Drinking

All my life I had been an enthusiastic and drinker.   I loved drinking.  A couple of double Jack Daniels on ice before dinner in wintertime, gin and tonics and a chilled bottle of rose on the terrace in the summer, a bottle of red with dinner and a nightcap or two before bed!   What could be better?   I lived and worked in Russia on several occations and prided myself on my ability to keep up with the Russians in downing vodka.   Given my size, I could often even drink them under the table.   When visiting with old friends I could drink seemingly unlimited quantities of alcohol and I held it pretty well.   I was not a violent or destructive drunk.  I and never been arrested, crashed my car or gotten into a fight.   I was a typical professional-class suburban WASP drunk of the variety that one reads about in the stories of Cheever and Updike.  As a child I had seen my parents, neighbors and relatives drink this way.   It seemed perfectly normal.

From time to time I wondered if I wasn’t drinking too much.   Alcohollism runs in my mother’s side of the family and I was made aware of this at a very young age.    Once I quit drinking  altogether for two years while I dived into meditation, vegetarianism and generally trying to relax the natural way.   Eventually I have up all three practices and my drinking renewed with vigor.   Yet I always led an active, athletic life and thought that this kept the drinking in its proper place.

A number of years ago an extremely difficult work situation developed over a six month period and I leaned heavily on drinking every evening to relax and decompress after each stressful day.   Amazingly a daily 500 ml bottle of vodka with grapefruit juice and ice seemed to help.  I got through that situation and my drinking tapered off.    At about the same time, my conflict laden marriage went from bad to worse and eventually to divorce.   I was married to someone with borderline personallity disorder and there was clearly some unhealthy co-dependence thing going on, so the divorce was very stressful and painful.   This led to debilitating back pain cused by a herniated disc and I suffered with this for over six months before a successful surgery to restore me to health.

Throughout this period I drank heavily on a daily basis to ease the mental pain of the divorce and the physical pain in my back.  I switched from drinking bourbon to red wine thinking that somehow it was more healthful.    I was not working full-time during this period, but I never drank during the day.   It had to wait until 5-6 o’clock to begin.   Half a bottle of wine a day became a bottle.   Soon I was regularly drinking two bottles every evening as I lay on my back in pain.    By the time the surgery releived my back pain the drinking had become a well engrained habit.

I had a vague and nagging notition that my drinking was excessive.  I was especially aware of this during my regular trips to the recycling bins when I carried a large blue Ikea bag of empty bottles.  I worried what my neighbors would think seeing me regularly with my noisy load of clinking glass.   I stopped buying wine daily as I felt self-concious in front of the checkout ladies at the grocery store.   Now I went to France and bought by the case, so there was no running out.   Sometimes I could pass the two bottle mark and drink three.   Mostly I was drinking alone.

I took a new job running a company with international operations.  I commuted to another city every week for a year and a half with travel to the US and Africa.    The drinking continued apace, but the drive to succeed at my job combined with caffeine and nicotine kept me going.  This was a highly stressful lifestyle.   Eventually, I had a disagreement with my board about how to solve the company’s significant financial difficulties and I left the job.    In retrospect I can see that my drinking  contributedsignificantly to this outcome.

A few months before that I met an absolutely wonderful woman with whom I fell deeply in love.   Unencumbered by work, we launched into a full blown romance, ate and drank our way around Italy and eventually made a home together with her son in my city.   Life was good and I was ever the generous host, pouring prosecco and wine for my lady, her visiting family and guests.   Gatherings were fun, but alcohol fueled affairs and it was only when I got sober that I realised to what extent I was driving the drinking train for everybody who shared a glass or a table with me.  What nobody seemed to understand was that for every glass I was pouring for them, I was drinking two myself.

