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DGDF: James’s Story

All I can say is, I love this guy and it’s about time we had a male voice again. Enjoy. And if you relate and want to discuss try the Booze Free Brigade where you will find other resources as well.

 

There was a time when I drank like normal people do; when drinking wasn’t an obsessive thought. It was something that may or may not have been a part of my day, or a part of an activity, and it didn’t matter whether it was or not. I didn’t dwell on it. Somewhere along the way, the activity became an excuse to drink, or the reason to do the activity was that it provided an opportunity to drink. This is where I can start to obsessively remember how much I had to drink; that I started to obsess about drinking, that drinking didn’t have a point usually except to be drunk.

I remember periods when I didn’t drink, situations that I didn’t drink in. But looking back, I can see that gradually alcohol began to claim more and more of my focus. There were times when my wife would comment on my drinking. And I resented it. Drinking too much, the feeling of being drunk was what I wanted. This was my escape. This was my reward, what I did to unwind and to enjoy myself. I didn’t want anyone taking that away from me. I never gave any thought at the time to how selfish this was. Never occurred to me.

My drinking moved into the phase of just drinking to drink sometime after we had our first child. I found fatherhood, which I wanted so badly for so long, to be as incredible and rewarding as everyone tells you, and simultaneously a million times more overwhelming than anyone ever tells you. I was all the clichés. Suddenly I worried obsessively about our money (a hobby that I’ve brought with me into sobriety). I worried that being a parent is a million games of high-stakes poker every day, where every decision sets off a lifetime’s worth of consequences.

Before, there didn’t need to be a work-life balance. (Of course, there should have been!). Now I had the competing needs of trying to satisfy my job (see: obsessing over our finances) and the demands of helping to take care of a child. Before I always enough time for things, and always time to catch up. Now there was suddenly never enough time for anything. I was overwhelmed by the enormity of every moment. I don’t feel like I was ever enjoying the moments with my child. And I was aware that I wasn’t, and put a lot of stress on myself that I was supposed to be able to. Nothing helps you to not be in the moment like obsessively worrying about how you’re not in the moment!

Looking back, this is when I realize that I stopped drinking because I enjoyed it and started to drink because I wanted to escape. Life became relentless. There wasn’t ever sleeping in on a Saturday to catch up. There was always something that was supposed to be done around the house or at work.

Just when things were setting down and our infant had become a toddler, we had another child. I desperately wanted another child. I wanted the benefit of hindsight and perspective to enjoy those first days, months, and years. And if I am honest, I wanted to enjoy the times that were fuzzy because I’d drank too much. The times I feel like I missed out on. Of course having another child isn’t as simple as getting to enjoy another child with the benefit of all your hard-earned wisdom. It’s exponentially more complicated! Now I think I’m getting a break if I or my wife is off doing something with just one of them and we’re one on one with just the other child. The money is tighter. With the addition of one more person, there is somehow three to five times as much laundry. Life became vastly more complicated so I would take what chances I could to just check out. To get a break from the pressure I created in my own head.

Shortly after our second child was born, I knew I was drinking too much, so I started trying to hide it. My wife caught and confronted me. Alcohol had become a pretty dependable release from life but, I was caught and I had to cop to it so I stopped drinking. I didn’t say I was quitting drinking. I wanted to keep that door open that I could moderate my drinking. I didn’t want to have to stop forever, because that would involve having to acknowledge that I had a problem, and also involve not getting to drink. I was seeing a therapist who said that I showed compulsive behaviors, which I do. And being compulsive certainly sounds better than being an alcoholic.

Around this time, by sheer coincidence, Stefanie Wilder-Taylor was on an episode of The Parent Experiment, a podcast that I referred to as “My Mommy Podcast”. She was a guest (before she went on to co-host the show, which is now called For Crying Out Loud). I loved the podcast because (a) it was funny (b) is about parenting, which at this point was roughly 900% of my world. She must have either mentioned the BFB Yahoo group, or I saw them on her website. After I got busted, I signed up. Sometimes I would read the stories. Other times I wouldn’t, because when I did they hit too close to home. I could identify too much. And I wasn’t ready to say that was me.

This “not drinking” lasted several months, and I eventually began to drink casually. I remember vividly the first time I had a drink after having stopped. I purposefully left half the beer I was having (in fairness, maybe a third to a quarter of it) on the table. I left it so that my wife (if she noticed) would see that drinking wasn’t a big deal to me. Because that’s what you do when drinking isn’t a big deal. I was aware of what a completely artificial gesture this was at the time. People leave half finished drinks because it isn’t a big deal that they didn’t finish it, not because they want it to appear like it isn’t. I would moderate in public and for my wife’s benefit so that I got to drink. Because I still wanted to.

I fell into patterns of drinking more, and drinking more frequently, and my wife confronted me again. And I lied about my drinking. And we both knew I was lying about it. And I have no idea why this time she got through, but she did.

It saved my life.

I went to an AA meeting the next day -mainly as another symbolic gesture but I knew that this time if I didn’t stop drinking, that I was going to lose my wife and my kids. As much as I liked drinking, I always liked them more. They may be relentless (they are) and they may overwhelm me (they do) but they matter so much more to me than drinking.

