Monday, December 01, 2008


My dearest friend (she prefers me not to use her name online) often says that everything happens for a reason. Recent experience has me wondering if there may be some truth to this idea. I've been through some painful experiences recently but, I must admit, most of them have taught me something or brought something great into my life. Even my relationship with Riin, as badly as it ended, still taught me things about life, the universe and everything.

Now, perhaps the troll has taught me something valuable. Until he/she drew my attention back to Riin's blog, I had planned never to look at it again. However, in monitoring it recently to watch for activity from the troll, I have rediscovered the reason I liked to read Riin Gill's writing in the first place, long before we fell in love. The woman has some truly sharp insights; her ideas on the way the world works are still, to this day, the most interesting I've ever read.

Before the troll, I wasn't able to see this because then I was visiting Riin's blog, not to enjoy her writing, but looking for opportunities to contact her. Now, however, reading her blog without this agenda, I'm able to relax and just enjoy her pearls of wisdom (no sarcasm; I mean that). Actually, I find her writing even better now because, having known her, I can now see her writing in light of the person she is which only allows me to see it in greater depth.

I don't follow many blogs. I've stopped following the blogs of Peter Alway (after a childish comment he made about me at Yehuda Moon and the Kickstand Cyclery) and The Yarn Harlot (while I enjoyed her writing, I didn't enjoy it enough to deal with running into Riin's comments there). Actually, the only blogs I still follow regularly now are Northeastern Pennsylvania Bicycle Messengering and We Move to Canada; a blog has to be really good before I'll follow it.

Grudgingly, I must admit that I have the troll to thank for helping me rediscover Riin's blog. I think, after this is all over, I'm going to keep visiting it; things on there often really make me think, and I like things that give me something to ponder.

Riin's most recent posting is an excellent example. She talks about an incident at a Valley Stream, New York Walmart where shoppers broke the door down five minutes early and trampled an employee to death; they were oniomania sufferers who couldn't wait any longer for an after Thanksgiving sale the store was opening early for. Apparently, some of them even refused to leave the store when they were told it was closing after the death.

I agree with Riin's feelings on the event. Certainly, shopping is an addiction for some people and these people definitely need help. However, seeing Riin's ideas through the lens of our former relationship and what I know of her as a person, I do take exception to her ideas about the solution to the problem. Riin suggests:

[M]aybe [addicted shoppers] need to stop shopping for a while. Stop looking at ads. Stop listening when other people talk about what they bought. After a detox period, if you need to buy something, ask yourself, do you actually need it, or do you just want it?

Think about it for a while. If you just want it, do you really want it? Or do you just feel like buying something? You might decide you'd be just as happy without it. It's ok to buy something you want occasionally, but think about why you want it. Would it really bring you happiness? Don't buy it if you can't afford it. Don't buy it if it harms others, or if it harms you. And don't shop just to get a high from shopping.
One of Riin's strengths is that she is capable of breaking addictions through sheer willpower; if she decides something is bad for her, she can pretty much just stop doing it cold turkey. Unfortunately, one of Riin's weaknesses is she cannot see things from the point of view of others; she therefore doesn't recognize that we're not all capable of doing that. The advice she gives would work for her if she suffered from oniomania but it might not work for others.

This seems too familiar. I used to drink heavily. Riin used to take exception to this not only because she was worried about my health but also because of a fundamental issue she has with drinking in general. She wanted me to quit completely. Because she can do that with addictions, she automatically assumed I could; when I couldn't, she thought that meant I loved my drinking more than I loved her.

I know from experience: this is not the way addictions work.

When you're addicted to something you know is bad for you, you know you have to stop, but that knowledge doesn't help. Knowing its bad for you can help you stop in the short term but once you do, as time goes on, the craving for your addiction grows stronger and stronger. Eventually, you start to look for excuses to start again. Sooner or later, usually after a particularly stressful day, you just say, "To hell with it" and start the cycle all over again.