Hangovers went from bad to worse and a nagging sense of fear began to invade my heart. The gentle tug of fear had become a trigger to drink more, not to relax, but to kill that gnawing sense of unease.    Where did this feeling come from?  I didn’t know, but I knew I wanted to drown it, to anesthetize it.  Hangovers had been a regular part of my life for several years now, but now they were getting worse.   I woke up mornings with dreadful headches and feelings of shame and regret.   My shame led me to keep my worries from the beautiful woman who slept next to me and whom I loved deeply.    The shame would lead me to promise not to drink that day, but five o’clock would roll around and I’d be opening a bottle of wine.  By then I’d fogotten about my promise, or just say to hell with it, but the next morning the fear and shame was with me again.

Then one morning I woke up and was gripped by dread and terror.  It was a certainty that if I kept drinking like this I would loose everything, my beloved, my sense of self respect and probably even my ability to support myself.   This time was different.   I looked up the nearest AA meeting on the Internet and committed to go.   God had finally intervened.

 

 

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My Dog Died

This sounds cliché, but my dog died.   He and I were very close and he had been with me though some of the toughest emotional chapters of my life.   Through it all he was loyal, unconditionally loving and present.   In his final months he suffered from cancer.   We spent a small fortune getting it diagnosed and gave him some drug treatments to improve the quality of his remaining days.  When we finally put him down in the vet’s office I held him in my arms and felt the life flow out of him as the vet administered the injection, an overdose of an anaesthetic.   One second he was sitting up and the next moment he was lying down dead and the vet notified me that his heart had stopped beating.    He was really suffering and putting him down was the only merciful thing to do as his friend and caretaker.   We really enjoyed our time with him in those last months even though it was painful to see him slow down and suffer.  I had to force him to go out for walks.   I believe he was aware what was happening and I think he knew what we were doing when we put him down.  He was very calm when the vet made the final injection.

We put the dog down in the late afternoon and drove up to the mountain overlooking the city where I live and where we had spent so many hours watching him run and play in the fields strewn with wildflowers and cow pies.  The setting sun painted the grass in gold and the droning of the cow bells provided the musical backdrop.   We very much felt his presence – the presence of our departed friend and that of God.

The next morning I woke up a blubbering mess.   I felt his absence so deeply.   The pad that he used to sleep on next to my bed was still there.  His hair littered the floor and stuck to the bottom of my socks.   I felt like I had lost my best friend because I had.   I went into the living room and sobbed.   My heart ached to hold him and ached from the memory of holding him as the life left his body.

In the midst of this deep pain another feeling emerged – a lightness and a clarity that felt like love.   In those moments it became crystal clear to me that we were put on this earth to love one another, that love was in fact the force that ruled the universe and was the only true thing there was.   We wonder what the purpose of life is and it became clear to me that this is what it was – to love one another.   I felt a lightness and a joy at this realization and this eurphoric feeling stayed with me for several hours.  My dear friend, in sharing his life and death with me, gave me the greatest gift – the gift of God’s love.

 

Five Months Later

Well so much for keeping up a blog!   Five months have passed and, while much has happened, I have not written a lick.   I think I was trying too hard in the first two posts, too concerned about how it would read, what people would think, trying to be clever.

Keeping the posts short where that’s appropriate, I’m going to try again, this time without pretenses.   Consistency is more important that length or profundity.  I’m going to just write and see what happens.

So what’s come of my belly-button gazing over the past five months?    Nothing and everything.   Nothing, because I have accomplished nothing concrete in the material sense, and everything because I believe I have had a glimpse about what life should be about, of how I should be living my life.   As I mentioned in an earlier post, I was, and remain, concerned about whether “I am living it right.”

I traveled with my partner to the US to visit friends and family and that was like balm for the soul.   I saw old friends whom I had not visited for years because they lived out west.   We hiked and mountain biked and I saw thier aging parents, one of whom has since passed.  I saw some of those same friends again in Europe and spent a quiet weekend with them.  One of them was my room mate in New York when we were right out of college.  We picked up like no time had passed at all.   A friend visiting  Germany from Australia was also on my list.  He had recently had surgery for prostate cancer and I felt a strong pull to connect with him.   He is enjoying life and he and his wife are very close and happy.

