I thought I knew the day I quit smoking. “September, 21 2012.” I remember the things that happened that day. The Carolina Panthers lost on the road to a 50-yard hail mary thrown by that stupid Matt Ryan and the United States Ryder Cup team lost a huge lead to Europe at home. It’s been dubbed, “The Miracle at Medinah.” Not smoking for an entire day was “The Miracle on Felix Street.” I didn’t sit down. I paced around my living room all day. I said to myself, “If I don’t smoke a cigarette today, I’ll never smoke again.” I didn’t. And I never have since. I discovered I had the date of those events wrong. For six years, I’ve been donning my “Another Year without Cigarettes” party hat nine days early. September 30th, 2012 is my official quit date. But that is not the point. The point is, I have never smoked again.
Today, I’ve gone 365 days without consuming alcohol. Well, there’s a trace amount found in kombucha. The stupid state of North Carolina requires ID to purchase “Gingerade” because of it. I drink six ounces of kombucha a day. That amount of alcohol couldn’t knock a no-see-um on its ass.
I don’t believe being sober makes me special. I made a choice not to drink alcohol because of what I felt were negative consequences of drinking and I stuck with that decision for a year. You may think I’m special because of how “normal” drinking alcohol is in our culture.
Let me stop here and make clear that this isn’t a “bash booze” piece. I decided a year ago to see if I could change my life by quitting drinking. Some people do that with sugar or gluten. I did it with booze. Like any substance, alcohol affects people differently. So do peanuts. What I discovered this year is that my life without the affects of alcohol is a hundred times better than maybe it ever has been. But, I’m not judging you if you drink.
I feel bad for people that struggle with quitting drinking. Alcohol is everywhere. I have some in my fridge! It’s a mini bottle of white wine that I cook with. I think if I were to leap off the wagon, I’d do it with something better than some month-old Sutter Home Chardonnay. I feel lucky that staying sober was relatively easy for me. I stayed sober in Vegas twice, New Orleans once and all the other days in the week when you could find an excuse to drink. Only one time this year did I feel an incredible urge to drink. For some reason, the sight of a very large woman drinking a vodka soda made my brain calculate reasons why I should start drinking again. Then I made myself remember the reasons why I quit and all the positive affects doing so has had on my life and I didn’t drink. Still, one time is all it takes.
People ask me why I quit drinking. They want some story of a court order because I slid into a school bus at 7 AM driving home from an all-night bender. No. I mainly quit drinking because I wanted to stop being so damn fat. I figured, like most people, that “If I just quit drinking, I would no longer be obese.” Like magic, I’d leap out of my stretched-to-the-limit 42 waist shorts and do a few high kicks like Michael Flatley after a couple of months of sobriety. Not true; but quitting drinking most certainly helps any weight-loss effort.
One pint of Bud Light is 192 calories. 6 of those is 1,152 calories. Drinking that three days a week amounts to 3,456 calories. Doing that 40 weeks a year equals 138,240 calories. That is my conservative estimate of my drinking the last three or four years before I quit. Now, I eat 1,200-1,500 calories a day. That’s in food. I was drinking that in addition to the garbage I would eat for dinner after a nice buzz. But there are vegetables on the pizza.
I wouldn’t be hammered after these afternoon drinking sessions. I would be buzzed, but not sloppy drunk. And I never drank at home. 5-6 beers at the bar near my house a couple times a week was the extent of my alcoholism. But then I would drink during the “traditional” times too. Like all the other days when I would get hammered and wake up feeling like someone removed one of my kidneys but didn’t bother to put me in the ice bath to keep me alive. I never puked which was a problem too. Everything I drank stayed with me. And eventually ended up in my beer gut that hung over my belt making it hard for me to see my shoes. In my last year of drinking, I wasn’t sure what color my belt actually was. Did it clash with my shoes? No idea because I couldn’t see it without a series of mirrors. One year ago, I weighed 275 pounds. I could see 300 pounds ahead like Punxsutawney Phil sees Spring.
I woke up on December 30, 2017 feeling like shit. I bet I drank 15 beers the night before. I had a panic attack because I was so fat and hungover that I thought I was dying. I suffered from panic attacks as a kid and they came back a few years ago. I thought, “how unlucky and unfair,” not considering that it was my bad habits that caused them to return instead of non-existent “luck.” I had to make a decision about my future because I couldn’t continue like this. I decided to try “Sober January” to see if some of the weight would come off and if I could give my pulsing innards a break.
I did it. I made it through January without having a drink. It wasn’t simple to accomplish because I knew I’d be drinking again in February. Knowing you’ll be drinking again in a few weeks makes Sober January easy to quit. I didn’t lose any weight because I used the fewer calories of the no-drinking lifestyle as an excuse to eat more garbage. I made it through and decided I’d “celebrate” on February 1. I got hammered again. And just like on the 30th, I woke up feeling like shit in the exact same place. I had a panic attack and couldn’t get out of the bed until 2 PM when the room finally stopped spinning. I still weighed 275 pounds. I was still depressed and thought I was dying. In 30 days of sobriety, nothing changed. Well, that’s not true. A lot had started changing, I just didn’t give it enough time and I got hammered again. I decided to give sobriety a try for a few more months.
The terrible memories of my final days of drinking is making me shake. I don’t know if you have ever experienced a panic attack. I’ll try to explain it, but doing so may be impossible. Imagine you are tied to some train tracks and you see the train coming. You can’t get free and you begin thinking about what it’s going to feel like when the metal wheels of the train slice you into three pieces. That’s what a panic attack is. And it feels very real. My body was trying to tell me that something was wrong. It was trying to tell me that the overconsumption of alcohol, food and getting zero exercise was have detrimental affects on my body, life and mind. And it was right.
