Danger, Will Robinson!

danger-will-robinsonSo, lately I’ve been in what they call “prelapse.” It’s not relapse — no worries, kind folks of the interwebs, I’m still sober. But I’ve recognized warning signs that a relapse may be coming.

First of all, how can I possibly know? Well, simply put, this isn’t my first rodeo.

I’ve been down this road before — sober up after a traumatic event, get some time clean, then think that “what’s the harm”/”I’m okay”/”it’s not that bad.” Then I take a drink; usually the first event is in moderation — I think I’m trying to “prove to myself” that I can do it. And sure enough, the first time, I do — I drink moderately, and aside from some trepidation about what I’m doing (my smarter brain trying to talk to me), I think “huh. Well, maybe it wasn’t that big of a deal.” And then… I’m off to the races, as they say.

Let me preface things a bit here: not everyone has my peculiar relationship to alcohol. I think that there are a lot of people out there who drink abusively, but for many of them the consequences never become dire enough for them to want to stop completely. Or, they struggle — they have something unpleasant happen, they sober up — thinking “never again!” — and then a few weeks or months later, when things are going better, the motivation to remain sober fades and they go back to drinking. For many of these people, this cycle of misery would be improved by complete abstinence, but since the consequences never get utterly dire (no jail time, no liver failure, no homelessness) they figure they’re just being “a baby” and go back to it.

That’s them, this is me. My relationship with alcohol has been abusive since my first drink. Primarily I drink for a few reasons — a big one has been because I feel ill-at-ease socially and want to “fit in.” Another big one is boredom — when I’m bored, well hell — let’s get blotto! And another one — the one that’s dangerous for me right now — is to escape.

In a way, all drinking is for escape. As someone in my treatment class said “we drink or use to change the way we feel.” In other words, we don’t like how we’re feeling right now — bored, lonely, angry, sad, trapped — and we know that drinking or using other drugs will change that. By itself, this isn’t entirely problematic. For instance, I drink coffee to change the way I feel when I’m tired and sluggish. Ideally, I’d figure out why I’m tired and sluggish. But drinking coffee is unlikely, on its own, to land me in jail, or in the ICU, or in the morgue. And with most people, moderate consumption of alcohol won’t either (although you’d be amazed how many adults have driven a car over the legal limit — I’d guess that the number approaches nearly 100% of adults who drive and who consume alcohol — and get away with it.) For me, not so much — I’ve been in jail twice and lost jobs and lovers due to alcohol. It’s just a vicious downward spiral, and I can’t let it continue.

So, like everyone else, I drink to escape. And lately, I’ve been having more and more fantasies of escape — flying away to a far away land and living/working there. Buying or building a houseboat and living out at sea. Living in a yurt out in the woods. It all sounds so romantic and tempting. Of course, I know from past experience that running away never works; your problems have a tendency to follow you. And, I know from past experience that when I’m having a lot of these fantasies, I am in severe danger of relapse.

I’ve been noodling about this. Why now? Why have I been fantasizing about running away? I’ve even been having more and more dreams about being trapped, or imprisoned, or chased. In my dreams, I have to escape, I have to run away. The metaphor is not subtle; I want to escape. Why now?

I’m not depressed; that’s the weird thing. My mood is fine. I feel cheerful and happy. Admittedly I’m not going out or interacting much — and these are typical signs of depression — but then again, I never do! This isn’t unusual. So why would I be wanting to run away?

But then I thought about it. I’ve been procrastinating on some stuff. I owe a great deal of money on a couple of debts from earlier in the year when I lost my job (due to drinking). Creditors have been calling and harassing me. I’ve got about a month’s worth of bills piling up. My kitchen is a disaster. My laundry needs to be folded and put away. I need to get back into a fitness plan (which I dread; exercise is so boring). There’s just a lot of chores that I’m procrastinating on. Maybe I am depressed — leaving those chores undone is a sign of depression. But, I don’t feel depressed! What’s going on??

This morning, I had a realization; maybe I’ve got cause and effect screwed up in my head. I have been going under the assumption that some mental state or condition — e.g., depression — is causing me to procrastinate, and also causing me to want to run away. But what if it’s simpler? I have a bad habit of procrastination in general — of not doing “work” in favor of doing “fun” (actually it tends to be that I just don’t do anything). Maybe I’ve slipped into this bad habit, and stuff is piling up. Then, because stuff is piling up, I start feeling trapped and want to run away. In other words, it’s not that my bad mental state is causing bad behaviors, but my bad behaviors are causing my bad mental state!

This is kind of an earth-shattering realization. Possibly as a high IQ guy, possibly as an extreme introvert, I tend to assume “everything starts from within.” In other words, if there’s an external problem, I assume that it’s sourced from some kind of internal trauma or defect or something. But I wonder if it’s as simple as “I haven’t been keeping on top of my game, and it’s catching up to me.”

LaterI opened all the bills I could find and wrote checks. A couple are in collections, and I’ll have to deal with that. But for the most part, it was better than I thought. Ironically, I already feel better — less scared and trapped. Go figure!

Time to learn from that mistake: you keep up with shit not just because you’re some kind of uber organized busy bee, but because if you let things get out of hand, they snowball into you get crazy and do stupid shit. Learn the lesson, Tom!

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