No Quarter – An Alcoholic’s Recovery: Week 8 – Telling People I’m an Alcoholic

I’m running out of excuses to not hang out with people.  It’s been two months since I’ve hung out with any of my friends outside of work; I haven’t done anything since I started sobriety – outside of hanging out with my family.

Frankly, I don’t know how to hang out with anybody without drinking.  Alcohol was the glue that held all my relationships together.  Without it, what’s left?

I’m wondering how best to tell people about the alcoholism and my choice of sobriety.  It’ll no doubt strike people as odd – especially from me.  I don’t think anybody’s ever seen me without a drink in my hand.  I’ve earned a reputation for being a fun drunk, the life of the party.  For me to suddenly go back on that and say that it was a problem will be confusing for people.

So how does one break it to people that all those good times were actual just the tip of the alcoholic iceberg?

“It was time to quit – I’m a father now.”

Pros: I’m a good dad, and a decent, selfless person who’s leaving the party-animal behind him.

Cons: Makes me sound like a sanctimonious asshole.

This is a decent start I guess, but honestly, it’d sound really out of place coming out of my mouth.  For one thing, I’ve been a father for over three years, so why is it just now a thing?  For another, so what if you’re a father?  My dad drinks… most people’s dads do!  And they’re all just fine.

Also, this has a certain holier than thou tone to it.  It’s like saying I don’t drink because drinking makes you a bad father.  Well isn’t that sort of a tacit condemnation of everybody who does drink and also is a father – which is basically everyone?

This one’s also tough since I’m still young enough that most of my friends don’t have children yet, so they probably won’t “get” it.

“I’m not drinking tonight… I have an early morning tomorrow.”

Pro: Completely sidesteps the issue – for now.

Con: Completely sidesteps the issue.

This could work once or twice to delay my having to tell everybody that I don’t drink anymore.  And it’s also the chicken-shit easy way which is always my preferred method.

Also, it doesn’t sound credible coming from me.  I used to drink until the early morning hours, then get up a few hours later and function just fine.  Early mornings have never bothered me in the past and everybody knows that – so why should they now?

At the end of the day, this is just a punt.  I’ll still have to address it at some point.

“I’m on this stupid diet and I’m not allowed to drink.”

Pro: Sounds plausible.  I could definitely lose some weight.

Con: Lacks credibility when I’m shoving 3000 calories of nachos down my face hole.

People love talking about whatever fad diet they’re on to lose weight.  Why not claim that I’m on some fad diet and that I’m not “allowed” to drink?

This could work, and would be a decent way to save face.  It’s perfectly acceptable for a fat dude to talk about being fat.  Shit, how many comedy legends are fat dudes who make a joke out of being fat?  Why can’t I do it?

The problem is this is also a temporary solution and one that’s doomed to fail because, let’s face it, I’m not going to stop eating Taco Bell and Reese’s Cups anytime soon.  Eventually it’ll become pretty obvious that my diet is a complete joke.

“I’m an alcoholic and I’m in recovery.”

Pro: Unambiguous and… well… it’s the truth.

Con: “Wow, can you believe that about Matt?  I never knew… Hey John, did you hear about Matt?  Yeah, can you believe that?  It’s kind of sad really…”

Yikes.  The truth?  Bold move.  By now you should all know that I’m too much of a coward to go with the truth.

I feel like as soon as I drop this bombshell everybody will think I am weak.  They’ll all just think I wasn’t mature enough to drink like the rest of them and keep my shit together.  They’ll think I’m pathetic.  And I’m not pathetic.

Worse, maybe they’ll walk on eggshells around me.  They’ll be thinking, are we allowed to drink and have fun around Matt?  Or will he feel compelled to start drinking and ruin his life?

“I stopped drinking because it started to become a problem.”

Pro: It’s the truth, and I don’t have to say the phrase “I’m an alcoholic.”

Con: “started to become a problem” is vague and open to interpretation.  Did you hear Matt’s drinking was a problem?  What’d he do, beat his wife?  DUI?

This one also has the benefit of truth to it, but it’s also wide open to interpretation.  And you know people love filling information voids with the absolute worst shit possible.  I can hear it now:

Did you hear Matt beats his kids?

He must have gotten arrested!

I thought he looked weird at work… he must have been drunk!

Fuck. That. Shit.

“I’m not drinking anymore and it’s none of your goddamn business why.”

Pro: Unambiguous and, again, it’s the truth.

Con: Combative and people will still come up with their own reasons.

Really, at the end of the day, it’s nobody’s goddamn business why I stopped drinking.  I have my reasons, and maybe they should just stay my own.  If they’re real friends of mine, they’ll understand.  And if they’re not, then why should I give a shit what they think?

Whatever I decide, it’s probably time to come out from under my rock…

On to week 9. Continue reading “No Quarter – An Alcoholic’s Recovery: Week 8 – Telling People I’m an Alcoholic”

Bipolar Disorder Described in a Word: Addicting

For me, bipolar disorder is addicting as hell!  I’m not just talking about alcohol, drugs, gambling, buying 50 pairs of shoes (a week) or whatever other destructive habits you can think of; I’m talking about becoming addicted to virtually anything I’ve ever cared to do in my life.  I don’t know how to half-ass anything.  I either whole-ass it, or zero-ass it; no partial-assing for me!

