job and being sane with the family..there’s nothing left in the tank, which is why I’am here.  

Doc:  Well, if that doesn’t work for you, your other choice is to be on an SSRI and feel better.

Me:  Let me try to exercise and we’ll see how it goes.

And I’am thinking, great, so no other tests, nothing.  Set me up with meds and let me get hooked on to yet another thing.  From the frying pan to the fire.  Thanks but no thanks doc.

    

So I’ve been reading and trying to get my thoughts together.  Wife and me went for a walk which was somewhat helpful.  Started hitting the web, books and whatever I can think about trying to find some answers, pointers.  See, I want to move on since it’s pretty tiring.  My therapist asked me to put a finger on what I’am feeling (i.e. peel the onion and be a bit more specific than simply saying I feel sad).  Still no answers except the following

  • Give time time.  Apparently, this is an phrase used in Al Anon .  Basically saying that the body can heal itself with time, but one needs to be patient.  Similar to one of my favorite phrases from the movie Jerry Mc Guire, Help me help you
  • Being positive.  Clearly something that I’am not doing.  It seems every thought I have is negative (see, there I go again.  Man, this mental shit is hard :)).

I’am committed to staying the path (no alcohol or nicotine) and will give time time.  Staying positive is something I’ll have to work on and retrain myself with those messages.  There’s this  story which appeals to me at this time:

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

 

Clearly, I’ve been feeding the ‘negative’ over the last few days, weeks, months and years.  Which brings me to one other thing which I believe is happening.  Thanks to this video by  Joel Spitzer from over at the freedom forums, I need to turn this upside down.  See, I know that there are positives, but I dwell on the negatives.  I know that I have a great family, a pretty good job, the basics, health and some decent reserves.  But 90% of my waking hours are taken up by what’s not ok or not working.  Time for me to turn it around.  So here’s what I’ll attempt from now on – To acknowledge the negatives and dwell on the positives.  Wish me luck!

 

 

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Silver linings playbook

My wife and me recently watched the movie Silver linings playbook. The main character, Pat, is a bi-polar man, who would have caught his wife having an affair with his colleague, almost kills his colleague and is sent to a treatment center. Once Pat is out of the treatment center, he tries to clean up, believing that his wife still loves him and will come back to him if he fixes himself. Inspite of his wife getting a restraining order on him and his family asking him to move on. The movie is a comedy, well made (won oscars) and does a great job of showing the suffering he endures because of his delusional thinking. I was cheering from my seat hoping that Pat gets better and almost wanted to shake him out of his warped sense of reality. Hmmmm.. I’am sure that’s exactly how my wife feels at times.

Delusional thinking. The Buddhists say that delusion is a state of mind in which reality is not seen. At my last session with my therapist, the movie was still fresh in my mind and as we were discussing me, I realized that my own thinking is delusional in many cases. Here are some of my delusions.

  • Giving meaning (usually negative) to my feelings, no matter what the reality is. The mind thinks that a) everything is bad and b) exaggerates how bad it is. An example: If I’am feeling anxious about our finances, then the mind thinks we’ll end up on the streets and that the future is bleak. Never mind the fact that the issues we are facing with finances are temporary, plus, it’s not so bad.
  • That I don’t have needs and wants. Not taking care of myself. There is this sense of being a tough person, who can handle stuff and not make a big deal about it. I don’t really feel that I’am very tough inside, on the contrary, I’am quite scared actually. But I think I suppress my needs and wants to portray this tough exterior. It bites me in the ass since this leads to building up resentment and a general sense that things I want, or outcomes I desire, will not happen.
  • Believing that I can do everything and at the pro level. Basically, that I’ll be able to do anything and everything and be the best in all of them. See, I’am no superman, but the mind still believes that to be the case. Never mind the fact that my days only last 24 hours (as everybody else’) and when this get’s split up between family and work there’s not much time left to do much. This kind of thinking has some bad side effects. I will attempt to do something but set such a high bar (pro level) for myself that no matter what the results, I’am not satisfied. Many times, I’ll simply not even attempt certain things since I would have reasoned out and resigned to the fact that it can’t be done. After all, it would take a lot of time, which I don’t have, to do something perfectly. Now this means that a number of ‘enjoyable’ things are simply not even attempted and this feeds into the general sense of despair that life sucks.
  • Thinking that I’am not good enough. This ties into the previous delusion and is perhaps linked to the general sense of dissatisfaction at not having achieved perfection in everything I attempt. My mind believes that I’am not good enough. After all, I can find at least one person who is doing something much better than me (without knowing what their lives really look like from the inside) and hence I must be a failure.
  • Magical thinking. Having unrealistic expectations, no dreams, that things will somehow, magically work out. And when the real laws of gravity kick in, feeling shitty that the desired outcomes didn’t actually happen. An example is this expectation of retiring at 40, having earned enough money. Raising healthy well adjusted children at the same time, while traveling all over the world. And let’s not forget having time to be party, be physically fit and healthy along the way.

