I can remember back when I sobered up all those years ago, how difficult it was to sleep. At first, sleeplessness was caused by DT’s (scroll down – it’s in the second batch of symptoms), and let me tell you something, I wouldn’t wish that on anyone – it’s a horrendous awakening. Later, though, after I left treatment (a shout out to The People of the State of Michigan who funded my stint in treatment 20 years ago – Thanks, it worked and you got your money back, several times over) the reasons for my insomnia were more insidious – and getting a hold of those reasons to rectify them was no easy task. You see, unlike a normal illness in which you are prescribed a pill of some form, or offered corrective surgery, there is no removing a drunk’s will to get drunk. They’ve been trying since roughly ten years after they first invented alcohol and they still haven’t found a way around that.
In the circles I run, there’s a common phrase that we love to toss around: “You can sober up a horse thief, but when you’re done you’ve still got a horse thief”. In other words, once Dawn Farm sobered me up there was still a trainload of shit that I was trailing behind me that had to be cleaned up. I was 22 years old, coming up on 23, and I was faced with a stark reality. I had no marketable skills, only a partial education (dropped out of college for various reasons), no job, no money, no car and I was at the end of mom and dad’s rope. Not only did I believe that I didn’t have a future, I didn’t possess the skills to build one either. In other words, there was a lot to lose sleep over.
Now, before you old drunks chime in with the “Son, I spilled more than you drank” hoo-haa, don’t mess with me. If you hadn’t spilled so much, you’d have sobered up decades ago. They call that alcohol abuse where I come from.
Now, and here’s where it gets important; I knew I wasn’t capable of “thinking” my way out of my predicament. My best thinking landed me before a judge (and the aforementioned People of the State of Michigan) and in treatment for addiction. I looked to older sober men for advice on how to live right, on how to clean up the wreckage that I’d created in my drinking years – and to maintain a decent, productive life so that I didn’t ever have to go down that path again.
And so, Big Daddy Jim’s Self Evident Truth #4: Sleeping is difficult with a pile of crap on your chest.
Now that may read humorously, I smiled when I wrote it, but there’s a lot of truth in those eleven words when you really break it down.
Starting at the beginning, when my life was run amok by self-will and pleasure-seeking, I left a lot of very important things go by the wayside. When I flunked out of college, I had a good excuse so I shrugged it off – an excuse, by the way, that will not see the light of day on this blog, one because I’m over it, and two because to label it would mean to give it legitimacy as an excuse and it has none. Suffice it to say it was a touch worse than mommy setting me on the toilet sideways. More importantly, I used the alcohol to medicate the pain away instead of dealing with it. To put a metaphor to it, my life was a wreck because I tended to shrug off all of the important things that needed to be dealt with right away. Every time I did that, it was as if someone took a shovel and dumped a fresh load on my chest. To avoid smelling that through the night, I’d simply drink more so I could pass out peacefully. The more I drank, the more crap piled up, the more reason there was to drink.
If you think you’re dizzy after reading that last sentence, it’s a lot worse when it’s happening, trust me. So, here’s where the horse thief comes in, and why a pill won’t fix what ails a drunk: When I put down the jug, I still had all of that shit, from years of drinking, piled up on my chest – sitting there stinking to high heaven. To add to the problem, my capability of dealing with messes at that point did not equate to a shovel which I could use to remove the pile that I’d sculpted over the years – I had a teaspoon when I needed a back hoe. And that’s why I needed help to get my life sorted.
Sadly, it doesn’t end there though, and this is where the normal folks can start to relate…
Once I cleared that mountain from my chest I did sleep well. I slept well for years. Fortunately (or unfortunately in some cases), life isn’t stationary. It moves and changes, ebbs and flows. Once I had the pile removed and I could function like a young adult I began to grow. I started with a decent factory job and that grew into a job in the inspection department at another plant which grew into a marriage, which grew into a construction job, which grew into a management position, which grew into the management of a branch division, then kids and so on… With each of those changes came new responsibilities and new problems (or piles). I had a tendency, especially back then, but still even now, to not know how to shovel all of that stuff off of my chest before I turn in for the night. Over time a spoonful here and a spoonful there starts to amount to something – and unlike real shit, life shit doesn’t dry up and stop stinking. Life shit stinks until you deal with it. That said, I still need advice and perspective on how to deal with life’s new challenges because I don’t know every damned thing. As I grow into bigger and better things, new things must be dealt with and sometimes I just don’t have the answers… Well, when I don’t have the answers I tend to do that which I know – leave some of the mess on my chest. The more there is, the harder it is to sleep.
The short version is, “I have to clean up my shit”.