I’ve also been told this once or twice, but I’ll save the assholiness for another post.

Really, this is just an extension of another post I wrote about bipolar disorder being engrossing, but it’s definitely worth expanding on.  Also, I’m currently addicted to Reese’s Peanut Butter cups, and if I stop writing this article I’m literally going to eat my face off (OK, figuratively eat my face off; whatever, I know).

Why is Bipolar Disorder addicting?

Imagine you’re white water rafting.  Everything around you is tumultuous, and you’re doing everything you can just to get down the river, and stay in the boat.  Maybe that’s holding on as tight as you can.  Maybe it’s paddling like hell.  Or maybe it’s something else entirely because I don’t know the first thing about white water rafting and this is just the first metaphor that popped into my head.

This is sort of what mania feels like.  You’re on this precarious little boat and your thoughts are racing around you like a raging river.  So you work like hell to stay in the boat.  Often this involves throwing yourself into something completely to keep your mind busy;  maybe you’re brewing beer, writing a blog, buying 5,000 pairs of shoes, or my personal favorite, becoming an (almost) YouTube star.  Whatever it is, you become addicted to it – at least for a time.

Conversely, maybe you’re depressed, and life is starting to feel a little overwhelming.  So you check out for a while – you start drinking, smoke some weed, eat 4 lbs of Reese’s peanut butter cups; really, just pick your poison!

They sell these fucking everywhere.  I shipped a package the other day and the UPS store had them.  So of course I bought one, goddammit!

I guess chocolate-peanut buttery goodness isn’t as bad as the war I’ve been waging on my liver for the past 10 years with booze, but still, it’s a little destructive.  I was hoping the first time I was on TV wouldn’t be on My 600lb Life.  My minimum goal is making the news getting perp-walked for something cool; like stealing a truck filled with Reese’s Cups.

It Ain’t All Bad

Addiction definitely has a negative connotation.  It should, since usually when you’re talking about addiction you’re talking about it in the medical sense – as in “Matt drinks so much he jumped into the resevoir, then came home and ate an extra large chicken bacon ranch pizza; he did that 3 separate times last week.  I think that meets section 12 of the DSM critera for Alcohol Use Disorder – do you do stupid shit at least once weekly?”.

But really, it can be a good thing if you channel it into something productive.

Here are some examples of the good and the bad in my own life:

The good: Got addicted to exercise and dieting and lost 40lbs (which is good since I was about 40lbs overweight).

The bad: Gained 40 lbs in two months after becoming addicted to Reese’s Cups.

The good: Created a successful YouTube channel after becoming addicted to Minecraft and video editing.

The bad: Became addicted to Minecraft and video editing and stopped hanging out with friends.

The good: Became addicted to work, got promoted several times.

The bad: Got addicted to work, got promoted into role that I hate.

The good: Got addicted to brewing beer, and had fun learning about one of my favorite things!

The bad: Got addicted to brewing beer, a habit which complimented my alcoholism nicely, and temporarily turned me into the most vanilla version of Walter White you’ve ever seen (I even have a chemistry degree).

The good: Got addicted to writing, and created a blog.

The bad: Got addicted to writing, and inflicted several made up ass-related words like “assholiness” and “partial-assing” to the general public.

Bonus Bad: Got addicted to diet Mountain Dew in an ill-advised attempt at a beer replacement and now my pee glows in the dark.

Weeeeeeeeee!

There’s many more examples, but it’s been 10 minutes since I last shoved Reese’s cups and Mountain Dew into my face so I’m going to have to wrap this post up.

Check out my other posts from my Bipolar Disorder Described in a Word series:

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No Quarter – An Alcoholic’s Recovery: Week 7 – No Finish Line

Alcohol always felt like the finish line for me – like my life was a race but there was a place I’d get to stop running and take a breather just around the corner.

I haven’t been able to replace that finish line feeling yet.  Getting home from work, getting the kids to bed, and finally sitting for a minute with a glass of whiskey (and then another, and then another, and then another… on a Tuesday) was one of the greatest pleasures in my life.  I could physically feel the tension release in my body, and the various worries of my day wasted away.  Now I have nothing.

I’m struggling to find that replacement.  I’m blessed to have a wonderful family, and being with them is also a great pleasure, but it doesn’t have the same ability to make me forget about the stresses of my day the way alcohol did.  Being with my family, playing with my children, introduces good feelings, but it does not replace or eliminate the bad ones; alcohol did.

I thought I was over the cravings for alcohol.  I haven’t been going to group therapy because, frankly, I’ve told myself I don’t need it.  I saw a psychiatrist this week who told me would relapse if I didn’t go to group.  I thought that was a pretty bold statement.  Not I might relapse, or I was at increased risk to relapse.  She said I would – definitely.

I thought she was full of it, but the next day I had a terrible day at work, and I won’t lie: all I wanted to do was get hammered.  If there had been any alcohol in the house I absolutely would have.  There was nobody to stop me, my wife was at work, and the kids were in bed.  The cravings returned as strong as they had when I was in the thick of my alcoholism.