My drinking is a good example. After Riin left, I did quit. I knew my drinking was in large part responsible for my losing her; that was my initial motivation, and it was strong enough to keep me away from it for several months. However, as time went on and I realized she wasn't coming back, I started thinking, "Why am I doing this? It's not going to bring her back. Why should I deprive myself if she's not here, anyway?" That became my excuse.

So I did go back to drinking. I didn't mention it on the blog because I was too ashamed after everything I'd said to admit it. If someone had asked me if I was drinking again I would've told the truth (I can't do otherwise; it's against my nature) but, fortunately, the topic never came up. Until now.

I am not saying, by the way, that Riin is responsible for my drinking; she's not. I freely admit I was using her as a scapegoat, an excuse to drink. However, at least I recognize this; knowing this gives me a chance to deal with it. She may have been the catalyst but, like everyone else, the ultimate responsibility for my actions rests with me.

That being said, this past summer I finally realized I needed help. I knew I had two choices; I could either go to Alcoholics Anonymous or I could make a pact with a friend I trusted to control it.

Of course, this is a very personal problem for me. I don't have a problem with people knowing I have the problem, but the person who helps me with it must be someone I trust implicitly. On realizing that, I realized that AA was out; there was no guarantee I'd meet anyone at AA meetings I could trust. So, I decided to make a pact with a friend I trusted (the one I mentioned earlier).

My original pact was simple. "I will drink only two beers a day, Friday, Saturday and Sunday; I will drink no beer any other day of the week." Now I knew this pact would be hard to keep, so I also promised my friend, should I ever break the pact, that I would tell her.

Of course, the problem with keeping this agreement was the fact that I know I have no willpower when there's cold beer in the house. I prefer beer in cans and most canned beer comes in packs of eight. I wasn't sure, once I had two from a fresh pack, I would have the willpower to stay out of the other six. So I decided to switch to imported beer which was available in individual cans. That way, I could buy only two at a time.

I found a beer, a German import called Holsten Maibock, that was absolutley delicious. As a side benefit, it was also 7% alcohol and came in big 500 ml cans so it still provided a bit of a buzz even after only two. So that's what I started to drink, replacing my old favorite Moosehead Dry Ice.

Now here's the problem. Those who have been following the story with Riin will know that one thing I excel at is figuring out loopholes in agreements. For example, when Riin told me not to "call [her], E-mail [her] or write comments on [her] blog," I agreed to that. To get around that, I sent her snail mail, since that wasn't one of the three things I promised; that way, I could keep my word in the strictest sense and still be able to contact her.

Well, the same thing happened to the above agreement. One night, after the agreement was made, Lisa and I went to the casino for a snack at The All Star Grille. Instead of getting a snack, however, we decided to splurge on wine. Before I knew it, we had drank a litre each. I didn't feel I was breaking my vow because my vow was aimed specifically at beer; technically, I still hadn't broken my word.

However, the next day, I recognized that this was a loophole that had to be plugged. So, next time I talked to my friend, I amended my agreement to include all alcohol, not just beer. In the process she, bless her heart, actually talked me into making the agreement more strict. From then on, it was no other alcohol and two beers each Friday and Saturday but not Sunday. I haven't drank on Sunday since.

After a while, however, I began to miss the feeling of being mind numbingly plastered. Unfortunately, that is one of the things that keeps people drinking; it can be fun. So I started thinking of ways I could get back that feeling without breaking my word. I hit upon the idea of finding a stronger beer. I knew that imported beers were often strong, but I wasn't sure if there was any such thing as a beer that was more than 7% alcohol.

Then, one day, I was riding my bike and saw a cyclist proceed straight through an intersection in the right turn only lane. As a strong advocate of vehicular cycling, I felt compelled to stop him and discuss it with him. Over the course of our discussion, he happened to mention that he was headed for the liquor store and, when I brought up that I wished I could find a stronger beer, he said the beer he was going for was 10%.

So I'd found a new beer: Faxe 10%. When I first got it, both the cyclist and the staff at the liquor store told me it didn't taste very good and suggested I buy something else with it in case I didn't like it. Instinctively, however, I had a feeling I was going to like it just fine and just got the Faxe 10%. I was right. I don't know what they were talking about; it was delicious, not to mention it went right to my head. "Finally, I got the 'drunk' back!" I thought.

