Thursday, October 20, 2011

And Now, Another Dispatch From Limbo...

{Cross-posted from Fur Affinity}

It's been about six weeks since I lost my job. The last couple of weeks, my job-searching has slacked off, due mainly to an as yet total lack of interest in me on the part of the companies I have applied to. On top of that, I made the mistake of not filing for weekly benefits within 28 days of my initial claim, which on reflection I should have done -- I would have gotten at least a few checks that way. The only reason I didn't do so was because I was awaiting the result of a fact-finding interview I had with the VEC deputy over the phone two weeks ago. There was, and is, the issue of how I was terminated, and whether or not I would get any benefits because of that. Technically, if the deputy decides I was entitled to the benefits (before I allowed the term to expire), I can re-file the claim and start over without having to go through another interview; the matter's settled. If not, then I'm SOL. All I need is an answer, one way or the other. It should arrive in my mailbox no later than Saturday. I hope.

In the meantime, I have this apartment through November. After that, fuck if I know where I'll be. Should I manage to get some money coming in between now and December, be it full- or part-time work, unemployment checks, or both, I intend to stick around longer. The woman in the leasing office has been far more helpful these past few weeks than I could have hoped for. I have the option of vacating at the end of any month, provided I give 60 days' notice, but I can change my mind within 30 days of the last day if my luck changes; after that, the apartment must go on the market. Having that extra month of flexibility is a huge help, believe me.

Aside from all that, some good news. Today marks my 30th day of sobriety. I'm holding it together. The chocolate cravings are pretty intense, just like in the first two times I went 30 days and beyond. I've been eating at McDonald's on occasion as well, sad to say. And I have the expanding waistline to prove it... Granted, I used to weigh close to 230, and I really don't want to gain all of that back -- too many health problems related with excess weight out there, and diabetes does run in my family. But overall, I do feel a lot better than I normally do when I've been drinking heavily for sustained periods.

There have been a few nights when I got to thinking about buying a six-pack before the stores closed, just to while away the wee hours while playing around on the Internets. That, however, is as far as it goes. It starts out innocuously enough with that one six-pack -- I know this from direct experience. I'm not what you would call a normal drinker; once I get two or three beers in me, I usually want to keep on going until I get tired enough to go to bed, or just plain pass out. That used to work out well enough when I was younger. Hell, I got away with that for years. Used to enjoy it a whole lot, too -- I don't care what anyone says, alcohol is good and evil.

But the problem is, I'm pretty sure I've long since used up all of my "good" drinking days. Those last four weeks of drinking I did during the summer? If there was any good in any of that, I can't remember it. Way I recall, it had four stages: Bad, Worse, Ugly, and the DTs. I just think about what that last part was like, and that's enough to short-circuit any desire to drink I still harbor. Not that that's all I do to stay sober. I go to an AA meeting, on average, every other day, and at some point, if I decide AA is indeed the way to go, I'll get myself a sponsor and start working the steps in earnest. This being the 30-day mark for me, I get to pick up a silver chip to mark this milestone in my recovery. I would hate like hell to have to start all over. Again. Each time, it gets harder than the last. Apparently, there is no standard "chip system" when it comes to Alcoholics Anonymous -- different districts or sets of districts have their own customs. (I hear Narcotics Anonymous uses keychains instead of chips, but I wouldn't know -- one drug has always been more than enough for my ass.) At meetings in the Richmond area, you get a white poker chip with the triangle-in-a-circle logo and the local Intergroup phone number for 24 hours of sobriety. For 30 days/one month, you get a silver chip; for three months, a red one; for six months, a yellow one; for nine months, a green one; and for one year and each subsequent anniversary, a blue one.

I'm looking forward to picking up the silver one later today. And the red one in a couple months. As they say in these meetings, these chips don't help you stay sober, but they do give you one more reason not to drink. Right now, I'm not at all proud of myself -- I lost my job last month thanks to my drinking, and since then, I haven't been myself. But if I can stick with my sobriety long enough to earn a blue chip, or whatever color of chip I get after a year should I be living somewhere other than Richmond? No matter what comes my way? Then I'd have a reason to be proud. I keep thinking about the first time I quit drinking; if I'd just stuck to that the first time, I'd have a year and seven months of sobriety under my belt today. Most likely, I would have kept on making music, by myself and with others. Might have drawn more. Hell, I'd probably still have my job, too.

