This is the first of what will be an ongoing series of essays for this blog. I first wrote the essay below, Part I, over a year and a half ago. After sharing it with several friends, I was advised by them not to publish it to the web — that I would someday regret doing so.
I heeded my friends’ sincere advice despite my desire to post this in 2010 — as a means starting the process of getting alcohol out of my life. Sitting on this for a year and a half did not do me any good. This is right for me. This day, this time, this platform.
Shocking. No Seriously, Shocking.
When I sat down to write this week’s essay on body image, I knew immediately that I really wanted to write about my drinking – it was time and I was finally ready. Now for those whose jaws just dropped, that’s no joke. For over a decade alcohol has been central in my life, and has been used primarily as a cure for my chronic insomnia since my divorce in 2000. For most of my adult life prior, I almost never drank, and when I did drink it was usually less than one – alcohol I had always reasoned, was not consistent with a life of fitness.
If it’s trite to suggest that my drinking began innocently, so be it. Divorce is hard even under the best of circumstances, and the circumstances of my divorce were not the best. Shortly after moving out of my suburban California home and into a Ford Windstar mini-van, and in the aftermath of leaving my wife and daughter behind, I found sleeping to be nearly impossible. Guilt, confusion, destruction, fear, and self-loathing; these were just a few reasons I stayed awake at night with my thoughts spinning in an elliptical orbit around the gravity of my selfish actions.
However, as an active person, sleep was necessary to for me to function well and recover from the rigorous exercise regimen which was such a large part of my life. Over a period of weeks I had tried all the common cures for insomnia; warm milk, herbal remedies, meditation, and over the counter sleep aids – with no success. I once took 6 Benadryl and still stayed up all night. Nothing worked to help ease my non-sleeping woes. Well, almost nothing.
One evening I turned to rum and Diet Coke – seemed innocent, and I had remembered that alcohol had always made me drowsy quickly – one more reason why I rarely drank. It worked like a charm too, and for the next few evenings I sent myself into a peaceful rest with a few rum and Diet Cokes as I nested in the back of my mini-van contemplating my future. This was to be a short-term fix and as soon as I found a permanent place to live, I would stop the drinking.
Evolution Of The Quantities Part I; Mr. Brownstone Evolves
Within a few months I was out of the mini-van and living in a little one-room shack on 14 acres here in Fallbrook. It was perfectly cozy. The shack had no heat, no air-conditioning, was surrounded by avocado and macadamia trees, wonderful evening breezes, and coyotes honoring the night with their songs as I drifted off to sleep. It also helped that I was sleeping in the warm tranquility of a waterbed. Sleep no longer required rum, and for six months I slept better than at any point in my life and though I was grateful for the rest, I was more grateful to be rid of alcohol.
After six months in this serene environment, I found a less expensive place to live. At a time when money mattered more, my new home would also be large enough to host my fitness studio. It was hard to leave that calming scene and landscape behind, but I chose to make the move, and would remain in the new place for the next ten years. Away from my peaceful isolation among the trees and coyotes, and without the waterbed, my insomnia would promptly return.
Since I knew what to do and was not susceptible to hangovers, I began my rum-fueled bedtime drinks once again. This worked well for several years. Within a few years though, I found myself pouring them a little taller. Within a couple more, I began to notice they were less effective, so I poured them taller still. This worked well for many years until I began waking up in the middle of the night unable to go back to sleep – unless of course I poured a little more which I soon began to do with little effect on my physicality or personality.
This was the process that would take me through 12+ years; that each evening I would take a 44-ounce Big Gulp cup to bed, eventually to contain about 50% rum or tequila, 50% diet soda, and I would fall asleep. If I woke in the middle of the night, I would finish the drink and go right back to sleep until morning. I didn’t sweat the extra calories, I just built them into my day with less food, more cardio, or both.
Through all of this, I maintained the best physical condition of my life – so far as everything but my liver was concerned. I woke early, worked out intensely, and went about my day teaching and practicing fitness. During this period I participated in bodybuilding, competitive running, ocean-going paddle board racing, and even did a few competitive stair climbs up to the tops of skyscrapers. Never though, did I drink during the day, or anywhere else but in bed. This was about sleep to me, not a love of alcohol. I hated that I did it, but the process worked and sleep mattered.
To be continued…
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Please check back in two weeks for Part II of this series. Oh, and there is this from The Avett Brothers, enjoy…