Monday, May 8, 2017

Room With A View

 “It’s the alcohol! I know that this is the constant binging,” a wife cried to her husband of over 40 years in the hospital bed beside my father, who was recovering from surgery.

This is not what I expected to witness whilst at the hospital taking care of Dad over the weekend, but it is what I got. It shook me.
The sun sets over Lake Champlain | view from the room

It was the morning after Dad’s surgery and he was recovering fine (still is, but this is not that story). His neighbor in room ‘622 with a view’ the previous evening had been a surly fellow who had a stroke, but couldn’t wait to get outside for a smoke.  Meanwhile, his family of ashtray hearts bantered around the bedside, complaining how far they had to walk to find a place to light up. “Just go daown to the gararge and smoke in the truck—it’s closa,” one family member suggested. Again, this is not that story.

When I arrived the next morning, I noticed the new neighbor. Dad told me he had arrived late the night before. I’d later learn from the fact there is no privacy maintained by a sheet with hooks in the ceiling that this neighbor was a 70-year-old retiree. He was a former doctor at this very hospital, and a good one based on his address in Shelburne on the lake. He and his wife would spend the next couple hours arguing about many things, she pleading, he dismissive of her and her pleas.

He apparently had suffered a seizure of some kind, though you wouldn’t know it from his demeanor—he looked and seemed just fine to me. He had also been on the tail-end of a 4 day booze binge, which was par for the course for this avid golfer since retiring. What was supposed to be a time of great joy in his life, was “the worst thing that ever happened to him,” according to his loving wife. She told doctors and nurses, and anyone else that would listen, that he had been anxious, depressed, lonely, and even suicidal since retiring. He was unable to find ways to calm his mind and to keep it from slipping away from him. I learned he loves to run, has a drink “or two” before bed, and again when he wakes up.

When the doctors finally came in to discuss their findings, things took an even darker turn. I wanted so badly to give them the privacy they deserved, but this hanging sheet told all and no effort was made to hold back. “Early onset Alzheimer’s” was the cause. More episodes were to be expected, more tests would be needed. But, alcohol wasn’t the problem here. It was a problem, but not the one the doctors were inclined to speak of.

The wife pleaded with anyone who would listen.  “He was binging. This has to be because of all the drinking. You have got to tell him to stop drinking, he won’t listen to me,” she said sobbing, pushing through tears. She was shocked to learn her husband wasn’t just an alcoholic—now he was an alcoholic who was losing his memory.

The doctors calmed her as best they could, but she left the room crying while they continued to speak to her husband.

“She thinks it’s the booze,” he said. “She wanted it to be the booze.”
The doctor suggested that the drink certainly wasn’t going to help and offered to refer him to a psychiatrist, but mostly focused on the need for him to go to memory center for more testing. The test results did not weigh heavily on the man and he was mostly concerned about his lost sweatshirt from the ambulance ride.  He mentioned how his father was a shell of himself at death and how he didn’t want to be the same. He talked over and over about his own chart. He read his MRI and saw his brain had shrunk since his previous test and he knew everything was totally out of his control. He seemed resigned to his fate.

Later, his wife returned still crying, still pleading with everyone. She had hoped the hospital could at least solve one very big problem, when life just piled on another. Eventually they left, discharged back to their life of privacy, one with walls thicker than a nicely hung sheet dividing a small room in two.

Dad did not say much and just watched his TV, hoping to get out soon himself. But I could not stop considering that man’s life as one direction my future could have gone. It was surreal.  I felt like Ebeneezer Scrooge being flown around by the Ghost of Christmas Future, looking down on what could have been my fate. To think about how booze can cause that kind of strain, to make a married couple of 40 years seem like they hardly know each other. Their goals, polar opposites. She clearly loved him, he didn’t seem to even care about himself, much less her. It was awful to watch, to hear. So much denial, so fucking sad.

He said things like, “Well, no need to stop now,” and “What the hell is the point, I’m just going to die anyway,” and “My wife thinks I’m an alcoholic…maybe I am, but who cares…I knew this had nothing to do with booze.”

