Two Anniversaries

My bride and I celebrated 32 years of marriage this week. I think she gave up on trying to fix me up, so she is stuck with what she got. Kidding aside, my wife is easily the best half of us. She is “the girl who holds the world in a paper cup,” meaning she is as genuine as they come.

My wife likes to say we are friends first, when asked about our longevity. The friendship carries us through the ebbs and flows of the relationship. The other is keep a sense of humor. We often laugh at ourselves and can tease each other. Life is too short not to laugh more.

I had another anniversary this week. I passed ten years without a drink of alcohol. The cravings are far fewer and less intense, but they linger back there somewhere. My daughter asked me about my drinking habits as I made her and my wife aware of the anniversary as we traveled. It stunned them by the amount I drank, but at least I did it at home.

The key lesson I learned early in my abstinence is to say the following mantra, “I am not going to drink today.” This is a key reason recovering alcoholics know the number of days. Another piece of advice is to find a substitute – mine were green tea, fruits, fruit juices, popsicles or sorbet. The cravings will remain, you just need to drink or eat something else.

So, let’s toast with your beverage of choice (or necessity) to laughter, love and sobriety, at least for those who must abstain.

 

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A few oldies but goodies – three most frequented posts

As I reflect on my blogging which began in December, 2011, I tell folks that part of the reason I blog is to give me a place to write what I feel are the significant truths of our day. In a world where everyone seems to have their own source of tailored made and spoon fed news, we seem to lose sight of those truths.

I appreciate greatly those who have taken the time to drop by and read my words, enter a like every once in a while, and on occasion, offer a comment. When someone tells you the efforts you have made are worth a few minutes of their time, it is quite gratifying.

Like you, when I write a piece I have certain expectations of activity and resonance. Some, I have felt would be better frequented are not, while others tend to take off. And, there are a few that catch on later for some reason, where a person finds a lost episode and shares it with others. When I see that activity after months and years, I go back and re-read the post to remind myself what I said.

In the four years I have been writing, three posts have been the reason for about 25% of the visits my blog. The fourth most popular post is beneath 2% of the visits. If you are new to my blog in the past year, you may have not seen these three. I will provide a link below and offer my thoughts on why those three do far better than the others. I would love to hear your comments as well.

Six years alcohol free but still want to drink

I wrote this over two years and am still alcohol free. Many newcomers do not know that I am an alcoholic, but have been able to maintain my sobriety for now eight years. This post is by far my most frequented one, as each of us either have a similar challenge or know someone who has such a challenge. It offers advice I received from an unexpected source that I share with others. “I am not going to drink today.”

https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2013/08/08/six-years-alcohol-free-but-still-want-to-drink/

Les Miserables and Social Injustice

My wife and I have always enjoyed the musical, but the music can overpower the true misery of the story. The movie starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway allowed that misery and social injustice to come to the forefront. The singing was captured during the filming rather than recorded later and dubbed over. This made the songs resonate with the anguish felt in their voices.

https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2013/01/13/les-miserables-and-social-injustice/

Tribute to a Great Boss

Each of us have had several bosses in our career and we know their imperfections. So, when we get a good one, it makes the days at work much more enjoyable and rewarding. I have had a few good ones, as well as some bad ones, but one stood out as a great boss. This post is a tribute to him upon his retirement and a wish for others to have this pleasure at some point in their work.

https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2012/12/05/tribute-to-a-great-boss/

Please let me know what you think. For those blogs I follow, I would love for you to do something similar as I would enjoy reading or re-reading your work that resonated most with readers. And, thanks for your words of prose, poetry and song along with the wonderful pictures. They are greatly appreciated.

Best wishes to all over the holidays and have a wonderful 2016.

Just passed my seventh anniversary without a drink

People have reacted well to the post I published on my sixth anniversary of being alcohol free. Thank you. I hope it is helpful. I think the acknowledgement that I still want to have a drink resonates with some and surprises others just starting out on their quest. I think they are hoping the feeling would go away. It does subside, but it takes a day-to-day effort of saying “I am not going to drink today.”

Below is a link to the post. Please feel free to offer your comments or questions. I am just another imperfect person battling his impulses, which in my case, when I failed in the battle put me in bad place. I will shoot straight with you on what has helped me, much of what I included in the post. Best wishes on your quest. Don’t let anyone tell you it is easy.

https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2013/08/08/six-years-alcohol-free-but-still-want-to-drink/

 

 

Six years alcohol free, but still want to drink

I am an alcoholic. Yet, today is the sixth anniversary of my last drink. I have learned a lot about myself along the journey, but don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, stopping a habit is hard work. The thing I most learned is from an old colleague where we were waiting for our respective flights in an airport restaurant in Cincinnati, shortly after I stopped drinking. She gave me the best piece of advice courtesy of her husband who had stopped earlier that I will share with you now – I am not going to drink today.

