Saturday, December 7, 2013

Goodbye Jeff. Hello Jeff, Nice to Finally Meet You.

Today is day 25. I know because I downloaded an app to my iPhone. It was one of the first things that I did on the day that I made the conscious decision that I'd had my last drink of alcohol. You read that correctly and, yes, this is the blog written by Jeff Brunk. Now, stand up and collect yourself.

When I made this decision I wasn't hungover. I wasn't in trouble with anyone. I wasn't in jail.
All fair questions that I'm certain immediately come to one's  mind.
I opened my eyes that morning, looked at the ceiling and thought to myself, 'Well, that's enough of that" and that was that. In actuality, the decision to either cut back or cease the insanity had been swimming around, literally swimming around, in my head for quite a while. However, I'm an all or nothing, black and white personality and the decision between live or die, stop or go was to stop and live.

So, I raised up on an elbow, looked at Pam, and told her what I had decided. I didn't expect much. She'd heard it before. Who hasn't said those words at least once in their drinking history? But I was saying them in a relatively unfazed state of mind. Amazing, given the increasingly dreadful volume of wine that I was consuming each and every night. I never had hangovers. It was to that point.
That was twenty-five days ago.

In a bit, I'll expound on what I've learned about myself from this journey thus far. I'll be the first to admit that I'm no hero for making it a measly twenty five days when there are people who struggle a lifetime hour by hour. But, I can maybe shed some light on what it is like for a Bipolar, self-medicating man who suddenly cuts off a lifeline.

First, a little history..........

My initial experience with happy juice came when I was just a young Weeble.

I was in middle school and my family had just moved to Lexington, NC earlier that year. So, I must have been in sixth grade. Sometime during that winter or fall, I was dropped with some sort of illness, cold and fever. I don't remember much. I blame the loss of brain cells. That's my excuse from now on. Hell, I sometimes can't remember what day it is, but I do remember my mom coming to me with cough medicine. A special elixir, concocted from a special recipe handed down by the gods of Atlantis. It tasted like grape juice, but not as syrupy as NyQuil, and it put me out after making me all warm and fuzzy. I vaguely recall wanting to boogie to the Bee Gees. My mother appropriately called it the "Grape Ape."

Not long after recovering from this sickness, I ventured downstairs and found the 1970's-style unlocked, closeted minibar in which my mom, not Isis or one of the Atlantean gods, had devised this concoction. I found Welch's grape juice and vodka. I can't remember the brand vodka and I really didn't care. I just knew that I felt better, had slept well, and had been given another Grape Ape the next night to help me kick that devastating illness. After I recovered, that was it for Grape Apes and my experience with alcohol. At least, for the time being.

It wasn't until I was sixteen years old that I was reintroduced to the spirits. My first beer was heartily enjoyed with 'Pap' Woods and his cousin while we listened to Heatwave's "Groove Line" booming from the back of his cousin's pimped Pinto. I even remember the beer. Oh, the ice cold freshness of Busch, in the can, with the old-school pop-top. I think that between the three of us we shared a case. For a novice, four beers is enough to both bring about euphoria and a certain sense of regret. I wasn't thinking about any regret, I just knew that I liked the way that the bass line thumped a bit more in tune with my soul with every sip of ice cold nectar. I wanted a Pinto by the time we finished the case and I think I might have made an offer to buy Pap's cousin's car. Stranger things have since happened.

From that day forward, I honed my imbibing skills and I honed them fiercely. Back in the early 1980's beer was easy to get. It was like buying Mentos. My focus changed as I remembered the Grape Ape and what else must be out there. I became good friends with Everclear. Wild Turkey gobbled its way into my cup quite a few times. I was quite health conscious by this time. Only Diet Coke and the Turkey, please.  Of course, there were the two mainstays, vodka and Jim Beam. Yet, when out on the town, for mixing purposes, vodka was the rule.
It was the 80's. It was a time of abounding freedom and letting it all out there. And, for me, it was nearly an entire decade of full-fledged Bipolar mania. All of these were as easy to obtain in the early '80's as cocaine and Madonna wannabes.
Hell, I would make a cocktail from Everclear and Dr. Pepper. And to me, that mix tasted as good as a Five Guys milkshake. It tasted better after the second sip when my tongue, lips, guts and face were numb.

From there, I started hosting PJ parties. PJ is a mix of fruit and most any kind of alcohol, by the half gallon, juice and maybe some ice... all stirred with a stick for effect and served from a brand new 30-gallon Rubbermaid trash can. I was on my way and I was in the fast lane. By the way, it must be stirred with a stick and it must be served from a new, repeat NEW, trash can. Redneck rules. Oh yes, be sure to place the can on a hard surface that is impervious to stains. Word to the wise.

