Dry July day 22: The Calm

calm_space
This year is not my first Dry July. Or at very least, attempt at Dry July. Last year I got about two weeks in before I had a glass of wine. I can’t remember the details: there were lots of people saying “Not drinking? Why do you want to do that?!” Maybe an argument. At some point I said, “Sod it.”

Some time last week, I got to my usual wine o’clock, which is somewhere between 6 and 8pm. I felt a craving. “I normally have a drink around now. I’d really like a drink.” Then I did something I’ve never been able to do before. I let the feeling go. I made dinner, put my son to bed, and didn’t feel the need to act on the voice.

I don’t know exactly what is different to last year. The whole texture of refusing alcohol is different. I’m not trying to silence an incessant voice. I let it speak. I let it go.

Dry July day 21: News of my demise is premature

Michael Collins isn't in the photo but everyone else is.
Fitting that today is the 45th anniversary of the first moon landing. (And, yes, we did go.) At some point, while Neil and Buzz were kicking up the moondust and taking happy snaps of each other, high above and in orbit around them was Michael Collins, who for a time became the loneliest person in the known universe: every time the tin can passed behind the moon, cutting communication from Earth. I guess the past ten days was my communication blackout until reentry at the end of the month.

So to answer a few questions: yes, I am still on target with Dry July. In the past ten days I have learned much, and bring good tiding and fire from the gods. I’ve journeyed to the unknown, and I’m back with a postcard. I’ve been in the belly of the whale, and I’m home again to beat up Saruman.

Here I come!

Dry July day 10: Energize!

Energize!
Wow! Possibly the effect of getting over the cold, or the effect of being alcohol-free for ten day, or a-little-from-column-A-a-little-from-column-B…I woke up this morning full of energy!

Okay, a quick list of everything: my appetite is up; I am actually getting (and acting upon) cravings for fruit (HOW AWESOME ARE APPLES?!); I have written a several thousand words worth of emails, blog entries, and assignments; I am keeping my wildly active mind focused on one task until it is done.

I am on fire!

I am on fire!

(And that gif of Sherlock marks the first ever animated meme I have used on this blog. Poom!)

Oculus Rift and Virtual Reality in your living room

Dr Stefan Greuter of GEE Lab (where I’m doing my honours project) recently wrote an article for The Conversation: “How to build a virtual reality system – in your living room.” And today I got to try out his system!

VR at GEE Lab

Called SpaceWalk, it uses a variety of off-the-shelf components to create the VR effect. On my head is an Oculus Rift, which is a VR headset that got its start on Kickstarter, and made news earlier this year when it was acquired by Facebook for $2 billion. The Rift is attached to a Windows Surface, which lives in a laptop case over my shoulder.

As I walk around the space, a Microsoft Kinect is tracking my movements, and adjusting my position in a virtual space made using the Unity engine. This information is being sent via wifi to the Surface.

The effect is that I can walk effectively untethered in a virtual space.

VR Set Up at GEE Lab

In his book The Diamond Age, Neal Stephenson makes a distinction between two types of inventors: Forgers and honers.

Forgers created new technology and then forged on to the next project, having explored only the outlines of its potential. Honers got less respect because they appeared to sit still technologically, playing around with systems that were no longer start, hacking them for all they were worth, getting them to do things the forgers had never envisioned.

SpaceWalk is an awesome example of honing.

Dry July day 9: On reputation

Short one tonight, and possibly not entirely well thought out. It’s on reputation. There was probably a time when being described as a vice was devastating. Standing in the church carpark after service on Sunday morning, and nattering about that Joe Bloggs who you don’t see about much these days and how he’s gone all alcoholic which was a pity because he was such a fine young man and wasn’t Father Dennis’ sermon a good one…(etc)

In another direction, a few years ago I was talking to a friend who said he wore his mental illness like a badge of honour. To this end, everyone knew about it, but he never actually seemed to do anything about it.

Buddhist talk often about The Third Way, and I tend to picture it as a subtle blend of what seems to be the only two options. In this case I would hope, dear reader, that the Third Way was bloody obvious.

A couple of years back, a senior writer named Jill Stark for The Age had a year without alcohol. She wrote a book about it, High Sobriety, where she documents her experience, including people’s reactions around her, which tended to be indignant amazement. She identified her problem, and she took steps to do something about it. And then declared to the world she had a problem and what she did about it.

Speaking of Starks, when Tony Stark revealed to the world that he was Iron Man, he also admitted he was an alcoholic.

Iron Man alcoholic

There is no shame in having a problem if I am taking steps to address the problem. And in doing so, other people with the same problem may 1) admit they have the problem, and 2) start to combat the problem. Bring it out of the shadows, and maybe it might just die in the sunlight.

Not so short after all.

Dry July day 8: 3am is demon hour

Nightmare
From the nightmare I wake up hot. The clocks struck 3pm when the Nazarene was killed. After the world has turned a half rotation, it becomes the exact opposite hour of 3am. Demons own this time, and my mind is possessed with thoughts; of my life torn from the continuity of the world, and made to play upon a stage of twisted tree roots and the moldering bricks of forgotten empires; to become a perverse marionette, with, instead of strings, monstrous flagella connecting me to the eldritch puppetmaster who makes me dance and cavort in time to a music that can only be heard inside my heavy skull.

Or my liver has just turned on.