I don’t recognize the person that was lying in that bed on December 30th or February 2nd. When I say my life has changed, I mean my life has completely, positively fucking changed.
My turkey neck is like a half-gobbler now.
My innards work better than ever.
My skin is like 80% clearer than it has been since I was 12 years old. I used to have blemishes everywhere.
I sleep. I can’t remember when I have ever slept as well as I do now. I go to bed, fall asleep in thirty minutes and, except for the occasional 3 AM whiz, I sleep through the night. I sleep for seven to eight hours a night, every night.
I can drive without rage. This is a big one. Driving from Charleston to Charlotte used to be stressful. I made it that way by focusing on every little offense any other driver committed. “Get in the right lane.” “Speed up.” “You’re going too fast.” “Use your blinker, idiot.” It makes my head hurt thinking about it. I’m still not completely free of this because old habits die hard as they say. Yesterday, I drove from Charlotte to Charleston. I drove an average of 70 mph (The Speed Limit) (I used to try to go 80 at all times) and didn’t use my horn or the finger once. Holy shit. Maybe I’m not articulating it well, but that is a complete 180 degree change for me.
This morning, I weighed 225.4 pounds. It fluctuates. I bet my average weight is like 228. I had been stuck between 235 and 230 for like four months. This has been very frustrating because I did pretty much the exact same thing I did between 275 and 235 and it just quit working. There’s that pesky bad luck again, right? Bad luck has lots of ingredients.
I still have a panic attack every now and then. The difference is I am better equipped mentally to deal with them. And they aren’t as debilitating as they were.
I’m writing this. I’m writing anything. And, I’m enjoying the stuff I’ve created so far. If you look through these pages and see what I was writing, sporadically, angrily, poorly; that was the affect alcohol had on me represented in my own blog. Some of the stuff is good, don’t get me wrong. I stand behind all of it. But look at the time between published pieces and at the subject matter of some of them. Non of it was written by a happy person. I thought you had to be miserable to create. Like from depression comes great art. Not true if the depression makes you think every idea for anything you have sucks and you should be killed for being so stupid. An exaggeration yes, but that’s how I thought. Not anymore.
The theory of the writer-alcoholic is simply absurd. I wrote almost nothing when I drank. And when I did “finish” a piece and put it out, it was a 1st draft pawned off as done. My first drafts have always been good, but they aren’t “finished.” Was Hemingway a genius because he was loaded or in spite of it? I don’t know. All I know is I could never create anything worthwhile being miserable because the depression refuses to let you put the time in. You don’t want to finish creating when you hate in your guts every word you write. And even if I could, would the hours or years of feeling like shit be worth it? No. Sorry, world, you’re going to miss out on the great American novel written by Thomas Cochran if it means he has to be a lonely, miserable, drunken piece of shit in order to write it.
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I’m positive. At least I try to be. I don’t think the booze was making me be negative; that was a learned behavior. Sobriety has allowed me to discover how detrimental negativity was to my health. I used to think I was being a “realist.” I’ve noticed this is how negative people justify their affliction. I had a comment for everything: commercials, traffic, music, people, food, air, life, politics, whatever. I’ve been humbled and my life is better for it. I realized nobody gives a damn that I think Ray Liotta looks weird in that Chantix commercial. Having an opinion on Ray Liotta does nothing positive for you. It is a waste of mental energy. And I was hemorrhaging like Chernobyl.
Instead of “no,” I’m saying, “yes.” Positivity makes me feel better about life. And, if it is just baloney, it’s better baloney than negative baloney. When John met Yoko, he was at her art show. There was an exhibit where you climbed a ladder. At the top of the ladder was a magnifying glass. You were supposed to take the magnifying glass and use it to read a word written on the ceiling. The word was “Yes.” John said if the word was “no” or something negative, he would have left. Instead, it was something positive, so he stayed, met Yoko and the rest is history. The world has their opinion of Yoko, but to John, Yoko completely changed his life. She was his wife, lover, friend and companion. She made him happy. Yes.
Now, I’m not perfect. And I’m not finished. I still make mistakes every day. I still honk my horn. I still make comments. 225 is still obese. The other day I was subjected to somebody else’s road rage. This was serious. Somebody really tried to hurt me after he cut me off and I gestured. I didn’t honk, didn’t finger, I just gestured. That’s not the point. The point is, a year ago, I’d be playing the victim. Telling you how terrible it was and completely not my fault. Now, I’ll tell you that that guy was wrong, but so was I. I could have driven the other way. On the Ravenel bridge, there are two exits going north. I could have taken the exit that the loon didn’t take, but I chose to follow him. I made a bad decision and I almost paid a heavy price for it. I’m not perfect, but I am making myself accountable. That’s the difference. Remember the “luck”?
I quit drinking a year ago and my life has changed for the better in almost every way. I still screw up. I still misjudge. I still eat the wrong thing or say the wrong thing or do the wrong thing. I’m still a flawed human being trying to find his place on this spinning ball of stardust. I don’t think I will ever drink again because sobriety led me here. I didn’t write this for you, I wrote it for me. I wrote it just in case I ever found myself back in that place again. I hope I never find myself back in that place. But if I do, I’ll at least be able to reference this.
Yesterday, while I was on my way to Charleston a song came on that put this all into perspective for me. The song was “Drive” by Incubus:
“But lately I am beginning to find/ That when I drive myself my light is found.”
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