4 Things 4 Years of Sobriety Taught Me

Hey! As I approach my four-year anniversary (still a couple weeks off) I inevitably think about how much my life has changed in this short time. There are always things I need to improve on but it’s even more important, for our own sanity, to remember the things we’ve gotten so much better at.

1. Discipline is the Most Important Thing

If you’re a fellow addict reading this, whether you’re in recovery or not yet there, you’re very familiar with “I don’t feel like it right now”. One of the things that unites all addicts, I’ve found, is a toxic family structure which emphasized feelings and manipulating those feelings over discipline and practice. Sure, my parents furiously insinuated that I should probably do my homework instead of playing video games all day, but kids learn from what they see, not what they’re told. My parents were just as lazy as I was and always moaned and complained about “not feeling like it” when it came time to do something that needed to get done.

The most revolutionary realization over my past four years was how important discipline is in every aspect of life. Discipline is one of the foundational “human things” that separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. We can control our base urges, sacrifice the present for the future, and commit ourselves to mastering a craft. Unfortunately, much of the modern world is focused on exploiting the lack of discipline we have so we’re fighting an uphill battle. It can be won though.

2. Everyone is an Addict

Me, as a self-important alcoholic piece of shit

Okay, okay, not everyone. I’m prone to hyperbole to say the least, but living a sober life brings all of those toxic behaviors I used to exhibit to the front of my mind so that I can consciously make sure I don’t do that shit again. Having these behaviors front-and-center all day both fortunately and unfortunately helps me to see just how many people out there (middle aged men in particular) have these same toxic personalities. While it’s true that some people are simply pieces of shit, I’ve found that in almost all cases these personality types are strong evidence that somebody is an addict. We’re in the midst of an enormous and complex addiction crisis which isn’t addressed in a scale even remotely close to suitable. Any child born today, regardless of upbringing, will most likely have one addiction problem or another by the time they’re my age (39). Self-aggrandizement, overwhelming pessimism regardless of the environment and situation, an insatiable craving to argue baseless rhetorical positions with anyone who happens to be in the vicinity… it would take chapters in a book to describe all of the character flaws indicative of addiction, but there’s a good chance that if you’re reading this you’re quite familiar with what I’m talking about and have already thought of several people you know who fit the mold (possibly even yourself… and hey, no judgment… I was a pretty big piece of shit myself).

3. I Can’t Do Everything

This has been a difficult one to come to terms with. I was an information addict long before I was an alcoholic and it took me almost 40 years to learn that information and knowledge aren’t even remotely the same things. I’ve read numerous dozens of books and watched hundreds of hours of tutorials on uncountable subjects which I still know nothing about. My younger, more idiotic self believed that there was something wrong with me and perhaps my memory was broken. In reality, this just isn’t how memory works. You can’t read something once or watch a few tutorials and know how to do a thing for the rest of your life. This is why people who have been working in a field for 20 years are prized more than those who just started an internship. Not only have they cemented the information in all those little folds of their brain, they’ve also learned all of the implicit information and skills that you can’t read about. I’ve been trying to teach my nephew how to catch a baseball lately because he is absolutely terrified of the ball. Those of you who are parents know… you can tell someone how to catch and throw until you’re blue in the face but this does relatively little to help them learn how to do it. So why did we, the first real “Internet generation” grow up believing that we could learn to play the drums by watching a YouTube video? I suppose the answer is actually somewhere in that question.

4. Don’t Ask for Help If You Don’t Need It

I know this runs contrary to a lot of advice out there; don’t be afraid to ask for help millions of therapists have told their stoic baby-boomer clients. I think those of us who struggle with addiction ask for too much help, but only for the things we don’t need help with. We’ll never ask for help with our mental health or ask for life advice from our best friends, but we’ll ask total strangers on the Internet how to fix our car despite there being so many repositories of information on every subject imaginable that we should never have to ask another human being for technical help again. I’m not claiming that asking a professional or expert for help when you’re stuck is bad; quite the contrary. But that’s not who we ask and when we ask we’re not actually looking for help. Often we’re looking to brag that we’re doing something by pretending we need some feedback on it from other people who are doing the exact same thing. This is basically the foundation upon which Reddit and Quora were built. If you go to either of those places and actually try to help someone they get angry with you for not telling them what they want to hear (just like I used to).

This didn’t exactly stop with my sobriety; I was still doing this up until about a year ago. I slowly realized that every time I talked to friends online, I left feeling angry, drained, and defeated almost every time. Upon looking at what was going on, I saw we weren’t talking to each other, we were verbally jacking each other off to try to get kudos and show everyone how cool we were. Around the beginning of last year I resolved to stop doing this and to only talk to my friends in a genuine, adult manner and… well… they aren’t my friends anymore. 😂

The End

Any of you sober boys and girls out there have one to add to this? I thought coming up with “FOUR LIFE LESSONS” would have been easy but this is the longest I’ve had to think about a post in a while! There are plenty of other little things I’ve picked up here and there but they aren’t very interesting to read about. Perhaps I’ll figure out a way to condense them into another post in the future.

