By Claire O’Brien
A few months before I quit drinking for good, the husband and I stole a few days to lounge on the sand at the Delaware Shore. It was September, and the air was still warm but the crowds had thinned, leaving us the wide beaches to ourselves.
We had three entire days to soak up the sun and watch the dolphins dart among the waves. So, I was pretty annoyed to wake up one morning so hungover that I had to grit my teeth to force myself to face the day.
A few precious days that we’d paid a lot of money for, which I was now just trying to survive. At brunch, I’d order coffee (obviously), and avocado toast (healthy!) and make chit-chat with my husband about how to spend the day. He might not notice, but I’d be distracted, hardly present at all, because mentally I’d be berating myself for swilling that extra glass of red wine, again.
Maybe I wasn’t the biggest drinker you’d have ever met. But, I definitely had a habit, and it was getting old. Frankly, so was I. How many days traveling over the last 20 years had I wasted from overindulging? I couldn’t even guess.
But, what’s traveling without drinking anyways? Swilling pints of lager in cozy London pubs. Pounding shots of rakija in Croatia. Sipping wine with every meal in France. Spilling sticky cups of rum and cola on the dance floor in Belize. And a personal favorite, guzzling margaritas from a can in Mexico. Traveling means experiencing life to the fullest! That means alcohol. And lots of it
Less than a year later, I was back in Rehoboth Beach for my 2-year wedding anniversary. This time, I was six months into my post-alcohol experiment. I booked a B&B, famous for its waffles in the morning and free wine in the evenings
Immediately, my mind flooded with anxious thoughts
“How can I travel without drinking?”
“How can I celebrate my anniversary without alcohol?
and most urgently, “But…free wine!”
Then I remembered that I once celebrated a trip to the grocery store with wine. So…maybe my excuses are still pretty flimsy
It rained all three days in Rehoboth Beach on that trip. I didn’t drink. It was totally fine. In fact, it was much more than fine. I spent too much money on used books and antiques. We took the ferry over to New Jersey and explored the Victorian town of Cape May. We ate fresh seafood. I challenged the waiters to bring me “the funnest” non-alcoholic drink they could invent
Instead of being a liability, I woke up early to research activities. I assumed the podcast DJ duties on the drive. I made ridiculous observations intended to make the husband laugh. When I returned home content and invigorated, rather than depressed and full of regrets, I conceded that perhaps I really was onto something.
Traveling without drinking is not only possible…but dare I say, preferable? Before you shriek “Heresy!” hear me out
Since that Delaware trip, I’ve spent several weeks in Scandinavia. My birthday fell during a 7-day work trip to Las Vegas. I spent a luxurious weekend in a Pennsylvanian resort and survived many visits home to California. I just returned from a week in the Netherlands. All accomplished without even one cheeky drink.
I’ve met other people that don’t drink while they’re busy exploring the globe. Some just don’t like it, some want to save money, and others were in recovery. At an afterparty in Rotterdam recently, my new friends hardly touched a drop of booze, just because! I’ve realized that traveling without drinking isn’t really about abstaining from this magical liquid worshiped the world over, but about feeling empowered to make decisions that work for you.
As a regular drinker, even if you don’t have an obvious problem, the ritual begins to make your world smaller. It’s imperceptible at first. Weekends might involve having a few drinks with friends. Soon, the two become completely intertwined. Next, your brain wonders,
“How can I even hang out with the girls without drinking?”
“Is it possible to attend this wedding without toasting with champagne?”
“How will I visit Scotland without sampling a few drams?”
“How can I survive Tuesday?”
In some ways, my lengthy travel resume, with its regular doses of the unfamiliar, prepared me for this new life sans alcohol. What’s more uncomfortable than quitting a 20-year habit, especially one that is both so soothing and socially encouraged? If the point of travel is to escape the ordinary, experience our differences, and push against the boundaries of what’s comfortable, then quitting drinking has, in fact, also made me a better traveler.
I’m more adventurous than ever.
I’ve always considered myself a risk taker. But that quality didn’t extend to my drinking ritual, which was really more of a drinking rut. Now, every restaurant, city, and country is an opportunity to sample the new. Frothy glass of hot pink dawet at a Surinamese restaurant in Amsterdam? Sure! Traveling in Sweden was a delightful surprise. I found an extensive non-alcoholic wine and beer list on every menu, none of which I would have glanced at before.