So here’s my silver linings playbook: When I’am stressed out or I feel that I’am getting depressed, check my thought process – is what I’am thinking real? Recognize that I can’t do everything at the same time and consciously try to do one or two things, at the most, at any given time. Also try to break things up into smaller pieces since reality is that I will be stressed for time. Most importantly, start taking care of myself by doing things that I like,  in small chunks.

My approval rating

In any other life, I might be a celebrity or perhaps running for office.  Such is my obsession with my ‘approval rating’.  i.e. the constant need to fit-in and get approval from people.  The funny thing is, this need for approval is an unconscious one.  I do not post on facebook and count the number of friends I have.  In fact, I get edgy and uncomfortable when somebody praises me.

In the past, I hadn’t quite zeroed in on this thirst for approval.  But something interesting happened over the weekend.  I should have been happy – My job situation is working out, I’ve been off the booze for over six weeks now and as a couple, we are making significant strides in getting a handle on our lives.  Instead, I was weighed down by my black dog and that didn’t seem right.  I went out on a long drive tracing back the events of the past couple of days to figure out what was happening and here’s how it all fit in.

I was comparing my career, achievements, financial well being etc., with that of people I knew.  Friends mainly, which makes it even harder – I am jealous that somebody has it better, followed by judgment that they have it easier in some areas of their life.  Not exactly how you win friends and influence people.  It was triggered by a piece of news that an acquaintance found a job in the same firm that I didn’t get recruited into.  Plus it was becoming very clear that we are running out of funds and we would have to be very careful with our spending.  A double whammy – Somebody else won a prize and would do better in their career plus they had more money to boot.  By this time I’am feeling depressed, worried about the future.  I can’t win this race and I’am a loser.

See, I grew up in a poor family and some of my early childhood experiences (more about those later) have been those of scarcity.  The experience of living on the other side of the tracks  have created some non-negotiable (non-negotiable in my mind) decisions about what a dignified and safe life means.  You do not have dignity, safety or respect if you are poor.  If you are poor, the society does not care about you.  You are not important, a human being, somebody who has a voice and feelings and needs.  You could be a doormat for all they care.  My childhood memories have been about trying to get that respect by being smart and well behaved, hoping to secure enough financially to never having to face scarcity again.  Being smart could be the ticket out of the mess.  Being well behaved since I had to continue to receive the support I needed (cash or kind) and had to suppress the sense of indignity that resulted from said support.  Plus, to show them that I will make it in spite of all their negativity towards me and my own lack of resources.  That I would make up for my deficiencies with my smarts and creativity.  Constantly looking for their approval.  Fighting the ‘not good enough’ tag placed on you, but feeling that way nevertheless.

This is my formula for my approval rating:  Am I marching towards gaining their respect  or approval (through my ‘achievements’) and do I have enough money so I’ll never have to experience such poverty again.  I recognize that this reads like a cartoon super hero fantasy story.  Unfortunately, my adult brain is wired exactly like this (or so it seems).  As any number of wise people and their books would say, I’am living somebody else’s life.  Perhaps this explains my identity crisis.  It’s a bad formula really, since both the variables are not under my control – I cant control what others think about me or my past.  And my current mood reflects how bad the formula is.

What worries me is the sense of depression –  Nothing I do seems to get my approval ratings higher.  I’am now getting to a point where I’am giving up the fight, being a victim – i.e. If only I had a better set of circumstances, I would have done better.  Not a fun place to be in.  Towards the end of my drive, I was desperate to come up with a solution for this and here’s what I need to figure out:  Do I still need an approval rating?  Can I be fine without getting everybody’s respect or a ton of money?

