Growing Up Alcoholic

 Growing Up Alcoholic
When I was growing up I remember always being thirsty.  We even brought it up one time with the doctor and they ran some test to see if I was diabetic for some reason.  And no, I wasn't diabetic.  Of course, I was alcoholic.  Just they didn't have a test for it.

But it was clear with hindsight that I had the personality type that leads to being alcoholic as an adult.  I like to call it the ego driven personality type, and now I can say it is just a stage of development humans go through on their way to becoming full adults.

But yeah, being driven excessively by ego had me a sitting target for the alcoholic personality when things were to grow with me.

For starters, I had this overwhelming feeling of sentimentality and nostalgia - I could invest incredible power and awareness into some mundane experience and build such a story around it that I would find myself teary with sadness.

I would raise my arms above my ears and look around saying to my nine year old self "You know, you're probably never going to be here again in you life..." as I looked up at the rafters in the church from the little projector room. 

Like it was a real destiny moment and the power and sheer awesomeness of the moment was something to be mourned.  But all it was in reality was that I had snuck into the back of the church and wasn't supposed be there.

It is something we alcoholics do all the time without realizing - invest way too much meaning and depth to simple coming of age moments as though they are real turning points or game changers, when in fact they are what happens to everyone.

Making a mundane everyday part of life into an imagined movie moment was something that served me well when I had to choose between buying two bottles of wine on the way home, or just finishing what I already had and worrying about it later.

"But I might not ever have the chance to drink while I'm watching the Ross and Emily get married on Friends episode again..." would work, turning an everyday weekday watching TV into a sort of 'life moment' where getting a tattoo to remember the occasion would not be out of place.  Or at least getting as drunk as possible.

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Growing up alcoholic I remember being addicted for the first time - and knowing the just-fucking-have-to-do-it-no-matter-the-consequences feeling of smoking out the side of my grandparents house.  And them blinking at me when I said I wasn't smoking.

"It was a man at the bus stop"  I lied, unpacking my lunchbox, "He was breathing all over me."

And being caught again and then, the time staying at my grandparents and opening my little packet of 15 cigarettes and seeing a tiny scrap of paper in my grandfather's copperplate hand "Bravo Brendan, Join the idiots" placed delicately alongside the three cigarettes.

And me smoking and breathing out in that forced, open mouth blowing way, thinking to myself "Fuck them, I'll show them!"  and building another deep story around the episode, like it was a swirling technicolour outtake from the movie of my life.

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Growing Up Alcoholic

My grandfather in Ireland was a fucking alcoholic - I say fucking because he was such a drunk bastard, so the story goes, that my own father had to walk down the street and pick him up from laying in the gutter drunk and exhausted. 

And again, like a true alcoholic, I have this movie clip in my mind, sentimentally embossed with that sepia gloss and utterly tragic trill from a Irish whistle as my Da' (as they are called in Ireland) taking shameful steps in his too-big hobnail boots as he walks through the early evening rain and the other neighbours peer disdainfully out their windows, washing slung low across the street, shiny cobblestones and maybe even a little terrier dog skipping alongside him

And the grandfather, my very own grandfather, face slumped against the wet gutter, as my Da' comes up to him and nudges his shoulder with the toe of his boot, and sees the grandfather's eyes slurr open and he tries to say something but he is so completely spent with drink that all he can manage is "It's gone" and my father knows he means the money - he's drunk all his pay and gambled the rest.

And my Da' turning to look up at the tsk tsk neighbours as they silently close the windows and draw their curtains, and looking down at the grandfather and knowing he loves him and tugging him by the shoulders, urging him to make one last effort to stumble home.  Like soldiers on the Somme.

And the screen fades to black and the sombre lilt of Danny Boy rises in the background as my father walks back home to his own mother, knowing the cupboards are bare....

It's a part of my growing up alcoholic that this is about all I know of my grandfather - apart from knowing he would eat dinner before us all, separately, because he would be already drunk and my father didn't want the children to see the grandfather drunk.  Like it would make me an alcoholic or something.  Well, that one didn't work...


And then he died and my own father didn't even mention it to me.  So that grandfather, Aeneus was his name, has started to erode from the family history and you can see the sands of time filling in the serifs around his name as we speak.

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I went to Ireland as an eight year old and sat in the dank, narrow room as the grandfather burned peat for heating.  And I felt my asthmatic lungs filling with mucous and me too proud to say what was wrong, holding my shoulder blades wide so I could draw breath and trying so hard to understand his thick Irish accent.

