Opposites

Let’s play a quick game of opposites, shall we? I’ll list a series of words, and you try to come up with the opposites. Just go with the first word that pops into your head.

Ready?

  • strong
  • happy
  • fat
  • cold
  • hungry
  • black
  • on
  • light
  • sober

So, if you’re like me, your opposites were weak, sad, thin, hot, full, white, off, dark, and drunk. Is that right? Let’s try a couple more…

  • smoker
  • bulimic
  • suicidal
  • addicted

Those were a wee bit harder, right? I came up with non-smoker, not-bulemic, not-suicidal, not-addicted. Yeah, pretty lame, I know.

I find it interesting that we don’t really have good words to describe people who are no longer smoking, no longer vomiting their food, no longer contemplating suicide, or are no longer addicted to (not-alcohol, not-nicotine) other things. But the word we use to describe people who are no longer drinking is frequently “sober”. I’ve even used the word to refer to myself, with pride even. “I’ve been sober for 6 months…”

But the scary part for me about the word sober is that the contrasted word that easily comes to mind, the word that will run through everyone’s head is “drunk”. I’m sober now. What was I before I was sober? Was I drunk? Not always. Not even a majority of the time. Was I “a drunk”?

I don’t like the idea that perhaps, under some people’s ideas of “a drunk”, I just might have been one. But that would only because I had told you the extent of my drinking habit. But I’m pretty sure that, without these blog posts, if you had asked 100 people who knew me well, if I was “a drunk” that only one would have answered with a tentative affirmative. And that one person is the one who knows me better than anyone else. So, ok, maybe I was “a drunk”.

But now that I’m not “a drunk”, if I tell people that I’m sober, they immediately assume that I used to be “a drunk” and whatever that image conjures up in their head. Then there’s the judgement that comes along with that mental image.

Contrast that with someone who hasn’t smoked in 6 months. Someone in this position might, tentatively describe themselves as someone who “quit smoking” or they might just say “I don’t smoke, or “I’m a non-smoker.” Although you certainly know what came prior to the “quit smoking” phase, I’ll wager the judgement you’d place on them for having previously smoked is way less condemning than the judgement you’d heap on “a drunk.”

“But alcoholism is so much worse than smoking” you may be thinking. And I might be inclined to agree with you. But is the ethanol addict any more to blame for their problem than the nicotine addict? That will likely be the topic of another post.

So although I admit that “sober” accurately describes my state of being for the last several weeks, I bristle at the contrast the word conjures up in the minds of people who know that I’m “sober”.

Reprehensible alcoholic criminal type person

Recently I listened the Playing God episode of the Radiolab podcast. It is a fascinating exploration into the ethics of choosing who gets to live and who gets to die in extreme circumstances. The core of the story is about the events surrounding Hurricane Katrina inside of Memorial Hospital. I encourage you to listen to the whole podcast. It is quite good.

One aspect of the story is that some researchers put these thorny ethical questions to regular people in a town hall meeting. For example, if there were a flu epidemic, and ventilators were required to save people, but there aren’t enough ventilators to cover all the sick, how do you decide who gets a ventilator? Should it be based on years of life remaining? Or likelihood of survial? Or just lottery/luck?

Starting at around 39:35, a participant describes the dilemma:

You’re gonna have like a young pastor. And you might have a reprehensible alcoholic criminal type person, and he might have more years to live. Well  the years of the pastor are gonna be more beneficial to society than the years that this criminal reprehensible alcoholic bad person.

She equates criminal, reprehensible and alcoholic not once, but twice. In her mind, the three go hand in hand.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not surprised that some people do this. I’m not shocked that some random person in the USofA would think of alcoholic and reprehensible in the same breath. I’m not really annoyed that this person thinks alcoholic is an enhancement to reprehensible criminal to help make her point.