Returning to Some Semblance of Normalcy

None of us should desire to “return to normal” because, if I can say one positive thing about the last year and a half, it did snap us out of our mindless routines. Unfortunately it created some new, much unhealthier, mindless routines in my case. So it deserves some celebration that I learned today I’ll be going back to work almost full-time in June. I’ll be working three full days a week instead of 5 half-days which will be much healthier for me. Getting home at lunch and finishing my work at the same computer I game at has created some horrible habits and my routine has fallen apart.

My planner has been less of an agenda and more of a catalog of my failures for the past year. Sure, overall I’m doing fine, but there are pages upon pages of goals I didn’t hit and tasks I didn’t finish. May will wrap up my second quarter which is a month earlier than the real second quarter because the first time I ordered a planner it wasn’t at the right date. I might will use one of the empty months from one of my particularly bad planners to finish June and start the third quarter with a fresh planner to get on track. I’m going to take the time to set this one up properly. The yearly and quarterly goals for the last several quarters have been automatic and without much forethought. I wrote out my “perfect life” routines instead of routines that I will actually do which is a sure fire way to feel like crap first thing every morning.

I read recently that when trying to change your habits you should start extremely small with things you know you will do and then increase them daily. It’s not new advice but was a good refresher and I’ve incorporated that into a few habits. In just two very fast weeks I’ve managed to cut down on the amount of waste I create by over 50%. This is a habit I’ve always wanted to adopt, but never got started. The trick to managing waste that a lot of people don’t consider is that you also have to take into account the energy and waste involved in creating the product. There are plenty of “sustainable” products out there which are just “green gimmicks”, advertising that they’re made from recycled products but the very act of making something out of recycled products which can never be recycled again is wasteful if it’s not something you even need (which I’ve found is often the case).

By proxy, I’ve also been eating more of a plant based diet because you simply can’t buy meat in my area without having it wrapped in plastic. There are butchers somewhere out there which will either wrap them in paper or put them in your own container but I don’t know where they are yet. Paper wrapping doesn’t work for me because you can’t recycle paper which was used to store food. Plus I don’t really trust municipal recycling plans; in my experience it all ends up in a landfill anyway. Are you telling me minimum wage average-human-beings are actually sorting out recyclables and routing them properly? I think not. I can’t even get average-human-beings to give me the right order at Taco Bell.

I strive to not become one of those environmentalist nutjobs who takes all of this to an unhealthy obsession but if I’m going to do it I have to at least do the basics 100%.

Zero Waste & Refocusing

The easiest way to live “longer” is to shatter your routine every once in a while, it certainly makes time pass more slowly. I picked up Zero Waste Life last week. It’s one of those trendy Target books that advertise ideal lifestyles every good Christian white woman wants to live. I’m all about it right now, though. I dive in to new waters so fast my head hits the bottom of the pool and I black out, but I still manage to take one or two new habits away from each one.

I’ve tried cutting back on waste in the past but like anyone who has “tried” anything, I wasn’t fully committed. I’m taking a more measured approach this time, preparing what I need to do, and tracking my progress. In my experience, those are the things I have to do to make something stick around a while longer.

It’s Depressing Though…

My circumstances curb stomp most inspirational ideas I get, unfortunately. I live with two of the worst human beings I’ve ever known (whom I also happen to be related to) so my motivation gets sapped quickly. At 39, I’ve more or less learned to ignore the constant negative feedback of “you’re just going to quit anyway, why bother”, “that’s stupid, you’re not going to change anything” and s on. But living in a home that is in constant disarray and an inch of filth doesn’t make me want to live more minimally or cleanly. For example, when I got out of rehab (almost four years ago!) I was on a lengthy kick where I wanted to “give back” to my family who had to put up with me for so long, so I cleaned the house regularly, took up a lot of maintenance projects, bought gifts, and so on. But they wore me down over about a year. There are only so many times a man can do the dishes only to have his projectile-vomiting alcoholic brother dump the 30 plates he’s had stored under his bed (no joke, I wish I could describe what his room smells like on the rare occasions he opens the door) into the sink right afterward. Added to that was the increasing realization that my family was a big part of the reason I grew up to be the drunk, antisocial, angry loser I was… so fuck those people. 😂

Food Waste

Food waste is the biggest category we’re guilty of. I know we all like to believe we’re not as bad as “most people” but I can say with certainty that I don’t waste much food. My family, on the other hand… My mother cooks huge meals as if she’s still feeding a husband and 3 children, but then she doesn’t eat leftovers and cooks a huge meal again the next day. After only a couple days she complains that nobody is eating the leftovers (which is an interesting pattern to keep up for 40 years) and throws it all away. Shit like this is what is really going to get me down this time, I know that already, so I’ve been doing my best to eat only what’s in the fridge. After only a couple days of doing this I’ve saved quite a bit of money, actually, because everything I’ve eaten has been free.