Identity Theft

What I’am talking about is being somebody for everybody, doing things to please everybody and anybody.  Losing touch with who you really are and what you wanted to do.  After a number of years of such existence, you eventually don’t recognize the person in the mirror.

In my case, this is driven by the need to fit in so that I’am not the odd person in a group of people.  The group of people, of course keeps changing.  It might be a bunch of parents and kids in which case I’am the attentive, caring, worried parent.  It might be colleagues in which case I’am the person who can keep calm, handle a situation, who knows it all.  It might be drinking buddies in which case I’am the one closing the bar.  The interesting thing is that each of these examples requires one to live a different life, be a different personality.  Many times, this is driven by fear.  Somehow worried about what the future might hold, or the results of an action or a decision.  Or how my actions might be perceived by others.  You cannot pretend to be liking and doing things while your instincts are crying out for something else.  Faking it for too long is tiring.

What triggered this thought is my frequent ritual of finding a new job.  Here’s how it goes.  The old job somehow did not fit what I wanted.  It was a dead end, or I just lost interest, or it was not going to make me any money.  The reasons can be innumerable, but it’s now time to move on.  Then I look at my resume and the current job market.  As it always happens things have changed since the last time I looked for a job (The tech industry, especially, is notorious for changing fast) and somehow I find myself doing this job search in a hurry, under a deadline, with a dwindling savings account.  In this situation, I’am prone to say ‘yes’ to anything that comes along my way.  Infact, I am desperate to fit into any company (small, large) any job description, any domain of expertise.  More often than not, I’ve been lucky to be hired in some such firm and the whole cycle repeats itself.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

Eventually, it’s become hard for me, in my own mind, describe who I’am.  Or be able to articulate what I like.  Having made so many compromises and having worn so many masks, I cannot identify myself.  The irony is that the perpetrator of this identity theft is none other than myself.

I’ll have a diet coke

I’ve never had diet coke before, certainly not in a restaurant with a bunch of friends celebrating a birthday.  This is exactly what I did a couple of days ago and man, does it feel good and more importantly reassuring.

Good because I had diet coke instead of an alcoholic beverage (funny how they use this fancy description for booze on airplanes.  Why cant they say “Hey, the booze cart’s coming out, do you want a beer?”) while the six gents around me were getting into beers and shots.  I didn’t succumb to the temptation of having “one” and that felt good.  In fact, I also for the first time enjoyed an awesome arugula salad.  Maybe arugula salads are always awesome and I was simply focussing on alcohol before. Who knows.

Reassured since I was worried about how this thing will play out.  Will I succumb to my brain’s need for alcohol, will I get “persuaded” to have that one drink?  In typical fashion, I didn’t even have a game plan for what I would do if such a situation arose and so by the time we reached the restaurant, I was feeling out of sorts.  In the end it worked out well and I actually didn’t feel the urge to drink and funny enough I didn’t ‘miss’ having a drink.

Which brings me to the minefield that is society and friends, when it comes to a recovering alcoholic.  In this context, friends fall into three categories.

  • First, the ones that think you should be drinking.  These are the ones you used to hang out with.  Often late into the night, driving them back to safety (since you could hold your drink better etc. etc.) .  They miss those times and they care about spending time with you.  These are the folks who will say “How long do you plan to not drink” or “It’s good, you should give it a break for a couple of months”.
  • Second, the ones that think you should not be drinking.  These are the ones that are very clear about why you should not drink.  They might have seen you go out of control, are generally alarmed at what you are doing etc.  They care about you, are more mature than the first group and they protect your decision to not drink.  These are the folks who’ll say “Good dont drink”.  They’ll also tell the first group to stop persuading you to drink.
  • Third, and these are the worst of the lot.  They don’t or can’t understand what this is all about or they simply don’t care.  These are the ones that say “what’s wrong with having a drink.  Why, I have a drink every day and nothing’s wrong with me”.  This crowd is basically saying  “I’am better than you” and that sucks.  It sucks since you are trying not to think about a beer but deep down, you still miss the beer.  It also sucks since they are a living testament that somethings wrong with you and that you cannot control your drinking.