What gets me most is that Radiolab producers let her comments make the final cut. Just imagine if she had said “reprehensible negro criminal type person”, or “reprehensible retarded criminal type person”, or “reprehensible Islamic criminal type person”. I imagine pretty much any other slur would have made her comments unsuitable for inclusion. Remember, this was not a documentary on how people feel about alcoholism, so although her comments helped to illustrate a point, they were also incredibly nasty.

Some may object to my point by insisting that alcoholism is a behavior, but race and mental illness are not. The problem is that it is so much more complicated than that. To start with, alcohol addiction has been seen in pretty much any mammal that has ever ingested the stuff. As a race, those who consume it are almost universally addicted to it. And to think it is a “personal choice” completely ignores all the societal factors that contribute to its consumption.

So the point to this post is two-fold. A) some people equate ‘alcoholic’ with ‘evil person’. B) it is so socially acceptable to people to perform this equivalence, that people hardly notice.

 

Managing addiction

It has been a long time since I’ve written about alcohol, and my struggles with it. For some reason, I don’t like to write about it when I’m “off the wagon”. For several months this year I vacillated between drinking and not with a number of personal reasons for each swing of the sobriety pendulum.

The most difficult part about this past several months has been that I didn’t really want to quit. I knew I was in a “bad place” but I didn’t feel motivated to fully remove my self from the addiction and the temptation. After one night of drinking more than I should have, and half-heartedly hiding it from my wife, I apologized to her in the morning (for what, exactly, I’ll explain below). Her response wasn’t what I was expecting: she pointed out that I had apologized before, but it was starting to ring hollow because I wasn’t actually doing anything with that apology.

I’ve now turned over a new leaf, started a new chapter, or whatever metaphor you like, in how I’m managing my relationship with alcohol. Before I tell you what I’ve done, I feel compelled to convince you (and myself) that I’m not a reprehensible alcoholic.

  • I’ve never been fired (for any reason)
  • I’ve never been arrested
  • I’ve never defaulted on a loan
  • I have $0 in credit card debt, and only 11 years left on my home loan
  • It has been over 20 years since I’ve had a car accident, and that wasn’t alcohol related
  • My personal income places us firmly in the upper-middle class
  • I’m on track to have a comfortable retirement
  • I’ve never had a drink before or during work
  • I’ve never struck, threatened or verbally abused my wife
  • I’ve taught Sunday School
  • I was a Cubmaster and Den leader when my son was in scouts

OK, maybe that crap doesn’t convince you. Perhaps you know that people can have addictions and still be highly functional. Yup, that was me. Highly functional. But then why did I feel the need to quit?

  • I wasn’t fully in control–one drink easily became six
  • I was hiding my consumption from those who loved me the most
  • I wasn’t working at my peak potential
  • I wasn’t parenting at my peak potential
  • I wasn’t husbanding at my peak potential

I had allowed alcohol to take me from being a B+ human down to a B- or C+ human. Still above average. Still not reprehensible. But definitely not the best me I could be. This is what I apologized to my wife for. I knew I wasn’t what I could be, and I was letting alcohol degrade my life.

So, what have I done? I asked my family doc for a prescription and am now taking Disulfiram. This drug will essentially make it so that my body cannot digest ethanol and will therefore reject it violently. If I drink, even small amounts, while Disulfiram is in my body, I’ll vomit and feel like hell for a couple of hours.

“Sweet jesus,” you may exclaim, “you have to take a drug for ‘chronic alcoholism’ to not drink? What kind of reprehensible alcoholic are you?”

I view it as a tool to strongly influence my future behavior. I choose to take the drug when I’m feeling strong in my sobriety. The fact that I’ve taken it then causes a later version of me (still me, but perhaps 12 hours older) to avoid using alcohol to solve whatever problems I thought it might solve. In essence I now see alcohol as off-limits to me. Thanks to me.