So, this time, I had to stop. I started out stopping not for me. I didn’t quit drinking. I was made to quit. But somewhere in quitting, I really did quit for me. I fully and completely accepted that I have no interest in being a moderate drinker. I don’t know if I could be, but I know it doesn’t matter. I don’t want to have a reasonable amount to drink. I prefer to have a lot. And I know once I have that first one, that I’ll have the next several. So I don’t have the first.

I was hugely embarrassed to have to acknowledge that I have a drinking problem. I mostly still am. I don’t like to acknowledge weakness and I don’t like to have other people know my business. I never said anything about quitting. I just didn’t drink. For whatever reason, I finally accepted that I can’t drink. So I don’t and I won’t. Because I can’t.

I started reading the BFB again. It was always sitting there in my inbox. Only this time, instead of not wanting to see that it was my story, and my anxieties, and my issues as a parent, I took strength that it was me. That being a parent was hard for other people too. And what’s neat about the Internet is that while the BFB is mainly a group of women, we’re all behind our computers so we’re just our ideas. It’s people’s fears, failures, successes, challenges. And they are my fears and challenges. I’m just a dad and they are moms. And then they helped save my life.

I’ve only realized recently that I’ve spent years of my life waiting for life to happen. I spent years just getting though the day. I’m a tremendous over-thinker and worrier. I looked for whatever would give me a break, whatever would be an escape from myself. I didn’t put much effort into my marriage. I avoided having difficult conversations. I kept waiting for life to start. I looked to parenthood to make it all mean something, and I got caught up in being worried about what had to get done next, and how much had to get done, that I missed all the small moments. I missed the point of it all. I don’t do a great job now of being in the moment. But I’m trying. And I’m present.

The people (women) on the BFB are trying to figure out life too. And that’s great. That’s great that they’re me. They’ve been through it too, or they’re going through it. They’ve helped me to not be so embarrassed about yesterday and instead celebrate today.

There are a lot of yesterdays that I would like to have back. Times that my wife would ask me to do something with her, and what I wanted to do was have a break, have a drink, and get to tomorrow. I can’t have them back of course, but I’m trying to be here in today. Some days, the best I can do is to say to myself that if nothing else, I’m not making today any worse. And some days that’s all I have. But other days, I’m starting, just starting, to see that I can make today better. I certainly have a better chance if my goal for the day isn’t to drink as a way to avoid life and avoid moments with the people in my life.

I was someone who, not so much couldn’t imagine not drinking, but couldn’t imagine why you would ever want to not drink. Now I see how much of life I was missing out on. How much I hid from and ran away from. And I see how much that neglect has hurt the people that I love. Some of life is truly great, and some of it sucks, but it’s all real. And I’m present for all of it.

Posted by Stefanie Wilder Taylor on November 29, 2012 9:47 pmDon't Get Drunk Friday4 comments  

4 Comments

  1. Michele said,

    Yes james…
    just yes!

    love it and thanks so much.
    “Some of life is truly great, and some of it sucks, but it’s all real. And I’m present for all of it”

    That’s the truth

    | November 29, 2012 @ 11:19 pm

  2. Ellie said,

    OH, I love this. So much. I want to say how validating it was for me to read that men can have the same feelings I did about becoming a parent – the thrilling terror of it, and how it impacted my drinking. I could totally relate to that.

    You are an eloquent, brave, gorgeous writer, James. Your voice really speaks me, and your contributions on the BFB help me SO MUCH. VERY grateful to be on this journey with you.

    -Ellie
    Ellie´s last blog post ..Let Me Get This Straight (My New Book!)

    | November 30, 2012 @ 5:53 am

  3. B. (Below Her Means) said,

    Beautiful.

    | December 1, 2012 @ 6:35 pm

  4. Adrianne said,

    thank you for this honest, beautifully-written piece. i was probably a year sober when i realized with every ounce of my being that i wouldn’t want to drink a glass of wine with dinner or have a beer once in a while. i vividly remember the shift when i was able to say that i would want to be able to have a boozy lunch that goes into the afternoon and evening and completely check out. i want to get lit, not be a normal drinker. it was so liberating to know this. and to fully accept that i don’t want to have one drink, i want to get hammered. it’s these small shifts in my thinking that make sobriety worthwhile. you said it so well – “Some days, the best I can do is to say to myself that if nothing else, I’m not making today any worse. And some days that’s all I have. But other days, I’m starting, just starting, to see that I can make today better. I certainly have a better chance if my goal for the day isn’t to drink as a way to avoid life and avoid moments with the people in my life.” this is being present. and man, “I kept waiting for life to start. I looked to parenthood to make it all mean something, and I got caught up in being worried about what had to get done next, and how much had to get done, that I missed all the small moments. I missed the point of it all. I don’t do a great job now of being in the moment. But I’m trying. And I’m present.” this is one of the best things i’ve ever read about those unrealistic expectations. waiting and looking to the next accomplishment or thing that’s going to make it worthwhile. all the while i was counting the minutes till 5:00 to have “my” time. the time that i so deserved. when all i was doing was checking out. all that wasted time and energy spent thinking about drinking.then wasted time spent drinking. for me, being present isn’t this magical zen moment when me, my husband and two kids are in fucking harmony. it’s muddling through the witching hour and tedious parenting tasks without some liquid gold to soften the sharp edges. thank you tons for this.
    Adrianne´s last blog post ..Three Years

    | December 9, 2012 @ 5:02 am

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