My adventurousness even extends beyond my drink choices. One random evening I came up with the idea that I should fly to every international destination served by a direct flight from Washington, DC. And write about it. Then, more astonishingly, I actually started doing it.
I’m more flexible.
Previously, every evening ended with drinks, with few exceptions. Now, experiences of all kinds are crammed into my days. In Las Vegas, I spent the evenings visiting the museums and aquariums. I splurged on fancy tasting menus and rented a vehicle to explore the desert. On a whim, I rode in a drift supercar around the Las Vegas Speedway. It was harder to be spontaneous when I was preoccupied with where I could buy wine on Sundays and wondering if I had remembered to pack my corkscrew.
I’m more responsible.
I was the type of drinker that managed to get shit done. But I was still just managing. Once, because I was so disorganized, my debit card was declined while attempting to buy a single stick of deodorant. I was 35 years old. Now, my kitchen is clean. All the dogs and humans in my house are current on their medical appointments. And there are probably fewer than three empty coffee cups floating around my car. I have a savings account dedicated solely to travel, which I diligently contribute to monthly. All trips get paid for in cold, hard, cash.
I have piles of money.
Ok, I’m not exactly stacking bricks of cash, but booze is expensive, especially when you are consuming it with the frequency I once found refreshing. Since my travel fund isn’t being depleted quite so rapidly due to lengthy pub sessions, I’m able to spend more on quality experiences. Like upgrading to Economy Plus!
I have more fun.
Ironically, I’m more outgoing and social since giving up the hooch. The dark cloud that followed me around gradually evaporated, making a cheerful and upbeat mood my default personality. Who knew? Now I’m the person planning adventures, not bailing on invitations at the last minute. I’ve instigated weekends away for welding classes, white water rafting, tree climbing courses, and exploring Jamaica while encouraging friends and family to join me.
I’ve become more resilient.
It didn’t happen overnight, but I developed healthy* coping techniques for stress, boredom, and all of the feels that I don’t like. Things still go wrong when I travel. In Richmond, the husband got food poisoning courtesy of a dodgy roadside gyro. In Sweden, it was an AirBnB fiasco. In Las Vegas, I mysteriously scratched my cornea and required medical attention. Now it’s easier to figure out what I need to do next without requiring an entire bottle of wine to cope.
Note: *Debatable if coconut ice cream with Magic Shell chocolate topping qualifies as healthy.
I’m more authentic now.
Confronting my worst habits and the role my ego played in prolonging the behavior was a humbling experience. The process of building new habits in their place, however, has grown my confidence. Also, without the daily dose of self-loathing, waking up every day as myself isn’t so bad. I don’t have to present as anyone else or hide parts of my life of which I’m ashamed. So, I’m able to more sincerely connect with people both at home and while traveling. Since I’m less distracted by my own internal dramas, I’m more interested in getting to know you.
I’m also less judgemental.
Like most well-traveled people, I considered myself to be very open-minded. Conversely, like most drinkers, I distrusted people who didn’t drink! I viewed cultures and customs that didn’t embrace alcohol with extreme skepticism. Now, that’s no longer an issue, which has opened up parts of the world and experiences I wouldn’t have seriously considered before. (Seven-day silent meditation retreat, no problem! Well…)
My life is bigger.
Probably not a coincidence, but around the same time I gave up alcohol, I completely restarted my professional career from one in the sciences to a more creative field. Five years ago, my options seemed few, and now I’m limited only by the hours in the day. Because there’s less holding me back, there’s much more space to move forward. Opportunities seem to be present everywhere. Travelling has become less of a selfish pursuit of simply accumulating more countries. Now it’s more of a shared experience, of learning, of inspiring myself and connecting with others.
Sure, there’s the occasional pang for the experiences I’ll miss. I’m human.
My brain sends up random flares like, “I might want to go to Tokyo next year. Clearly, this will be impossible to do and not drink sake.”
It’s a little bit like having a fleeting thought about an old lover. For a brief moment, the fantasy, the “What if?”, is seductive.
“Don’t I deserve some fun? Let’s be exciting and a little dangerous!”