High school ended and away I went to art school where screwdrivers during class in one of those thermal cups with a lid were a must. Liquid inspiration, I would think to myself. To be fair, I did my best artwork and get my most outrageous artistic ideas with a less 'tight' mind. Little did I know that the alcohol was simply slowing down my thinking as a result of my disorder.

My buddy, Eric, and I would do our camera work in the darkroom but always have our own 'developer' with us. I swear, I have always done my best artwork when I am at another level... and I'll be honest, I'll call it dumbed-down. To be quite brutally honest, I have always used alcohol to lower myself to an understanding of most. Yeah, that sounds bad, but it's true and for many years it was motivation. I have always felt that I was here mentally, (hand raised) and most others were here, (hand lowered). I would drink to understand the thinking process of others. I'm not making that up. I know, that does sound haughty, but I'm not that way. I now know that I simply can't focus on one simple idea at a time. More on that later.

Alcohol has been a motivator, a courage-maker, a deal-breaker and a stupidifier for me as long as I can remember. Well, almost as long as I can remember.

Flash forward to my most manic moments of my life. It has landed me in jail, a few times. It has cost me the respect of my children. Not to mention their presence. I can't blame alcohol entirely, Bipolar disorder is the main culprit, but self-medicating with wine or vodka surely didn't help matters. Alcohol played a part in my vacation stay in the county mental health facility. It's alright, you can call it the nut house. It also landed me in the hospital on suicide watch a couple of times. I swear though, I didn't attempt anything stupid like that. I just have no 'off' switch. That's one of my faults. If it feels good, if I feel good, I want to feel better, and better, and better. Until, well... you get the idea.

You see, I've always felt the need to drink to escape the voices or the pain or something I couldn't quite understand or grasp if it wasn't just to have fun, as it was in the earlier days.
As my therapist and most books call it, it is 'self-medicating.' Most of us bipolar folk do it in one way or another. Count me amongst them. My problem is that I have no 'off' switch, as I mentioned.

I no longer drink wine. I no longer sell wine, which was my chosen career. Twenty five days ago, later that morning, I called my employer and quit my job. Like I said, I'm all or nothing. I knew that there was no way that I could do my job properly on a daily basis without drinking.

My brain will always be on the fritz. It'll always be two gerbils on a hamster wheel. But, for myself and especially those that love me and, for some reason, need me, I knew that I needed this change desperately. My health was deteriorating as I was sinking psychologically.

I have always been a spiritual person. I'm connected, more in a Buddhist way, to the Universe through Reiki and feeling and healing. I had lost that. I was drinking more and more. I was trying to escape something, but I don't know how many things I was running from.

What I do know is this: The most difficult thing about the last twenty five days has been getting reacquainted with myself and, this surprised me, finding something else to do. I have had to completely change my habits. When I say change habits I'm referring to changing what time I shower, where I sit at a certain time of day, what time I go to bed. It sounds silly but it isn't as easy as you might think it to be.

I was literally frightened at first. I truly thought that I had lost my humor and sense of self. Hey, look, I had been drinking for the last thirty-three years. I didn't drink every day but I didn't miss many days.
Here is a tidbit for you... the first night, I went to an AA meeting. I wanted to get an idea what it was about and to see if I belonged there. As it turns out, there were some great, accepting people there. I haven't been to another meeting, but I haven't craved a drink. I don't walk into a store or walk down the wine aisle in the supermarket and become tortured with cravings.
I do like the way I feel now and I like that I've lost poundage. Waking up earlier in the morning isn't that bad. I'm getting my 'funny' back.
Best of all, I'm gaining a newfound appreciation for myself and man oh man, am I ever gaining clarity of mind.

Robin Williams has always been one of my favorite comedians. When he was younger, back in the 80's he was out of control, always the improvisational genius. I still go to YouTube to watch his old routines from time to time. If you weren't aware, Robin Williams is also Bipolar. He's a textbook case.
Through the years, he has seen television success, movie success and movie flops. Personally, he's experienced the highs and lows that come with relationships, finances and life. But, he's survived and now has what I believe is one of the best and funniest shows on television in 'The Crazy Ones.'
Here's the thing... when he was at his craziest, he was drinking like a fish, doing coke, self-medicating. Yet, he succeeded. Eventually, the house of cards came crashing down and he had to say to himself, 'Enough.' But, he didn't lose his humor. His humor and his improvisational talent is still there and he's just as good as he ever was with one exception: his humor is smarter. It is not as fast and furious, but it is smart.

I like to liken my own life to his. Not that I've been famous in any way, shape or form but I've had so many different careers that I've mastered, then grew bored with. I've moved fast, I've crashed and burned. And now, I have said, 'enough.' It is time to listen to myself, use what I know, be who I know myself to be and be smart.

So now you know.
Tomorrow is Day 26. One day older, another day wiser. Pass the water, would ya?