Keeping a diary has been a sometimes habit and as I read over the past few months I am struck by how the writing has changed.    Previously it was full of to-dos, goals that I never planned to fill, promises to improve my fitness, to look for a job, to find God.   Over the past three months it has evolved into a more spiritual exploration, asking God for guidance, submitting myself to Him even if I did not feel it completely, but simply expressing intention.   Amazingly, God has more than met me halfway and has entered my life in ways I could never have imagined.

 

How I Got Here

It’s worth taking some time to lay out how I got started on this stage of my exploration.   It really got impetus on a trip back to the States to visit my parents.

My parents are divorced.   My father is 85 lives in Chicago and my mother is 78 and is in the mid-atlantic region on the east coast.   I go back to visit them at least twice a year and have a good relationship with both of them.   I enjoy my visits, but it’s difficult to see them struggle with health problems as they age.   My father now officially looks like an old man with fine white hair and downy beard.  He moves slowly and needs help to get in and out of a car or up and down a curb.   My mother has had two hip replacements, but otherwise is physically healthy.   She deals with low energy, a feeling that she lacks purpose and, I’m afraid to say, she deals with this by social drinking and often drinking alone.  It’s a family tradition.   Many of the retirees in her community do the same, so she’s got lots of social reinforcement for the drinking.  Both of my parents’ brains are functioning fine with no apparent signs of dementia or significant memory loss.   They both are active thinkers and readers and don’t watch much television.

I’m grateful for my parents and grateful that they are in relatively good shape for people at this stage of their lives.   However, I was struck on my recent visit by how much they have slowed down and by the fact that I, at 52 years of age, am not so far removed.   This of course triggered much brooding about my own mortality.

I don’t fear death per se as I am confident that upon death we move into a larger spiritual realm.  Call that heaven or what have you, but I imagine direct contact with God and the larger universe.   What caused me anxiety was the thought that I would get to the end of my life and regret not having lived my life well.   I don’t mean living well in the material/sensual/ prosperity sense.   I’ve had my share of those pleasures and while they are nice, they are not fulfilling.  No, my fear was of having lived a life that was unworthy.  Was I living a life as God would have me live?  Was I being true to myself and to Him?  I realised that throughout my life I was always evaluating decisions based on “what’s in it for me?” and while that’s common, it didn’t feel good or right.

Over my lifetime I invested most of my energy in my career so that seemed like a good place to start looking for meaning.   After all that’s where we spend much of our time outside of sleeping.  Recently, I was wrapping up a 18 month work engagement and was contemplating my next gig.  So I hired a career coach who came highly recommended by a friend.   I do my sessions with him by skype and after giving him a verbal recitation of my resume he started to ask me all manner of uncomfortable questions about who I really was.  Who was the real man behind this polished CV of adventure and accomplishment?    I was shocked to discover that answers did not come quickly or easily.

My coach suggested reading A New Earth by Eckart Tolle, the author of the bestseller The Power of Now.  I had read the Power of Now and found it compelling, but was not quite sure how to put it to use.   A New Earth, as the name implies, is a bit more down to earth and proposes the idea, not a new idea btw, that we live with two selves: the true self which is our essence and connected to God, the universe and our fellow man and the Ego self which is our false face the the outside world.   Tolle contends that we often believe that the Ego self, or false self, is who we really are, but there’s a small soft voice that reminds us this is not so.  The Ego connects self to accomplishment and acquisition of material things and is always comparing.   Of course the Ego can never get enough of these things and is always unsatisfied (see Citizen Kane).   This leads to feelings of fear and inadequacy.  All of this rang very true for me.

