I had intended to begin this entry (and this blog) with an inspirational quote of some kind. Something wise or insightful, beautiful or tragic; something to fully embody the magic of self-transformation and the unconquerable spirit of man. But that would be cheating. That would be adorning the clothes of betterment before betterment…ing. So instead we’ll just start where I unfavorably started. With me.
Sherman, set the WABAC machine for… October 2nd, 2012 when I started The Self Betterment Campaign. Although at the time I didn’t have a snazzy title for it nor was I considering a blog, I just was rather very hungover. Rather rather very hungover.
But this was not, in itself, a terribly unique thing. I had been a collector of hangovers for the past few years and had built up quite a catalog. This wasn’t even a particularly potent specimen. I felt like the off-colored sludge one finds at the bottom of a trash can and imagine I smelled not a great deal better having smoked every cancer stick I had laid my hands on. Also my wallet and bank account were a hundred and fifty dollars lighter (also not a terrible sum for a night of New York drinking, comparatively).
None of these things were remarkable. It was a night much like many others: drunken, half-remembered, with an unexciting blur of debaucheries and vices and a loss of my hard-earned money. It wasn’t a remarkable morning either. My throat was raw from chain-smoking and screaming over the bar and my pride was bruised from another night of terrible decisions. The only truly remarkable thing was that I was annoyed. Very annoyed with myself. Annoyed that none of the above was remarkable. Not only was it irresponsible, it wasn’t even REMARKABLY irresponsible. It was as if these life-stunting activities were part of my daily grind. I didn’t crawl out of bed in the morning with a whirlwind of crazy adventures or grand stories… I just crawled out of bed with a body that hates me and a painful financial situation.
So I quit.
I had been meaning to quit smoking for some time (and had a few times… more than a few). But eventually I would have a shitty day or a drunken night and a fresh and sealed pack, like magic, would be weighing down my pocket once more. I was done! TODAY WAS THE DAY I WOULD BE DONE WITH THE SMOKING!
Except it wouldn’t.
Though my powers of self-denial are strong, even I knew full well that a pattern started was hard to break from. I could quit smoking every day, but as long as there was a bottle of wine waiting for me at night the hiatus would be short lived. So I knew that this Old Testament wrath bubbling up demanded two sacrifices. I would have to give up smoking and drinking. But that’s, like… a choice. Let’s not call it quitting drinking. Alcoholics quit drinking. Quit smoking, sure, but drinking… drinking isn’t that much of a problem. I will quit smoking, but go on a drinking hiatus. Hiatus is a great word.
Pros and Cons
But I was not entirely convinced. A Pro/Con list had to be produced in my mind. If I quit smoking and hiatus drinking, what will I lose? What will I gain? The PROs
- Save Money: Both alcohol and cigarettes in NYC are just… are just ridiculously priced
- Feel Better: Inhaling smoke and filling my body with liquid poison, oddly, makes you feel shitty
- Look Better: Alcohol has a lot of calories in itself, but it’s also just fucking impossible to turn down three Big Macs, some street meat, and a pint of ice cream at the end of the night
- Do Better: Making decision without liquid courage and that are fully remembered could provide some strange benefits. Most notably NOT having to groan: “What did I do last night?”
Ok, ok, ok, ok. Fine. But what about the Cons to this little adventure. There are reasons I enjoy drinking. There are reasons I enjoy smoking. Think of the things I will lose! The CONS
- Social Life: I drink. I smoke. My friends drink. My friends smoke. I’m a twenty-something in New York City. If I lose the smoking and drinking I lose having chats with my buddies out on the stoop for a smoke, I lose nights out at the bar, I lose drinking games at home with my roomies, I lose Beer Pong (BEER PONG!)
- Stigma: Alcoholics quit drinking. I make some grand announcement that I’m quitting smoking and drinking people are going to think I’ve gone off the deep end. I’ve hit rock bottom. That I was doing sexual favors for men in back alleys for a shot of whiskey. Or that I’ve joined a cult.