I needed my finish line; I needed my relief from the stress of the day.  I realize now that my cravings haven’t gone away, it’s just that the stress in my life has diminished.  Weeks 3 and 4 of sobriety I was on vacation, and during weeks 5 and 6 work has been quiet and my in-laws have been available to help with the children.  This past week has presented me with my first real challenge in a while and my mind immediately went to getting hammered for relief.

It’s clear I need to find a replacement to deal with stress.  I’m not too good for group therapy, and my psychiatrist is absolutely right – if I don’t figure this out, I will relapse.

One good thing to close out the week: I mentioned that alcohol was my way of killing the bad feelings and stress that accompanied my days; while it was extremely effective at this, it also was extremely effective at killing the good feelings that I should have been getting.  Being with my family fills me with way more joy than it did before, and even simple things like writing this post give me a greater sense of accomplishment than it did when I was hammered.

So sobriety doesn’t suck as hard as it did when I started; but I still have a long ways to go.

On to week 8…  Continue reading “No Quarter – An Alcoholic’s Recovery: Week 7 – No Finish Line”

Running Away From God – And Stumbling Back Again

Despite a church-every-Sunday upbringing in an Irish-Catholic household, I am an atheist.

I’m not proud to be an atheist.  In fact, I can probably count how many times I’ve used the phrase “I’m an atheist” on one hand; it’s not something I’m remotely comfortable talking about – not that I’m remotely comfortable talking about anything.

I was born in Buffalo, NY, and lived there until moving to Indianapolis just shy of two years ago.  If you were born in Buffalo, there’s a good chance that your ancestors were either Irish, or Polish; and it’s almost guaranteed that you’re a Catholic.  I was reminded of that fact last year while trick-or-treating with my daughter in an Indianapolis suburb with a Buffalo Bills hat on; we came across two separate native Buffalonians who, recognizing my allegiance to the Bills, each asked us (in this order) – “How ’bout ‘dem Bills?” and then “Have you found the Catholic church yet?”

Also Buffalo:

A drinking town with a sports problem… I’ve never done this…

Table smashing aside, the Catholic faith is a big part of what makes Buffalo, Buffalo – and my lack of faith is just one more thing that makes me different – immoral even; and thus it is cause for shame.

tried to be a good catholic.  I went to church every Sunday (Ok, my parents made me, but still).  I prayed.  I read the bible.  I went to CCD (Catholic Sunday-school).  I was confirmed; all the things a good Catholic should do.  But then I rejected it.

I wrote in the first post of my series, No Quarter – An Alcoholic’s Recovery that I rejected God at the age of 16 after a particularly rough patch of depression.  That’s sort of true, but it’s a bit messier than that.  I didn’t stop believing in God completely at first.  I still believed in Him – it’s just that I started hating Him.

God had always been silent in my darkest moments.  In fact, God had always been silent period – despite my prayers, and my generally being a good person and a good Catholic.  What kind of relationship is it when one side is completely silent?  No relationship at all!  If your significant other never communicated you’d be pretty upset too – especially if you were suffering!

Then there’s the whole everything happens according to His design bullshit.  What the hell kind of plan has to include my depression?  What kind of monster would make such a plan?  And what kind of God would refuse to intervene to help me when He supposedly has infinite power to do so, and infinite compassion to motivate Him to do so?  I certainly don’t have infinite compassion, but I at least would intervene on a friend’s behalf and help if they were suffering and there was something I could do about it.

Help helps.

That was also around the age I started to pay attention to what was going on in the world; I realized that whatever shit I thought I was going through was nothing compared to what other people were going through in the “real” world.  If God was real, and this was all part of a plan, then fuck that plan and fuck whoever made it.  

I also started noticing all the zealots out there offering thoughts and prayers, and whatever other pathetic, useless comforts they had to those who were suffering.  “It’s all part of His plan” I’d hear them say.  What the hell comfort is “this is all part of God’s plan” to someone whose child was just murdered?  What comfort is “this is meant to be” to someone who just lost their job?  Ever notice that the people who are saying that usually have pretty decent lives?  It’s convenient to think some all powerful being is controlling everything when everything happens to be pretty good for you.

I began to hate the zealots as much as I hated God.  Hypocrites who have never faced real adversity I thought.  Damn them!

If this was all part of a plan, then fuck that plan and fuck whoever made it.

My hatred for God simmered for years until I finally realized the simple truth – the reason all these terrible things happen to people, and the reason I’m depressed is because of people; and God doesn’t intervene for one very simple reason – there is no God.  

I was 18 when I made that revelation, and my life took off in the decade afterwards.  I took things into my own hands and started doing better in school.  I met my future wife at college.  I graduated and got a good job.  We bought a home, got married, and had children.  My career took off… hell, the Bills even made the playoffs for the first time in 17 years (I guess I didn’t have anything to do with that last one but whatever).

My life got better after I forsook Catholicism.  But as the circumstances of my life improved, my mental state always seemed stuck in the same pattern of waxing and waning moods which I would eventually come to learn was bipolar disorder.  A nagging dissatisfaction with it all has also lingered – a void which I’ve spent the past ten years trying to fill with alcohol.