And then the toilet outside.  And me writing a story on hotel stationery about a my travels and taking photos in my mind to fill the gaps in the story.

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Growing up alcoholic I always placed such a pressure on myself and such an anxiety on myself that enjoying the moment was simply impossible.  As an alcoholic it stayed much the same - never being able to enjoy the moment without a drink or a drink in the very near future.

Like the times going to the beach to swim with the family and me having beers in the car on the way, at like 9am in the morning.  Perfect day, sunny, kids, umbrella, waves, bikinis - and me not coping without an early morning beer buzz.

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Growing up alcoholic is part of who I am, and I can't change any of that history now.  It is part of the past story of me and writing this helps me exorcise those embarrassing shameful moments and be at peace with how being an alcoholic is just part of who I am.

Like just last Saturday, at the in-laws winery, and me not drinking, laughing that I always wanted to marry a girl whose father had a winery - and now he finally has one and I finally am making some real progress not drinking.

And sharing with a friend who is walking the tightrope of drinking - and she asking, as if to reassure herself "but you haven't stopped because you're alcoholic -  it's not like you had a problem or anything?"  And me, a little proud of myself, a little melodramatic perhaps, maybe even reverting to my own personal movie again and saying

"Alcoholic?  Yeah, it's like I was born to do it."

Is Yoga Good for Alcoholic Recovery?

Is Yoga good for alcoholic recovery?  As you may know I have been going to Yoga three times a week to give me an opportunity for some spiritual development and physical release. 

Just now I got back from my Yoga Class - it wasn't on!? - and coming back home un-yoga'd I thought I ought to share what I just missed.  I like to say to myself the hardest thing about pre-dawn yoga is getting into the car and driving down the street - once I'm out of bed and in the car on these cool winter mornings - it all takes care of itself.

The first few times I went to Yoga I was overwhelmed with the intense mind space I entered.  Intensely self-conscious - I had a negative self talk going throughout the class and simply did my head in with all the shit I was telling myself.

Yoga is good for that.  In the class silence - or with some gentle Asian finger-plucking lilting tune meandering in the background, your mind is totally free to wander where it takes you and in those first dozen or so classes, my mind took me through all the negative baggage I was holding onto.  I had built my own identity around all these past hurts and painful experiences from years ago - and moving through flexibility poses early in the morning with nothing much to distract me - it bubbled to the surface.

So I wanted to stop doing yoga.  I found that is pretty common for novices - wanting to quit after being exposed to the raw shit that is floating around in your mind.  So I thought I should keep going, no matter what, and look further into what I was experiencing.


Don't Stop Doing Yoga
Until You've Done 10 Classes


My untrained and unprepared mind - the totally neglected alcoholic brain - let's compare it with a surging, fecund rainforest, wildly growing whatever seeds happen to fall from the sky with vines of confusion and weeds thickening into trees without any management apart from the rain and winds and the occasional bird fluttering by.  That was me as I bumbled along from drinking episode to drinking episode - not putting any effort into what I cultivated - letting whatever happen to flourish in my thoughts. 

And somehow, like all of us, a tendency to hold onto and nurture the most appalling negative incidents as thought they were what defined me and made me the man that I am.  So I had a rainforest brain filled with weeds that had grown tall and emerged at the top of the forest proudly standing against the buffeting of anything I tried to dislodge them. 

It was no wonder that the paths and tracks I hacked through the rainforest brain were around these landmarks - and that I was entirely comfortable trudging alongside a negative tree that had buttressed roots and threw long shadows all around it.  The shadows stopped anything else growing - nothing would really change whilst those big trees remained.  I was literally defined by those negative moments in my life and I had let them grow and become hugely part of who I was.

Enter Yoga.  Part of each Yoga class is the teacher or Yogi sharing insights and snippets of knowledge as you move through poses.  A big part is not consciously striving with with results oriented approach - but instead doing the yoga for the sake of doing the yoga.  The simple beauty lies in the method, not the getting somewhere or achieving something.  And alongside this is the truth of being in the moment.


Being Present in the Moment - Great for Sobriety


Now, after nearly 100 classes in the last five months, I can sort of talk of Yoga as though I am a developing novice.  It is at once humbling and inspiring to be waking up each morning and facing my own body, with all its limitations and stiffness and awkward reluctance to embrace twists.  But still do it anyway.