You see, while I do not drink anymore, six years later, I still want one. The urge is still there as a faint echo at times and as a stronger urge at other times. Usually, the stronger urges occur when I do something like cook on the grill on Sunday afternoon while watching the golf tournament, football, etc. As an alcoholic, you eventually don’t screw around, so I was drinking scotch on the rocks. Many at a time. Yet, with that said, there are many people with habits off other kinds of drinks. Chris Mullen, the great NBA basketball player spoke of being a beer alcoholic. Tom Watson, the famous golfer, almost derailed his career with wine.

Two things happened that caused me to do something about my problem while I still could. My doctor told me that taking action before it was too late was a major plus in my favor. Many wait until the train wheels come of the track.The first thing is the wife of a colleague of mine, who I knew and was one of the most vivacious people you would ever meet, died in her late fifties from complications due to alcoholism. To hear the diagnosis after she passed, when no one else knew she had an issue, was staggering. I wanted to see my kids become adults and witness their many life events. I wanted to be there for my wife. I knew I had that problem.

The second thing is what I started noticing at work late in the day. You see, I was what is called a “home drunk.” I would only drink when I got home after work and on weekends. Being a big, tall guy, I could hold my liquor, so I would easily down five or six doubles a night. I mentioned the scotch on the rocks. The scotch and waters drinks diminished the amount of water used over time until it the water was no longer necessary. What I noticed late in the day at work is my body would begin craving the alcohol and I would get over-heated and red-faced. I was already on blood pressure medication in a stressful job, so I was a train wreck waiting to happen. It did not help matters that my father was an alcoholic before he quit late in life.

So, I had to stop. I started with a drug called Campril which is designed to wean you of your craving. I did that for a few weeks, but stopped that as well. The key is to substitute a new habit for the old one. If you do not, you will eventually drift back into the old one. I am now a green tea aficionado and drink a lot of fruit juices. At parties, I don’t mind ordering a nonalcoholic beer or tonic water. I don’t mind being around people who drink. Plus, you need to exercise as your sweet tooth can get out of hand due to the craving for sugar. But, the key is the lesson that my friend shared with me in the Cincinnati airport – I am not going to drink today.

It is a daily journey. The craving is still there. You just have to say, I am not going to drink today. People trying to stop drinking know the number of days they have not had a drink. This is the reason. It is a daily struggle. Over time, it becomes weeks, then months and now years of tracking the absence of alcohol use. It is hard, but it can be done. This is one reason people find places like Alcoholic Anonymous. The support group is amazingly helpful. I chose not to go that route, but that was a personal choice. The stressful job did not go away and, most importantly, I wanted to be there for my wife and children, so not going to AA was a time issue for me. If I had not stopped, I would have become a liability. Plus, it has given me a platform to talk openly with my kids about being aware of their medical history in me and my father.

A couple of other benefits of not drinking is your weight (again with the caution about the sweets) is easier to maintain. Alcohol has a lot of calories, so when you don’t drink, you can lose weight. The other is the money. Alcohol is an expensive habit. Take the time to add up what you spend per week on alcohol – the beer, wine and hard liquor. I estimated I was spending over $6,000 per year on alcohol. That can add up. Plus, the other stuff goes away and your health improves

Please feel free to share this with others who may have my problem. They should start with being truthful with themselves, their spouses and their doctors. Doctors have said when a patient tells them how much they drink, the doctor knows when the patient is understating the amount. Tell the doctor the truth. He or she cannot help you if you don’t. Do something while you can. It is hard, but if you do try to stop, remember these words – I am not going to drink today.

The Power of Habit

I recently completed a book by Charles Duhigg called “The Power of Habit – Why We Do What We Do in LIfe and Business.” I have referenced a few of the themes in an earlier post called “Who is Paul O’Neill  and why should his opinion matter?” on March 20. My niece thought I might like this and she was correct. I would encourage you to read it as well, as it articulates how much of what we do each day is based more on habit that is ingrained in each of us or in our organizations.

My friend Hugh Curtler (www.hughcurtler.wordpress.com) noted a few weeks ago that Aristotle felt habits reigned supreme. In his “Nicomachean Ethics,” as referenced in Duhiggs’ book, Aristotle said:

“…just as a piece of land has to be prepared beforehand to nourish the seed, so the mind of the pupil has to be prepared in its habits if it is to enjoy and dislike the right things.”