Sometimes I wonder had I reached a different conclusion with my faith where things would have turned up.  Would I have done as well as I have?  Would I have turned to alcohol?  If I hadn’t turned to alcohol, would I have even met my wife and eventually had my two daughters?

I was recently reminded by the incomparable Beauty Beyond Bones (BBB) of a different path.  In a must read post for anyone in recovery (whether from alcohol, drugs, mental illness, or as in the case of BBB – anorexia), BBB details her experience in an intensive inpatient care facility for anorexia.  She made it through the experience only through her faith in Jesus.

“[Inpatient care] awakened in me the need for Jesus in my life…” – Beauty Beyond Bones, How I Survived Inpatient Treatment For Anorexia

It’s fascinating that two people can hit bottom and come to two completely different conclusions about something so important.  BBB almost died as a result of her anorexia, and was saved through her faith in Jesus.  I was at the low point of a crippling depression and was saved, at least in part, by renouncing Jesus.

Had I read BBB’s post 2 months ago, I honestly would have rolled my eyes, and probably stopped reading as soon as I saw the word Jesus.  Today, with the help of a newly sober mind I’ve rediscovered a respect for the devoutly religious.  It takes guts to place all your faith in God; and… is it actually right?

Today I am sitting here as a 29-year-old man, and looking back at the past 13 years – from when a 16-year-old boy started hating God, to now.  I can’t help but wonder, was this all part of the plan?

Maybe the past 13 years have been part of some divine lesson.  Had God answered the prayers of a 16-year-old boy in the way he imagined those prayers would been answered… well, I suppose my bipolar depression would have just gone away… and I probably would have gotten a teenage-dream girlfriend too as a cherry on top.

But of course that didn’t happen.  Instead I had to learn to accept that bipolar disorder is a part of my life.  I had to learn that depression is a fact of my existence, but that it too shall pass.  I became strong as a result, and that strength turned into success.

Maybe turning to alcohol to cope was in the plan.  Alcoholism did push me to the party where I met my wife in college, and it gave me the courage to say something to her.  Eventually that relationship would turn into a marriage and two children – and being with my daughters is certainly the closest I’ve ever felt to God.

Maybe God is real.  I wasn’t given a fish when I was 16; instead I was taught how to fish over the past 13 years.  Maybe.

Completely reclaiming my faith remains illusive.  It’s difficult to just go back to believing in something you’ve vehemently denied for over a decade.  I’m not sure what it will take to believe… maybe another 13 years of wandering?  Maybe the Bills winning the Superbowl?

At least for now, trying to find Jesus just feels a bit like this:

 

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As always, thanks for reading!  Take care!

No Quarter – An Alcoholic’s Recovery: Week 6 – No More Friends

I still remember the last time I made a real friend.  It was January 20th, 2011; the night I met my wife.

No, this is not a story about how I met my wife and then became a recluse who shunned all social contact outside of my relationship with my significant other.  Really, nothing could be further from the truth; my wife has always encouraged me to go out and enjoy myself and I’ve often taken the opportunity to do so.

No, this is about the realization that I haven’t made a single real friend since… well, since before alcohol.

Anyone I know in “real life” would probably be surprised to read this post because I’m more or less universally well-liked.  I’m gregarious, friendly, helpful, funny, intelligent – just a decent, easy going dude (If a little immodest).  I’m usually one of the more boisterous people in a group, and I’m happiest if I’m making those around me laugh.

But being well-liked by someone is not the same as having a real friendship with that person.  A meaningful friendship requires that you be able to talk about the things that make you uncomfortable.  It requires accepting a certain degree of vulnerability.  Accepting that vulnerability opens you up to the risk that someone will see the “true you” and not like what they see – or even worse, exploit what they see to harm you.  To me, that is simply unacceptable.

My family’s discovery of this blog was one of the most devastating things that’s happened to me recently because of how vulnerable I’ve made myself here.  This blog contains shards of the real me, the part you’re not supposed to see.

My relationships, or at least the ones I’ve formed since I started drinking, are all superficial.  I show exactly what I want to show, and absolutely nothing more.  And what I want to show is carefully curated to protect myself from risk and present myself in the best possible light.  It’s pathetic, but I realize now that the risk I’m protecting myself against is that someone might (gasp) not like me.

Sobriety has helped me realize that being universally well-liked is actually kind of a bad thing – it means I’ve never shown anybody anything except what I think they’ll like.  Nobody dislikes me because I’ve never stood for anything!  There’s nothing there!  I’m completely nebulous – I’ll agree with whatever you tell me!  I’ll like whatever you like… Just so long as you like me!  I become whatever you want me to be.

Alcohol was the one thing that allowed me to become vulnerable at times.  It was the only thing that could pierce my armor and allow me to open up to people.  In a strange way I owe a great debt of gratitude to alcohol – I would never had met my wife without it.  I probably would have been too afraid to say a word to her; or I would have just said the same boring shit that I say to everyone.  And she would have thought, oh he’s nice; and then in a day or two she’d have no memory of me just like everyone else.

Since becoming sober six weeks ago I have not hung out with anyone but my family.  Drinking was the glue that held my relationships with all my “friends” together.  I realize now that there’s nothing there – only the most superficial of relationships that exist solely to facilitate and legitimize the drinking.