And what about the society?  I just had a manager tell me something on the lines of : “You should connect with those guys from the other department.  Take them to the bar and buy them a couple of drinks”.  Damn, if I get started on that path, I will soon lose my job.  Roll into safeway and I’ll see a bunch of booze stocked at the entrance, next to the BBQ supplies.  Now, I like BBQ but…

The other day, I saw a couple of teenage girls pour a hearty amount of rum into their water bottles, hide the 1.5 litre captain morgan in the bushes.  In broad daylight.  In a busy shopping area.  Hoping to come back for a refill later.  I sometimes think it’s better to be diabetic than an alcoholic.  People get it if you say “Cant do cakes, I’am diabetic”.  What we need is better awareness about alcohol.    Till this happens, I’ll have a diet coke.

 

Patience and faith

It’s been over five weeks since I haven’t had any alcohol.  I was expecting this to be pretty easy, since common sense says “Do not poison yourself and you’ll be just fine”.  The effects of not drinking should have been good right?  My experience has been the exact opposite.

  • The body is more tired since it is not getting enough calories – seems changing eating habits takes a while.  Most of my calories came from alcohol and a quick search on google will tell you that these alcohol calories are simply sugar.  To make up for the lack of nutrients in a beer diet, the brain apparently makes adjustments by reducing some hormones and increasing others.  Take out the beer and whatever’s left in the diet, the brain goes crazy.   Over the last few weeks, I’ve been on a sugar binge like never in my life.  Think tubs of ice-cream and anything with sugar in it.  As the body craves for nutrients, my lack of a proper diet, eating at the right times etc., leads to tiring out and feeling depressed.
  • Sleep.  It’s common knowledge that alcoholics drink themselves to sleep.  It was no different for me and alcohol was the sleeping pill on any given night.  Now take that away and I cannot sleep.  It looks like I’ve “lost” the skill to sleep by myself.  I have been up till 3AM or 4AM most days, wasting my time watching netflix.  One general advice is to read instead of watching TV and this helps sometimes.
  • Exercise or the lack of it.  Again, the problem here is the lack of a routine before quitting.  All of a sudden, exercise becomes an issue.  First, the body cannot do much (it’s sorta wasted out) and there is no energy to exercise (general fatigue and depression compounds this).  Secondly, I dont know where to start and how I can add this to my routine.  When one needs to start with figuring out a 24hr gym membership it soon becomes a lost cause.
  • They say that the root cause of alcoholism has to do with the soul.  Something’s not correct in the thinking, being able to handle stress etc., and it leads to drinking.  This root cause does not go away with quitting alcohol.  You hit the grand realization that there’s a shit load of work remaining to be done and that it’ll take a better part of your remaining life to do so.

In fact, the biggest downer is the fact that you started at -100 when you were drinking.  When you stop, you get to, say, -10.  You think that something big was accomplished, and true, it’s something big for you.  But the rest of the world carries on and in their eyes nothing has been accomplished.  You were stupid to have gotten to -100 to start with and now that you’re still not ‘normal’ do not expect a pat on the back!

Which brings me to patience and faith.  Without faith that it’s all worth it and that things are pointing in the right direction, it’s easy to give up( especially when you have a society and a bunch of people goading you to drink, but more on that later).  I have to believe (without any evidence) that it’s for the good.  That things will take care of themselves, if I stay the path.  And loads of patience.  I would love to have the effect and outcome I desire (which is be energetic, less depressed or moody, etc. etc.) fast, but things take their own time.  It’ll take some time (and I dont know how much) to heal the body and mind that was subject to copious amounts of alcohol for the last 3-4 years.

My engine used to run on alcohol, now I need to tune it to run on faith and patience.  It’s a work in progress and I can only believe that it’ll all be fine in the end.

What made me stop drinking

As I write this, it’s been two weeks since I last had any alcohol.  In this time, the craving has significantly reduced to a point where I go through a whole day without the urge to drink.  However, the worry exists that I will regress back to my drinking habits, especially if the proverbial shit were to hit the fan.  In some corner of my mind, I still think that I can *manage* my drinking and continue to have a beer or two socially.  For these reasons, I want to catalog my feelings, realizations and state of mind leading me to quit so that I can come back to it in time of need.   The thoughts are somewhat random and it’s surely a long post.  But somehow it makes sense to me.

