In 2006, Tina’s dad made an announcement. Not just any announcement.
He announced he had cancer.
Not just any cancer. Stomach cancer.
Not just any stage cancer. Stage 4 borderline stage 5 cancer.
This was not just any announcement. An “I’ve got so long to live” announcement. “Let’s do things. Let’s reconnect. Let’s make up for lost time.”
The distance from the announcement to his death was short. At most, eight months. He attacked it with every ounce of strength he had. He tried keeping up his active lifestyle of rollerblading in his Florida neighborhood. He tried to keep dating a woman he’d been on and off again for a few years.
We saw him for a weekend that fall. His mom, Tina’s grandma, passed away in October. He flew up to the funeral. We talked to him. His hair was gone. But he felt okay. His feet felt heavy, like “concrete” he said, so he was buying tons of shoes to comfort the feeling.
Back in Florida, he was far from all of us Chicago relatives. While the sun and warmth were probably good for his soul and his attitude, he was alone down there. He had to drive himself to doctor’s appointments and treatments. He was a proud man, and didn’t want to bother his girlfriend. He started taking cabs to the doctor. He took cabs to chemo. He needed help.
His health nosedived toward Christmas. His brother ended up driving down to get him around the holiday with hopes he could help alleviate some of the ease of doctor visits and cancer treatments. But it was really to have him near his brothers, Tina and the rest of the family when he died.
New Year’s eve 2006 would be his last night outside of a hospital. He chose to celebrate the new year with a few glasses of, wait for it, …
A glass of milk or two was what he was craving to bring in the new year. Apparently it was something on his “do not” consume list. But he couldn’t help himself. The new year was a time for celebration.
On New Year’s day, his 60th birthday, he was admitted into the hospital. Tina and I went to see him that day. And despite feeling shitty, he beamed to see Tina and wanted to catch up. He explained that the last night’s celebrations included a few glasses of milk.
“I partied too hard, Tina. I was craving milk.” he said. “Three glasses was just too much.”
I don’t know if — in his head — milk was the culprit for admission to the hospital. It was the milk that pushed his cancer into pain levels that he couldn’t bare. It was the milk that exacerbated everything.
Within the week, he was gone. We visited him frequently . Not knowing or realizing that this hospital visit was his final week of life. We thought there would be more time.
I partied too hard, Tina. Partied too hard.
Those words have echoed in my brain ever since. I’m used to partying too hard = a few too many beers with the guys. Maybe mixing some booze at a wedding, some cocktails, a glass or two of wine then a few beers and a night cap to bring it all home.
I’ve had some world class hangovers in my life. I’ve woken up with that pounding headache. The world seems to vibrate a little. Like my brain is so angry its shaking. When you see your living room in the sunlight, it shimmers like when it’s hot out and the pavement gives off that wavy light effect. Every time you burp, you think you’re going to vomit. I see things that aren’t there in my peripheral vision. Tina grinds coffee beans and my brains spin like the beans. When and if I do throw up, it’s somehow a relief. It means I’m on the road to recovery. It means this temporary “flu” is almost over.
I’ve partied too hard, Tina. I had too much alcohol.
For some people it’s too much alcohol, pot, coke, adderall, uppers, downers, sidewayers, anywhichwayers …
I partied too hard. I had too much milk.
… said one person ever.
Too much milk?
Before Tina’s dad, I never heard of it.
As part of the Whole30 reset we just did and are continuing to do, among everything we were going to cut out for the 30 days (sugar, beans, peanut butter, soy, grains and gluten, I stopped drinking alcohol. Of all the ingredients, alcohol screamed the loudest with the biggest signs that I would fail.
Full disclosure, I have been drinking a beer or two daily for years. I’ve had trouble sleeping since I was a kid. In bed in the dark, I have lots of paranoias. Alcohol seemed to chase those monsters away. I’ve been hurt by people, close people, over the years, and booze helped to alleviate the stresses of disappointment.
Of course one or two were my minimums, and there were days of celebration or long work days when more booze was in order! It was a reward. It was a compromise for a long night working at my computer.
I was embarrassed and ashamed of it. But I didn’t know what to do with it.
I could have had “I partied too hard” printed on t-shirts to wear once or twice a week.
I hid behind alcohol as a way to relax. I enjoyed it. Despite my doctor telling me not to drink daily. Don’t drink more than two a day and no more than 3 to 4 times a week. I did it anyway.
Despite writing notes to myself like, “Alcohol is poison,” 5:30 or 6 or 7 or 8:30 would roll around in the evening and I would open the fridge and pull out a beer … I told myself no. I told myself today I would stay away. Today I would be better.
But I would give in.
When this diet was in the discussion phase, I panicked. I thought, “I’m ready to stop for as long as I can. I’m not sure if I can. But I need to.”
My brain went into overdrive. I wanted to succeed. Maybe I need AA? I thought. Maybe I need to ask a friend who’s an AA sponsor to … well … sponsor me.
Maybe I need to consult my doctor?
What if I go through withdrawals? That could spell hospitalization.