I want to get better though.  I want to make real friends because let’s face it – I’m lonely.  I miss talking to my buddies the way I did when I was a kid.  I miss having stupid inside jokes.  I miss saying and doing stupid crap and sharing memories.

I need to find a way to accept vulnerability.  But like everything else with sobriety so far, I have a pretty good idea of what I need to do, and absolutely no idea how to do it.

Well my friends (see what I did there), I’ll see you in week 7…  Continue reading “No Quarter – An Alcoholic’s Recovery: Week 6 – No More Friends”

5 Tips to Stay Productive With Bipolar Disorder

Do you have bipolar disorder and struggle to consistently maintain a high level of productivity?  This is a common problem for people like you and I who suffer from bipolar disorder.

While manic or hypomanic, your mind is racing, and you struggle to focus on just one damn thing!  Or you can focus on one thing, but you can only focus on the one thing; you become obsessed with YouTube stardom, or baking cakes, or brewing beer… whatever!  But this obsession comes at the expense of everything else.

Then depression returns and kills whatever drive you had to do anything.  It’s hard enough just getting out of bed, you want me to go to work too?

Thankfully, over the past 15 years or so, I’ve discovered a few tricks to keep my productivity up while experiencing the waxing and waning moods of bipolar disorder.

1) Plan the Work.  Work the Plan.

This is about as simple as it gets.  Take a minute and evaluate what really needs to be done that day.  Don’t spend more than a couple minutes doing this.  Try to limit yourself to a few items that you can reasonably get done that will have the most value-added contribution to your day; Then focus on those things!

Making a list might not seem like the world’s biggest breakthrough in productivity, but I’ve found this is critical when experiencing a hypomanic episode.  Too often I set out to complete some task and then before I know it I’ve got 15 internet tabs open and I’m trying to write 5 emails simultaneously.  Next thing I know I’ve completely forgotten what the hell I was trying to do in the first place!

 

Why can’t I get anything done?!

I write a list for what I want to accomplish the next day before I leave work.  Then when I come in, I see the list and I start hitting those items.  Yes, life is crazy, and the circumstances of your job often make you have to change the list or throw it out entirely, but at least it’s a place to start.

The list helps you keep it simple, and boil things down to what really needs to get done that day.  It’s a good tool for holding yourself accountable too.  I need to get these things done before I can go home today.  You’ll also feel a wonderful sense of accomplishment as you cross things off.

2) Depressed? Slow Down but Don’t Stop.

Depression can make even the simplest things difficult.  It’s hard to be successful at work when you can’t even make yourself a sandwich.

If you can, it’s OK to slow down while you work through your depression symptoms; but don’t stop completely!  You’ll regret stopping.

One of my favorite non-work related projects I’ve ever done is make a YouTube channel.  I had fun doing it, I learned a lot of great things, and I even made a little bit of money.  Then my depression returned and I let it die.  I deeply regret that now.

I could have made 1 or 2 videos a week instead of 3 or 4.  Or even just made a video every other week.  Anything would have been better than letting it die completely.  Eventually the depression will pass, and you can kick it back into high gear.

Here’s another example: say you’re on a diet.  You go to a birthday party and allow yourself to eat a piece of cake.  You think, well I already blew it, so who cares if I eat a little bit more.  Then you eat the whole cake.  Then you eat like crap again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day.  Next thing you know you’ve gained 20 lbs and you’re filled with regret; eating cake is fine, slowing down is fine – just don’t quit!  Put the cake away tomorrow!

3) Keep Learning.

I’ve said before that mania or hypomania can be a kind of superpower.  Take your increased energy and invest in yourself.  Learn something!

It’s the 21st century.  You have YouTube.  You have sites like Lynda.com and Wikipedia.  You can learn anything.  Challenge yourself to take 1 hour every day and teach yourself something you’re interested in.  It might not be immediately clear that it could be useful, but you never know.

I taught myself how to do basic computer programming in a couple languages; years later I distinguished myself by making a simple software solution that’s been implemented throughout the company I work for.  I taught myself about business management principles, and rose into a management position well before I “should” have.  By teaching myself at least an hour a day I’ve essentially given myself the experience of someone at least 10 years my senior.

This also has the benefit of making your work and life more interesting.  Hypomania or mania has the tendency to make people feel bored with just doing the status quo.  So learn something and switch things up a bit!

4) Set Meaningful Goals for Yourself.

If tip 1 on this list is about making a list to accomplish things short-term, than this tip is about making a list to accomplish things long-term.

I’m not going to go into the specifics of how to set meaningful goals since many other people have already done it better than I could.  I personally like this article.  Instead I want to talk about the specifics of how setting meaningful goals is important to people with bipolar disorder.

It’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture when you have bipolar disorder.  Your priorities change drastically when moving from manic or hypomanic states to depression and then back again.

Goals while manic.
Goals while depressed.

If you want to maintain some stability and forward momentum in your life, it’s critical to define what’s important to you, define where you want to go, and then set goals to get you there.  This will help keep your life on the rails and moving in the right direction when your mood fluctuates.