 

Firstly, what I was doing to my family.  What hit home was one night when I had one too many a drink, I realized that I would be in no shape to handle an emergency.  I was so wasted that If something were to happen I wouldn’t even be awake.  I remember mornings where I was unsure about safely driving my son to school.  Mornings would be the most chaotic as I’am hungover, kids need attention and I’am simply not able to function.  Evenings wouldn’t be any better since starting around 5PM I would plan on when I can get my next drink.  When taking care of the kids in the evening and up until 10PM, I would be angry, irritated, waiting to sneak out and drink.  And this would continue the next day.  Not a happy household.  The effects were showing off on my son since he started throwing tantrums.  The effects of growing up in conditions where there is alcohol abuse is well documented and I was slowly, but surely, gifting him a not so good future.  I was simply missing in action and putting all the burden on my wife’s shoulders and there was no saying how much more she could take.  What was clear though, was I had hurt her deeply, withdrawn and isolated from her and it was as if we were leading separate lives.  I remembered being wasted the night our second child was born and driving her to the hospital, in a haze.  I had vowed that I wouldn’t ever let that kind of a situation happen, stopped drinking for three months and here I was back at it again, drinking even more than before.  Perhaps it’s a combination of shame, responsibility and my own personal ethic, but I could not let this state of affairs continue.  Because I love my family, I had to stop drinking.

 

The job situation.  For the first time, I felt that drinking caused me to lose my job, an excellent opportunity that I had come upon.  Many people at the AA talk about the bottom and this felt like one.  I started at this company a number of months ago and pretty much drank my way through the first five months I was employed there.  At best I would show up tired and hungover and at worst I would simply call in sick.  Sure enough my performance suffered and in a startup it’s very easily noticed.  I was offering excuses for not having finished some task or the other, missing deadlines, work piling up and the situation was getting out of hand.  Leading to even more drinking, more dissatisfaction with my own performance, lack of confidence (the thinking was “maybe I’am not capable of doing this job”), more blame on the job itself.  It got to a point where I told my manager I was quitting.  It’s a miracle that I had still managed to get some good work done and was able to communicate that I was dealing with some personal problems.  I’am grateful that my employer allowed me to continue working part-time with the understanding that I would resolve said issues and start back full-time after five to six months.  This didn’t happen however, since there were some changes in the company’s planning for the new year and my position was closed.  I would soon be un-employed.  End result, I lost my job due to my drinking.

The next on the list is the depression, mental and physical fatigue due to alcohol leading to even more of the same.  I was now working part-time to create time and space to figure out what was going wrong, where the wiring in my brain was messed up and to put in place new habits and behaviors for a better future.  This decision came at a pretty big financial cost to the family, since we were now living on half a salary and a bank balance that was being depleted very very fast.  A colleague would often quote this: “The road to hell is littered with good intentions” and I was living it.  My plan was to continue my therapy, reflect, meditate, get healthy during my part-time work arrangement.  Big decisions had been made, steps taken, but nothing had changed with my drinking.  I would reach for the alcohol with gusto in the night, drinking 8-10 beers, and the days would be a hungover blur.  It was a weird state of mind.  The clock’s ticking, my days and weeks of part-time work are coming to an end and I’am no better off than when I started.  On the one hand there is the pressure to get better mentally and physically, to start focussing on work since money is running out.  On the other, I’am continuing to drink, feeling depressed, losing my confidence and self respect, feeling even more hopeless.  This state of mind was all real and I knew I was losing it.  I was reading the “The Easy Way to Stop Drinking” where the author says that a positive outlook was necessary to quit alcohol (or cigarettes for that matter) and my outlook to life was anything but positive.  I remember telling my wife that I was looking at life and the future as a problem instead of looking forward to living it.  I had forgotten the last time I had woken up feeling energetic or eager to do something interesting or nice during the day.  This was a tiring way to live.  I think this was an important insight that pushed me towards quitting, since the root cause was the alcohol.

 

Finally, a number of other things happened.  Call it changes in mindset, insights or whatever.