It’s also the perfect way to create a total dumpster fire out of this otherwise satisfying life I’m building.
My love of travel stems from life’s possibilities. Endless combinations of routes to plan, experiences I haven’t had, people I haven’t met, and future memories I’ve yet to make. It’s not such a sacrifice for me to skip a few cocktails when the payoff could be so much bigger, and bolder. When I finally put down that drink, I found that I held a nonstop ticket to the rest of my life, and I want to see where it goes.
Additional blog posts by Claire O’Brien can be found at her webiste the Virgin Colada.
The decision to cut alcohol out of your life will pay off huge dividends in 2019 and much longer. Trust me…
Happy New Years Eve! Breaking news… You don’t have to drink today. In fact, over the years, I’ve met several people whose sobriety date was December 31st. You can have a hangover on the first day of the year, or you can wake up feeling refreshed. It’s up to you.
Deep down inside, at the core evolutionary level, we arrive on this planet fully equipped to live a happy life without any external substances. Especially alcohol. Here are 12 reasons why sober is better and why it’s a good idea to get the new year started off right with the Best Sobriety Podcasts.
1. Look you’re best
In Café RE, I see before and after pics posted all the time and oh my goodness are the transformations incredible. Within 30-60 days of quitting drinking, you’ll have people pull you aside and say, what’s your secret? You must be eating at the new vegan restaurant next door and are sipping on pure kale juice? I want to be clear, this statement has nothing to do with shedding pounds. I’ve seen people go up to their beautiful healthy weights, I’ve seen the color of people’s skin change, I’ve seen smiles return to faces.
2. Feel your best
More important than looking your best (external), you’ll start to feel your best (internal). I remember when I was drinking, the first 10-20 seconds when I woke up in the morning were intimidating. I knew I was going to feel less than average. Upon waking, I was afraid to fully assess the amount of damage I had done to my central nervous system the night before. The most important catalyst to feeling your best starts with sleep. While drinking, there was no quality sleep. If I could summarize how I feel in sobriety with one word, that would be – rested.
3. Alcohol can fix things you didn’t know were broken
Within time, you’ll start to notice issues (internal and external) slowly begin to fade away. These could be health issues or turbulent relationships with loved ones or co-workers. I never was a long-distance runner. I didn’t think I had the genetics to do it. I would tell myself that I’m built for quick bursts, like a cheetah. In sobriety and my normal one to three mile runs turned into five, seven and even a twenty-three mile ridge run race at year 3 in sobriety.
4. Make the most of your time spent on this planet
Human beings are awake on average 15 hours and 30 minutes per day. Make all the hours great. I remember towards the tail end of my drinking, the first 6-8 hours of every day were blah, at best. I’d then turn a corner and say, okay, I’m starting to feel better. A couple hours later I’d say, I’m feeling good, today is a good day. Unfortunately, at that moment, I’d also say, let’s take a detour from the present moment and start drinking. No matter how many times I promised myself today would be different.
5. Build better relationships
The opposite of addiction is connection and while we’re drinking, we’re not connecting. We may think imprinting our ass on a bar stool for hours at a time helps us build lifelong friendships that will endure the test of time, but that’s not the case. Conversations without alcohol are always more enjoyable. They’re authentic. Also, when we quit drinking, it will become clear who we need to spend time with.
I had this feeling as a kid, and I think most of us had it at some time in our life, which was I can do anything if I put my mind to it. That feeling is better than any drink, drug, adrenaline rush, etc. In sobriety, you’ll find your inner voice saying things like, “I think I can do this,” which transitions into “I can do this,” to eventually, “I am doing this.” This state of mind was gone when I was drinking. Welcome back!
7. Less fear
The underlying level of fear in your life will drastically be reduced. You’ll be less afraid. You’ll stop making decisions based on fear. You’ll be more proactive in life instead of reactive. If we are always making decisions based on fear, we aren’t moving forward in life.
8. You’ll save a sh*&^t ton of money
According to my Recovery Elevator sobriety tracker, I have saved $37,486 since I quit drinking. This isn’t chump change found under a couch cushion. That’s a lot of money. This past April, I closed on a house on 1.5 acres outside of town. I’m surrounded by mountains, across the street is a 1,200-acre dairy farm, and the sunsets are epic. Down payment required for this house was, roughly the amount I’ve saved from drinking. This would have never happened if I was drinking.
