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Gloves off

July 13, 2012

The time has come to take the gloves off. The soft-sell and back-pedaling doesn’t seem to be getting the message across. Alcohol is not my problem and it use doesn’t reduce my quality of life. In the simplest terms, I have a berserk adrenalin gland and it has reduced the quality of life ever since I can remember. Alcohol is one of the many tools that I have been taught to use to manage my disabling adrenal gland, along with drugs, breathing exercises, “self awareness” techniques, unending psycho-therapy sessions and a whole bunch of other gobbly-gook. This is all in the simplest terms.
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Let me tell you about my day yesterday and perhaps you’ll see why I came to the above realization —
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At 5:30 p.m. last evening, I emailed a file to my printer who is preparing to print a special edition of my first book. After working several months of 12 to 16 hour days, the email that I sent was the last fine tunings of the cover of the book. A few hours earlier I had handed him a thumb drive which contained the last adjustments on the body text. I had told Al, the printer, that from here on out, I was at his beck and call when he needed any help, but my work was done, luckily. I was very pooped and very ready to celebrate. At 6:30, the weekly concert was scheduled to begin in the town plaza and I was more than ready for it.
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I went upstairs to Number One Broadway, my favorite bar and only Jimmy, the owner, and his bartender brother were around. The three of us made clumsy repartee, each one of us trying to out-silly the other. Jimmy offered me a shot of Wild Turkey once, twice and once again. I waved the offers off, I told him I had to get my car home before the concert started. He offered to give me a ride back to the plaza so I wouldn’t have to walk that mile from the house. I shut down my van and ran into the house to fetch my little “coke bottle” of spirits which I decant from the large, “economy” size bottles purchased at the discount store. It was less than a third full but my booze consumption has been much reduced in the past few years and I was sure that little bit would be enough for my evening. Besides, at these functions, everyone brought some sort of libation and they all did share. No problem on this score. I hadn’t been out and about since I had started working on this special edition and I was really ready for this excursion. I hadn’t seem Jimmy in many weeks and it was good to hash it out with him and his brother, we would giggle like naughty little boys.
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Even as he left at the plaza, he still tried to slide in one more sarcastic comment as he waved bye to me. I circled the plaza once and everyone seemed to be in as good a mood as I was. I took a few swigs off the coke bottle conveniently hiding in my light weight back pack. It hit me right as soon as I swallowed, I’d only had one piece of pizza all day, I had worked straight through. I settled in on the edge of one of the brick planters with a married couple that were good friends and their adult daughter. As well, they were all in good spirits. It was a pretty nice evening even though it was very hot. Friends came and went and came and went. Someone slipped me a free pass into the VIP area and even though I didn’t need it I thanked the friend as though I was in desperate wont of it. Good god, I was almost in TOO good a mood. I could be on the verge of loosing my Mr. Grouch reputation. I had to make sure I didn’t go overboard with this good humor stuff.
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I took another turn around the plaza and finally ended up in the VIP area. I pinched a few girls in the ribs and patted a few butts, had a glass of wine and a bowl of chicken and pasta which Tommy from our favorite pasta house had provided. The small talk was cheery, a breeze finally started coming down from the Gap. While the sun had set, the sky was still brilliantly clear and the shade of the trees had faded.
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The band making the music seemed substantially better than usual but I was so busy talking with a whole variety of friends that it was hard to concentrate on the music for any length of time. Everything was pleasurable, warm and sort of glowing in the nice lights of the coming night time. I smiled a little, realizing I was glowing a little myself. But it was good. I deserved a little glow. I was offered a ride home by Bob, owner of the old Chiwawa who drags his leash all over the place. Bob finished off an old bottle of Chianti by splitting it between three of our empty plastic glasses and telling us how aged it was because he had aged it himself, lost in the trunk of his car and now found. We each got a drib.
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Bob and I were walking towards his beat up, old Honda Accord that “just won’t die” when someone hollered at me about Mountain Charley’s. Oh yeah, I was spos’ed to meet folks up there after the plaza concert and I left Bob on his way. I don’t think it was even 10:00 and the place was packed. What a surprise, it was a Wednesday night and the place was jumping like a weekend night. Charley’s owner, Joey, was really busy behind the top bar and very, very pleased. I was feeling extremely proud for him. He had worked really hard to rebuild and refurbish the place and I watched as he slowly built up the old momentum that the place had when I managed it some 35 years earlier. He was definitely doing something right. I was proud because I think he was way too busy to even think of it. He wouldn’t take the money for the shot of Wild Turkey I just ordered. The glow was on its way to becoming a buzz, after all, I would surely get a ride here, or simply walk the mile. The Saloon was filled with friends and this was fitting right in to my unplanned celebration of the end of my working so damned hard for so damned long. I pinched a few more ribs, patted some more behinds, one more shot of Turkey and I think I even started getting a little overbearing but I quickly succumbed to being way too tired and I started the trek home.