Drinking Faxe 10%, however, I discovered something else about alcohol addiction I didn't know before, at least about how it affects me: the stronger the beer, the stronger the pull of the addiction. Since starting with Faxe 10%, I've found myself tempted to break my word. Now, being obsessive compulsively honest, I talked to my friend about these temptations; this, in turn, helped me keep my word, knowing how disappointed she would be in me if I broke it.

Faxe 10% is also the only beer that makes me sorely tempted to lie. Over and over, I've had the thought that, if I was to drink more than two of them on a Friday night, if I didn't tell her, my friend would never know the difference. These thoughts disturb me. Under normal circumstances, I do not lie; the fact that this stuff is tempting me to do so makes me wonder if drinking this particular beer is a good idea...

Faxe 10% also pushed me to be a little more creative in my interpretation of my agreement. For example, I couldn't drink more than two on Friday night, but I managed to get around that by drinking two when I get home and saving another two for after midnight; technically, after midnight is Saturday and I've kept my word. Of course, the downside of that is that I have no beer Saturday night; that made Saturday the most difficult day of the week.

This weekend, I finally ended up breaking my word. However, the way which I broke it taught me something important and I now know that, thanks to my friend and her support, there is a way out of this addiction.

This Saturday afternoon, I was thirsty and we were almost out of pop. I decided to have one of Lisa's beers. Because of medication she is taking, she drinks Coors Light which, at 4% alcohol, is at the other end of the scale strength-wise from Faxe 10%. That's how I rationalized my choice; I figured it's just this side of non-alcoholic beer, anyway, so it won't hurt.

In a way, I was right about that. The experience of drinking Coors Light was radically different from the experience of drinking Faxe 10%. After my first Faxe 10%, I just crave the second one and can hardly wait to get the can open; after drinking a Coors Light, on the other hand, I didn't feel any craving and, in fact, it was several hours after the first one that I had the second one, and then only because I was thirsty again and I still hadn't gotten out for groceries.

That's when I realized that Faxe 10% was such a bad influence. Ever since yesterday, I've been giving serious thought to doing something I never thought I'd ever do: switch to light beer.

The thing is, I like the taste of Coors Light just as much as I like the taste of Faxe 10% so it was still enjoyable. Plus, Coors Light bottles have a unique feature I haven't found on any other beer. The label has a picture of mountains on the front. When you first get the beer, they're white but, once the beer is cold, they turn blue to let you know the beer is cold enough to drink. I hate warm beer so I find that feature very useful. :)

The most important thing I learned that afternoon, however, is that Coors Light doesn't drive my addiction. I can drink Coors Light just like any other beverage. At 4% alcohol, it has little or no effect on me so I can relax and enjoy the taste without worrying about how smashed I'm getting. Besides, it's also the favorite beer of my friend; if she ever comes to visit, I'll know that the beer I have on hand will be something she likes. ;)

I'm going to have to talk this out with my friend and make a final decision before next weekend. However, I'm 99% sure at this point that I'm going to make the switch to Coors Light because it does not drive my addiction; it'll allow me to continue to enjoy a relaxing beer after a hard week without having to feel the pressure of the addiction. Maybe some day I'll give it up completely; maybe I won't. Either way, though, it's clear that Coors Light is a safe alternative.

So, what's the point of all this?

This is one addict's story: mine. Riin would have everyone believe that fighting addictions is only a matter of willpower for everyone. As someone who has been addicted to something, I can tell you right now: it's not that simple.

I used to think the way Riin does. I used to look down on smokers, for example, particularly because their addiction pollutes the air around them, affecting the health of others as well as themselves. However, having been in the grips of an addiction, I now have much more sympathy for what they're going through, and much more respect for those who've managed to beat their addictions.