Instead, I drank. Look what that got me.

Yeah, I'd say my "good" drinking days are long, long gone now. I still have my doubts about AA, especially the part about the Higher Power. Don't get me wrong. I'm open to the idea of the existence of a Higher Power, but the way things have been going these last six weeks, that's a rather difficult step for me to be working. Faith alone has never been sufficient for this old agnostic in anything, and faith alone definitely ain't cuttin' it right now -- I need to see some hard evidence that AA works, and so far, I haven't seen much. I do keep going to the meetings, though, if only because I don't have anything else lined up. Maybe, with more exposure to more fellow alcoholics at more meeting places over time, I'll see the evidence in favor of AA build up. Time will tell.

So... I don't know. You take one day at a time; there isn't much else you can do.

Oh, one last thing, I almost forgot...

One option I've looked into is whether not to pay the local Army recruiter a visit, if you can believe that. I'd heard the Army raised its maximum recruitment age to 41. What a coincidence, huh? Not that I really want to enlist -- just the prospect, however remote, of being sent to a place like Afghanistan or Iraq is horrifying enough. But I thought even a cursory glance at all my options, the army included, was warranted.

Well, come to find out the army is not an option: they did raise the age limit for a while, but as of April, they lowered it back down to 35. My name is on file with the Selective Service in case they reinstate the draft, but that's about it for me and the military, I guess. Oh well.

More later...

* * *

Well, one more last thing, and then I'll shut up.

I have no idea what my next job will be, much less where it will be, or when I'll start working it. But there's one thing I am certain of. My time in the printing business? It's over. I have put in applications at some other printing companies, among other places. But that was before I took a look back on the eleven-plus years I spent at the print shop specifically, and the sixteen years I spent doing factory work in general, and realized that after all that time, all I ever got were two things, one good, one bad. The good one was an education I could put to use in the real world, as opposed to the drill-and-equation-saturated one I got when I was a kid. The bad thing was a drinking problem.

Factory work broke down barriers between me and people who were very different from me, and taught me how to work with people instead of merely alongside them. That was something I never quite got the hang of before my first factory job and the rigid, almost clockwork nature of its operations -- a key part of my real education, something I can easily bring to any new company I end up working for in the future. On the other hand, I didn't start drinking until about a year after I started this sort of work, and while the work served to break down barriers between me and other in the workplace, over many years of drinking, I slowly built walls between myself and others off the job.

And most of those years were spent in the printing business. Running a press on the clock and drinking while off of it went on for so long, the two are inseparably entwined in my mind. I am one hundred percent positive that if I were to go back into printing, sooner or later, I would go back to drinking as well -- and given the way things ended the last time, I'm just as positive things would end as badly, if not worse, the next.

I can't do that anymore. My printing career is closed.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Well, What's Done Is Done...

I ended up losing my job last month. So much for what I said in the previous post.

It was my own fault, a combination of stress, anxiety, recurring insomnia (I'd gone five days with no sleep going into that last night I was slated to work), and stupidly neglecting to call in, all aggravated by the fact that I'd started up with the drinking again the month before. It took a very long time -- fifteen years -- but the drinking finally caught up with me. So, I'm currently unemployed, and the job hunting thus far has not gone well. No big surprise there, what with the economy being the way it is. I picked a real bad time to lose my job. That's alcoholism for you.

All the same, I'm not terribly worried about my circumstances. Not yet, at least. In fact, I'm doing quite well, health-wise. For one thing, I've stopped drinking, and not just because I don't really have the money to buy the stuff. Losing my job didn't make me want to quit, either. That did the exact opposite -- after finding out that I was terminated, I was so devastated that I went on what is easily the most self-destructive bender I've ever gone on. For about a week, I drank morning, noon, and night, at one point going four days without a bite of solid food. And the crazy part is, I didn't even want to drink -- I just went and did it. It was utterly stupid.