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It was a good walk, the air only now starting to cool. I certainly wasn’t staggering but I was feeling no pain and I had to concentrate to make out the constellations in the stars.
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When I got to the house, I found the neighbor Paul sitting on the steps, taking in the gorgeous evening. I sat on the step below the one he was on. We quietly commented on the great night we were having, staring into different sectors of the starry sky. Almost automatically, I unzipped the backpack and took a swig from the coke bottle, not even thinking about it. Paul had been sprawled out on his step and now he sat up and clasped his hands. He told me he had been meaning to talk about this for a long while but he thought now was the right moment. He told me I should be doing something about my problem. I told him I was, I was going to my shrink, religiously, every Friday. We were making pretty good progress. He notes that I’m still drinking. In a nano second I go from Mr. Mellow to Mean, Cornered Mister Badger Man, the fangs popped out and the hackles went up. I asked him to be a little more specific. I became 100% sober in a flash. Paul throws every AA platitude at me he has ever heard or read. I had heard all of these a million times before and I really didn’t care to hear them again, especially tonight, and especially coming from the lips of a teetotaler.
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There is no need to get into the entire conversation but, as best I could, I held my breath and my temper. I explained to Paul that the only time we see each other is near the end of the day, and that is the only time I drink alcohol, especially since I got my driver’s license back. Paul has heard me speak of my agoraphobia, the problem I thought he was referring to, but I’m quite sure he has never had to experience one of my panic attacks (for the uninitiated, here is a web dictionary definition – agoraphobia — an abnormal or irrational fear of being in crowds, public places, or open areas, sometimes accompanied by anxiety attacks).
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In my particular case, my primary anxiety trigger is “leaving home” or being in unfamiliar surroundings. Many people have heard of those nut cases who can’t go outside their front doors without flying into a panic attack. That’s me, but at least my comfort zone is bigger than a living room. These days I can comfortably travel from Los Gatos, Saratoga and Almaden to downtown San Jose. I can’t get to Palo Alto or Gilroy and I can’t get into the mountains. I was diagnosed with this disability in 1972.
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I have been undergoing therapy most of my adult life, using both psycho-therapy and medications. At times I have been house bound (not getting past the front door) but my present comfort zone is about as big as it has ever been, except that I can’t get to Santa Cruz, which was on my list of places to go in the 1980s. That’s where my last girl friend lived. Modern girls on restricted travel or restricted budgets, these dictated to me by the phobia, thus, not a lot of girl friends. Now, just attempting to make it to Lexington Dam causes extreme panic attacks.
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I have been treated for this disability for the last seven years by the mental health staff at Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County. In the past year or so, we have discovered that I have a very extreme case of vertigo, I can’t go up more than about two stories without getting dizzy and panicky. At times, when I cross the Main Street Bridge over Highway 17, I have to do so at a run to keep from becoming dizzy and disoriented. There are certain weather conditions where I become light headed and nervous, we think it has something to do with air pressure and pollen (I have been given the allergy “patch test” with the results showing I’m allergic to just about all local trees and grasses).
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It should be understood that when I was first diagnosed, when I was around 24, I had just recovered from depression and I would have what they called “spontaneous panic attacks.” I could be sitting on the couch watching TV or be sitting in my car at a stop light or driving down a freeway, one second I would be watching a cute girl and the next second, my throat would close up, the hairs on my neck standing up and my heart would be racing and my lungs would lock up and all for no reason. It would just happen, all on its own. You would get all up-tight wondering when it was going to happen again, as it seemed to have no cause. It’s called the “fear of fear.” It can totally incapacitate you; you sit around looking under every piece of paper, every fleck of dust to see if it was going to cause you the next attack from no where.
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This is the result of a “hair trigger” adrenal gland, the physical part of the “fight or flight” response. This is a physical condition that gives you a neurotic condition, the fear of the fear. Agoraphobia has never been viewed as a strictly psychological condition but one that has numerous physical components. But, obviously, they haven’t figured it all out. However, I understand that currently, if the condition is diagnosed early on, there are much better treatment results than when I was diagnosed, a time when they still trying to simply define it, let alone treat it. For an early case such as mine, we are told not to strive for a cure but management. I can tell you, with Catholic Charities help, I am managing much, much better than I was prior to their involvement.
