Yesterday was the thirteenth anniversary of the start of my going alcohol free. The echo still remains, but it is a faint one and usually pops up at certain times in the late afternoon. It is indeed manageable. The following link is to a post I wrote on my sixth anniversary, which remains my most visited post. If you have this issue or know someone who does, I mention some teachings therein I gleaned from others. The key one is “I am not going to drink today.”
Aristotle said we are creatures of habit. Implicit therein is the habits can be good or bad. Charles Duhigg wrote an excellent book called “The Power of Habit,” where he noted the way to stop a bad habit, is to identify the trigger and replace the bad habit with a better one.
Old habits. The bad ones can be as simple as too many fried foods or sweets to smoking regular or e-cigarettes to drinking more than one should. Or worse. The good ones could be regular meditation, prayer, yoga or exercise, reading or selective and portion controlling eating habits.
Or, the habits could be less concrete. Kindness, civility, and decency are enviable habits, just as rudeness, bullying, lying etc. are habits to avoid emulating.
I have shared before that I am an alcoholic. Yet, to avoid a future train wreck, I stopped drinking more than twelve years ago. The key was a day-by-day mantra I learned from another struggling alcoholic – “I am not going to drink today.” Another key is the substitution of other habits – fruits and fruit juices, selective sweets, hot tea, etc. – instead of a drink.
Another habit I had to lick was to get my weight in order. The stopping drinking helped, but I was carrying too much. Over about a five year period, I have been able to drop 45 pounds. The keys have been fewer white foods – those wonderful carb loaded potatoes, pasta, rice and bread. The other key is portion control whether it is a meal or snack. On snacks, serve a small bowl and leave the bag in the pantry. On meals, serve smaller portions and avoid the temptation to go back.
Plus, I added a daily exercise routine of about fifteen minutes after I shower. This is supplemented with walks and hikes a couple of times a week.
Good habits. Make sure they are sustainable. That had been a dieting and exercise challenge before and my weight yo-yoed. Best wishes on finding better habits should you need to go down that path.
Happy 4th of July everyone! Be safe as you travel and as you celebrate with family and friends. Here are a couple of reminders.
– Alcohol, testosterone and fireworks do not mix. Adding dry hot summer days do not help the situation. I am reminded of my wife’s cousin who blew off several fingers.
– If driving, appropriate following distance will help avoid many car accidents. Tailgaters overstate their ability to stop a car, especially when following a truck they cannot see around. To be frank, that is the nicest description of a tailgater I can use.
– At large outdoor parties, be mindful of food left out on a picnic table too long. Food poisoning is not rare in these circumstances.
– Also be mindful of long afternoons of drinking, especially those fruity concoctions that mask how drunk you’re getting. You don’t want to have Uncle John going to a crowded ER after wrecking his vehicle.
– The entire group should be mindful of small kids near pools, lakes and oceans. It only takes a few seconds for someone to drown. Hosts need to make sure someone is watching if they cannot. See above about parents’ drinking – I have seen close accidents avoided that should not have gotten that precarious,
– Finally, do your best to avoid politics. If you must respond, try to stay within the white lines and say things like “I wish they would work together to solve problems” which is a safe way to make a statement and exit stage left.
Have a safe and enjoyable holiday and weekend. May the 4th be with you this July.
I am an alcoholic, yet I am approaching the twelfth anniversary of my last drink. I bring this up today as I learned in an interview yesterday that David Feherty, a retired golfer, golf announcer and truly comical person, is also an alcoholic, along with some other demons he has to manage.
Several things about Feherty’s interview with Real Sports host Bryant Gumbel are worth noting. First, he credits his second wife for her tough love – after a final straw, she said you have 30 days to get clean or I am gone.
He also credits Tom Watson, one of golf’s greatest players, whose own career was almost derailed by alcoholism. As Feherty was interviewing Watson, the latter asked Feherty if he was alright. Feherty said he was not, but asked how could he tell? Watson said “I saw it in your eyes.” He then answered Feherty’s question of what did he see? Watson said bluntly, “I saw myself.”
Watson invited Feherty to his home and helped him through managing his demons. Feherty was sober for ten years, but fell off the wagon when his son took his own life after fighting a losing battle with the same demons his father faced. It should be noted Feherty’s alcoholism masked that he was clinically depressed and bipolar. His son inherited the problems. After renewing the fight, Feherty has returned to being sober.
Alcoholism or any addiction are tough enemies. You never fully defeat them. You put a lid on them, but they still simmer on the back of the stove. Over time, the heat is turned down, but it never is fully extinguished. In my case, I still want to have a drink, but it is a fainter flame today.
The key lesson I learned from a colleague, whose husband fought alcoholism, is to say this mantra – I am not going to drink today. This is a key reason recovering alcoholics know how many days they have been sober. The other piece of advice is to find a substitute for the alcohol. It may be green tea, fruit, fruit juice, near-beer, tonic or soda water or a piece of candy. Now, for me, it is hot tea and all kinds of fruit, dried or fresh.
Life is hard. It is not uncommon for some people to use some form of anesthetic to sand the edges off difficulty. If you think you may have a problem, you do. Be honest with yourself, first, but be honest with your spouse or partner and your doctor. Most addicts lie to all of the above.
People ask me what was my trigger to change? Another colleague’s wife, who was as vivacious and funny as David Feherty, died from complications due to alcoholism. She was only 59, one year less than I am today. I was a train wreck waiting to happen. So, I got off the train. It was and still is hard. But, remember the mantra, I am not going to drink today. Then, don’t and say it again tomorrow.
I was reading a post by M.L.Davis at the suggestion of our friend Roger of Woebegone regarding good things that happen when you make writing a habit. I have included a link to her blog below. As I mentioned to her, it reminded me of a book my niece suggested for me when I was discussing breaking a bad habit of mine called “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg. I wrote a summary about the book in the link below.
Many of my older readers know that I am an alcoholic. But, I have not had a drink in going on twelve years. A blog I wrote on my sixth anniversary remains by far my most frequented blog (link provided below). I think we all suffer from a bad habit or two that we would love to change. I believe that is the reason for the post’s relative popularity. My reasons for change were the wife of a colleague dying from complications from alcoholism and the recognition I was a train wreck waiting to happen.
The best piece of advice I received came from another colleague as we waited in an airport restaurant/ bar for our planes in Cincinnati. When she noticed me not ordering a drink early on in my sobriety, she said her husband went through this. She then said he used the mantra “I am not going to drink today.” There is a reason alcoholics can count the days of sobriety. It is a daily struggle.
Even today, there is a faint whisper of wanting a drink. It usually occurs during certain trigger moments, which Duhigg references in his book. My greater triggers were getting home from work and grilling out on Sunday. Unwinding from a stressful day sent me down an easy path to drinking. And, watching football or golf, while starting the grill became a cue for Happy Hour.
Recognizing these triggers is a way to change the habit. You have to substitute a good habit for the bad one. My good ones were fruit juices, popsicles, and tonic water. The alcoholic brain craves something sweet, so this allowed me to respond to the craving. Non-alcoholic beer helped some, but those added more calories than I wanted.
Regardless of your bad habit, identify its triggers and what happens next. I recall from the book about a worker who snacked too much at work. His cue was going to the restroom that took him past the breakroom. When he realized this, he changed his route and went for a quick walk.
The book is a good read. The attached post does highlight a few examples and teachings, but falls short of what Duhigg’s writings instruct. And, if you are an alcoholic or know someone, please offer the final link below. I have heard good feedback on it as I share what helped me with my problem.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.