9. You’ll be living in the present Moment
You’ll find yourself saying, what is this? This intangible presence that I can’t touch but I know is there. The thing that I’m hyper aware of that I never seemed to notice before. It must be the present moment. When we live in the present moment, depression (the past) and anxiety (the future) fade away. Why is the present moment so powerful? Because it’s all we have.
10. Avoid unnecessary disasters
You won’t be ruining your cousin Mindy’s wedding, or you won’t park a car in your neighbor’s pool. It seemed like once a year I did something I deeply regretted. At first, it was making an ass out myself at a party, but as the drinking progressed, the consequences became more catastrophic, like a DUI while driving to work in 2014. It’s nice to put substantial distance between me and those tragic events in life.
11. Create the future you want
I thought I could make the life I realized a reality while I was drinking, but that wasn’t the case. The grandiose goals and plans I projected in my future during my drunken states, never even reached a whiteboard when sober. As long as I was drinking, the tires of life were spinning in the sand and towards the tail end of my drinking, the tires were removed entirely. This is where sobriety gets exciting. The life transitions that I’ve seen take place are incredible. I met a guy named Patrick who attended the Peru trip and in sobriety, he has sold a portion of his shares in his restaurant group, purchased one of those “souped” up sprinter vans with Scandinavian interior finishes, bought like a 50 mountain ski pass and is living the life he’s always wanted to live. Anything is possible in sobriety.
12. You’ll start to make healthy memories
Within time, you’ll start to create new, fun and exciting memories. I’ll be honest, getting sober was a challenge, to say the least, but in the past four years, I’ve had some incredible memories and met some fantastic people. Several of these memories are from Recovery Elevator meet-ups. Some of them are epic sunrises with my standard poodle Ben. It’s also a compilation of the excellent smaller memories. It’s the little things that count!
I drank a lot of alcohol. Alcohol caused a lot of damage in my life. Was any of it good? Was I able to at least get some nutritional value from $14 beer night? Well, let’s take a look.
Alcoholic beverages primarily consist of water, pure alcohol (chemically known as ethanol), and variable amounts of sugars and carbohydrates; their content of other nutrients, proteins, vitamins, or minerals is usually insignificant. Because they provide almost no nutrients, alcoholic beverages are considered “empty calories.” It’s safe to say a Twinkie has more nutritional value than any alcoholic drink, and it’s common knowledge that Twinkies are terrible for us. The good news is none of us lack any dietary components by not drinking. Alcohol is still shit.
Let’s talk calories for a second. 1 gram of alcohol contains 7 calories compared to 4 calories per gram of proteins and carbs, and 1 gram of fat contains 9 calories. Again, those are 7 hollow calories because the body never uses them.
Let’s find out what these calories are doing to us over the long haul.
1 12 oz. can of beer = 154 calories. 1 glass of wine around 125 calories and 1 whiskey coke has 180. Let’s average the three and use 153 calories per drink. Let’s say we average 5 daily drinks which equates to 765 meaningless calories per day. 5,355 per week and 278,460 per year. 1 pound of fat is roughly 3,500 calories, so this is close to 80 pounds of excess garbage the body must deal with.
Another snippet to drive this point home, 1 pint of beer contains roughly the same number of calories as a slice of pizza. But it’s not even apples to apples, because even though the slice of pizza isn’t the healthiest option, the pizza still contains some vitamins, minerals, and calories the body can use for energy. A pint of beer, not so much. If we average 4 pints a day, this is 1,460 slices of pizza per year, and I hope there’s at least pineapple on that pizza. I know I just lost some readers with that pineapple comment.
The human body is impressive, but it does not digest the calories from alcohol efficiently. What does efficiently burn alcohol? That would-be machines, cars, airplanes, motorcycles, generators, you get the point. The metabolism of alcohol is a complex, multi-stage process that takes place mostly in the liver and kidneys, not in the intestines, where normal digestion occurs. More significant to the current discussion, alcohol is almost never fully metabolized, but instead excreted as acetic acid, because it’s a toxin that the body wants to get rid of. When we binge drink, some of this is permanently deposited in the brain and stored as acetaldehyde.