A few examples from “The Power of Habit” might help reveal further Aristotle’s belief. The earlier post on Paul O’Neill is a great example. In short, he came in and transformed Alcoa as its CEO in a very unheard of way. It unnerved so many financial experts, they told people to sell the stock once the heard O’Neill’s first speech. One analyst later said “it was the worst piece of advice I have ever given,” as under O’Neill, Alcoa’s earnings and stock price soared for many years. What did he do that was so unusual and successful? His first focus was to make Alcoa the safest company it could be, as its safety record was atrocious. In other words, he wanted to change Alcoa’s bad safety habits.

He consciously picked this as he explained later, as it was the one thing we could get management and labor to agree on – a safer workplace. So, what happened? Communication between the line workers and management improved as accidents and how to prevent them had to be reported within 24 hours. He showed by example, after a tragic death, that this mattered to him and was not window-dressing. He changed the habits of executives, managers and line workers by insisting that we cannot condone safety problems and must avoid them at all costs. Through the improved communication, other benefits occurred – processes had to be improved to make them safer, the workers were empowered to share ideas on how to improve processes, and management’s goals could be communicated more readily. By emphasizing the importance of safety habits, the company got better. And, so did results.

Another good example about habits is regarding Starbucks. There is a moving story about how a young man had fallen into bad and even criminal habits. HIs drug problem caused him to lose everything time and time again. Then, someone suggested he try to get a job at Starbucks. Someone gave him a chance and mentored him. But, it was really the Starbucks training that transformed him. The training told him how to serve customers well. It told him how to address situations with an irate customer. It taught him the need to be organized, as if you were not, the customer would be ill-served. This consistent training replaced his bad habits with new habits. He built on his success by first building his self-esteem through better habit. And, it spilled over into his personal life. Now, he is managing a Starbucks and improving his education.

There are numerous examples in the book, but one my niece and I both found interesting is about the fabric freshening product called Febreze. Now, you may not know that Febreze was almost pulled from the market as its sales were almost non-existent. It was a flop. Febreze’s inventor had found a way to chemically remove bad odors from fabrics. When it was first marketed, the elimination of bad odors was the pitch. Yet, that pitch only sold to people whose houses were a total wreck and reeked. The average homeowner did not buy it, at least buy enough of it. Before Proctor and Gamble (P&G) pulled it, they did more research of their target buyers.

Through this research, they discovered a habit in housewives (please forgive the gender reference), who after they made their beds with new linens, they purposefully inhaled the crisp, clean laundered smell. In fact, after they did any cleaning, the desire for a clean-smelling house was habitual. P&G realized people did not crave scentlessness, instead they crave a nice clean smell after they’ve spent 30 minutes cleaning. With this focus, a new marketing effort was launched and within two months sales doubled and then took off, spawning dozens of spin-off products. P&G’s Febreze provided the reward of a clean-smelling house to someone who cleaned it, which was the cue for the reward.

I use cue and reward, as these are two of the tenets of understanding and changing habits, whether they be smoking, nail-biting, eating bad snacks, drinking, etc. In short, Duhigg articulates:

1) Identify the routine (what leads to the habit and why, when and how does it occur?)

2) Experiment with rewards (to change a habit, a new reward has to be substituted, but it has to be fulfilling, so experimentation is needed)

3) Isolate the cue (what is truly the cue; what more than any other thing is causing the habit?)

4) Have a plan (this is what am I going to do about it, this is in my control to change and if I write down my plan, I will have a better chance of success).

One example was an office worker and his craving for a mid-afternoon donut, muffin or unhealthy snack. The routine was the person would leave his desk from boredom, being tired, just to get up, etc. and would go to the vending machine for a snack. The reward was the snack. The cue was harder to find, as various paths led to the reward. It turned out the cue was the time. Invariably, between 3 and 3:30 pm, the person would get the unhealthy snack. So, he noted this in a plan to do something differently. He experimented and felt if he purposefully socialized with others for ten minutes instead of getting a snack, the new reward would satisfy him. So, he planned and executed the plan by getting away from his desk at the same tim each day, forming a new habit. Instead of eating, he would talk with colleagues.

There are other habits noted that have been replaced by new rewards.  The key is to find a new reward. If you drink, substituting something that takes the place of the drink will make it a new habit. It could be drinking fruit juices, hot tea, coffee, etc. or it could be taking a walk after dinner, when your old habit of drinking most occurred. The same would hold true with smoking. You have to find a new reward to replace the smoking reward. Otherwise, the old habit will have a better chance of returning.

Let me close how Duhigg did referencing a passage from William James’ book “The Principle of Psychology.” Note William’s brother Henry is an author of some renown.

“All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits – practical, emotional, and intellectual – systematically organized for our weal or woe, and is bearing us irresistibly toward our destiny, whatever the latter may be.”

Habits can be good or bad. If they are the latter and you want to change, the above steps are worth considering. The book is a good read, with many understandable examples. I highly recommend it. Let me know what you think.