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However, when I started with Catholic Charities, their priority wasn’t agoraphobia, the priority was to get me a life. Eight years ago this month, my roommate in a subsidize housing unit called 911 at 6:00 a.m. and told the San Jose Police Department that I had hit him with a stick. I had done no such thing, I was asleep in my bed, in my locked bedroom. I had a restraining order against this person who pushed and punched me and the other roommates numerous times. This person was to be physically evicted in a couple of days and he wanted to give us remaining roommates as much grief as he could. The SJPD came to the house in great force and took me to jail. The assistant district attorney in my case charged me with “assault with a deadly weapon” and wanted me to do six months of jail time, five years probation and take a “strike.” I have never touched anyone in anger in my entire life and I refused the DA’s offer. The DA never altered the charges (like doing a plea bargains you hear about on TV) and I never accepted them. After eight months in the county jail, a public defender manipulated my case to be heard by a judge supposedly sympathetic to mental health cases. This judge would release me if I plead guilty to a misdemeanor “disturbing the peace” charge. I gladly did that. I was out of the jail but I had been evicted from the subsidized housing as I hadn’t paid rent in the eight months and I lost everything I owned. I was now homeless and still agoraphobic, with no family and too ashamed to face my friends. Knowing a few county government executives, I finally got connected to Catholic Charities and I am still on the road to recovery, but not from alcoholism, but an unfair and brutal criminal justice system. I was guilty of nothing and I had done nothing wrong but I was destroyed and helpless.
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We have come a long way in these eight years, buy I am still “in recovery” and I have yet to get long term, reliable housing and an income that is at least poverty level. My current social security benefits are about half way below the current poverty level.
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My goal with the agoraphobia has been to manage it.
My goal in my life recovery has been to be productive.
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I feel that to some degree, I’ve made progress towards both goals. But last night, when Paul called me an alcoholic, it was as though all the ground I’ve gained has been for nothing, he still sees me as a loser, even for all the help he, and others, have given me. I was enraged and disappointed. I pulled in my emotions as hard as I could and tried to explain to Paul as much as I could of the stuff I’ve just written. After interrupting me a few times with a phrase that I simply despise, “ah, see, you are in denial!!” he finally agreed that I wasn’t an alcoholic. I really wondered if he said it just to shut me up.
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As far as my current alcohol consumption is concerned, I watch friends around me, and I’m not a light weight, but I am certainly not even a “heavy drinker” by any sort of comparison. I have always been an insomniac, even as a child, and so I pay a great amount of attention to sleep routines. Catholic Charities had me try several sleep medications but they all left me groggy and fogged on the day after using them. I hadn’t used any “mood enhancers” in so long, I have no tolerance to them. Then I tried a new tactic, I found that if I would take a few swigs from the coke bottle each time I woke during the night, I could actually sleep for six or seven hours of the eight that I spent in bed. I’ve always thought that more than four hours a night was a success. Now my sleep is much more healthy. So, I have a few cocktails around dinner time and then, through the night, a swig here, a swig there. Catholic Charities has no problem with this schedule. Obviously, Paul did. And, though I am a long time restaurant person, with many friends in the food and drink establishments, I can’t afford to get my alcohol from them, at six, eight and ten dollars a drink. They will all tell you, when I come in, it’s either diet coke or ice water for me, unless maybe I have some throw away money or I’m celebrating.
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After my tyrade with Paul, I crashed big time. I awoke this morning in a very bleak depression. Probably some of it was a hangover, but I was really depressed. I see Paul on a daily basis and he is not an imbecile. And he saw me as an alcoholic, what do people think who only encounter me once a week or once a month? I was kind of assuming people who’ve known me for a few years were starting to see that my limitations were because of something substantive, not because of substance abuse. I’ve been working so hard to get on my feet, step by step and inch by inch. This morning I felt that it has all been for naught. I just wanted to give up and get really drunk, just tie one on and let it all go.
Then it me hit to write this. I have such a really big aversion to putting my really personal stuff out in public (stories about other people are different) but, I’m not getting any younger and the older you get, the more important time becomes. And besides, it would be really nice to have my own place, with a honey to keep the pans warm and a bunch of friends to invite over and watch my garden grow. Time’s a wastin’ Ed.
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So, here it is. For what it’s worth . . .
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Before I got in the car this morning I saw the coke bottle. It still had a decent amount of its elixir in it, and I had to moan at what an “alchy” I am.

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