I’m so thankful to be where I am today, 846 days free of the crutch of alcohol. I know the numbness this man was searching for. This was a hell of a reminder I didn’t expect this weekend. It certainly got me thinking and there was so much to learn from their situation. Life is easy to take for granted.

My Dad is doing well. His story also involves retirement, but that isn’t the most important part for now. Perhaps I’ll write about that soon as well.




Monday, March 27, 2017

Parenting Your Parents

It's just a couple days short of what would have been my Mom's 57th birthday, she has been gone for 5 years. In some ways that just doesn't seem real to me. I know she isn't coming back, but the nature of our relationship for so long included years between visits. So sometimes it feels like she might just be on vacation...wishful thinking for sure.

Recently, I've been thinking over her final days wondering if I could or should have done something different, if I put enough effort in knowing that she was dying, etc..You question everything when you lose someone, you question it even more when it's one of your parents.

Now, 5 years later I've been spending more time than I would like at hospitals and doctors offices. This time, with my Dad. He is 64, and not terminal or any such thing. I don't want to give the wrong impression, but nonetheless it's stressful and so tough to watch. He has been suffering from loss of feeling in the limbs for sometime, and is recently out of work early (likely disability, if approved). He simply can't complete the job at hand because he can barely walk for 10 ft.

Being Dad to Dad, has happened sooner than I would have expected. I'm hopeful that through these visits will find a solution to the problems and be able to give him back some of the freedoms that he has been missing. It absolutely sucks to see him like this, he lives alone and likes it that way but he can't do many things he needs to do to maintain house and home proper right now.

I don't want to bore with the details at all, but one of the most recent and hardest things to have to contend with is seeing Dad cope with anxiety and panic. A long night in the ER recently ended with a prescription for dealing with this new to him problem. I felt terrible seeing it happen, but I knew when he called that was likely what was happening. Some 10 years or so ago I spent a night in the hospital in NYC tied to machines only to learn I too had a massive panic attack. I was sure I was dying, and so was he.

Nothing can prepare you for a loss, and nothing can prepare you to take care of your own parents. It's a helpless feeling all the way around, but I feel I'm doing everything I can. I hope we get through this soon, I just want him to be better.

Just got word after an MRI that this could potentially be fixed, so my fingers and toes are crossed. Hopefully good news soon.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Dear Canada, I Miss You


Did you know that Canada routinely, and rightly denies entry to their country for folks with a criminal record? I get it, keep those borders safe. They seem to do it right, however did you also know that I can't go to Canada anymore? Yep, I'm a criminal, a danger to all. Watch out. I'm coming for ya.

Anyway, of all the consequences of my actions, this is the one that doesn't go away. I've done the time. I've done Crash, I've lost my license, I've paid thousands in fines, fees, damages, etc.. I've been sober since. I still can't go to Canada.

It's something I love, and I miss it. Recently the Prime Minister has been outspoken in reference to the Trump tragedy here in the states, including the #WelcomeToCanada hashtag on Twitter. I figured, why not write him a little letter of consideration. Not all criminals are created equal. I'm sure he will never see it, but it made me feel a little better.

Do the crime, do the time as they say. Forever seems like forever.

Cheers,

Dan

-------
02/07/2017

Good morning Sir,

First of all, I would just like to thank you and the people of Canada for proving to be a great neighbor to the USA, and ambassadors to the world. Especially in light of these difficult times we are having in the states. I'm so glad to see you be accepting of others, including refugees. Your recent twitter remarks gave me great hope when my own nation is failing me on that end.

I live in Vermont, a neighbor for my 37 years to Quebec. I've spent many amazing trips in your country, I'm only a short drive away. It is with regret that I must say I can no longer travel to Canada due to an unfortunate criminal incident that I'll never be able to undo. However, I'm working daily in that effort. On January 13th of 2015 I made a poor decision to drive while intoxicated, resulting in being pulled over for a DUI. It is my only criminal offence, I'm otherwise an upstanding citizen. College graduate, and now 2 years and some days Sober as I chose to give up drinking after the embarrassment and shame of the offence.