How to Shop?

Shopping will be difficult in some areas. Meat is often wrapped in plastic and then butcher paper. I’m sure if I asked them to they’d forego the plastic, but I’m not the best at speaking up on the fly. Another challenge for myself, perhaps! Even then, you can’t recycle butcher paper because it’s had food on it as far as I know. That’s one of the items that makes “Zero Waste” more of an ideal to reach toward than something we ever achieve. There’s always going to be some trash in your life, the goal is to make it as little as possible.

Benefits Already

I’ve already had a few positives come from this. I haven’t had soda or junk food in a few days because, of course, it all comes in plastic. I’ve been taking a Rubbermaid container of trail mix and sliced apples to work every day for my morning snack (like a preschooler, lol) and I switched back to coffee from my daily Heart-Attack-Size(TM) Monster. I’ve been feeling pretty gross lately from a breakfast of caffeinated poison and candy bars so if this is the only thing that sticks long term, it’ll be worth it.

Online Dating Part… Who Knows at This Point?

Boy, what a mess online dating has been this year. I decided from the outset that I was going to give it a “real go” for once and not just bail the first time I met some resistance. I’ve been ghosted and insulted more times in the past three months than I have been in the last decade but… well… at least I can say I have had some experiences! It also hasn’t really affected me the way it used to. I am confident in both my physical appearance and personality now, so when someone tries to ridicule or mock me I know that they’re probably in a pretty bad place mentally.

First there was “Giselle” the nurse from New Jersey. Things were going pretty well with her, we video chatted a few times and had pretty good conversations. Lots of laughter and very little awkward silence. From the outset she only texted me once a day at the most and I followed suit. It wasn’t difficult, actually. The old me, the boozer, would have become obsessed quickly and demanded to know why she wasn’t responding sooner. But now my life is full of things to focus on and it really doesn’t occur to me to text someone unless they text me first.

Unfortunately she stopped replying entirely about three weeks after we began talking and I gave up pretty quickly. I was bummed… she was by far the most attractive woman I’ve talked to in a long time. Hell, I’d go so far as to say she’s the only attractive woman I’ve talked to since my last relationship in 2014.

Next, and finally (sorry if you were expecting a longer string of encounters; trying to get to know someone over the internet is time consuming, especially when they just aren’t that interesting) was “Lori”. She and I went to high school together and she was now a divorced mother of two. This is generally not something I’m interested in on either count. The people I went to high school with are generally drug addicts and alcoholics by now and single mothers are pretty banal. All they’ve done for the past decade is raise children so it’s all they have to talk about. Nevertheless, I was willing to put aside my self-centeredness and go out with a “nice” (read overweight and entirely unattractive) girl for a change.

We did get along well at first. She liked my sense of humor and didn’t care about my past. My past is where most things usually fall apart. Or the fact that I’m almost 40 and live with my mother (because of my past). I don’t sleep with women immediately like I used to but after a couple weeks of talking and dates, we got intimate. She went totally nuts basically right afterward, talking about our futures together and how I now have a family. Still, I didn’t want to be the kind of cunt who has been ghosting me for the past several years so I stuck it out and tried to see if she was just temporarily dick-drunk.

It only got worse. After telling her well in advance that I had a race the next weekend and would be indisposed, she called and texted me exactly 41 times over the course of 4 hours. As much as I want to be ethical and compassionate, I blocked her number at that point. Looking back, there were plenty of red flags. For example, in her mind she was very much a victim in her divorce and that’s never reality. I know this from my job in a divorce court. She always wanted to call me right before bed which I indulged her in for a few nights and then finally gently let her know that I really wasn’t into talking to someone for an hour every night while I should be sleeping. She got unnecessarily defensive and depressed at this and that “people pleasing” personality of mine which has led to so many problems in my life poked it’s ugly head out again and I just put up with it. That should have been enough of a warning that she is codependent as fuck right there but, hey, I was lonely.

I am still on the apps but since I’ve swiped “no” on pretty much everyone in the state of Michigan by now, I don’t expect to get much more activity from them. I’ll be done with school this year; I should just wait til I move to a region with less sea monsters in it.

Making a Plan is Useless When You Don’t Stick to It.

I’m an expert at scheduling. I plan out my entire week every Sunday and abandon it by Monday afternoon. Now I’m trying to use some techniques I learned in project management courses to break down my tasks better and create better plans. Scheduling is sloppy when you don’t have a methodology to follow; I’ve half-heartedly used a few systems from the Internet before, but I think WBS and Gantt charts could be incredibly useful for long term projects. The mere act of putting that much work into defining and scheduling them could inspire me to stick to the plan more. We’ll see, I suppose.

I forgot to take my Adderall this morning so that paragraph is all I have the energy for this week. Talk to you later!