Day 194: Surprise Sober People

Sometimes you get a nice surprise when sobriety just pops up out of nowhere. Surprise sober people are the best. Especially when it’s just no big thing.

I’ve been messing around with Stitcher Premium, because I love me some comedy. So pretty much a blind choice, the other day, was Dan St. Germain. “Bad at the Good Times.” Great comedy album; he definitely works blue, if that sort of thing is important to you.

Near the end, he just drops “I’m a sober guy”, and then riffs on sobriety for a while. It’s good, funny stuff — and just kind of nice, culturally, to have that dropped in.

Because it’s a thing, for me, that sober should not be a big deal. Half the problem with drinking is that it’s such a thing. And not drinking is such a thing. So I just appreciate it when somebody who has cultural capital kind of drops sobriety in there. Like it’s no big thing.

Surprise sober people are everywhere!

The longer I’m sober, the more sober people seem to pop up in my life. And the longer I’m sober and semi-public about it, the more comfortable people seem to be “out sober” around me.

But surprise sober people surround me. Some are vegan, some are religious, some are people like me who don’t drink for non-dramatic reasons, some are people who Really Can’t Drink, and that’s cool too.

It’s just interesting to see these people… accrue over time. And some of it is confirmation bias, I know. And I feel like a “maybe the really cool thing is to get good grades” dork talking about this.

But it does feel a bit rebellious to just flat out not drink. It certainly puts you in a different space in the adult Western social contract.

Day 172: Comedy is Important

Almost six months into sobriety. I’m a bit surprised that I haven’t talked about comedy yet — it’s been important.

Getting up a bit late today for Staycation reasons, but I’m actually looking forward to a day of building and yardwork. Why? Because I’ve got a good backlog of comedy podcasts to listen to.

Paraphrasing the late, great Harris Wittels: “mothereffers wanna laugh.” And it’s true. When you get your sobriety ears on, you start hearing a lot about distraction — and often comedy — in people’s stories.

So I decided to splash out on a Stitcher Premium account yesterday (and I’ve still got a while in the free trial), as one of those things where I realized that having a ready supply of things I think are funny is helpful. And it costs less per month than a pint of good beer. So I think it’s a good spend.

I’m happy so far. Job One was to start catching up on Questions For Lennon, a podcast in which a comedian pretends to be John Lennon, back from the dead to answer your questions. I think it’s inherently funny. Like, I can just listen to Mike Hanford do Lennon reading the phone book and crack up.

Mike Hanford as John Lennon
Just looking at this, I want to bust up. I don’t know. I’m an idiot.

My wife thinks I’m nuts. We similar tastes in humour to a point, then we diverge — I definitely have more of an appetite for things that are just silly than she does.

Comedy is important, because sobriety can’t be grim.

I guess my thing is if you treat not drinking as a relentless, white-knuckled hellish battle against alcohol, you’re dooming yourself to an extent. You have to keep it light. Find things that make you laugh and keep laughing.

If you spend your days in a dark room reflecting grimly on your struggles, your struggles get bigger. If you spend your days in sunshine laughing at things that tickle you, your problems recede.

Anyway. Comedy. It’s important to me.


Day 112: Do Easy

I’ve been thinking about Burroughs’ “Do Easy” philosophy for a little while now. It’s basically a very Zen-ish idea. Figure out which tasks are routine in your life. Then practice them with mindfulness until you can do them perfectly and unconsciously.

Which you’d think comes naturally, but it doesn’t. I flirted with DE back in my post-student days, but haven’t thought about it in years. It’s actually a recent album by Canadian artists Tasseomancy that have brought it back to mind.

(Incidentally, volunteering in community radio is great in some ways — a constant influx of new stuff.)

This isn’t a commitment.

Do easy is hard.

I’m not committing to Do Easy because my life is already pretty full. Taking an hour to zip and unzip a windbreaker doesn’t seem like a benefit. But the idea of that kind of simplicity is seductive.

Our life kind of resembles a weightlifting regimen. Weightlifters bulk and trim. They put on mass: eat a lot, lift a lot. Then they cut, losing weight to get rid of fat and define muscle.

