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Sunday, June 25, 2023

The S Word

This is not the word you may be thinking of when you read the title.  Instead, today's word is "sobriety".  

Here's a useful definition:
Sobriety refers to the physiological and psychological state of being unaffected by the presence of an intoxicant. For people who are in recovery from substance or alcohol use, the definition of sobriety is similar to the definition of abstinence. It means living a life free of drug or alcohol use.

As a practical matter, I have practiced sobriety since about 1999 or so, with the exception of the rare glass of champagne (such as at a wedding) or a sip of wine.  Even prior to that I was not a substantial drinker.  Since 1999, I have gone literally years at a time without drinking any alcohol.  When you consider the social and cultural aspects of alcohol consumption in this country, I'm definitely the odd person out.

I don't, by the way, advertise this fact (well, this posting is an exception), as I am definitely not the person who wants to draw attention to himself...unless I am getting paid to do it.  The drinking thing mostly comes up during family, work, or social gatherings.  The reactions I get range from...


(an astonished) "What? How is that even possible?"

"What kind of freak are you?  Come on, have a beer!"

"Oh, you poor soul, you must be a recovering alcoholic."

I've definitely felt the second and third comments a few times in social and family gatherings, and I will be honest, it has made me uncomfortable.  Mind you, am not always comfortable to begin with in these situations, so the sobriety thing just compounds the matter.  The final comment seems to more occur when I am dealing with co-workers; in fact, I am reasonably sure that I have not been invited to certain functions mostly because I don't drink (the perception likely being that I am "Mr. Buzz Killington").

So then, why is this important?  Why don't I just go with the flow and have a beer or three?

Since we are dealing with me here, the answers will of course not be all that simple.  But I will try.

First, I genuinely don't like the taste of alcohol.  And yes, alcohol has a taste.  Outside of maybe some red wine, I've never felt that drinks with alcohol actually tasted all that good.  I have a theory:  I don't think most people like the taste of alcoholic beverages, but instead, they learn to like it because they actually like how it makes them feel.

Second, I don't like how alcohol makes me feel.  Now more than one person reading this is going to be thinking to themselves something like "But I like how it makes ME feel" or "It doesn't affect me much at all".  Alcohol definitely impacts humans in both physiological and psychological ways.  One of the more interesting concepts out there is that of alcohol tolerance (read more from the NIH HERE), which I summarize as simply this:  Over time, the more you drink the more you have to drink in order to get the same buzz.  The practice apparently makes the perfect.  Anyway, none of the feelings I've gotten from drinking over my lifetime have been positive.  In excess?  Well, let's just say that I see nothing all that great about vomiting booze into a toilet (or gutter, or hotel wastebasket...I've done all of those, and more).  

Related to the above, I discovered that I would drink at (work-related) events because it was so hard for me to engage in all the related social stuff after hours.  It wasn't long before I realized, in addition to how drinking in excess made me physically feel like warmed-over dog crap, that I was using alcohol as a kind of crutch.  Looking over my lifetime prior to 1999, this has been a repeating pattern.  In the end, let's just say that this is a big enough red flag to cover my Silverado, with room to spare.

Third, alcoholism runs in my family.  I'm not smart enough to know truly whether this kind of thing is inherited (my sense is that the answer is complicated, but you can read for yourself HERE).  For example, one of the few memories I have of being with my father was when I was very young and sitting in a bar on Adams Avenue in Scranton.  Just typing this brings back the smell of cigarettes, beer, and pee.  It's pretty sad that for some reason I've held onto this memory.  I will also note that my brother Chris had significant issues dealing with alcohol, and towards the end the front-row seat I had only reinforced my feelings about consumption.

All told, there's no real compelling reason for me to drink, and I am perfectly fine being in that place.  As alluded to above, the more interesting (and sometimes very frustrating part) is how this plays out with others.  In some respects, I think there are folks who genuinely don't know how to react to someone who does not drink.  Given the value society places on this particular practice, I kind of understand that point.  

Speaking of "points", now is when I'll break down my reactions to what's noted above:
  1. The [Nothing] reaction, "How is that even possible" & those that assume I am in recovery camp.
  2. The "What kind of freak are you" and "Come on, have a beer" crowd.
I am good with #1, even if the sentiment is somewhat misplaced.

#2?  One of the few things that can make me angry (and I am not an angry guy) is when someone who knows that I don't drink insists on my trying an alcoholic beverage.  As if I am this little kid who can be goaded into doing something I don't want to do.  More than once I've had a kind of Walter Mitty movie play in my head where someone insists that I have a can of beer, so I take the can, dump it out in front of them and then crush the can against their forehead.  NOTE THAT I WOULD NEVER ACTUALLY DO THIS...but I will admit that, at times, the thought of it has been a bit satisfying.      

Well now, this post has gotten a bit exciting, which means that I should probably finish things and call it a night.  To end on a positive note, I'll state for the record that I am glad some people find pleasure in drinking alcohol.  I really and truly am.  If it makes someone happy and it isn't an addiction, then it truly is a good thing.  My hope though is that maybe some of these same folks will afford the same positive affirmation to those who do not drink, regardless of the reason(s).

A Final Word
In case it isn't really clear from what I wrote, above, I have absolutely no problem with the consumption of alcohol by others.  It's just not for me.  If you ("you" being anyone reading this) enjoy a beer, wine, or a mixed drink, then I am glad that is a positive thing in your life.  As it stands, life really is kind of short, so it's important to have things to enjoy.  It's equally important though to realize there is a line between "positive thing" and "harmful thing".  With that noted...