During the week and a half before we started the diet, I went four days without drinking. That test proved I could do it. That I could tell, apart from night sweats, I didn’t experience any headache, vomiting, insomnia, or shaky hands from withdrawal.
The weekend before we started, I had a few beers with my buddy Ben on Saturday over a lunch meeting and then again on Sunday at dinner time.
On Monday we started the diet. On Tuesday Tina and I had an argument. The pangs of the withdrawal from all the foods had crept in and we were both testy. On Wednesday to Friday I was fine. The weekend I expected difficulty. It wasn’t bad. The days kept ticking by and the more time that passed, the more people we saw, the more times I saw other people drinking and I wasn’t … I was fine.
Without alcohol, my sleep went to shit. It wasn’t insomnia. But it wasn’t a restful eight hours either. I was up a lot at night. I was overcompensating with tea at bedtime. But I was clear and lucid during the days. Even though my sleep was in the 6 to 7 hours area, my alert levels were stronger. My productivity levels were increasing. The paranoias weren’t there either. Could that be in part because of the absence of sugar?
As we completed the 30 days, I was determined to stay off alcohol for the first few days. I did. Then last Friday, I was a little bored. I wanted to see what I was missing. I cracked open a $60 bottle of wine that we got from a fundraiser last year after we made a donation. It tasted like ass. I ended up finishing a glass. Tina had three sips and threw hers out.
I decided I would go get beer. It needed to be fresh and good quality. So I went to a local bougie shop and looked through all beer over $10. On some, I couldn’t find a bottled date. I ended up getting an old favorite, Revolution IPA, because it’s local and the bottled date was 1/22/18.
I got home. I cracked a can. I sipped. It was good. I was determined to “party” a little. Celebrate thirty-three days of sobriety! Thirty-three days of no sugar, dairy, peanuts, beans, grains, gluten, or soy.
Most of all, no booze.
I drank two more beers.
That night I was fine. A little drunk. But I felt okay. We watched a movie. Wim Wenders Wings of Desire. In bed, we played Duolingo in French together. I helped Tina with some answers she didn’t know. I was fine. Playful even.
Around 4 a.m. my head was pounding. I partied too hard, Tina.
I was awake until 6 kicking myself for reintroducing alcohol with too much gusto. I was telling myself, I’m done with this. I’m done with booze.
I got out of bed and wrote a letter to a friend who reached out the night before about book recommendations for someone who doesn’t believe in god any more. I got the message late on Friday, and I had the wherewithal to not respond while I was drinking.
At six a.m., I made coffee and typed out a response.
Through a pounding headache, foggy vision, a loose gag reflex, I told him you could read any number of books by Sam Harris, Chris Hitchens or even Richard Dawkins. But they might end up putting you in a negative head space. The only book you need to read to validate your perspective is the Bible itself, I wrote. Or go with your gut, which he was already doing.
I partied too hard, Tina.
My head was crushing me. I could vomit at any second.
I went back to bed. Slept through a head pounding head slammer of an ache till noon (I never do that) and then took a bath. And some ibuprofen.
I finally felt normal again around 2 or 3.
I partied too hard, Tina.
When you do the Whole30, the writers of the diet tell you that to keep on track, when you think you can’t do it, when you can’t stop yourself from reaching for junk food, sugar or alcohol, you can tell yourself, “Cancer is hard. Beating heroin addiction is hard. Completing this diet is doable.”
In the clarity of the sobriety during the 30 days, that quote made me think about Tina’s dad. About my health, may dependance on alcohol. It made me think long and hard about my own mortality. My own health.
I read that sugar is poison. I reminded myself that alcohol is too.
Right now, I don’t know exactly where alcohol is going to play within my life. But at the moment, I love living in clarity. I love living in love with life. I love the productive spirit that has fluttered its way back into my head. I love writing and making movies and photos without rushing into my fridge for a can of booze, then another, then another and then almost forgetting my experience of creativity.
If you’re reading this, you’re one of very few. I haven’t seen much action on this blog in terms of hits. But I’ve had some very nice messages, responses and texts from those of you who are reading. Thank you for being a part of my failures as well as my successes.
I’ve opened up here in a vulnerable way. And I don’t know what exactly I expect to come of it. I expect some sort of weird backlash, but maybe some sort of synergistic blessing.
In the last few days and weeks, I’ve been able to help a friend on his path to freedom from religion. I’ve been able to influence another friend to spent more time off booze and more time running. I’ve met a guy who is close friends with my birth mom, whose gay and how awesome a role she played in his life. I’ve seen how positive living can affect positive change. Tina has heaped such beautifully kind words onto my changing habits.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not some big jerk who thinks that 33 days of sobriety equals some holier-than-thou attitude. I fully expect to fail at some point, to let someone down. But that’s what friends and real family are for … helping to dust off and keep moving forward together.
I write about morality because we’re surrounded by people who may leave by death or by some other force, be it moving or even personal or political differences. And now, NOW’s the time to take advantage. Now’s the time to reach out. Now. Not tomorrow. Not in an hour.
For all of these things, I live. For the encouragement of others and myself, I write here.
For you, I hope all things beautiful and great.