You probably have used tools to influence your own future behavior as well. For example, retirement savings accounts are great instruments for making it hard to spend your savings before you reach a certain age. When you are feeling strong in your savings goals, you plop some money in a 401k. The fact that it is financially hard to get that money back makes an older you think of that money as off limits. You could put that money in some other financial instrument (possibly with better returns) but the 401k is a great tool for making sure you don’t spend it too soon.

I’ve now been taking Disulifram for two weeks, and I haven’t felt tempted to drink once. In previous pendulum swings to sobriety, I’ve felt like I’m “white knuckling” it a bit–holding on to try to make sure I don’t screw up. Constantly convincing myself that I need to change and this is how its done. In many ways taking Disulifram has been a relief. My sober me has eliminated the option of drinking for future me, and I’m happy about it.

Before I complete this post, please also know that Disulifram is not my only support. Or, at least I don’t intended for it to be. I’m going to be re-engaging with a couple of support groups, as well as seeking other assistance. And if you’ve read this far into my post, you can be part of that assistance as well. Nothing is required of you at this time, but I may need you to not think of me as reprehensible. I may need you to listen as I struggle with my personal identity in contrast to how our culture blames the consumer of alcohol for the chemical affects of alcohol. I may need you to ask “How are you doing?” when you really want an answer.

Right now, my answer is “Really well!”

 

Facebook mockingly celebrates 25 years of the Web

facebook celebrates 25 yearsYou probably saw this image on Facebook today. My guess is that everyone on Facebook saw this image today. Surprisingly, it wasn’t linked to any content, like perhaps an interesting graphic depicting the evolution of the (World Wide Web), or about Tim Berners-Lee. Without even looking, I’m going to guess that Mr Berners-Lee isn’t pleased with this. But before I get to that, I’ll fill you in on a little experiment I’m doing.

A few days ago, I publicly posted a picture to Facebook and to my personal blog with the title “Columbus, from a Phantom”. As soon as I finished the posts, I did a Google search for that phrase, with quotes. This is what I got.

Google Columbus from a Phantom

The half-million results that Google reports at the top are for those four words, separately. But search for that phrase exactly, and no one on the Web had ever written that phrase.

Two days later, and there are three hits, two from my blog, and one from a blogger that had linked to my blog a long time ago and shows my recent posts.

Google Columbus from a Phantom 2 days later

Notice, still no hit for Facebook.

OK, perhaps its too soon. Perhaps Google hasn’t crawled over my Facebook post. So lets try something over a month old. I posted a picture to Facebook with this caption:

The view was awesome. Not a single Pokemon in sight.

Here’s the Google search result:

not a single pokemonZero hits. Nothing. I posted that image as “public” on Facebook. If you scroll down enough on my profile, you’ll see it. If you click the link above, you’ll see it, but there will be an obnoxious banner at the bottom imploring you to get an account already.

But Google doesn’t know about it. Think about it–considering all the content on Facebook, how many times has ANY search engine (other than Facebook) returned content directly on Facebook?

Now I know Google isn’t completely benign, but there is a reason that it has become a verb, and it means “to search for something on the web.”

But Facebook content isn’t “on the web” like Tim Berners-Lee imagined. He created the web and gave it to humanity, “with no patent and no royalties due.” Everything Berners-Lee has done has contributed to the open nature of the Web. Any person could post any thing on any server, and it would be available to all.

And yes, there have always been private spaces on the Internet. But Facebook is by far the largest private space there is. Yes, you can take your content with you. But you aren’t contributing to anything that others can find, outside of Facebook. If I post on Facebook how to solve a technical problem with some application, unless someone writes something outside of Facebook and links to my post, few people will ever see it.

One last thing: most every other content website out there allows you to “share” your content and will provide you with a direct URL.

Sharing in Tumblr
Sharing in Google
Sharing in Flickr

But not Facebook.

facebook sharing

 

 

So, to me, having Facebook celebrating the work of Berners-Lee seems disingenuous at best, and downright arrogant at worst.