Let’s talk about timing and when these calories are burned.
Alcohol temporarily keeps your body from burning fat, explains Dr. Pamela Peeke, author of the book “The Hunger Fix.” The reason is that your body can’t store calories from alcohol for later use, the way it does with food calories. For example, when we consume something high in calories like a hamburger, the body will way say, whoa, this is a lot of calories, this is more than I can handle at this moment, I’ll save some of this for later. The body can’t do this with alcohol. So when you drink, your metabolic system must stop what it’s doing (like, say, burning off calories from your last meal) to get rid of the booze. “Drinking presses ‘pause’ on your metabolism, shoves away the other calories, and says, ‘Break me down first!'” Peeke explains. The result is that whatever you recently ate gets stored as fat. What’s worse: “Research has uncovered that alcohol especially decreases fat burn in the belly,” Peeke adds. “That’s why you never hear about ‘beer hips’ — you hear about a ‘beer belly.'”
Why do we get uncontrollable hunger when we drink?
Alcohol impairs inhibitory control, which leads people to eat more. There is evidence that alcohol can influence hormones tied to feeling full. For example, alcohol may inhibit the effects of leptin, a hormone that suppresses appetite, and other hormones that inhibit food intake. According to one study, neurons in the brain that are generally activated by actual starvation, causing an intense feeling of hunger, can be stimulated by alcohol. Bring it on 2 am Taco Bell run.
Let’s talk about a decreased appetite malnutrition.
Stay with me for a second. Over time, chronic alcohol abuse and alcoholism can take a severe toll on a person’s appetite and nutrition levels. Alcohol inhibits the breakdown of nutrients into usable molecules by decreasing secretion of digestive enzymes from the pancreas. Alcohol impairs nutrient absorption by damaging the cells lining the stomach and intestines, and disabling transport of some nutrients into the blood. Also, nutritional deficiencies themselves may lead to further absorption problems. For example, folate deficiency alters the cells lining the small intestine, which in turn impairs absorption of water and nutrients, including glucose and sodium.
The NIAAA reports, “Even if nutrients are digested and absorbed, alcohol can prevent them from being fully utilized by altering their transport, storage, and excretion.”
After a while, the body, instead of working overdrive to properly digest what we consume, it hits the off switch on the appetite. I experienced this after about 10 months into owning my bar in Spain. At first, I would make a late-night stop at the pizza shop, but eventually, I found myself forcing calories into my body. I had entered the malnutrition phase of the addiction cycle. I found that it took about a week for my appetite to return once I quit drinking.
I’ve been wanting to write this post for quite some time, and I’m excited to have finally done so. A cure to addiction… Is this even possible? Before we explore this, let’s take a snapshot of what addiction is right now. At this moment in time, 2018, I feel we are at the beginning of what our understanding of what addiction even is, let alone finding a treatment for it. Are we close to a cure at this moment? Unfortunately, I don’t think so, in fact, I don’t believe we are even close. With 83 years passing since the inception of AA in 1935, we still don’t know much about what causes addiction and how to treat it; especially modern science. In 2014, there were 143 med schools in the USA, and only 14 of them had 1 class on addiction even though it’s estimated that 40% of hospital beds are occupied due to alcohol-related issues. This is staggering. It can be said that rehab is a 30+ thousand-dollar introduction to 12 step programs, and the best study that I can find is that AA has a 7-8% success rate according to the Sober Truth by Lance Dodes. Currently, 85% of rehab facilities are 12 step based. Studies show that 2.5 people out of 1000 make it to 2 years of sobriety. Yikes, but the good news is you can continuously start over. Governments have no idea how to deal with addiction. The 40 years, 1 trillion-dollar war on drugs has primarily been a waste. There are still 21 million Americans, 80% of those with alcohol use disorders, who need treatment with addiction. Estimates show that of these 21 million Americans, only 10% of those get the actual help they need. I don’t want to paint a grim picture for readers, but currently, on this planet, we aren’t doing so hot when it comes to treating addiction. In fact, we’re failing, but it’s a start.
Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob created a fantastic program called Alcoholics Anonymous that currently has over 2 million members in over 120,000 groups worldwide. There is Smart Recovery, Refuge Recovery, yoga, meditation, Recovery Elevator and more. People are trying their hardest to tackle this planet’s most pressing epidemic; addiction. Despite the bleak snapshot painted above, I feel we are on the right track. I think in 500 years when we look back, we will all be looked at as pioneers for what shaped the way for recovery treatment. Or what we’re doing now may be like bloodletting. Doctors thought for around 800 years that bloodletting was the best way to rid the body of an infectious disease. Turns out, human beings need blood. I don’t think this is the case with how we are currently treating addiction, but you never know.
Let’s discuss what I mean when I say cure to addiction. What I’m proposing should render addiction obsolete. As in it won’t happen, or least not nearly at the level of occurrence that we see today. I guess this wouldn’t really be a cure, because to have a cure, you would need a disease, and what I’ll be covering should essentially create an environment that doesn’t foster the disease. Too much of western medicine emphasizes treating existing illnesses since there isn’t much money to be made in getting at the source. When I say cure to addiction, I don’t mean addiction happens, then insert treatment. I’m saying, addiction doesn’t happen in the first place. This is the more ideal scenario. I’d be more than happy to be out of a job.
Keep in mind, this is all speculative, some of these ideas may seem so far out, so bizarre that it isn’t even a possibility… But if you give it some thought, this may make sense. Some of you will agree with this, some of you might not want what I’m proposing ever to happen. In fact, it scares me too. It’s uncomfortable. Who knows, if MP3’s are still a thing in 500 years, I may get this spot on, or I may have wildly missed the mark.
Where did I get the idea for this post? For the cure to addiction? Well, it was at my fantasy football draft in Las Vegas this past August. We were having dinner at the Hofbrauhaus House, and I was watching my two buddies argue about the dividing topic of immigration. One of them is a liberal, and the other is a conservative. They’ve had this same conversation or a similar one, the past 5 drafts. I knew I wouldn’t be engaging in this conversation, so I decided just to sit, listen and observe. As they were defending their steadfast positions with eloquent and non-eloquent diatribes based on part fact but mostly conviction, a strange thought arrived. It said the only way to solve the immigration issue is to eliminate all borders. Across the whole planet. And before we go any further, I want to mention, this post is about addiction, not immigration or politics, so please do your best to listen with an open mind. I said to myself, no, that can’t be right. That will never happen. And then the wheels in mind started moving. So much so, that I had to step outside the restaurant and sit on a bench for about 10 minutes. My brain kept connecting the dots until I said, holy shit. That’s the cure to addiction. Yippee!!
You might be saying to yourself episode 199 ended with you thanking planet earth, now you’re talking about a world with no borders. Wow, Paul, I bet you’re wearing Birkenstocks and have distanced yourself from all forms of plastic. Nope, I’m a guy who lives in Montana, a red state, who shoots clays with my shotgun for fun on the weekend, but deep down, even though some of it doesn’t sit well with me either, it feels right.
Okay, let’s explore this. In my opinion, the most profound line in “The Realm of Hungry Ghosts” by Dr. Gabor Mate, is that anthropologists have no record of addiction in pre-modern times. Contrary to popular belief, Europeans did not bring alcohol to the Native American, Inuit, and Aboriginal populations, or to South America to the Mayans, Incas or Aztecs. Alcohol has been around for 1,000’s of years and records show that all these cultures consumed alcohol. So why is that only within the past 400-500 years has abuse of alcohol and addiction been a problem. Why has is the swath of addiction caused more havoc within some social groups more than others? Before we discuss this, let’s look at the Rat Park experiment conducted by Bruce Alexander.
I first came across this study in my first year of podcasting, and I’m reluctant to say, I dismissed it. At that time, I was in the camp that addiction is roughly 80% genetics and about 20% environmental, now, I’ve done somewhat of 180. I feel that addiction is about 20% genetics and 80% environmental. Okay, back to Rat Park. The study looks at two different environments for rats. In one cage, it had a single rat. The rat has access to food, water, and cocaine. It was only a matter of time before the lone rat chose a diet of strict cocaine and ended up dying. This process was repeated continuously with the same result. You might say, duh, cocaine is one of the top 4 most addictive drugs on the planet. But what happens when the environment changes. The second environment is called Rat Park which is full of rat families, with toys for the rats to play with, with mates for the rats, and probably Third Eye Blind Playing in the background. In Rat Park, the rats have access to food, water, and an unlimited supply of cocaine. What happened? Nothing. Cocaine/addiction was no longer a problem. Eliminate stress, change the environment, and eliminate addiction. It worked for rats, it should for us right? Well not so simple, but in theory, yes, and it’s gonna take some time. Johan Hari talks about this in his Ted Talk titled, “The Opposite of Addiction is Connection.” I highly recommend watching this. He continues to say the opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety. It’s connection. I would say it’s more of a combo of sobriety and connection.