Oh, and about that list from tip 1: You should have at least one item on that list that helps you get to your goal(s).  “Becoming a computer programmer” is a big goal, and it can seem impossible to ever get there.  Break it down; put “Take one online course on programming – watch for one hour today” on your list and get it done today.  Complete goals like that 100 times and you’ll be shocked to discover that you’re on your way to becoming a programmer!  Big transformations are hard but they happen through that 1 hour you spend today, and tomorrow, and the next day hitting that list that supports your goal.

Lebron James does not have be the best basketball player alive on his to-do list.  He has “Wake up at 3am, go to the gym, eat, practice, eat, practice, go to the gym, eat, play game, workout, sleep” on his list.  Do that enough times and you might become the world’s best basket player.

Start young and practice on your brother.
Had to shoehorn in this classic; if you can name this movie you’re awesome.

5) Forgive Yourself. 

Lastly, know that sometimes you will fail.  Sometimes the depression is too much.  Sometimes the list, the slowing down, the goal making… sometimes it’s just not enough.  You will fail, but when you do, I hope you will forgive yourself.

I hated myself for letting the YouTube channel go.  It contributed to my alcoholism at the time.  It made the depression worse, it made everything worse.  My productivity went straight to hell.  I didn’t fail with grace.

It’s OK to fail.  Your life is difficult – it’s harder than most if you suffer from bipolar disorder.  But you know what?  You’re a badass!  You’re going to battle with your own mind each and every day.  I think you’re awesome and I hope you do too!  Take it easy on yourself, dust yourself off, tomorrow’s another day.

I hope these tips help you.  Let me know if you’d like to see more posts like this!

Like this post for more, it really helps!  If you haven’t already, go ahead and follow me – it’s as easy as putting your email address in the box on the top right of this page 🙂  I won’t spam you; I promise you’ll only get notifications about good content like this a couple times a week!

No Quarter – An Alcoholic’s Recovery: Week 5 – Group Therapy, Me and the Pathetic Ones

I always thought people who went to group therapy were pathetic – right up until the day I found myself there.

I’ve become amazed at how far my delusions of grandeur have gone.  The first pillar of my religion created by me, for me – that I must be better than everyone has led to the delusion that I actually am.  Especially those people.  You know, people who can’t keep their shit together; people who let addiction cause their lives to devolve to the point that they’re no longer able to take care of themselves or their families.  Pathetic people.

My first impressions of the people in my group only served to confirm my superiority.  I walked into the clinic to see a group of perhaps 15 standing in the lobby, waiting for an elevator to take them to the second floor.  Idiots, I thought as I took the stairs.  They aren’t even smart enough to figure out they don’t have to wait.  Or, they’re so lazy they can’t even walk up a flight of stairs. 

I was first into the waiting room of course.  I snuck a glance at the others as they shuffled in minutes later.  What stuck out the most were the ankle bracelets.  Felons… I’m surrounded by felons.  I started to doubt this whole group thing – I can’t believe I let my therapist send me here.

Eventually we were called back into the room – a tiny, cramped space with a single window and one dim light that barely allowed us to see one another (perhaps intentionally?).  There was an old TV-on-a-cart that wouldn’t look out of place from my old middle school classrooms.  A whiteboard had one of those immediately forgettable phrases that’s supposed to uplift the soul or some other nonsense.  All pathetic.

We started with check-in.  What’s your name?  What’s your drug?  When did you last use?  How has sobriety been lately?

“Matt.  Alcohol.  July 16th.  Fine.”

Most of the others were similarly unenthusiastic; the ankle bracelets were no doubt court-mandated to be in the group against their will.

The therapist handed out packets to each of us once we were seated.  The topic of the day was “Basic Problem Solving.”  Really – what are we 3?  The condescension was completed by the childlike pictures that were peppered throughout the material.

She began reading through the packet but was constantly interrupted by interjections from group members.  Occasionally a discussion would spring forth from one of these interruptions.  I checked the clock; the session was scheduled for an hour and a half, but if we booked it through the packet I wagered we’d be out in 45 minutes.  The interruptions pissed me off; why do these people keep interrupting her? – let’s get out of here!  And even worse, Why is she letting them interrupt her?

Eventually, I actually started listening to the side conversations.  Out of respect for the individuals in the group I won’t share any of the specifics.  But I started to realize that shit!  I’m exactly like these people – a revelation that shook me to my core.

Like me, many of them lived perfectly “normal” lives.  Even the ankle-bracelets were mostly guilty of crimes that I myself had committed at some point or another; drunk driving, vandalism, perhaps a physical altercation.  What separated us was luck – I hadn’t been caught; they had.  Had the circumstances been different, I could be wearing the same bracelet.

It’s hard to articulate how humbling the experience was.  My ego returned to Earth with all the subtlety of the Hindenburg.  A crack has started to form in the pillars of my religion.

When we left, the group again paused and waited for the elevator; I immediately continued to the stairs.  At least I still have that on them.  It wasn’t until the next meeting that I discovered the true purpose for the waiting – It was an excuse for members of the group to converse with one another without the social pressures imposed by the larger group.  In truth, I think the real therapy happened in the 3 minutes people stood waiting for the elevator.  Maybe I’m the idiot.

On to week 6...

