Day Thirteen: What One Man Can Do… (Don’t Kill Bears)

This is kind of a spinoff of yesterday’s podcast, and the notion that I’m hitting the wall for the first time since this project got started.

There’s a pretty middling movie called The Edge from back whenever, with Anthony Hopkins and Thin Alec Baldwin, written by David Mamet, who is kind of inherently problematic but what can y’do.

There’s a key moment in the movie that — oh hell, let’s just watch it:

Admittedly, this clip is missing some glorious profanity from Sir Hopkins at the end, and I am super not down with people killing bears, but “what one man can do, another can do!” is something that’s stuck with me.

(I repeat: do not kill bears. That’s a different podcast entirely.)

What one man can do, another can do!

Sexist, yeah. I did mention that Mamet was problematic, no? But the core idea is one that does help me out from time to time, when I’m hitting a roadblock: if other people have walked this path, it is evidently doable, and if they can do it, so can I.

 

That’s one of the reasons I’m fond of the Stop Drinking subReddit; it’s just a cavalcade of reg’lar folks who have, well, stopped drinking. Some in more dramatic circumstances than me, plenty who have just decided, like me, to knock it off because they’re not comfortable with it.

And I’m not a stand-in-line-to-take-a-picture kind of guy, but if I ever met somebody who champions sobriety in the public eye — Craig Ferguson is a bit of a hero of mine — I’d express gratitude.

What one person* can do, another can do!

Don’t kill a bear.

 

Day Twelve: Irritable!

Wow, am I irritable. Cranky. Grouchy. You name it.

It’s hard to pin down what this is about; since I’m aiming for the no-drink daily-exercise better-diet trifecta, it might be any of those three things.

I’m also taking a class online, which is surprisingly demanding in terms of the amount of reading I need to do, and that’s freaking me out a little as well.

This, combined with yesterday’s burst of general can’t-get-out-of-bed malaise, leads me to think I’m hitting the wall, as runners say; this is probably the first big obstacle on the road to a better-constructed me.

Is it okay to be irritable?

I became acutely aware of my own irritability last night; one of those things where you’re on the Irritable Train and you know it, but you can’t just hop off and have to ride it all the way to the station, or in my case bed.

This morning, I went for a run and started asking myself what being irritable meant, and if it was okay to let myself have emotions while taking on difficult stuff. Old-school me would be not showing any cracks and working double-time to be outwardly unflappable. But old-school me is also somebody with bad relationships with stress-eating and overindulging in booze.

So maybe that guy isn’t the best source of advice on what to do when I’m irritable.

I’m going to try something different: I’m going to be irritable.

I’m going to lean into it.

But I’m also going to try to communicate clearly that I am irritable, in ways that make sense given my context (home, work, friends, volunteers), and work to manage it so that I’m not dumping my garbage on other people.

In other words, I want to shut down the “feeling irritable is wrong and bad” self-recrimination, and give myself permission to be irritated, at least for a while, as long as that doesn’t translate into treating other people poorly.

I’m also going to add  “irritability” to my daily check-out… see what got me cranky during the day, and if it affected me. If I’m still this on edge in a week, I’ll have to start thinking of something different.

 

Day Eleven: This Is Hard (Part 1)

Welcome to the first of what may well turn out to be one billion “This Is Hard” entries over time.

I cruised through my first weekend more or less without incident, but today. Oy, today. Today was the first time in eleven days that I was just not having it at 5 a.m. with the get-up-and-exercise thing.

Here’s the routine, as it stands:

5 a.m. up, exercise

5:45-6:15 exercise done, kitchen time (make lunch, have breakfast, tidy up)

6:15-7:00 this blog/podcast/some other email crap

7:00-8:00 shower, dressed, other minor project stuff until it’s time for work

The thing about me and exercise, is I really only do it if I do it as soon as I get up, because I’ve discovered the trick is to get started before I am awake enough to invent reasons not to. If I wander around the house for half an hour before getting started, I’ll find something to occupy me. Afternoon/evening workouts? Fuggedaboutit. There’ll always be something that’s “more pressing” than exercise.

This Is Hard: One Day At A Time vs. Just Today

“One Day At A Time” is a great way to power through sticky points — it’s helpful with not drinking, among other things — but it’s got a dark and evil cousin, which is “just today”.

I’ll just take today off, and get back on it tomorrow. 

That was the crescendo in my head this morning, timpani and 1812 Overture cannons and all that. I can just skip today, because I’m exhausted and I haven’t slept well and the cat’s been stomping on me since 3 a.m. and it’s pouring rain outside and this is hard.

And this is hard. It is a giant pain in the tuchus.

So what got me out of bed was partly knowing I had to do this, and having to talk into a microphone and say “well, I didn’t bother with the exercise bit today, because I didn’t feel like it” is just weak sauce.

Another bigger part was that some other voice in my head said “if this is hard, that’s because it’s working.” Go team That Voice, because it managed to drag my lethargic ass downstairs and get me doing pushups before I really knew what was going on. And afterwards, there was coffee.