- Stress Relief: Sometimes. I. Need. A. Damn. DRINK. I work hard. I work a labor intensive job. My days are long and strenuous and at the end of the day my back is twisted in a knot and my nerves are fried. A glass of wine (read: bottle) sure as hell makes that go away. And there’s nothing wrong with winding down at the end of the day.
So there. 3 to 3. And in my calculations, a tie goes to the status quo. Don’t fix what isn’t actually broken… Right? But a neuron in the back of my brain wasn’t convinced, so I went through the list again. Or at least the Con side.
- Social Life: Well… I suppose there’s nothing really here I can’t do without the drinking. I can go out to the bars. I can go outside for smoke break an chat. And I’ve encountered more than once people playing Beer Pong sans beer. Sure the games more directly geared to getting shit-faced (Fuck the Dealer, anyone?) won’t exactly lend to not drinking, but that seems not an incredible price to pay.
- Stigma: People who don’t drink are pretty lame. Right? I mean. They aren’t part of the PARTY! Unless they are. And it depends on the party. Much like Fuck the Dealer, some gatherings are all about drinking to drink more. Yet if the party or gathering is one where conversation is happening, then who really cares what’s in your cup if what’s coming out of your mouth is interesting… And if I think back, there are a few (more than a few) conversations at parties I’ve been unable to play in because my brain was running on vodka and not… well… brain.
- Stress Relief: I really do love a glass (bottle) of wine to wind down a night. Or a beer (a six-pack). Or a glass of whiskey (bottle… of Whiskey). But do I need one? And what’s more, if I NEED one… what does that mean? How many night’s a week do I use alcohol to lull myself into dreamland? When I did the math, the results weren’t good.
But work’s been rough lately! Right? I started thinking about my history with drinking and smoking and the math there wasn’t so great either. I was 25 years old. I started drinking and smoking around 15. So I had been drinking and smoking at various levels of extremity for a decade. A decade of debauchery, from high school to my adult life (such as it is… adult may belong in quotes. “Adult” life. There.)
Now don’t get me wrong. My annoyance on this day with alcohol and smoking shouldn’t give you the wrong impression. Drinking and smoking aren’t things that simply make me miserable. I LOVE smoking and drinking. Smoking and drinking is the best. I have had great parties, great conversations, great adventures. I have stories of unmatched hilarity, amazing triumph, intrigue, mystery, enlightenment, lust and even love. Smoking provided from high school a “cool club” with which to identify with and has carried, strengthened phenomenally by the ever growing ‘taboo’ and ‘hatred’ against cigarette smokers. Prejudice creates union. Smokers Unite! WE ARE LEGION! Drinking, in infinite ways, has been an unmatched tool allowing an anxious, uptight, perpetually shy young man to take risks, be courageous and live to tell the tale! Sometimes by the skin of my teeth. I’ve had a decade of stories in which my friends are superheroes accompanied by our faithful menservants Cigarettes and Booze!
I looked at my pro-con list. Upon revisiting it, the pro-con score was 3 to… decimal points… fractions… little enough to just round to zero. But the number that still rang in my head was 10. 10 years. I thought back on my stories. My fun. My debauchery. And I thought on the more recent stories. I saw the stories repeat and blur in my head, each a version of another and often the memories were scratched and faded with the lapse of time, but more potently, the fact that most of them had been soaked in booze at inception. As I thought more, the parts of my drunken escapades that were original felt few. Were there things, NEW experiences, that I still wanted to experience that needed booze to be realized? I couldn’t think of any.