So now my questions about what to do with my career and whether I was living a worthy life became questions about who I really was.  What was my true essence?     My initial instinct was to look to God for answers and I believe that ultimately he is not only the source of answers, but he IS the answer.   However, what is the relationship between God and my true self?   Where does the true self end and the Ego take over?  How do I tame my Ego to let my true self and God get on the the business of living a worthy life?   This is where I’ve gotten to with my exploration and what I will explore further in future posts.

By the way, I should mention parenthetically that I am quite aware that this whole blog is pretty damned Ego driven as it’s all about me, me, me, me.   It is my sincere hope that this will evolve, so I ask my true self and any suffering readers to bear with me.

 

 

 

SoulSkater Goes Live

I am writing this blog for me and sharing online what it is to be a spiritual being.   For most of my 52 years I lived a life of the Ego, believing that I needed to achieve, travel wider, earn more, run faster, lift heavier, please others and generally groom my self image and add to my personal story – the 3 minute elevator speech that I give to others to impress them and prop up my story.  The result of this Ego driven life was a life of fear.

As most people eventually figure out, this can only work for so long.   Amazingly, some people realize this at a young age, but some of us need to get knocked around a bit by life to understand that our Ego is running the show and that it does not have our best interests at heart.   The Ego is looking out for the Ego, even if it has to eat us alive in trying to survive.

So where did the Ego driven life take me?  Well it took me around the world for work to Latin America, Europe and three US locations.  It earned me a pretty good sum of money which I have mostly given away to taxes, divorce, poor investments and high cost living jurisdictions.   It helped me screw up my family life, cheating on my wife multiple times, eventually getting divorced.  Eventually I lost interest in career ambitions and have not worked full time for five months.

I also managed to work up a pretty good drinking habit that was clearly going to take me down if I kept it up.   I was a typical middle class drunk.  In social situations I drank heavily, but not so much that people would think me a lush (never stumbled or passed out).   After my divorce I would drink at home alone between one and three bottles of wine a day.   I kept up a career as a top-level executive, but I knew it was an act.  I convinced myself that wine was better than Jack Daniels when of course the effect is the same.    I woke up one morning scared out of my wits that I would drink myself into oblivion.   I went to AA that day and got sober.   A few months ago I had a relapse that lasted 5 hours after 18 months of sobriety, but I’m back in the program, working the steps and doing fine.  More on drinking and sobriety in another post.

About nine years ago I had a spiritual awakening which I can only describe as God reaching down from heaven, grabbing me by the collar and shaking me into awareness of his existence.   Awareness was only the first step and nine years later I am a practicing Christian, but I am still new in my faith.  I’m still trying to figure out what God’s will is for me, but I know He will lead me there.    My faith is not dogmatic, I read the bible both literally and figuratively.  I believe God created the Bible to tell us who he is and what he wants or us.  It is not meant as a history book, or a science project.  Even though I don’t read the Bible literally, I do believe it is the Truth and that is it God-given.  I’m comfortable not knowing, but knowing that God has my best interest at heart no matter what.

So here I am, easily over halfway through life, but not knowing how far.   I’ve lost my faith in material things to give me true happiness, though I enjoy some of the comforts they bring.   I have faith in God.  I am sober.   I have some time and financial resources to try to figure out what this all means.   This is a good place to be.   I know I have nothing to lose and everything to gain.  I believe it is time to strip life down to brass tacks, understand what’s really important, kill my Ego or at least put it in a very small cage, be in the moment and revel in this God given life.

I don’t expect anyone to read this except perhaps insomniacs kept up by their sense of fear that they’ve got it all wrong.  Perhaps this could be of interest to recovering alcoholics, workaholics, druggies, basically anyone who has used something outside themselves to try to deaden the feeling of fear and inadequacy that is the result of an Ego driven life.

I don’t have any answers for any of you.  I’m trying to figure it out myself, but perhaps some of what I write will resonate with you and encourage you to write me back.   Perhaps you have been down this path yourself, perhaps you have made some discoveries that have helped you get real, or perhaps you are just exploring.   In any case  I’d like to hear from you.  Maybe we can figure it out together.

God bless.