Its to that end I contact you today, as your neighbor to the south I can no longer travel to Canada because of this DUI. I understand why you would be weary of having folks with a record come to your country, and I respect it. However, I wanted to share my story because I don't think the blanket "ban" works well. People like myself, who are a short drive away and would love to spend money in your country and take in its history no longer can.

I miss it quite a lot.

I don't imagine that you will ever actually read this, but if you do, thank you. I appreciate the consideration. I'm not sure what can be done, but some reports show me as never being able to visit Canada again. That is so sad.

Warm regards,

Dan Barnes

Thursday, November 10, 2016

What Now? Thoughts in Mourning.


Like most of America I have a lot of feelings right now. Its day 2 of mourning for me, coming to grips with how the election of Donald Trump may or may not impact me, Vermont, my friends, and this country. 

This isn't about politics, it's not about who is right or wrong, but it is or may be about what is right or wrong. I'm not very party affiliated, or even all that political. I try and stand for what I believe in, and otherwise hope for the best. 

I found hope, and drive when Bernie Sanders ran for the office of President of the United States. Coming on the heels of whom I believe to be the defining President of my life, Obama, it seemed to me we were poised to continue the transition of policy to the new generation of voters. Beyond the boomers so to speak, the folks whom have shaped democracy for years. 

When it comes to politics, I steer clear of some of the more "big league" things I don't know or care a great deal about. Trade agreements, military, foreign policy, economics, etc... I'm a people person, and ultimately I'm just looking for good people to do good things. I want our nation to be inclusive of all folks, I don't want a wall, or peeps to be deported. I don't want every black person frisked due to their color, I don't want peeps that are anything other than straight or male/female to be scared, or to think they should be any less human....because, that is the bottom line. We are all human, our beliefs and morals are what divide us. I could oversimplify that, and fairly say that in many cases our religion divides us. Whatever your believe is great, just don't force it on anyone. Respect each other. 

It's frustrating to be a human right now. 

I don't really know what I feel, or how to feel, or what the fuck I should do about it. 

What can I do about it? Protesting is generally pretty pointless, and we haven't been able to do it right since MLK, It always gets violent or confrontational these days, that solves nothing and further aides the other sides view of us. 

I don't subscribe to the hashtag #NotMyPresident because, well, he is, and the same hashtag was used by folks that didn't want Obama. You know, cuz he "ain't American, and he is Muslim." 

Sure hate breeds hate, love Trumps hate, all of that jazz. However, what is a meme or a sign, or an angry tweet (which I've fired off many) really going to do?

In the 5 stages of grief, I'm somewhere between depression and acceptance. I'm figuring out my next move, I want to figure out how to act. "Be the change you want to see in the world" and other cliché BS lines are flowing like PBR at a frat party, but what does that really mean. HOW can I really move to impact change going forward? 

I do not want this President, but I have him, could be worse I suppose, his running mate would lock up the very pussy's that the Donald wants us to reach out and grab. Talk about mixed messaging, right?

He does have some things going for him that do match my desires in politics, He won, in the same way Bernie could have won. He wants to blow up the system, break it down, and build it back up. I'm all for that, it was an appeal of Bernie I really valued. The 2 party system, is corrupt, and in some ways rigged, bigly. Maybe the orange one can solve for some of this? I like he isn't a politician, I like he isn't status quo. I even like that he can go off script, and speak his mind freely. It's both refreshing and most of the time appalling. 

He woke up a bunch of folks, just like Bernie did. I applaud him for that, but I'm scared to death of the folks he woke up. He mobilized the very WORST of our country. He may not have meant it, time will tell, but the damage is done. It's once again OK to hate, based on color, religion, sex, preference, or just about anything. 

It's weird because, best I can tell Donald isn't the least bit religious. Again, love it. I bet he hasn't been to church in years. Yet somehow, he has managed to build a bible base in an effort to "make America great again" a phrase we all mocked, but rang true to many who felt "the gays, the blacks, etc...” have ruined America. 