Answering "This Is Hard", but only after a morning workout.
The sweet post-exercise reward, and another reason to get up and get at it.

If it’s hard, it’s because it’s working. That’s not a bad one to keep in my pocket to use for This Is Hard (Part 2), which is inevitable. But hopefully not soon.

 

Day Ten: I Am Not A Jerk (Kinda)

When I tell people about this podcast, one quick reaction is usually “…but you’re not a jerk.” Which is flattering, and I kind of agree — while in my dark and secret heart I fear I am actually a well-disguised jerk and a barely cloaked jerkitude lurks within.

As in “who’s this jerk?”

I am, however, wholly unqualified to be doing this. I have no track record of success with lifestyle change. I am not a therapist or a life coach or whatnot. I have not taken any courses and do not have any relevant degrees.

I’m just some guy.

My cat, who is actually kind of a jerk.
If you hear jingling in the background, it’s this cat, who likes to pull herself up the back of my chair and perch on my shoulder. She is a jerk.

So I feel like one reaction to this project might be “what’s this clown doing talking about these things? What a jerk.” Which is a pretty justified reaction, honestly. I don’t know what I’m talking about.

This whole thing is about me working to figure out what I’m talking about.

So I am by my own accounting eligible for the j-word; I’m putting stuff out into the world without any substantial authority or knowledge. Framing it as “one idiot stumbles forward” is a way of trying to manage expectations, but I still feel a bit like a fraud.

There’s a real thing that exists called the Dunning-Kruger effect, which has haunted me my entire life: I have little arcs that start with me thinking I know a lot about something. Then I find out more about that something and realize I don’t know that much about it.

But then I learn even more and realize that I will never know enough about the subject and am damned to be an idiot forever. So I bound from the Dunning-Kruger effect to its  corollary and then often that whole thing winds up YAGO.

So! I don’t really think I’m a jerk. But I think it’s okay if you think I’m one.

Day Nine: when routine tasks go YAGO

I have a criminally short attention span. I like to think it’s a byproduct of some of my more positive qualities — the shadow of creativity and curiosity — but the fact remains that I have the stick-to-it-iveness of a gnat raised on video games. So one thing about this project is I need to avoid YAGO.

YAGO is something I made up last night.

I was trying to come up with a description of what happens to me when I start something I enjoy, but that takes small commitments over time. Like most learning or skills acquisition projects. After a while, I have a brutal tendency to start to resent the time and effort when I plateau or get stuck.

So I was looking for an appropriate phrase to describe the frankly overdramatic way my brain rebels against these things. I don’t go through a phase of winnowing away my enthusiasm, I seem to flip into a kind of fug of despair and malaise and frustration.

YAGO is Yet Another Goddamn Ordeal.

Over time, any task that takes routine commitment risks, for me, becoming YAGO. And once it’s hit that point, it’s hard to bring back. Once something’s embedded itself in your mind as “great, this shit again” it’s very difficult to reframe it as a positive part of your day.

It’s not impossible. Banjo practice (we’ll be talking about my stupid theme song at some point; short version: it’s me, I hate it, and it motivates me to practice) was YAGO for a while. But I’m pulling it back from the brink.

My banjo, YAGO, and motivation
Banjo practice has slipped into YAGO status, but I’m fighting to bring it back.

Do you have a tendency to turn things you should enjoy and learn from into YAGO? How can it be avoided or redirected? I desperately don’t want this podcast to become YAGO, so I’m going to have to start thinking about how to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Day Eight: Cheat Days Kind of Suck

A discovery after my first full weekend trying the trifecta: I’m not fond of cheat days. I thought I would be!

Cheat days stress me out.

What I thought would be a nice opportunity to just not worry about calories and food for a day became, thanks to my unending talent for overthinking it, a kind of stressful mental dialogue about how much cheating is too much cheating, logging food versus not logging food, pleasure versus guilt, and eventually getting really stressed about how stressed I was getting, and overthinking my overthinking.

I watched The City of Lost Children last night with my wife, and — 20+ year old spoiler alert — there’s a scene at the end where the mad genius clone Krank is locked into a perpetual dream loop. He is stealing the dream of a child using a helmet thing, but the dream turns him into a child, so he becomes the child whose dream he is stealing. And he’s stealing that child’s dream but it turns him into a child. So on and so on until his brain shuts down.

Cheat Days turn me into this guy.
Cheat Days turn me into this guy.

That’s kind of where I landed with the whole Cheat Day experience.

My options are don’t cheat… or cheat better.

The sobriety piece is absolute, by the way. “Cheat” is a food thing, not walking back on alcohol. Which should be obvious, but I’m putting it out there just in case.

And I think it’s good to have an exercise-free day every week. My wife and I went for a long walk, so it wasn’t like Fart Around On The Couch Day, but it’s nice to have a recuperation day to start the week.

I’m setting a calendar reminder for myself for next Saturday — seriously, I just opened GCal in another tab — to give Cheat Day some thought on Saturday evening so I can go into Sunday framing Cheat Days as an experiment rather than AGTIHTD*. We’ll see how that works.

*Another Goddamned Thing I Have To Do, which is a concept that’s growing in my brain that I’ll loop back around on at some point.