Continue reading “No Quarter – An Alcoholic’s Recovery: Week 5 – Group Therapy, Me and the Pathetic Ones”

I Once Was (Almost) A YouTube Star

Bipolar disorder giveth, and bipolar disorder taketh away.  Case in point:

Fueled by mania, I almost became a YouTube star – then depression returned and my dream of YouTube stardom died like so many projects before, and so many projects since.

Right after I graduated college I became obsessed with Minecraft like a lot of other people around that time.  I also became interested in video editing because mania makes you interested in totally random crap – so why not?  Then I married the two and voila!  A Minecraft gaming YouTube channel was born!

pn
Good old Pugnation!  And no, this is not a shameless plug for my YouTube channel.  I promise you, there’s no reason to go there unless you really want to hear my faux-excited / nails on a chalkboard announcer voice.

OK, maybe 5,000 subscribers doesn’t make me a YouTube “star” but at the peak of the channel the growth was incredible.  I was gaining subscribers by the dozen every day, and like a snowball rolling down hill, it was picking up momentum at an incredible rate.  I started getting big views like this:

big vids
These actually paid for the computer I’m writing this on.

Stardom was still far away, but it seemed inevitable.  Fantasies of quitting my job ran through my head.  I became obsessed with making the absolute highest quality content possible.  It took hours to shoot a 20 minute episode, and then that was followed by many more hours in the editing room (And by editing room I mean the unused bedroom of our two bedroom basement apartment).

Everything had to be perfect – the footage, the edit, even the video thumbnail.  It seems strange now that I had that much time to do anything, but that was before children.

Just kidding.

I remember this obsession was a source of stress in my still new-ish relationship with my then girlfriend and now wife.  She always supported my little (or big) projects and still does; but this one was truly consuming.  This was years before my bipolar diagnosis so I didn’t fully understand all the reasons for the obsession myself; but really, it makes sense.  Bipolar mania hooked me at the beginning, and it slowly became an addiction.

At first, you’re sustained by your interest in the topic alone.  You spend hours working on a video, you release it, and nobody watches it (just like writing a blog!).  Then you do it again, and again, and again.  Eventually you get a trickle of views and some comments, and you’re thrilled!  It feels amazing seeing people interact with your work; it’s a high!  As you build an audience the positive feelings grow and grow.  And just like that, you’re addicted.

“Hit like, comment, and subscribe!  I need your views to validate my self-worth because I have crippling self-esteem issues that fuel an incredibly destructive alcohol habit that’s threatening everything I hold dear…”

But like alcoholism, it requires more and more work to keep getting the same high.  The pressure to release more videos grew and grew.  Eventually it’s all I wanted to do, and anything that interrupted my video making was extremely frustrating.

Ultimately, the channel collapsed.  The stress of continuing to release high quality content as quickly as possible began chipping away at it.  The strain it put on my personal life began to take a toll as well.  Eventually the depression returned and finished it off; one day I simply lost interest and stopped making videos.  The channel has since faded into obscurity, but still exists as a living monument to my bipolar disorder.

This all seems pretty negative, but there are some lingering positives that came from the whole attempt at YouTube stardom.  I already mentioned that it paid for my computer, but I also gained a ton of knowledge about video editing, image editing, and internet advertising; not too shabby!

Additionally, I gained some other valuable insights:

  1. You’ve got 5 seconds to hook people: YouTube lets you see exactly when people stop watching your video, and it’s very frequently in the first 5 seconds.  That’s how long you have to convince people to watch your stuff.  I can’t tell when you stop reading these articles, but I imagine the same principle applies to this blog.
  2. If you’re not passionate about your topic, nobody will watch: My voice might be annoying-as-hell in those videos, but at least it’s enthusiastic.  People hate it when you sound bored in videos.  They’ll be bored too.  Again, the same thing applies to writing.

In closing, I wanted to point out that Loudest Minds actually does have a YouTube channel.  Granted, it’s not exactly something I recommend you visit since there isn’t a single video there yet.

But hey, I can fix that!  Why don’t I just apply what I learned while making Minecraft videos and make a Loudest Minds video?  As I recall, the recipe for a successful YouTube video looks something like this:

  1. Get people’s attention FAST: Blow something up in the first 5 seconds.  Whatever you have to do to wake people up.
  2. Be enthusiastic: Drink 5 cups of black coffee.  Channel your favorite annoying sports announcer.  Hit record and let whatever happens happen.
  3. Give people a reason to watch: People have approximately 400,000 TV channels, 3 quadrillion webpages, instant access to free porn, 2 trillion apps, and Words With Friends all at their fingertips.  They have a lot of other stuff they could be doing other than watching your video.  Remember this and work tirelessly to give them a reason to watch. 
  4. Keep it short: Ever load a video and see that it’s 20 minutes long and think, No. effing. Way?  Me too.  Remember, brevity is the soul of wit.  Keep it as short as possible.  I made a successful tutorial series that promised you’d learn the concept in “3 minutes or less.”  People loved it.
  5. Cut Mercilessly: Record 3 hours and keep 10 minutes.  95% of what you recorded sucks.
  6. Include shameless self-promotion: Hit like, comment, and subscribe for more!  I need your views to validate my self-worth because I have crippling self-esteem issues that fuel an incredibly destructive alcohol habit that’s threatening everything I hold dear…

So with all that in mind, here’s the very first, very awesome video from Loudest Minds!