I would love to someday have a free America that feels inclusive to me, someone free of religion. That is a long way away, and while petty shit like "god" being all over our money and what not bugs me, I try not to let it get to me because at least I'm a straight/white/male. I’m not the target of the hate train.  I'm deeply worried about everyone else.

We have the real life Facebook comment thread President, backed by the KKK, the Westboro Baptist Church. The true, lowest common denominator of political prowess. Donald is a smart dude, he simplified the standard line, and those American's ate that shit up like an all you can eat buffet. He played the best game, while those of us on the other side fought and bickered among ourselves, and sent forward a candidate that simply had too much baggage to have a shot. We elected the least qualified candidate in American history, he quite literally has no policy or platform. Hate won. *edit: at least in part, I recognize that many of the people who voted for him like those of us who voted for Bernie felt like they weren't being seen, or heard. The working class, the same people Bernie fought for. We have that in common. 

We fought about 3rd party votes (guilty), we grumbled that Bernie could have won (guilty), that shit was rigged (guilty), and meanwhile the other side just stayed true to their one shot, and while many didn't admit doing so, they went hard and heavy for him, and won easily. Big league shit right there. He said knows how to win, and he sure does. 

I could talk about the popular vote, but what's the point? I could (and have) ripped peeps for not voting at all, or voting with their "gut" but again what good will come of it. The past is behind us, and the future is all we have. What can we do about it? What will 2020 look like should we be lucky enough for Agent Orange to keep his fingers off the button? 

I'm embarrassed, and ashamed. Hurt and disappointed. She wasn't my first choice, but damn would it have been amazing to see a women be President, I hope that happens in my lifetime. We are long overdue, we need it. Still amazed millions of women voted for this man. 

So what now, where do I go, what do I feel. What will WE do, those of us that feel we got burned (berned?).  It's not so much about Trump, as it is that people voted and got behind hatred as a policy. We haven't come nearly as far as we came to believe. The fight for equality is a longer road ahead than we thought. 

Bottom line, I'll fight for what I believe in. I don't care if you are left, or right. Conservative or whatever, that shit doesn't matter. It is, what it is. However, if you breed or believe in hate, or the persecution of anyone for what they believe in then I’m coming at cha in any way I can. We are all humans, we have a right to be ourselves. Stop allowing your friends, acquaintances, aunts, uncles, cousins, sisters, mothers, fathers, and brother to accept hatred. We are all in this together, let’s talk and figure it out.

Much love.

-db-

Friday, September 2, 2016

How the F is it September?


Seriously.

You always hear peeps say "how time flies" or that as you get older the days/months/years seem to accelerate. These are all things I have ignored or disregarded until now.

It's September, of the year 2016. Tomorrow will seemingly be winter, and the year is basically done.

Irrational? Sure. Truth? Fuck yes it is.

At least in my mind.

I'm scrambling to grasp at the remaining light of summer, the never ending days, and the glorious hotness that we enjoyed here in the greater Burlington, VT #BTV area. Doing my best to reconcile how great it was, how much fun was had, and how thankful I am for it. However, I'm struggling.

Fall means shorter days, the need for shoes and socks (ew) and the impending DOOM of winters cruel chill.

I can't even (as the kids say).

I guess I should start writing 2017 just to get used to it.

I love fall, don't get me wrong. It's a beautiful season, especially here in the northeast. We are lucky enough to live in the leafpeeper capital of the world. #blessed #theviewfromhere

I'm not rushing for that though, but everyone around me seems to be. The grocery stores are about to put Halloween on clearance and move on to Thanksgiving and Christmas decorations. Pumpkin EVERYTHING has invaded like an evasive species, and department stores are getting out the winter parkas and putting flip-flops & jorts on clearance.

Anyway, unlike Bon Jovi I don't have the power to turn back time. So it is what it is, but wow. Hopefully summer hangs on a bit, and fall lasts deep into March skipping over the dreaded white stuff entirely.