My counsellor talked about stress and how alcohol addiction could be a way to handle stress.  Actually, a means to dull away the stress.  He suggested that perhaps my self-created goals of getting a huge salary was perhaps adding to the stress.  This was something that I hadn’t discussed with my wife and did so based on his advice.  Simply opening up and talking about it seemed to relieve some of the stress.  The links in the chain were:  a) I was building up a mountain of stress about the gap between what I wanted to accomplish and my own take on what I had actually accomplished , often discounted by my depression b) Had to run away and escape from this burden on my mind.  Sometimes this burden was almost physical.  Fatigue, a sensation of pressure in my head and clenched jaws.  c) Couldn’t do anything to relieve this stress.  Being with family was stressful since I was not able to do productive work on the todo list.  Being at work was stressful since I wasn’t doing well at work.  Being with friends was stressful since I was comparing how well they had managed their lives and seemed to be having a good time.  Kicking back and relaxing was not an option since I would be wasting time doing so when I could go back to the todo list.  d) The only easy option since none of these other activities would soothe me was alcohol.  I could simply postpone everything that had to be done, drink, calm down, drink some more and lose myself in whatever I was doing and finally drink myself to sleep.  e) Wake up the next day, barely able to manage and conduct myself, the pressure mounts since things that should have been done yesterday (work, bills, whatever) and the day before got added to the mountain.  Rinse, repeat.

 

I have also been reading quite a bit (perhaps not as much as I would have liked to – blame it on the lack of energy) and there were some threads that started making sense.  My lack of patience was something that stands out.  Changing behavior and habit takes time, building a career takes time and trying to force the issue on my own unrealistic time schedule doesn’t work.  An honest self-assessment as to where I stand, both the positive and the negative was helpful.  While I was not addiction free and not a 100% on the family front, I had made some progress on these fronts.  While  I was not a rock star when it came to work and still had to hone some skills, especially as it relates to being confident and dealing with unknowns, I had done some good work and had some skills that were valuable.

Some simple math for the percentage of days I had been drinking was eye-opening.  I was hard pressed to come up with a *single* day of not drinking in the last couple of months.  In the last year (I started drinking in january after going cold turkey when our second child was born) I must have had something to drink 90% of the days.  This was a sobering thought.  What they say about alcohol sneaking up on you was absolutely true.

I was losing my mental facilities.  I couldn’t remember very well and the effects were showing up at work.  In the past, I would never have to write down things and had them all in my mind (what to do, names of companies, whom to talk to, names of peoples etc.) but now I was forgetting things.  I could talk about system architecture and design with engineers and remember what was discussed after a single conversation.  Now, I was having trouble concentrating on these details and forgot them after multiple discussions.  What surprises me is how rapid the changes were.  This was in direct contrast to the law of diminishing returns.  This was exponential decay in my abilities.  That was scary.  The same could be said about my physical abilities, stamina for one.  As recently as 2011 I was able to go for long stretches of days with little sleep.  Fast forward a year and I simply couldn’t keep up anymore.  I blame my drinking for this.

Perhaps this is what happens to your body if you feed it with a diet of c2h5oh instead of enriching nutrients and water.  The brain probably thinks alcohol is the new normal.  I would plan on whether I would drink (which was mostly affirmative – Yes, it’s ok to have a couple of beers, no problem) and when and how I would do so, by about 4PM in the afternoon.  From that point on, I was like a man possessed till I got the first gulp of beer into my system.  I had simply lost any sense of control over the alcohol  –  My life’s on a fast track to fall apart and the only thing I can think about is the next drink.  Damn the family, responsibilities, dangers, promises, tasks to be done, finances, friends, whatever.  I just needed that one drink.  And it wouldn’t stop at that one drink and I was good friends with the 7-11 and the booze shop guys.  I have lost count of the number of days I’ve gone out at 1AM to get that six pack (after the last six pack was over) since wouldn’t one more be just perfect?  And the lying, covering up, the sorry face in the morning, telling my wife it that the drinking last night was not too bad and that I would be able to control it, hiding the booze out of her sight so she wouldn’t get pissed off.  I was a stranger in my own house, leading a double life.  One that was the normal me, the other the alcoholic.  Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  Do this day in and day out and it’s tiring.

For the first time, I acknowledged that I was feeling depressed.  I always thought I would be immune to depression – There might be periods of moodiness but I would bounce back.  But looking at the last few years, I think I was constantly depressed.  I say this because I remember the last time I was really looking forward to something was a family trip we made in the summer of 2009.  Since then, everything has been a burden, a task to deal with.  That’s four years of being depressed, however mild or harsh it might have been.  I was probably good at masking it, shoving it under the carpet with work, studies and of course, the drinking.  My uptick with alcohol consumption also coincides with this timeline.  I started drinking a whole lot more in 2007/2008, right about the same time that the green card scare showed up.  I remember staying late at the office and drinking there.  Surely alcohol was contributing to the general state of “going through the motions without any kind of satisfaction” I am in.

