Stepto.com

In which I give up Alcohol.

September 24th, 2013

It was the midsummer of 1990, and I was still jet lagged from the trip all the way from Dallas to Frankfurt. I was sitting on the outside deck of the Kreuzberg Abbey, a few kilometers southwest of Fulda, taking in the fantastic view of the midsummer greenery of central Germany. It was an amazing day, brightly sunny and warm but nice and cool in the shade I was sitting in.

My Aunt was a teacher on the military post in Fulda, a civilian but with a military grade. My parents had given me a choice when I graduated high school: I could have a used car or I could spend a month in Germany with my Aunt touring around Europe on a Eurail pass. Knowing I would probably get my father’s car, I easily chose Germany.

My cousin Katie and I had arrived the previous day, and after some recoup time my Aunt set about her first most important order of business: introducing us to German beer.

In high school I didn’t care a whole lot for beer. Or even alcohol for that matter. Most of what we could afford was crap and most of what we could pilfer from parents’ stores was usually either crap or too refined for the average 15-16 year old. So I never really got the beer thing.

With a thick clunk on the solid wood table a glass of pitch black beer with a foamy head was placed in front of me. Immediately I was intrigued. Beer that you could not see through?  What sorcery is this? The monks at the abbey have been making the ale the same way since the early 1700’s from a recipe created in the late 1500’s when the monastery was formed. My Aunt was giving us a history of the abbey and the beer as she drank hers and I took my glass and took a drink.

And suddenly I understood. I understood beer. The flavor was complex and rich, the temperature of the beer was cool not ice cold. It was thick and felt like you were eating something rather than drinking it. That was the moment, sitting there in central Germany on a warm summer day just out of high school and not yet in college, that I feel in love with beer.

I was 17 years old.

The trip to Germany spoiled me so much on beer that when I did drink beer in college it was exclusively Shiner Bock, a staple of south Texas beer. South Central Texas was mostly settled by people of German and Czech descent so the crafting of beer was very important to them. I rarely drank to extreme excess, a couple of times a year I would get “College level” drunk, but for the most part I was more a steady state style drinker.

Once I left college my drinking moderated significantly as I began working at Microsoft in a standard corporate job (albeit with 12 hour days). For most of the 90’s I would say I drank perhaps three times a week at most, and even then nothing harder really than beer.  But in the late 90’s I discovered Cognac. And things sort of began to unwind from there.

Cognac, like that first true beer I enjoyed in Germany, was a real sensory experience. It’s not just the complexity of the flavor, but also the aroma. Not to mention the science, history, and overall craftsmanship that goes into making something so refined. For my 40th birthday I shared with my friends a bottle of cognac distilled in 1724 and decanted in 1974. That’s 350 years of aging. The bottle was easily worth many thousands of dollars.

From Cognac I discovered Scotch, and found a slightly less intensive but every bit as interesting level of craftsmanship, chemistry, and history. The interplay of flavors depending on the region the Scotch was distilled or the barrels used or pairing it with a cigar all interested me on a million levels.

All of these enjoyable aspects were independent of the intoxicating effects of alcohol. For a long long time it was more a sensory experience than a drinking experience. Until the past few years. I had a startling realization a little while ago that I had probably become an alcoholic.

What led me to this realization was simple: I was drinking every single day, and I was doing it to feel “normal”. I never got drunk, or blacked out, or drove drunk or anything. My drinking was a steady thing through out the day or night, never really getting drunk just maintaining a strong buzz. The issue became clear when I realized that over the course of a night I could put away a half a bottle of Scotch, or a six pack of extremely strong beer, and I was doing it without any consideration at all. Then I realized I had been doing that for years. Somehow, alcohol became the thing I needed. And I needed it every day.

Go to lunch with friends at work? Beer. Hang out for an hour after work? Scotch.  Go home and watch a movie or play video games? Beer and Scotch. Saturday day off? Why not have a beer at 11am while I write, which turned into drinking through the entire day.

The glass sitting next to me became too important, an extension of my mind where its absence would make me agitated.

Alcohol was still a sensory experience for me to be sure. I appreciated the beers I drank and looked forward to trying new ones and new variations. I especially enjoyed drinking the beers my friends make, because they are actually really good at it and also beer.

But that glass next to me really began to bother me. I didn’t get blind drunk and do something dumb, I didn’t “crash” in the classical sense when people come to this realization. But chances are I was going to. Chances are I was headed down that road.

The opening to Ringworld Engineers finds Louis Wu a slave to his Droud. He wakes up, exercises, eats, showers, and puts on the Droud and sets a 10 hour timer. It goes off, the Droud shuts off, he eats, exercises, showers, and goes to bed.