I am also reluctant to say when I first saw Johan Hari’s Ted Talk 3 years ago, I dismissed it and wasn’t a big fan. Now, I think I think, for the most part, it’s spot on. Johan’s Ted talk is starting to echo a theme that has been presenting itself the more I learn about alcoholism and addiction. That addiction is not about the pleasurable effects of substances, it’s about the user’s inability to connect in healthy ways with other human beings. In other words, addiction is not a substance disorder, it’s a social disorder. Previously, when I first started the Recovery Elevator podcast, early 2015, I was in the camp that the pleasurable effects of alcohol, and drugs, were the primary drivers for addiction but now I feel that the pleasurable effects of alcohol and drugs help soothe inner trauma and our inabilities to connect healthily with other humans. On an individual level, we are not at fault for this. In today’s breakneck fast-paced world, we are living further and further away from other human beings, we falsely connect more and more via social media and our society has a significant problem with accumulating external possessions because we’re taught this is healthy. Unfortunately, much of today’s economy is reliant upon our addictions.
I feel the birth of addiction occurred with the mass displacement of people from their lands, communities, and roots that started with the substantial land grabs of the Spanish, French, Dutch, English, and Americans on our own continent. Some groups of people, who are disproportionately affected by addiction, got the raw end of the stick, and they are still paying the price. What about those who weren’t displaced from their lands, maybe someone like myself and probably several other listeners. Well, life has drastically changed for everyone on the face of the planet in the past 500 years, Especially in the previous 100, and even more so in the past 50. Before the first flight took place in 1902, it was a lot harder to leave a community. Today, I think a lot of us are still trying to figure out “where we belong” and this sense of alienation has affected some more than others. For myself, this has resulted in addiction.
Back to the absence of addiction in pre-modern times. You might be saying to yourself, Paul, I’m relatively certain borders, boundaries, tribe lines, restrictions, precincts, confines, rivers existed in pre-modern times… Yes, this is correct. But when civilizations remained settled for upwards of 500-1,000+ years, and you were lucky to have oxen and wagon, you may have never encountered a border or really knew what one was in your lifetime. If everything you needed was already in your own “rat park,” then why leave?
Now let’s explore a futuristic world without borders. Again, this scares me. Big time, but if you think about it, it’s really the only way things can go. We’ve been doing the conquer, defeat, divide, overthrow, coup, rebellion, revolution, wage war, WWI, WWII, with sticks and clubs and now with nuclear bombs. For ages. It’s not working, and human beings are starting to wizen up. The EU opened its borders up in 1985, and this has made things easier.
When will this no border fantasy world occur? I don’t know, it might not. Artificial Intelligence might have something to say about it first. With the proliferation of social media, which isn’t a genuine human connection, things may get a lot worse before they get better. But barring nuclear war, ending everything for everyone, I think this will happen in the next 300-500 years. If you’re saying to yourself, I don’t want to live next to a white person, or I don’t want to live next to a black person, well, in the next 200 years, we’re all going to be the same color anyways so please get over yourself. I think, when everyone can move about this planet freely, when we can accept all human beings as equal when we are able to establish roots and communities wherever we’d like, then I think we’ll wake up one day and see the problem of addiction slowly fade away.
I am approaching three years of sobriety. Recently, I have been distracted enough to not consider the convoluted emotions which typically accompany my sobriety date.
Not a day goes by when I am not authentically grateful for the disease of alcoholism; along with the unexpected gifts in recovery.
Lately my world has been in a constant state of cerebral dysfunction, with the long overdue separation of my youngest daughter and the societal expectation of public school.