That's a sympathy that seems to be beyond Riin's grasp. It's not that Riin has bad intentions; she doesn't. She did try to help me with my alcohol addiction, and I love her for that. The problem was she didn't recognize that I wasn't her. She didn't recognize that I didn't necessarily have the willpower she does and, by extension, my inability to break my addiction didn't necessarily say anything about how much I loved her.

This is also why my aforementioned friend is having much greater success helping me with my addictions. She understands addictions; most intelligent Cape Bretoners do because alcohol is such a huge part of our culture here. So she also knows that helping me through this addiction is a matter of baby steps, not "cold turkey" quitting. If Riin had taken this approach, she probably could've helped me, but she didn't understand the strength of the addiction.

I agree with Riin that the shoppers who killed that Walmart employee need help; I simply don't think she understands how difficult addictions really are for people to deal with.

I sincerely hope she never does; having been there, I wouldn't wish an addiction on my worst enemy.

On December 1, 2008 3:36:00 AM AST, Wanderer wrote:
As one who has fought SEVERAL addictions, I strongly urge you to stop feeding yours. Having two beers a day, two days a week is still giving in to the addiction and it will eventually take control again.
In your case, that may be true; in mine, the approach I've been taking has given me more control over my addiction than I've ever had before.

What you're suggesting here is the same thing Riin suggests: just quit. It doesn't work that way for all of us. Some of us have to quit in baby steps; I am one of these people. Although things have not been perfect, I am drinking far less than I ever have. This is in contrast to what happened when I tried to quit cold turkey; when I had a setback when using that approach (and setbacks are inevitable) I fell off the proverbial wagon hard, drinking myself into a stupor.

Remember, though I may not have Riin's strength, my word is a strength; I do not break my word. I've never given my word about my drinking before because I was afraid to, knowing the power of the addiction. However, with the help of my friend, by giving my word on taking specific, small steps towards the goal, I am making progress. Using this approach, when I do have a setback, it tends to be relatively mild and is addressed immediately.

This would seem, therefore, to be the right path for me.

I'm glad to hear you've found a way to deal with your addictions but, remember, everyone is different. What works for you might not work for me just as what works for Riin might not work for everyone (as she seems to think).
When I make the switch to light beer (I have decided, in the hours since posting this, that I am going to do so; amending my pact with my friend this week will make the decision "official"), it'll be another step in my goal. I don't necessarily want to quit drinking altogether (though I'm not opposed to the idea if I had good reason to) but I do want to quit getting drunk altogether; that is the addiction I'm fighting, and light beer might just be the answer.
I am addicted to everything I've ever done, good and bad...
There's a good example of a difference between you and I, then; I get addicted to some things but I don't get addicted to everything. Maybe my approach wouldn't work for you because you're constantly being pulled by addictions of all sorts; maybe my approach works for me because I'm dealing with only one addiction. Or, maybe it's because of some other unknown difference between our respective psychologies.

Whatever the explanation, though, what I'm doing now is clearly working for me; that's all I need to know.


  1. John,

    As one who has fought SEVERAL addictions, I strongly urge you to stop feeding yours. Having two beers a day, two days a week is still giving in to the addiction and it will eventually take control again. That is why I cannot have even ONE beer...EVER! I can't have a cigarette, or snort a line, or many things. I have had to look myself in the eye and admit I AM AN ADDICT! I am addicted to everything I've ever done, good and bad... That's my type of personality. So, I've made some hard decisions, got help when I needed it, and struggle with my addictions daily.

  2. Anonymous12:49 PM

    This morning, a friend pointed me to this:

    "I've stopped following the blogs of Peter A. (after a childish comment he made about me at Yehuda Moon and the Kickstand Cyclery)..."

    I didn't leave that "childish" comment. In fact, I'd never heard of the webcomic in question until I followed the link this morning.

    Evidently, not every troll is functionally illiterate.

    You are free to read or not read my blog as you wish, but I'd appreciate not being called "childish" on the basis of a comment I did not make.

    And in light of this experience, I would say your dearest friend is wise to ask you not use her name. In light of that wisdom, I've abberviated my last name in this comment, and ask that you do the same, and not link to my blog.

    Peter A.


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