Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Oh s%#*, what have I done? Thoughts after 55 days without alcohol....

Three quick facts about me:

1. I'm one of those people that is inexorably drawn to self-experimentation.
2. I can start a habit -- good or bad -- in the time in takes most people to eat a meal.
3. I can quit that habit, purposely, with relative ease.

Here's a fourth: I'm not great at what I'll call "extreme moderation."

All of this plays into the fact that, at age 54, for the first time ever, I have just lived 55 days on this big blue orb without taking a single drink of alcohol.

And I am really and truly sorting out how I feel about the whole damn endeavor, so this post is going to be a bit more of a ramble than usual, I'm afraid. ("Is that possible?" you might justifiably ask yourself).

I've done Whole 30s previously alcohol-free. I've even gone as long as six months with incredibly infrequent alcohol (like about five or six drinks during that time), but this is the most, er, absolute I've ever been about my abstinence.

And I kind of love it.

Weirdest of all -- particularly for a guy that digs peaty scotch whisky and red wine as much as I do -- I am not consumed by a burning urge to revert to boozing anytime in the near future.

Weird stressors that happened while I was teetotaling:

1. Donald Trump got elected president.
2. Thanksgiving.
3. We had to euthanize a lovable, but very ill, elderly dog.

I still didn't drink. A number of people remarked to me that they have no idea how one or more of those events did not alter my no-drinking plan.

I didn't drink.

But this stunt of mine was never about addiction. Yeah, I had re-established a bit of a habit of what I call "reflexive" drinking. You know... come home from work and pour one, and it's down the hatch before you've even really considered what you're doing. But, like I said, I can quit most habits as quickly as I can start them. (Ask me about the dark-chocolate-covered sea-salt caramels that somehow made their way into our house over Thanksgiving. Habitually eating them since then? Oh yeah. Fear not, though; the package will be empty soon).

Rather, it began as something about something about sleep and fat loss and just feeling great. I'm not fat, but I could tell my body fat was up a bit in the early fall. I also knew -- as I told you here -- that I had pretty much firmly established a pattern of always waking up in the middle of the night if I'd had alcohol, and then having trouble getting back to sleep. When all that happens, I know that hormonal levels get effed up (a technical term) and reduced testosterone also means increased cortisol. Cortisol is a fat-storage hormone. This stuff's all interconnected beginning with how alcohol makes your T levels drop.

To quote myself at the time: "Oh fuck it, I'm not going to drink at all for a while and see how I feel."

55 days later, I am goddamn annoyingly rejuvenated. I have considerably more energy, feel ten years younger, less sluggish, have lost minor "love handles" of fat, and look pretty fucking good naked for an old guy, if I do say so myself.

I even got a "mindfulness" tattoo to celebrate.

But NOW what?

I have no idea. I'm not currently in a drinking mood at all. I am most certainly in a feeling-good mood -- and looking pretty good naked is OK with me too.

Conversely, I'd be shocked if I didn't drink again. Conversely to that, I don't really want to drink again yet.

It's all pretty confusing.

So I am arbitrarily going to check back in with myself around the 75-day mark, and, if no alcohol is in my present or my (near) future at that point, I will check in again at 100 days. And so on.

Basically I have no fucking idea, and I'm rolling with the good feeling.

I really like the good feeling.

Someone said, "The best revenge is living well." I'm not getting revenge for anything. But living super clean feels absurdly great at this exact juncture in my life. It wouldn't have five years ago. It definitely wouldn't have before that. But this "life" stuff is all a constant exercise in self-improvement, right? Or at least that's always been my take on it. And right now -- in this very mindful present moment -- I feel fucking fantastic.


We'll see what happens.

Or as they say, "Reports to follow."

The only certainty is that the tattoo is permanent. And I'm good with that.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Holly was a great dog

We're dog people, and, by and large, all our dogs have HUGE personalities. They are unique weirdos and each has a distinctive strong sense of self that you will never forget if you meet them.

Holly wasn't really like that.

She was just nice. Really nice. Maybe the nicest dog you ever met.