I have been talking and spending a whole lot more time with my wife.  Sometimes it’s planning the next day or week (which I should detest in the past and still resist to some extent), or simply talking about what we are feeling and thinking.  This has been rejuvenating.  I feel more connected to her, and after a very long time, we are getting to be playful with one another at times.  I was taking a “I know what to do I’ll handle things” approach and truth be told that hasn’t worked very well.  Now, I’am a lot more open with her about my fears, shortcomings, whatever and I think this reduces the percentage of time when I’ve to pretend or be something that I’am really not.  Great.  Drinking clearly comes in the way of having these small interactions (given that we barely have any time between jobs, school, kids).  Need to keep this in mind.

The last post that I wrote triggered something deeper in me.  My thoughts were on the following lines:  I’am sitting around and complaining about how bad it is.  There are so many things that are good with my life and it could have been worse.  Let me give something back instead of always receiving and complaining about how little I’ve received.  Not sure what this did to me, but the post that I wrote was somehow liberating.  Though nobody might have read it, I had a sense of freedom by saying “here’s my life, nothing hidden, however imperfect and hope my story can be helpful to somebody out there that’s going through the same stuff I’am going through”.  I had the last drink two days after I wrote that post.  So something good is happening!

I feel the need to be connected to people and to contribute in some meaningful way.  Drinking gets in the way of being connected, since I have over the years become more isolated.  Maybe it’s the secrecy associated with drinking too much (my family and some friends will protest when I’am drinking too much, so it’s easier to drink by myself), the shame with not being able to stop drinking (so I kind of withdraw and drink some more), the advice you get from people that you would rather avoid (Hey, you should not be drinking so much, what’s wrong with you, c’mon your life’s not too bad and you can do it.  Well I actually can’t, so let me not hang out with you).

I have been told a number of times that change is not linear and it sometimes takes a few smaller changes to start a cascade effect.  Perhaps this is what happened as well and led me to take the decision to simply stop drinking.  Some of the hard work has been done and now on to keeping it this way.

 

The ego v/s simply giving and doing

I’ve been in this self discovery mode for the last few months and in the process I realized something profound.  You see I’ve been struggling with unhappiness, being dissatisfied, alcohol and other addictions for some time now.  These problems or issues are pretty complicated and unsolvable by an engineer (me) and I’ve realized that it requires a philosopher or a Buddhist monk, which I’am not.  I’ve been reading a number of books about meditation and spirituality and there was something in this book which made me realize that the ego, what is called ‘me or I’ has been very strong in my life.  I spend a lot of time making sure that I’am first and foremost taking care of me.  Not in a ‘good’ taking care of yourself way, but with a more selfish motive.  It could be that I’am making sure that my needs are met above everything else, that no body finds out about my weaknesses, that my time is protected, that my mistakes are not recognized etc. etc.  This is my ego playing it’s role, making sure that I take care of myself first.  Every action I take upon closer inspection has an ulterior motive behind it.  The motive is typically to be recognized, get a pat on the back, for my action to lead to something important or big.  My realization is that in this process I’ve not contributed a whole lot back to the world.  I’am so busy taking care of ‘me’ that I often do not give back what I can to my work or my colleagues.  I’am busy thinking about the best possible outcome for ‘me’ that I actually tie myself into knots and become anxious, playing chess in my own mind.  How best I can control the future, use the best options to give me the best results?  How can I make sure that something I do now will lead to recognition, monetary benefits (better job, better something) in the future?  How can I be perfect so that others cannot point a mistake with what I’ve done (this is happening as I type out these words – will people find fault with my sentences, grammar, prose etc.  I’ve already decided that I am not advertising this blog, so who’s gonna read it?  But still I have to be perfect you see)  In reality it has rarely worked and to the contrary I’ve become stressed out, isolated, unhappy, less confident about myself, but I still continue to do so.  This is a tiring way to live – I seem to be doing things for ‘somebody’ and some unknown outcome in some unknown future.  How about just living and doing something that I feel like doing, without any strings attached?  So today I thought the following :  Why not start contributing back to the world?  Why not do something without an ulterior motive behind the action.  Why not do something which is not driven by my ego.  So here’s my blog with my experiences as I go on this journey to discover myself, beat my addictions and be a better person.  I do not know who will read this, but hopefully it will make sense and help somebody out!  I will honestly strive to have no other motive or allow my ego to get in the way from this stated goal.