That’s his life. Every time I read that chapter it shocks me. How could someone let themselves get to that state? I’m not saying I was anywhere near there, but I was exploring the border of it and realizing that made me unhappy.

So!

I quit alcohol. To stave off withdrawal I used a “Tapered Detox” which worked really really well. It’s been a little while now and the things I was scared of are all turning out ok. I was scared writing would be different (it isn’t) I was scared playing games or watching movies would be different (nope.) Most of all I was scared I would miss it so much I wouldn’t last without it (I’m ok!)

I’m making this public because I know too many people to tell individually, and to anyone out there in a similar circumstance I’m here to say you can do it. I feel much better mentally and physically and there is plenty of help and support available either medical, social, spiritual, etc to help you do it.

Some quick points:

This was my own realization, there was no inciting incident.

If you’re a friend of mine and you drink you do not have to walk on eggshells around me. Enjoy your drink. I have gone out now a couple of times in drinking situations and done just fine. Please don’t feel you are making me uncomfortable. I had a problem I didn’t like and did something about it that satisfied me that I addressed it. I still want to go to my favorite places with my friends. That’s what’s more important to me now.

Will I ever drink again? No idea. I have to assume I will want to, because that helps me put in place the will power. I do know this, if I ever decide to make the conscious decision to have a drink it will not be alone, I will never have more than 2 beers or 2 drinks in a day, and I will never drink two days in a row. But for right now, I’m off alcohol completely and plan for that to be true for the foreseeable future. I quit smoking a long time ago and can enjoy a once a year cigarette sometimes, but I gotta get far away from that guy who needed the glass next to him before I could even consider it.

I’m happy to write up a blog entry on my taper regimen if people would be interested in that. Alcohol withdrawal can kill you, especially when you are over 40 like me. And I drank enough for me to at least factor that into the process of stopping. Tapering is basically avoiding detox drugs (which have their own side effects and nastiness) to achieve the same goal: weaning the body off alcohol without the full side effects. I repeat it was very effective for me but it requires some very specific physical and mental adjustments.

I understate in the above how much better I feel. My blood pressure is down 20 points, I’ve lost weight, I have more energy and it reinforces just how much I was in a cloud with my body over drinking.

So there’s that. If you have any questions about it please feel free to leave a comment.  :>

  • https://twitter.com/#!/BeeDizz BeeDizz

    Touching. And all too familiar. I never quit. But when I realized I was drinking sometimes for no reason, I wasn’t even enjoying it, I figured it was time to get control of myself before I lost it. Great read Stepto.

  • Benjamin

    Good on you Stepto for coming to this point. It’s a choice that sometimes has to be made for the greater good of life. I’ve done it myself personally and it does seem a little strange to others who may not see it the same way. The main thing is you do it for the right reasons. And it you wish you can begin again but you’ll find you have an appreciation of the limits more

  • Benjamin Reed

    Sounds very much like when I quit smoking. I got started on clove cigarettes, which were very tasty, and then worked my way to regular ones when I didn’t want to spend 2x the price of a pack of cigarettes. I was a pretty steady half-a-pack-a-day kind of smoker for a long time.

    It was the early 2000′s. I was playing Everquest for 8 hours a night, and I’d come out of my EQ stupor at midnight or 1am and realize I had smoked a pack of cigarettes that day, half of it while playing EQ and not even noticing I did it. I knew cigarettes were bad for me, but if I was making a conscious choice to have (and enjoy) a cigarette, at least I was getting something out of the deal. But that’s not what was happening anymore. I was chain smoking without even thinking about it, without even enjoying the thing that was ruining my lungs. That’s when I realized I had to quit.

    Good luck!

  • Treyman

    It saddens me when people I admire have problems. But, the reason I admire them is because their personalities lead them to confront those problems head on and get past them. Good for you Stepto! It is much easier to stay away from the abyss then to escape it.

  • Erin (Snarke)

    You are wonderful and brave and I am really really proud of you. Sending *MANY* hugs!

  • Lee Daniels

    I’m happy for you, addiction’s a horrible thing to go through. I had a similar situation to you, except it was painkillers.

    The painkillers helped for a while and then my body just got used to them, I’d still take 3, 4 or 5 times the recommended amount for just that hope this time they would help. Eventually it just became the norm and over time they started to change me. I became an absolute bastard, how I wasn’t fired or disowned by my own family I’ll never know. I don’t remember my 21st birthday or very much of the year before it.