At least we have football, and everyone knows that "The Autumn Wind is a Raider"






Saturday, August 20, 2016

Sober Stick Figure & Misc Debris

O
I just finished reading "Sober Stick Figure" by Amber Tozer, and it's inspired me to sit down and write a little bit. As per usual, it's been awhile. I read that book in 3 sittings, I felt throughout I was reading parts of my life. It was fascinating. I love reading memoirs, and seeing others through their lense of sobriety. I find it helps ground me in a way that isn't easy to explain. The world is full of alcoholics, and folks struggling through addiction and books like this are kinda like my AA meetings. I guess writing is me speaking at those meetings. Everyone should read this, it expertly captures the mind of an alcoholic in a witty, honest, and painfully funny way. 

I'm 585 days removed from "rock bottom" and I have no fear of a relapse but I'm constantly reminded of my past mistakes. My struggles, and my addiction. I don't have to look far thanks to social media, and the dreaded "this day in history" bullshit for example. Thanks for all the reminders! My instagram feed is like 99% beer until 01/13/2015. Social media is weird. For all of it's glory, it's really fucking changed us as a society. Vanity is all the rage, and those of us that lack a large social group, or friends in general can use it to lean a bit and feel less alone. How shitty and glorious is that? I absolutely recognize, that to some degree sharing shit on the internet (like this) or what I'm doing, what I bought, where I am, or what the fuck ever, is in fact in an effort to replace actual human connection that I a either deficient of or do not want. That part is unclear. Either way, it's kinda messed up. I guess knowing is half the battle.

Recently my partner told me she was surprised to even hear me say "my drinking problem" or similar, that got me thinking a bit. I guess I never really labeled myself, but if there is any doubt. My name is Dan, and I'm an alcoholic. I'm proud to be sober and figuring shit out, and ever single day I'm presented with a new challenge or obstacle in an effort to learn about my sober self, what that means, who I am, and where I want to be/go. 

This morning, as I write this, I'm preparing for our annual summer coed "beer league" softball tournament. This will be my second go at it sober, and I'm looking forward to remembering it all. Twice prior to my sauce quitting I was removed from the field embarassingly, completely blacked out. Remembering nearly nothing. I can't believe that was me, I'm so ashamed of that. Last year it was hard to even face this people, but now I completely own my sobriety and I'm damn proud of it. 

It's hard to imagine how much life can change in just over 18 months, but even my bad days are better than those when I was drinking, when all I knew, and all I wanted was to drink. To get drunk, to fade away mentally, and explode forward outwardly for acceptance. Today panic and anxiety are generally in check, and I manage the ups & downs of life with other things that make me happy. Music, travel, etc.. These days I'm a bit shy, somewhat quieter than I once was, maybe even a little reserved. I try not to be the center of all things if I can help it, and I think many would agree, I'm better in moderation. 

Cheers,

-db-

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

500 Days

I’m nearly 500 days into my new life as a sober person, or as they say in the community “I have nearly 500 days sober” (490 as of this post) Regardless of how I say it, sounds odd to me. Semantics.  In any case, you know “why” I got sober, my well documented and storied history with binge drinking is the thing of legends (in the worst possible way).But the journey through sobriety has been the real win.

It took a little while, I’d say the first 100 or so days to really figure out for myself how/if this new lifestyle choice would work. Once I got through that quite honestly it’s been easy. I’m not saying that to brag at all, but I truly rarely find being sober “hard” like I read so much about. I miss the community it afforded me, and the people but not much beyond that. Getting used to being around drunk people or drinking people is still a challenge for sure. I didn’t follow the 12 steps, or even go to any meetings. I explored them, to see if they would be a fit for me but ultimately both of the types had two fundamentally opposing views of sobriety, neither of which I could get behind or subscribe to. I knew this was a journey that I had to take on my own if it was going to work.

AA, while full of a number of potentially useful tools to maintain sobriety essentially requires you to give in to god, and render yourself not worthy. Quite frankly, that is horseshit. I have no intent to offend, and I’m super glad that works for you if you have/need religion but I don’t buy it. I don’t believe in god in the same way I don’t believe in the Easter bunny. It’s a great story, but not a real one. Simple as that. However, there are 3 steps that do/did work for me. I continue to reflect on these every single day.