Eventually, I reached a point when I simply couldn't ingest any more alcohol. That afternoon, I stopped. What's prevented me from starting back up since then, more than anything, was what I started going through the next day: the DTs. I've had countless hangovers, and I've endured some alcohol poisoning in my time. Never had the DTs before. That's some disturbing shit there -- for about ten days altogether, encompassing the round-the-clock drinking and the drying out, I was hovering somewhere between Earth and hell. As of today, it's been twenty-three days since I had a drop of beer or liquor, but I picked Wednesday, September 21, as day one of my third attempt at maintaining sobriety, giving me exactly three weeks. I don't count the first two days because while I wasn't drunk, my system was torn up badly. In addition to the hallucinations, tremors, and paranoia from the DTs, my head, hands, and feet were tingling, my heart was racing, I had trouble with multiple other organs, and I had a case of tinnitus as if I'd just come home from a Motorhead show. Actually, I've had a little tinnitus for a long while, what with having worked in loud factories for sixteen years and played and performed lots of loud music for at least as long, but normally I can only hear the ringing when it's real quiet around me. This time it was front and center, there was nothing I could do about it, and it was beginning to drive me nuts. On the 21st, it receded back to its normal level, thank goodness, though most of the other stuff lingered on for a couple more days. That was when I knew I was starting to recover.

The 21st was also the day I started going to AA meetings again. Step one in the AA program requires admitting that one's life has become unmanageable due to alcohol consumption. The way I see it, my years of heavy drinking ultimately cost me a job with good pay. Sounds pretty unmanageable to me. Step two requires believing that a power greater than oneself can restore one to sanity. This one's a bit tricky for me. I'm certainly open to the idea. Thing is, my views toward this sort of stuff are best described as agnostic. Long-time AA members do distinguish between religion and spirituality, and they place great emphasis on spiritual renewal. That's a big plus in my book, not being too big on religion myself -- I tried Christianity out briefly last year before reverting back to the agnosticism. But when they start talking about their relationship with God, I tend to wax skeptical. Maybe I'm just new to AA and I need to work the steps for a long time before they begin to make more sense. Then again, having lived in an area where the bulk of citizens wear their religion on their sleeves since the late 90s, I've heard a lot of "do as I say, not as I do" moralizing, and that goes on in these meetings as well. But right now, at least in the Richmond area, these meetings are all I have. They're not hurting me, so I intend to stick with the program for the time being. Listening to some of these fellow alcoholics talk ain't exactly fun, but it sure beats the hell out of the DTs.

The dark cloud has a silver lining. In addition to having sobered up, my insomnia has all but vanished. I get a decent amount of sleep now -- and at night to boot. In spite of having no money coming in and no idea where or when I'll be working next, I haven't slept this well in years. As for my blood pressure, I hardly even take the prescription medicine now. Don't need it. The stress, the anxiety, the panic, even my proneness to depression -- those levels have dropped considerably. The drinking certainly magnified all of that, but it's hard not to conclude that the main cause of it all was that damned print shop. For the year and a half I spent in pre-press, my life consisted almost exclusively of being at work and being at my apartment. I didn't go anywhere on the weekends, I just stayed home -- and, more often than not, drank, which slowly made things worse than they were.

That's all over and done with now. I don't miss the print shop, and I don't want my job back. Either of the jobs I had -- not the one in pre-press, and definitely not the one in the pressroom. I don' t want to work for a company that makes me drink when I don't even want to drink. I can't work for such a company. Not anymore.

I have applied for jobs at other printing companies in the area, but I'm looking into other fields as well. My printing career may or may not be over -- it depends on what I can find for work and how that starts to pan out. Having spent sixteen years working in factories and gotten nothing out of it except for a drinking problem, maybe I should end the printing career, especially while I still have five digits on both hands. If I had the money, I'd consider going back to college, though for what, I really don't know. I've already dropped out of college twice, so that's likely not an option. Everything's kind of in a holding pattern.

All I know is, I'm alive, I'm healthier now than I was a month ago, and while I'm not a happy camper, I'm not a miserable drunk anymore, either. I'm just an alcoholic. The difference between a drunk and an alcoholic? Alcoholics go to meetings. I know I could always start drinking again, no matter how lame the excuse I use to justify it; what I don't know is if I'd be able to stop again before it's too late. Between the time I last started up and the time I stopped, only four weeks had passed. It's frightening how fast things can unravel and how far down the scale you can slide in such a brief time when alcohol is involved. You can't make your recovery move forward any faster than the one day at a time it takes, but you can damn sure throw it into high-speed reverse at any moment.

And with that, I'll pass. Til further on...