What I'd like to share with you if you are considering the stark reality of sobriety after career of drinking is to do it as soon as you can.  Waiting and delay are always the best friend of staying drunk and trudging back to the shop for more booze.

Fuck - I know I used 'just staying put' as a great way to drink another thousand bottles of wine when all the signs were clearly urging me to go sober.  But I was so scared of life without alcohol - and that's all it really was - sheer terror at having to be present with myself and do some personal development to get my shit together. 

So I thought it would be best to stay a drunk for another eighteen months or so - heck - no-one ever
said everything's easier when your older and even more set in your ways!


Yoga Works For Alcoholics


I know it can be pretty intimidating turning up to Yoga Class for the first time in your loose clothes and being around all these fit hard bodies.  It is especially challenging as a male to turn up to mostly female classes and be taken seriously - so always go straight to the front of the class and take a position in the front row or the second row. 

They'll appreciate your honesty and brave show that you are less experienced.  And it is a reverse sign of humility to go to the front of the room - it says you need more guidance and you are a learner and importantly for males in female dominated classes I've found - for the first few classes anyway - they'll see that you're there actually to do Yoga - not steal glances at hot chicks in awesome poses!  But seriously - ahem...

It is a great irony that the less experienced are encouraged to the front of the room whilst the rubber yogis all writhe effortlessly at the back of the room.  I felt like I was on display for them others to laugh at - but this was just my mind playing tricks on me - everyone is concentrating on their own poses and staying in their own moment.


Learning to Be Patient with Yourself


By far the most important mental strength I have developed these last few months doing Yoga is patience with myself.  I remember all too clearly my frustration and impatience was like one of those coffee urns always just on the boil - ready to spew steam and hot water over whatever happened next. 

Doing yoga has taught me - through my own flawed canvas of my body - that I am what I am and no amount of extra pushing or breath holding will give me the flexibility to twist into a certain pose today - no matter what I do. 

To get to that deeper stretch of the pose - I might get there by Christmas, or in 12 months - but that's OK - I'm not chasing any certificates or badges or status level ups.  Yoga doesn't really have them - you just benchmark yourself - honestly, patiently and with loving kindness.

Something we alcoholics do every day - stay sober and whatever you need to do - start TODAY!

Dry July

This year I've nominated for Dry July - a community fundraiser for people who abstain from alcohol for the month of July to raise money for cancer.  It's a great concept and a worthy bandwagon to hitch to - so it's hi to everyone who is going without for such a worthy cause.  If you've got a few to spare it would be greatly appreciated.

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This time last year I wrote The Meaning of Life - at the time I sort of did not realize I was at the top of a steep decline that would see the bottom out and end up the Psych Ward.  I was up here again, at the winery, taking care of things whilst the in laws were away, and the weakness to get into all the wine lying around was just something I didn't fight.  So I caved and was glugging wine and burping and chewing lavender buds to cover my breath - but people aren't stupid and sure enough it led to some pretty stark confrontations.

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It wasn't long before I sort of sobered up for a week or two and then it all fell away and I was back into the daily drudge of waking, drinking copious amounts of water, then slinking around skulling from a bottle to chase that warm feeling.  I didn't write another post for three months and in that time I was basically resigned to the ride - knowing it would slide disastrously into some sort of climax but not giving a fuck because i could drink and have that glorious empty bravado of complete peace in a bottle.

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It's ironic how a relapse that started in wine country ended in wine country.  I was sleeping about 25kms from the winery in a stiff bed with some sloppy adolescent on methaphetamine next to me.  He was forthright and to the point "Mate, are you gonna turn the fucking light off soon?" and I was honestly a bit scared of his thick fingers and tradesmand's tattoos - plus he was coming off his own crazy bender.  I wanted to pull some seniority thing, but I couldn't really say "I've been fucked up since you were in grade school" could I.  So I let sleeping dogs lie.

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The mental health unit welcomed me with serious frowns and that jaded look allied health workers have after taking a little too much overtime.  Sure, spending a few days eating food from under glass with plastic cutlery was just what I needed - and to connect face to face with some 'real' crazy people.  I have to check myself here - it's the massive ego elbowing in again - setting aside some other patients as more crazy than me, just a simple old school alcoholic - or as one of the other patients said - 'not that bad'.

But I was bad - and it's really refreshing and a source of some self respect that I am staying the course this year after such a messy failure in 2013.

Anyway, keep sober and if you can make a contribution to Dry July.