Sober Oddities, or Still Wired After all These Years

So, Mr. McKagan, when asked of his experiences in Sobriety-land, made the following remark (funniest part? The absolutely unrelated answer to another question that appeared immediately below this response. He didn’t appear to notice–whether inattention or trying to type on a Blackberry at 44, I don’t know):

“I pray or just try to be STILL! Exercise has really helped in my battle with alcohol and drugs (my martial art is KEY to my sobriety). GOOD LUCK and STAY OUT OF YOUR OWN HEAD!” (from

Now, I’ve noted before (though not here, I think) that McKagan may be one of the more active people I’ve ever run across. I mean, he’s constantly doing SOMETHING: this gig, that recording, kids, wife, martial arts, interviews, golf (oy!), you name it (recall–31 bands before joining GNR at 22). Reminds me of another bassist who shall remain nameless here, but is a self-confessed hyperactive. Must be something about the instrument that those who gravitate toward it have a streak of hyperactivity; perhaps the bass serves the purpose of providing a rhythm and structure that the hyperactive bassist’s brain lacks.

I tried to make that sound reasonable. Don’t shoot me if I missed.

Anyway, “be still” and “stay out of your own head” jumped out at me, and not just because he put them in all caps. They are part of my own mantra too (and that of any good resident of Sobriety-land). The original poster went on to ask what that meant and how to do it. Here’s my thoughts on the matter (none are especially original; just bear with me). First, addicts are a self-absorbed bunch, that’s the nature of this disease; part of the spiral of addiction is the increasing navel-gazing. At the the same time that we use various means to separate from ourselves, we become more absorbed in getting whatever that is for ourselves–no matter the cost to others. So, staying out of your own head, not dwelling on “what-ifs” and “I fucked ups” is really essential, because those are very much a part of the obsessive end of addiction (Oops, I screwed the pooch on that one–must drink, shoot up, whatever–that obsessive end).

So, upon entering Sobriety-land, we may find ourselves doing anything to distract us from the bottle, the needle, the whatever; as I’ve noted before, I knitted, ran, built garden walls, read to an almost obsessive degree, you name it. See McKagan’s activity list even this 14 years later. Some of it is distraction; much of it simply becomes habit. The activity level never really wanes, though–at least for most successful addicts, so far as I can tell.

Which led me to wonder how many of us are ADD/ADHD or, at least, self-described hyperactives (I fall into the last case). Even found an article that discusses the relationship between ADD and addiction. Before I ramble further, a caveat–I’m not sure how much I buy into any of this, really. I happen to think that the habits are rather interesting though.

Anyway, I often described my relationship with booze as one of trying to calm my brain–stop the racing thoughts or deaden the wildly swinging emotions (note: not terribly effective. Don’t try this at home). Perhaps it’s only a subset of addicts, the ones who everyone readily identifies– “Holy shit! Did you see how much…?” Marathon addicts, if you will. The addiction simply stands in (I’m deliberately avoiding the “Self-medication” schtick) for other obsessive habits that might be healthier, but are no less about shutting the brain down.

What I have had to learn to do is change my external trigger for calming down; rather than passing out, I need to wear myself out or just stop. Sometimes I really do have to just tell myself to stop moving.

Of course, I tend to fall asleep when I do. That said, the addictive impulse hasn’t necessarily gone away, it has simply been turned to more acceptable means (and lots of them). To return to the terrible bass (not the fish) metaphor above, the activities (many of which are rhythmic in nature, come to think of it) becomes the “bass line” of life, allowing the marathon-addict/hyperactive to calm the fuck down, even while engaging in myriad activities: writing two articles, one book, applying for a new job, knitting three projects, relearning bass (yep, I admit it), teaching, yard work, composing rambling blogs, reading two books, training for a 10K (damn hamstring), and so on. Blogging, incidentally, may be the best substitute for alcohol-fueled navel-gazing ever.

Cure for the addiction-prone hyperactive? Bass. Clearly. And Knitting. And Exercise. And…I’ll quit. You get the picture by now.

Other oddities of sobriety: blushing. Talk about a basic inability to control emotions. I find myself responding to people with far more emotional connection than I recall from before the drinking days. I blush all the time; my students, I suspect, have figured this out and are now trying to see how fast they can make me blush on a given class day. D. won at less that 4 minutes into class the other day. Over what, you ask? Broken bones. So, no, I haven’t the slightest idea what the blushing was about.

On a sad note: Watched Shaun of the Dead yesterday. I know with some precision where I blacked out during the film when I first saw it; sadly, I didn’t remember that I had until the movie became fantastically unfamiliar. That was fun to play along with in front of the class. Would like for that never to happen again. Good thing I have the best class on the face of the earth; they were champs in the discussion, which saved me from becoming supremely and uselessly annoyed with myself. Bless them. I’m going to miss this crew.

Once again, thanks to Mr. McKagan for unintentionally leading me down that mental alley. I think I need to follow the advice here and get out of my head again–perhaps a nice walk outside, since my damn hamstring seems to be rather angsty about running still.

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