A few years back I was learning about the body’s response to jetlag. It appears that not only does our sleep become disturbed when we change time zones, all of our internal processes need to change their rhythms as well. The idea that my internal organs had optimal times of the day for working was a new one for me.

My liver gears up as I fall asleep, reaching optimal efficiency around 3am. As the alcohol I drink is processed by the liver, heavy drinking means the liver is working very hard to process what it considers a toxin.

For the last week I’ve stopped waking at 3am, possibly indicating that my liver is more relaxed. At last, maybe I can now stop leaving demonic offering of small animals and pack away the tiny altar under my bed.

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This month I’m doing Dry July, and would love your support! Money raised will go to cancer health programs. Head to my Dry July page to make a donation. https://au.dryjuly.com/profile/seanmelliott

Dry July day 7: The DTs

Clockwork Orange
Today I was wondering if my general not-feeling-so-crash-hot was due to recent colds and tummy infections, or was it possible to get alcohol withdrawal while going cold-turkey. I decided to consult Dr Internet. Clicking the first link that came up while searching “alcohol withdrawal” I got the following helpful advice (emphasis mine):

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome is a POTENTIALLY LIFE-THREATENING CONDITION…

I’m not sure what it said after that because my hypochondriac-prevention response kicked in, and I lost the ability to read for a few minutes until I calmed down a bit.

In essence: yes, there is such thing as alcohol withdrawal. These are the famous DTs I had heard about, and they effect heavy drinkers. Their central nervous system going into a hyper-excited mode because their bodies have been compensating for the shear amount of alcohol they have been saturating in. By way of compensation and to maintain equilibrium, their bodies have been mass-producing an amino acid that gives the feeling of excitability. No more alcohol means that the body is now has excessive amounts of this amino acid, and the body goes on an excitement bender. Symptoms include shakes, sweating, anxiety, nausea, insomnia, and headaches. And hallucinations.

I haven’t had any hallucinations (except for that creepy rabbit who keeps telling me the world is going to end, but he’s always hanging around), but I’ve had some form of the others for the past week or so.

Incidentally, the DTs stands for delirium tremens, which is apparently Latin for “shaking frenzy.” As a friend used to say to me: if you’re going to say something, say it in Latin. It make everything sound better.

Final note: Wikipedia also includes a bunch of colloquial names for the DTs, including: “the horrors”, “the bottleache”, “quart mania”, “ork orks”, “gallon distemper”, “barrel fever”,”the shakes”, and “the fear”.

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This month I’m doing Dry July, and would love your support! Money raised will go to cancer health programs. Head to my Dry July page to make a donation. https://au.dryjuly.com/profile/seanmelliott

Dry July Day 6: Body fauna

1gHu0E3
It occurred to me today after my stomach started doing flips again that my internal fauna may not be very happy.

I was always vaguely aware that our bodies have things living on them and in them, but it wasn’t until someone I dated at uni made me start to think about the microbes that call me home. She called them “body fauna”, and pointed out that my happily living fauna would be introduced to hers, and vice versa, by us smooshing our mouths together for long periods, which we were doing a lot of at the time. As such, the newly introduced fauna will duke it out with the already established fauna, conducting a turf war in our bodies. After a time, a new equilibrium emerges, and everything calms down until the next major incursion. That’s why, she told me, most people come down sick after hooking up, until both parties have shared enough new fauna that they have similar ecosystems.

That’s nice, I said, and we went back to smooshing mouths for a bit.

My thinking today runs along these lines: my internal microbes have been very happily adapted to living in a gut that has a pH (acidity level) of a certain amount. That pH in no small part was due to about 750 millilitres of, say, clean skin Cab Merlot flooding through every evening. Now that the routine has been interrupted (6 days and counting) my internal microbes are getting a bit uncomfortable and kicking around the furniture.

To that end I drank about four Yakults today.

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This month I’m doing Dry July, and would love your support! Money raised will go to cancer health programs. Head to my Dry July page to make a donation. https://au.dryjuly.com/profile/seanmelliott

Dry July day 5: Hitch

Christopher Hitchens

I like the writings and speeches of Christopher Hitchens (except when he diverges starkly from my views, like his support for the invasion of Iraq, and his piece entitled “Why Women Aren’t Funny”.) Whatever he is espousing, whether in writing or speaking, he is erudite, witty, and incisive to the point of being surgical in debates. And he drank like a fish. (If that fish happened to be alcoholic and had the capability to pour from a bottle.)

Hitchens was famously a heavy drink and heavy smoker, something that caught up with him in the end, as he contracted esophageal cancer then died from pneumonia several years ago.

Many speeches, presentations and debates I saw (only ever online) he would have a slight sway in his stance and the hint of a slur in his voice. He would write thousands of words with a emptying bottle of scotch on the table.

I thought it was cool and I’d be lying if I said that it didn’t at all influence my behaviour. Bohemian writer stringing together sentences while drinking through a bottle of Shiraz.

And here’s where reality catches up with the myth: I can’t drink and write. I thump the keyboard with my fist for a few moments before giving up and fading out on the couch. Drinking has the seizing effect of pouring treacle onto the fine clockwork of my mind.

Five days in, and writing of a sort is happening. At very least I am stringing sentences together again.

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This month I’m doing Dry July, and would love your support! Money raised will go to cancer health programs. Head to my Dry July page to make a donation. https://au.dryjuly.com/profile/seanmelliott