Day Seven: (It’s Been) One Week

First and foremost, apologies for making you think of the “One Week” song. The Barenaked Ladies have a lot to answer for, and I say that as a Canadian who came of age when “Gordon” was burning up the charts.

But (it’s been) one week! I’ve had longer runs of sobriety — by factors — but this is definitely the longest span with such… intention? Especially when combined with better habits across the board.

One week in, I’m focusing on the trifecta.

Yesterday, I talked about taking on “the trifecta” of booze, diet and exercise, and how I’m trying to find a synergy there (and focus on other things I need to appreciate more) to make it feel less like the Bataan Death March of deprivation of everything I love.

I’ve had success in not drinking before, but I always used it as a permission to eat badly, or not exercise — at the time, I was trying to frame it as “don’t drink, but treat yourself in other ways” to make it seem like not drinking was kind of a treat in and of itself.

It never worked.

What would wind up happening is I’d stop drinking — which I enjoyed, but ultimately made me feel unhealthy and lousy — and do other stuff that I enjoyed and made me feel unhealthy and lousy.

So while there was a short-term “hey, not drinking isn’t so bad, I think I can get through this chips and ice cream,” softening of the not-drinking blow, I was doing stuff that made me ultimately feel bad.

So the end takeaway was my lizard brain saying “not drinking makes me feel as unhealthy and lousy as drinking, so fuck it.”

Which is stupid, I know, but the lizard brain is stupid. That’s why lizards aren’t allowed to drive.

Are you capable of “soloing” sobriety and not letting other aspects of living well fall off the table? Or are you pairing sobriety with other life habits that help reinforce an overall positive change? Whatever approach works for you is great, but make sure it’s really working for you — and sometimes, trading down on your devils is good enough to start with.

Day Six: Finding synergy, relieving stress

You may be wondering, as I am about a week into this, if trying the big three – booze, exercise and diet – all at once is too much. The answer, I hope, is synergy. The thing is, there’s a synergy to doing all three that I couldn’t get away from when I was thinking about starting this.

A synergy of exercise, diet and boozelessness

  1. I don’t especially like exercise. I don’t hate it all the time, but I never love-love-love it.
  2. So if I exercise, it means something to me. When I invest that energy and time in something I don’t love, I don’t want to blow it. Exercise makes food mean more to me.
  3. Which means that exercising makes the diet part easier. I don’t want to blow all the exercise by just eating something stupid.
  4. And I know that booze makes me stupid about the diet as well, and I don’t want to drink and blow the diet part.

In summary: the synergy is exercise encourages me to eat right, and eating right encourages me to not drink, because I know when I drink I don’t eat right.

It kind of makes a pyramid; exercise is the base, and everything else is on top of it. It all stacks. Synergy!

Speaking of which, I didn’t exercise first thing this morning, which is a recipe for failure… I’m going to go on a mega-walk today, which is the exercise for the day, but I need to be mindful not to let that creep into a bad diet habit.

Anyway, thinking this through, I feel better about taking on what I’m doing right now. Take a step back, look for synergy and see how all the different avenues of improvement ladder into a greater whole. It may relieve some of the mental burden you could be grappling with.

Day Five: Seeking Small Pleasures

At this moment, I am enjoying the heck out of a cup of coffee. Well, not at this exact moment, I’m typing, and the coffee would be everywhere. But before and after typing this, and between sentences, I’m really focusing on the small pleasures of a good cup of coffee.

Denial sucks. And living well almost always starts with denial framing; you can say “I’m going to eat healthier,” but your inner voice is really saying “I’m going to stop eating the junk I enjoy.” You can say “I’m going to take charge of my drinking,” but there’s going to be a tiny critic that says “I’m going to stop enjoying a drink.”

Today, I’m focusing on small pleasures.

I can’t compensate directly for the gluttonous joy of too much pizza or a bag of chips, but I can lean into other things that are actually, really, quite nice. I’m drinking coffee grown in Peru and fresh-ground in my own kitchen, made in an Italian invention and served in a mug that I’ve owned since I was 12 years old. These are all pretty amazing things.  In aggregate, it’s a goddamned miracle, and an experience that is unique to me alone, in this time, in this place.

That’s pretty cool.

I don’t think denial is an avoidable part of this process; I know there’s a lot of good ideas about positive thinking and framing, but it’s a bit ludicrous to think that we can’t acknowledge denial.

I’m hoping to kind of move the denial, though, and give my brain things to focus on and enjoy that make me feel less deprived — small pleasures, like a morning cup of coffee, that I may have started to take for granted over the past few years.

I’m leaning into a cup of coffee this morning. It’s delicious.

Small pleasures: coffee in my ancient Wolf Cub mug.
My venerable, 30+ year old coffee mug.

Day Four: Structure, Checking Out, Motivation and Accountability

So yesterday, I was planning to keep trying to enforce daily “check-outs” — the big sister to the essential morning check-in. Yesterday evening, I came up with a few ideas to structure my check-out and try to make it easier for me to incorporate it into a daily routine:

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