(SAMSHA - Confidential free help, from public health agencies, to find substance use treatment and information.)

The Really, Truly, Honest-to-Goodness Final Word
Writer Anne Lamott is, to me, an inspiration for many reasons.  I've read several of her books, and I actually have another one on the way.  Every year she posts about her sobriety anniversary.  The posting below (from her public Facebook Account) is worth taking the time to read, and it is as good an ending to this posting as I think is possible.


Saturday, June 17, 2023

Council Skies

The title comes from a song by Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds, which I really enjoy.  Have a listen...

I don't normally listen to much newly released music, but I gave this one a try and am glad for the decision.

I found the song after reading about the Gallagher brothers from the (former) group Oasis, namely Noel, and Liam.  For those that may be unfamiliar with the Gallagher brothers, they are mostly famous for:

  1. The above-referenced English & defunct band Oasis, and...
  2. Hating each other's guts.
While in Scotland I was talking to one of my stepsons and asked him if he was familiar with Oasis and the Gallagher brothers; his response was something along the lines of "Yeah, they hate each other, one of them writes songs and plays the guitar (Noel), and the other is bat$hit crazy (Liam)".  That answer had the benefit of being both eloquent and pretty much factually correct as far as I can tell.

A few articles and an hour or three's worth of video interviews and I now know far more about the Gallagher brothers than what is actually required for any practical reason.  There is, of course, a bigger thought and story here, over and above Noel and Liam:  Namely family dynamics between siblings.

Thinking back over my life, I realize that I have been pretty lucky in the sibling relations department.  Perfect?  Hell no.  It feels as if I haven't vested nearly enough time in keeping in touch with my sisters, which I own, and I need to do better.  As I approach the end of my primary working years, it's pretty clear that other parts of my life up to this point have been pretty much all-consuming, at least as far as my physical, mental, and emotional energy has been concerned.  Some of this is unadulterated ambition:  I desperately wanted to have a better life than I had growing up.  I think that, when it comes to that last point, I've been more or less successful.

When it comes to maintaining relationships with my brothers, I think that I've tried...probably more so since my brother Chris' passing in 2017.  As for Chris, I wish I would have spent more time with him.  Like me though, he also had a kind of inherent ambition, which made connecting doubly more challenging.  Then there were a few squabbles, of which 99.87% always had to do with politics.  I still, for example, recall the seeming mix of hurt and disgust in his voice after I repeatedly referred to Rush Limbaugh as "Pumpkin Head".  This was because Chris adored Limbaugh and he (Limbaugh) truly had an enormous head.  I think though that, for the most part, we both knew that the political arguments were more of a sport of sorts, and neither one of us liked to lose. 

I'll also note that, in retrospect, it's clear that my brother Chris was a deeply conflicted man who was fighting an ongoing (and losing) battle against self-medication.  I wish I could have helped more, but I also know that I did what I could at the time, including listening.  Among the many things I am grateful for is the fact that we were in regular contact before he passed.

Getting back to the Gallagher brothers, it's painful to think that two siblings are so disconnected.  I don't pretend to understand all the dynamics between them, but I know that our siblings understand our story better than others do.  That's true for the children of my parents as well as rock musicians from Manchester.  Denying the benefit of that connection...not having that person in your life who has some sense of your story and tragic.

My ongoing hope is to not make that mistake.  

Monday, June 12, 2023

So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

I wanted to come up with an interesting and engaging title for this posting, but I more or less failed.  The result is noted above.  If you don't get the reference, well then that's okay.  It probably means you have something of a life (reference HERE).  On to the real business of this posting stuff.

We've now been back from Scotland for going on three weeks, so I'm thinking an update is due.

The traveling back was hell.

Yes, thanks to something of a British Airways meltdown (HERE), our initial flight from Edinburgh to London was canceled.  Luckily, we got a very competent agent, who was able to book us on a later flight.  That's the good news.  The bad news?  We had to spend 8 hours at Edinburgh airport.  Many of the gate seating areas at the Edinburg airport look like this...

The benches scream, in a loud Scottish accent, "Laddy, don't even try to get comfortable".  I suspect that Edward Longshanks probably used something like these benches to torture William Wallace.

The really bad news?  The new flight was leaving at 3pm local time, meaning that we would not get back to the U.S. until 10-10:30pm.  Note there is a 6-hour time difference to figure into all of this.  True to form, that happened, and the net result was Ms. Rivers and I took turns with the drive from Newark back home.  Honestly, we are lucky that there wasn't a lot of traffic.  Put another way, had we still been in the U.K., we would have been up for something like 20+ hours by the time we got home.  

Oh, and British Airways lost one of our bags, which we got back...a week and a half later.  Given the reach of British Airways, there's no way of knowing what happened to our bag during that time. I told my younger stepson to smell the suitcase to see if it had an odor of "curry and despair".

All well and good, and certainly first-world problems, for sure.

It took me days to fall back into a regular sleeping schedule.  And I was absolutely buried with stuff at work.  Ms. Rivers and I both agree that there won't be any Atlantic crossings for a few years to come.  Come to think of it, I'm pretty good not flying for a while, truth be told.

It's important, or at least it seems like it should be important, to separate the travel from the destination.  In that case, the destination is wonderful.  British Airways is not.  Enough said.

So here I am back to more life as usual.  A bit wiser and more worldly for the wear.  Now I feel somewhat compelled to pay more attention to my flowers, especially my burgeoning honeysuckle forest.  Pictures to come at some point.