Hit like, comment and subscribe for more!  See you again soon.  (Side experiment: If you made it this far in the article, leave a comment that says “Rosebud” and confuse the 95% of people who stopped reading in the first 5 seconds).

You’re Sick of Sonnets – A Sonnet

I think you must be sick of all these poems.

Why can’t this dude find something else to write?

I’m not that good, I can’t even rhyme “poems.”

I promise I’ll write something else tonight.

But what if I just want to loaf instead?

My Cities: Skylines won’t just play itself.

And it’s exhausting putting kids to bed.

I think tonight will just be for myself.

But I’ll be back tomorrow that’s for sure.

With tales of alcohol to write about.

Or maybe mental health will strike a nerve.

I don’t yet know, but I’ll figure it out.

When you subscribed this isn’t what you wanted.

Oh shit!  I didn’t even mean to write this sonnet!

 

 

No Quarter – An Alcoholic’s Recovery: Week 4 – Discovering Consequences

Actions have consequences.  They also have emotional consequences.  You know that, your children know that, everybody knows that – but I didn’t.

I’ve always possessed a certain swagger that’s helped me both personally and professionally.  It’s a trait that I always assumed was an inherent part of me, and was also one of the things I liked the most about myself.  Now sobriety has robbed me of this too, replacing swagger with fear.

I always relied on alcohol as a parachute.  If I ever tried something and failed, I didn’t have to actually feel the failure.  Embarrassment, frustration, shame – all gone, replaced by a relieving numbness.  There were no consequences; at least not substantial ones.  Sure, the plane’s gone down before, but I’ve never gone down with it – I’m somewhere else, gently floating down to earth.

Now that I’ve thrown the parachute away, I’m a lot more hesitant to fly.  If the plane goes down, now I’m screwed too.  Forget that, better keep the damn thing on the ground…

Let’s ditch the plane metaphor and talk about boats instead: I recently tried to take my wife and three year old out on a canoe ride.  My family vacations every year in Maine, and canoeing is one of our favorite activities.

My wife and daughter were sitting in the boat, ready to go.  I decided to show off a bit and sort of “skate” the canoe out to the lake.  With one foot in the boat, and the other on the lake bottom, I pushed off as hard as I could to give the canoe a bit of a boost; picture someone skateboarding a canoe (and try not to laugh at how stupid that is).

So obviously, this is a pretty dumb maneuver, and also one that is completely pointless since the boost you get takes you about 5 feet further than you would otherwise go.  But it’s a cool way to get in a canoe.  This is a great example of what I mean by swagger – Showy, confident, and often pointless.  But look at how cool I am.

But of course, this time I fucked it up – the boat capsized almost immediately, dumping my wife and 3 year old unceremoniously into the water.  My daughter was terrified.  My wife was pissed.

I now had to drag the half sunk canoe back to shore while trying to comfort my daughter who was sobbing hysterically.  Her fun boat ride was ruined… and now she’ll probably be too scared to get in the canoe again – at least on this trip.  My father-in-law and my wife’s cousin looked on with expressions hovering between amusement and vicarious embarrassment.

Four weeks ago, I would have excused myself, went up to the cottage, and drank a glass of whiskey.  I would have come back down to the beach, probably made a self-deprecating joke or two about how stupid that was, and life would go on.  The parachute would open, and I’d glide back down to the surface.  The swagger would live on.

Now, sober me has no fucking clue what to do.  I felt embarrassed, ashamed, and angry at myself.  My mind immediately turned to alcohol, and I felt the strongest urge to drink that I’ve felt in weeks.  This was supposed to be fun!  Now I fucked it all up!  I fucking suck!  I need a drink!

I assume a logical, healthy person who experienced this sort of set back would recognize it as just that – a minor set back.  I assume they’d process it in a matter of minutes, and would be on to the next thing.  My wife got over it in less than a minute.  Even my 3-year-old got over it in a couple minutes.  But me?  My response was to go inside, isolate myself, and sulk for over an hour.  Did I mention alcoholism has turned me into a child?

I suffered a trivial defeat and had to face the consequences.  I had to feel negative feelings; and over the past 10 years of alcoholism I’ve completely destroyed my ability to do that.

I’ve started to actually worry about what I’m doing.  You probably take that for granted, but the whole concept of worrying about anything is completely foreign to me.  I suppose this is anxiety – I’m not sure because I don’t think I’ve ever felt it before.

It once took me about 10 seconds to decide I wanted to move out of state when offered a job promotion – If I’d been asked to make the same decision now I don’t think I even could make a decision.  The anxiety would probably kill me.

How do people deal with this?  Do they?  Is this why so many people live such safe, boring lives?  Do they fear the emotional consequences of failure, and so avoid the possibility altogether?

Presumably healthy people have a way of working through this, but I have no idea what that is.  I guess on the surface a little bit of worrying is probably not a bad thing.  I mean, if it stops me from riding a canoe like a skateboard with my wife and 3-year-old in it it can’t be all bad.  But like almost everything else with sobriety so far, right now it just sucks.

On to week 5Continue reading “No Quarter – An Alcoholic’s Recovery: Week 4 – Discovering Consequences”