Meanwhile, I feel I cannot possibly take on another role, yet find myself with three new sponsees. What in THE hell is my HP thinking? Does the universe not SEE that I am falling on my ass on a daily basis? My OWN ass. How do I have the mental capacity to guide three adult-type people through the early stages of recovery?
One night, while lonesome, I found myself momentarily missing a remarkably unhealthy relationship, for the mere fact that it offered companionship. Lost in thought, I found myself romanticizing that toxic union just as I would a glass of merlot; the familiar allure of poison.
A newcomer calling for guidance. I had just met her at her very first AA meeting.
The triumphant laughter of the universe, cloaked in a shout, when a suggestive whisper didn’t resonate. Jolting me back to reality and out of the very unnecessary abyss of that maladjusted union.
I recently also offered to sponsor another young woman. She shared some thoughts with me that made our short time together completely worthwhile.
We were reading the big book together, accompanied by a few pages of dreaded, yet reliable, homework. I suggested that she try to settle on a task and with humble willingness, she would start to feel better.
She concurred with insight of a different view, as she woefully spoke:
“I feel fear better.
I feel anger better.
I feel anxiety better.
I feel sadness better.
I feel everything fucking better.”
Truth. This is reality of sobriety.
I shared with this newcomer some of my ongoing struggles, and the recent ebb and flow of grief. Recounted the moment I was crying to my doctor, hoping for some Xanax, admitting to my new naturopath, “I don’t want to feel this…” Prior to hitting my bottom, I had been over-medicated in the care of an over-zealous practitioner with Xanax, Klonopin, and Celexa.
What was my new doctor’s remedy, instead of firing off a cryptic prescription or two?
She alerted me to my words that day, ” I don’t want to feel…” and reminded me that I haven’t allowed myself to feel anything except detachment for the past 20 years.
She recommended I sit through these damned emotions, wallow through the despair, allow the waves of grief to flow, until I could…
Written by Kellie Ideson from Pure Life Recovery
I suddenly find myself three years sober. I’ve been contemplating how to write about this milestone for weeks. Recently distracted and shamelessly overwhelmed with life events, to a degree that I actually did not over analyze this past year in recovery. It just “happened.” Odd how the days amass when conducting myself like a palpable, functioning adult.
Life evolved this year. My godmother died. I said my final farewell to my amazing dad. I went through a tumultuous and extended break up; my first one sober. My eldest daughter graduated from high school, while we opted to pull my youngest daughter out of public school to embark on a home school scenario. Most recently, I resigned from a reliable job to engage in this new, unfamiliar path of educating my child.
That’s a lot of shit. A whole lot.
My therapist asked me to imagine a scenario: What if you had been told one year ago, or even six months ago, that all of these life events would materialize? Leading me into absolutely uncharted territory, a real transformation in my sobriety.
I would not have believed it. Nor would I have welcomed it. Any of it.
However, my gratitude abounds. Exhausted and somewhat anxious? Unquestionably. Waiting for the next move to be revealed, I do so without any evident amount of dread.
Three years ago I was paralyzed by dread on a daily, sometimes hourly basis. For me, dread is not fear. It is an emotion characterized by boredom, lethargy, laziness, selfishness, non existent self esteem, and yes…fear. Dread was the contrived outcome of my lack of human authenticity. An unrealistic, inner dialog with myself, that I would be “found out.” That I was an emotional adolescent, masquerading as an adult.
My list of dread was as follows:
Hurting my children
Loving my children
I recognize a plethora of self imposed imbalance on that list (accompanied by a dozen more blog ideas). Dread of pain and joy. Just and unjust. I once suggested that my addiction eased some of this dread; pain. A suggestion of delusion.
Drinking obliterated legitimate coping skills. It diluted raw and pure emotions, and diverted my responsiveness to life.
In the past year I have embraced the “undread.” Welcoming the concept that feeling anxious and occasionally fearful is typical. To truly live is to let go of dread and the unrealistic expectation that life is painless. Realizing that our best laid plans are not truly of our making at all. There is a power greater than ourselves that releases us from the responsibility of dread and morose repercussions.
Life for me is not easier in recovery, not by a long shot. Yet I am amazingly content, mostly serene, and able to accept that my worst day sober is far more acceptable than my best day drunk.
Embracing the journey. One day, one moment, one new trail at a time.
Written by Kellie Ideson from Pure Recovery