Well then. So I was going to QUIT smoking…. and… hiatusify my drinking habit (I still wasn’t ready to say I was quitting for good… and still may not be, but I’ll leave that discussion for a later post). But I wasn’t going to tell anyone. After all, like I said before, those patterns are a bitch to break once they begin. No one want to be that guy who heralds quitting to the high heavens then three days later has a cigarette dangling from his lips and a flask in his pocket. But I did quit. I quit for a day. Then for a few days. Then for a week. At a week and a half, I decided to let the cat out of the bag and actually tell the friends and roomies I was embarking on this adventure of quitting (but I’m only on a drinking HIATUS). Despite the stigma fears, everyone was supportive. So I kept on trucking. Fast forward to four months later. And I still haven’t had a drink or a smoke.
But what’s the big deal? Four months isn’t exactly a life changing span of time. People quick drinking and smoking for YEARS and relapse. And let’s be honest, my problem wasn’t exactly extreme. My friends weren’t abandoning me, my employment wasn’t endanger, I wasn’t (completely) broke and I wasn’t giving people handies in bar bathrooms for a puff of sweet sweet nicotine.
A movie plot, this is not. But other things happened in the last four months (because of this inciting incident). Good things. Things that have started me on a quest of sorts. Something I keep colloquially referring to as my “Self Betterment Campaign”.
Quitting smoking and drinking sucks. It’s really irritating. You discover things about yourself if you’ve come to rely on these two habits. Things like the fact that I have no stress coping techniques other than drinking and smoking. When you suddenly take those away your stress skyrockets. I also learned that I had been using alcohol pretty religiously as a sleep-aid. When you suddenly stop taking your self-prescribed medications (booze) for sleep, you realize that you don’t sleep… at all. So being a ball of stress who doesn’t sleep is great. My experiment in sobriety was going great. Time for a drink?!
Well no. My giant ego wasn’t going to let me out of this that easy. So I kept trucking. I needed something else to fill the void. When I had time off I would just pace my home if my roommates weren’t about. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I squeezed the internet til it bled looking for something to entertain me. I tried to read. I ate a lot. Finally I went for a run.
Running is also a terrible thing. It’s just an awful sport. If you can call it a sport. It’s really boring. And you never really get any place because you usually just go back to where you started. It’s dumb. But I did it. And though it was stupid and tedious and my heart felt like a zit about to pop, when I was done… I felt accomplished. I felt good. So I would try it again. And it was still awful. But at the end I still felt kind of awesome about it. As time went on I started liking it more and hating it less. I actually find zenning out and moving to the music Pandora spits at me can be one of the best parts of my day.
I even bought some weights. Started doing arm exercises after my run. Then I started alternating the arm exercises with sit-ups. I’ve started eating better. I pack a lunch almost every day. (And more often than not that lunch is a salad and not chocolate wrapped in bacon) I’ve lost weight. I have abs! I started a journal and write every day. I’ve started reading non-fiction books religiously, seeking to expand my brain. I’m working to be better.
And magically (not magic) I have more money! It turns out cigarettes and alcohol cost a lot of money.
None of these are amazing things. Not miracles. I didn’t pull my life out of the gutter or lose three hundred pounds. The point, the big deal, for me is that it’s changed my mindset. The act of making progress, makes me want to make more progress. It gives me a mission for self betterment. A Self Betterment Campaign… if you will.
So why a blog?
I’ve been writing every day in my journal, but the aimless meanderings have been simply for myself. So in once sense, this blog is just an extension of that self-betterment push of trying to write more. And write more for public consumption. But (hopefully) it won’t just be a blog completely of my self-indulgent whining and philosophizing (although I’m sure that’ll sneak in). I did enough of that years ago with my LiveJournal… which actually still exists somewhere in the dusty forgotten halls of the interwebs, hopefully never to be found. I, sadly, can’t quite bring myself to delete it completely. It keeps me humble to read back.
At the least, I hope this blog will be a fun chronicle with my adventures at making life awesome. But if I do things right, I would love for it to provide ideas and insights to those considering their own self betterment campaign.
The goal is to update The Self Betterment Campaign once a week. Every Wednesday.
Check in next Wednesday to make sure I didn’t do it wrong.