This is kind of what my wife and I do. We “bulk up” with new ideas, trying new things, taking on new hobbies. And then we trim. It turns out that fixing small appliances is not in my skillset. Okay. Dabbling in photography hasn’t been super productive. All right. Home fermentation? Not our bag. But we’ve really gotten passionate about radio. Vegan cheesemaking is now my wife’s thing. I’m slowly improving on the banjo.

Do Easy is a great philosophy; I’m hoping to apply a little more mindfulness to some routine tasks this week. But our actual landscape shifts pretty often in terms of interests. So above and beyond baseline tasks, “do easy” may not be a good investment.

It’s a fun idea to explore periodically, though.

And now I have stray cats to feed and my class at the Leprosarium. I hope I find my way; the address in empty streets.


Day 103: Get Out on the Water

I feel great! Get out on the water, people. It’s worth it.

I guess there’s a broader thing at work here: it’s a holiday today, and so I skipped regular exercise to head down to the boathouse. I store my canoe with the Cataraqui Canoe Club in Kingston, which is for my money absolutely the best entertainment dollar in town. The first paddle of the season, on a morning so insanely misty my visibility was about 15 feet. Plus the rowing club was out, so the peaceful bliss of the morning was slightly marred by the fear that a bunch of teenagers would scream out of the fog at any moment and T-bone me.

But they didn’t! It was a gorgeous morning. I literally feel better than I have in weeks.

Cataraqui River Paddle April 14 2017

Get out on the water
Morning paddle — solo outing and the first of the season. What’s your “get out on the water” activity?

Get out on the water if you can. If not, find your water.

Now, not everyone has ready access to watercraft. And not everyone likes canoeing, kayaking, and so on. But what’s your deal? Where do you go to completely switch off and do something different?

It’s easy for me to forget — somehow — how much I enjoy canoeing. I think it’s because I’m a convenience junkie. I’d rather do what’s right in front of me than divert into a new path for something I’d rather do.

From time to time, I really need to shake myself out of habit and re-evaluate what I’m doing. Re-focus on what I really like instead of what I’m currently doing.

Now, this was a holiday, which makes it easy to find the time to get out on the water. But it only took me 20 minutes pillar to post from leaving the house to being on the water.  I know what my “get out on the water is,” and maybe you have something like that too that we can all make a little more time for.

Day Twenty-Seven: Sober Saturday Mornings

Saturday mornings are great.

I get up at my usual time, but I don’t exercise on weekends (I get a lot of walking in). So I have more time to putter around the house. I’m making soy milk to make soy yogurt this morning. Made a big french press of coffee. Doing this blog/podcast, obviously. Prepping for the radio show I do with my wife in two hours.

Saturday mornings are my sweet reward for Friday nights.

It can be tough, living with somebody who still drinks when you’re staying sober. Again, I’m in the fortunate category of having an off switch that works well and a dimmer switch that works very badly.

Actually, that should be its own post.

Anyway, I can live with booze in the house, and a spouse who drinks; I have an easy time not starting, so the key for me is to just not have a drink in the first place. And having a spouse who is respectful and supportive is key — there’s no cajoling to come out for a drink or to have a drink at home.

It is hard, though. I shouldn’t downplay that it’s difficult. It’s difficult in the “the other kids are out playing and I’m stuck at home doing homework” way. It’s difficult in the “my brain is wired to want a drink and I’m not giving it one” way. It’s difficult in the “constant internal dialogue of whether or not I have A PROBLEM” way.

But dag nabbit if getting up on a Saturday morning feeling fresh, fit and clear-headed doesn’t put that cost into perspective.

My wife brought up the idea of “doing things for your future self” earlier this week; this is something that’s been kicking around for a while. I usually use it as a work joke. “That’s a problem for future me.” But the idea of doing favours for future me is pretty compelling too.

So that’s a bit of framing for not-drinking nights: it’s not not-fun, it’s paying it forward so future me can look back and say “thanks, past guy. Also, here are the winning lottery numbers…”


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.