Step 1 - ….that our lives had become unmanageable
Step 8 – made a list of all persons we had harmed, and become willing to make amends to them
Step 10 – continued to take personal inventory, and when we are wrong, promptly admit it

Those 3 steps speak to me, and I’m thankful to have them. Although, I mostly subconsciously reflect upon them they do help me in building a strong moral foundation free from impairments of any kind.

I also investigated, and nearly went to a “SMART” meeting. This is a lesser known alternative to AA, one that is free from religion, and focuses in part on the science of addiction and how to combat it. This program has 4 program “points” (not steps) and they are:

1: Building and Maintaining Motivation
2: Coping with Urges
3: Managing Thoughts, Feelings and Behaviors
4: Living a Balanced Life

Again, some excellent points that I’ve incorporated into my own solo hybrid approach to sobriety and my own journey on recovery. Once again however, the overall “program” is not what I think or thought I needed. I will certainly consider it should I ever suffer any unexpected relapse or similar.
So in a world where it’s only god or science, I felt I simply needed to examine myself and my choices. My recovery is reflecting on my behaviors, and my obsessions. I look to the past to learn my future to some degree. I am not powerless or weak, or a slave to my desires and addiction. Drinking is a choice, and not drinking is also a choice. It’s as simple as that. I looked at it with logic, like you might in math. Examining my behavior and history with alcohol, combined with the hereditary implications of alcoholism in my family it just made simple sense to return to a state where I had none. Much like an old Windows operating system, restore to the “last known good” when my shit wasn’t broken!

Perhaps that is an oversimplification, but it was just something that had to be done. There really was not another option that made sense. I tried to “cut back” before, and that failed miserably. I took breaks, moderated etc… only to fall back on to my binge drinking behaviors.

The hardest part of recovery for me isn’t not drinking, it’s coping with the shit I used to drink to cover up. Anxiety, depression, abandonment, etc.. I KNOW that those things aren’t going away, and now I don’t have the option to drown them in absurdly priced craft beer. Nor can I lean on my former friend Jack Daniels, and his lady Ginger. They just aren’t options.

What I can do, is examine those “faults” by learning more about myself, my history, my desires, and try my best to grow with and through them. I know now that those are just part of me, they don’t define me. I can be depressed and still enjoy my life by learning how to manage that stuff. Everything has a solution, which is why I “try” not to worry about them. I used to let “feelings” rule me, debilitating me until I had no recourse but to shut it down with booze. Of course, I was quite good at this and looking back I hid it pretty well under the veil of “beer geek” and I know I’m not alone on that.

Finding new ways to fill time is a ton of fun. It took a while but I'm back to things that once brought me pleasure but were tossed aside so I could stand in line for a beer (how fucking dumb is that?) I love hobbies, and probably have more than I need but that is another problem all together. I'll figure it out.

While I haven’t attended any meetings, I have been able to find that I’m not alone. I never knew just how many people I would impact, or encounter through my recovery. I find being open and sharing like this is my way of dealing with it, and often people will reach out to me completely out of thin air to say I was able to help them, or that they saw some of their story through mine. That is the most beautiful unintended result of this whole experience. I hope that I can help more people by sharing. I’ve filled my bookshelf with stories from folks like Duff McKagen, and Nikki Sixx. I follow inspirational organizations like “SoberMovement” on Instagram and the like. Many of the heroes I grew up with (often in music/movies are open and share their stories of recklessness and debauchery.) James Hetfield, Clint Lowery, and many others.  For whatever reason, I find all that helps. Sharing, and knowing I’m in this together with people my age, in my profession, and beyond has been more powerful than I could have imagined.

Bottom line, everyone needs to find what works for them. The common thread among folks in recovery is that they (we) need to be open to learning about ourselves, and others. Find what is really behind the behaviors, and examine the root cause. That is different for everyone, and the path to recovery and a happy life is as well. I’m thrilled to have found my way back to that, and look forward to exploring it in the years ahead.

Cheers,
-db-

PS – To everyone that has helped along the way, offered to go to meetings, messaged me, encouraged me, or reached out to me. Thank you, I find strength through YOU.

Sober since: 01/13/2015