    At this point I knew I was in trouble and suicide seemed the best way out for me. Then on Monday November 14 2005 everything changed. As a wrestling fan I knew Eddie Guerrero’s life long struggle with his own demons and that he’d fought hard to win back his life, family and career. I looked up to him, I saw that I could turn everything around. Sunday night after being clean for several years he suffered a cardiac failure due to an underlying heart condition caused by his addictions.

    His death saved my life. It was my wake up call, I made amends, I got clean and I’ve been drug free since. When I look back to where I was 7 years ago I feel proud of everything I’ve done since, the friends I’ve made and the projects I’ve got to be part of, one of those highlights is working with you on the Nomz.

    I know I’ll live the rest of my life drug free because I can’t go back to being the person I was.

  • Ej

    I was just thinking about doing this myself. In grad school you tend to hang around lots of people who vent their stress by drinking, nightly. I got swept up in this habit without even knowing it and realized after not having a drink in a week how much better I felt. I wasn’t in a sleepy daze and I could work more efficiently and sleep better at night. I would love to see your strategies Stepto, I feel like I might need them.

  • Guest

    Good luck Stepto.

  • TotallyMadeupName

    I’m what’s known as a ‘high-functioning alcoholic’. I hold down a decent job, am socially adept, and VERY few people are aware of the following.

    In 2011 I had several seizures relating to alcohol withdrawal. The first of which required me to be airlifted to hospital from a remote environment where I was responsible for other people’s lives. Terrifying. Second and subsequent related to me tweaking down, and occured at home, the ambulance and hospital bed that I spent a week in afterward.

    I gave up drinking for a year after that. It was a positive experience that I played off to friends and family as an ‘experiment’.

    Right now, I’m back to drinking a litre of vodka a day. No excuse. Never intended for it to get this far, but I’m back to the point where I’m worried that if I don’t drink. I’ll seize. I’m scared.

    I’ve just read all that back. Damn. Pathetic and cathartic in one fell swoop. Going to click ‘post’ anyway.

    • http://www.stepto.com/ Stepto

      I would advise you to do two things. #1: admit to someone close to you that you have a serious problem and you need their help. #2: You are, unfortunately, a candidate for what is known as Kindling, where withdrawal symptoms can, under certain circumstances, become more severe the more times you go through them. So after telling a friend or loved one, and enlisting their help for you to kick this, you need to see a doctor.

      At this point this is not a problem you can manage yourself from a medical or a psychological perspective, you need some help. While withdrawal is certainly something to worry about it *is* manageable with proper medical guidance. A friend or family member can be instrumental in helping you keep focused and being there when you are worried about the medical part. If you don’t have anyone available who can help there are a number of programs and resources that can assist you.

      If you want to quit, and it sounds like you do, know that it IS possible. I can’t even imagine how scary the seizures can be and how unpleasant, but it’s going to be nothing compared to the harm you’re doing your body right now.

      Thank you for sharing and I wish you the best of luck.

      • TotallyMadeUpName

        Hey Stepto. Just wanted to come back here and say ‘thank you’. As of 6.00pm GMT this evening, I haven’t had a drink for 32 days.

        I admitted I had a problem to a friend who I trusted in an email, then over the phone to my mother, then in person to my brother. Having done that I then went through a pretty harsh 48 hours of severe alcohol withdrawal. I (perhaps foolishly) did it without medical supervision, although those I told were checking in on me every few hours on the phone. Couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat, was sweating, shaking and throwing up violently, but thankfully I didn’t seize. On the third day I started to feel better, and I’ve felt even better every single day since.

        I’m running again now. Hiking. Swimming. Eating better. I’ve dropped 5kg already. I’m not only determined to never drink again, I intend to get into the best shape of my life, too.

        So, yes. Thank you. While you weren’t the only driving force behind me turning this situation around, you were certainly a part of it.. and I really appreciated your words. Hope to shake your hand someday. =)

  • MirkManEA

    Bravo sir! Congratulations and as always, good luck!

  • http://www.christopherbudd.com Christopher Budd

    I have no words to describe how brave I find this posting.

    We have known each other for a long time, I even remember your Scotch collection in your office when we worked together.

    I have been contemplating much similar to what you’re written. For a while. And have wanted to make a hard break. Much like you have.

    I just sent a note to my partners, to those who love me and care for me, telling them I’m going on a break from alcohol from March until June at least. I’ve wanted to make a hard break like this. But your posting gave me the needed oomph to throw down the gauntlet.

    So thank you for that.

    I suspect the nights without wine, beer or cocktails will suck.

    But we have to endure the suckage for greater goods sometimes.

    Thank you for this.


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