We got her as a young adult when my brother-in-law's family couldn't keep her. They had raised her from an absurdly fuzzy purebred Golden Retriever puppy, but my brother-in-law turned out to be wildly allergic to her fluffball self. My wife drove out to Pittsburgh and picked her up. "Of course we'll take her!" she had told her brother. "Holly's a sweetheart."

Never has a more accurate assessment been made.

At the time, we had two dogs: a super-dominant, but lovable husky mix named Emmy Lou, and Lydia, a chocolate brown lab/staff-terrier mix about whom I've gone on and on previously. Holly walked in, said hi to those two, checked out the cat, made a snorty noise and took a nap. She would take orders from Emmy Lou (I think we all did) and became good buddies with Lydia. She was low-maintenance to the extreme. And her calm was legendary. We called her the Holly Lama.

But most of all? Holly was just nice. She was interested in two things: being lovable and eating food. More than one visitor to our house would say, while petting her, "I like all your dogs, but I really like this one. SHE'S SO NICE!"

She was bonded tightly to all of us, but a little extra tightly to my wife and my son Sean. She loved every food item in the universe, and bananas a little more than the rest. (OK, so I guess she was a little weird: a dog obsessed with bananas; really). Over the years she welcomed three newer canine additions that never gave her an ounce of respect. Holly was the sweet lovable bottom of the pile in the pack. And perfectly happy in that role.

In fact, after a lifetime of 12 years of being just plain nice and never doing anything wrong (EVER... seriously), we knew things were suddenly going way downhill when Holly stopped eating a couple weeks ago and even turned down a slice of banana. Then Sean was home for Thanksgiving and she was happy to see him, but, having refused food for days at that point, she was not quite as overjoyed as usual, and in short order she retired to a bed to nap and just look kind of sad. Trouble had pretty clearly come to our sweet friend.

So we took her to the vet today, and the news was awful. Holly had a huge stomach mass and a distended liver, and there was nothing to do but the compassionate thing.

So that's what we did. Because if there was ever a time to return all the niceness to Holly, it was when she needed it most. We won't forget you, friend. You were nicer than anyone. Ever.

                                                       The pack is down one member.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The morning after

I have lots of thoughts this morning, and, then again, not all that many.

 “How could the polls be so wrong?’ seems like a popular question. It’s not one I am asking, though. These last few weeks, my singular political concern – balanced by otherwise overwhelming optimism about Dems’ chances – was that we kept seeing polls that read something like: 42/40/5/2 (Clinton/Trump/Johnson/Stein).

Add those numbers up. It equals 89. That stray 11 percent broke harder for Trump in the end. That’s your math, plain and simple. The polls weren’t “wrong.” They were right, at least up until that 11 percent actually had to choose. And they voted for change.

It’s not the sort of change I was looking for – taking away people’s health insurance, going backwards on women’s rights, marriage equality, etc. And it isn’t the kind of candidate I ever could have voted for.

Our side got some big positive changes these last few years on issues that we felt strongly about. Now those changes are in danger.

So we have to work - yes, again - and not just at the federal level. Sometimes we get lost in the notion that the federal government is all there is. But the Supreme Court only defines what your federal constitutional rights are. Individual states can’t drop below that level, but they sure can do a hell of a lot better for you. So while the feds aren’t in a position to do what you want, start looking at state and local races. Start caring about the bigger and the smaller picture.

When the federal (or state or local) government does things you hate these next four years, let ‘em know. Every time. When you see people getting the short end of the stick and a raw deal, speak up. Quiet people that aren’t politically involved don’t get anything done on the issues that matter.

Put differently, this is your wake-up call that politics isn’t something that happens every four years.

I know a lot of you are freaking out. I can’t tell you not to. I can only tell you that I’m not going to join you in that. Someone (Nate Silver?) said that the country is no different at its core than it was a day ago. It’s true. Sure, it’s now politically constituted at the federal level in a way that I’m not pleased with. But I’m not leaving. I’m not quitting. In fact, nothing about me changed on November 8, and I bet that’s true about you too. You love your family and friends just like you did yesterday. So keep loving ‘em and keep doing the right thing. There’s nothing more malleable than politics. But people, for good and bad, don’t change like that.

Hang in there. Keep being the great person you are. Fight the bad stuff. Embrace the good stuff. Get involved. Forward. Always forward.