A miserable bastard

Season’s greetings from a tiny island in the south Pacific, where the landline to our house has been dead for three weeks and mobile internet is patchy.

Christmas and New Year can be a tough time for we alkies. This is the time of the year where drinking copious amounts of alcohol is normalised. Not surprisingly, AA meetings see a lot of new faces in early January as the hangovers subside and the consequences of bad behaviour coalesce into New Years’ resolutions.

We alkies, however, have learned hard lessons about making promises we can’t keep. Stay sober for a whole month? A whole year? No beer in this weather? You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. This is why we focus on just staying sober today. One day is doable.

However, staying sober for one day becomes a tad more difficult when those things that AA recommends (going to meetings, phone a friend/sponsor, work with other alcoholics) are absent. There are no AA meetings here for reasons I haven’t quite fathomed, however there are plenty of alkies begging for coins on the streets. Unfortunately, my knowledge of the local language is insufficient for conversing with these drunks. After all, it is hard enough trying to work out what a pissed Palangi (whitefella) is saying in English, let alone in an unfamiliar language. In short, I find myself on an island and in a house full of booze with no AA meetings, poor access to online meetings/chatrooms, terrible phone reception and sweaty, thirsty weather.

AA believes that alcoholism persists even after a person has put down the bottle. My behaviour in the last week has been evidence of this: I have been, to use the AA term, a ‘dry drunk’.

I’ll give you an example: I hurt my lower back carrying my pack around during a day in transit. Since I arrived I have been eating Nurofen like popcorn, and blaming everyone else for my condition. My highly anticipated days of getting tubed under the tropical sun have been thwarted, but not completely so. Regardless, I’m full of resentments and have become a nasty, miserable bastard.

Fortunately, I had the wherewithal to call my sponsor yesterday, who told me to write this narrative down. This is because the other narrative that has been on high circulation in my head – e.g. ‘if I didn’t have to lug my heavy pack around because of {insert person or situation}, I’d be having a great time now’ – only serves to create and sustain resentments and does not make me accountable.

Its funny, but when I write this stuff down it loses its potency. I can see that I have been behaving like an overgrown toddler. I will try, today, to do better.

Be more Dog


Today, I am grateful for the support I receve from my family, close friends and fellow members of AA to keep the good ship H.M. Beagle on an even keel. However, it would be remiss of me not to pay special mention to my non-human kin, otherwise known as dog, because he too has been central to my recovery story.

For starters, you could do worse than have dog’s outlook on life. He wakes up to a new day full of promise. Everything is excellent. He neither dwells on the past, nor worries about the future, because the present is all that matters. He loves unconditionally and doesn’t get grouchy unless it is absolutely called for. A few weeks ago he had his ear pierced by an out-of-control Kelpie. Dog didn’t care, in fact I don’t think he even felt it and wanted to play with the foul beastie.

Also, dog is my best mate and shadow. In the absence of other people being around, he is an excellent companion. But this hasn’t always been the case. When I was drinking, the dog didn’t want to know me.  This isn’t suprising, however. Have you ever smelled a wino in the street? Surely I had the same piquancy, hidden under freshly laundered clothes. I probably didn’t even smell like the same person.

My dog doesn’t care if anyone else has a drink. Just me. He’ll quite happily hang out for beers and the occasional dropped chip. But if I start drinking? Nope. I suspect this is because, dog knows, I have a radical and profoundly negative change in perspective and behaviour when I drink and thus become diminished in the esteem of my peers and pack.

When humans gaze into each other’s eyes, for example a baby looking at its mother, we bond emotionally in a process mediated by the release of the hormone oxytocin in the brain. A group of Japanese scientists found that this gaze-mediated bonding also exists between humans and our closest animal companions, dogs. Nagasawa et al. show that the human-dog bond is facilitated by the interaction of oxytocin feedback loops that evolved over the course of canine domestication:

Urinary oxytocin variation in dog owners is highly correlated with the frequency of behavioral exchanges initiated by the dogs’ gaze. These results suggest that humans may feel affection for their companion dogs similar to that felt toward human family members and that dog-associated visual stimuli, such as eye-gaze contact, from their dogs activate oxytocin systems. Thus, during dog domestication, neural systems implementing gaze communications evolved that activate the humans’ oxytocin attachment system, as did gaze-mediated oxytocin release, resulting in an interspecies oxytocin-mediated positive loop to facilitate human-dog bonding. This system is not present in the closest living relative of the domesticated dog [Wolves].

So, if you feel that you have a closer bond to your dog than you do to most other humans, you’re probably correct. Certainly so if you spend a lot of quality time together.

I never intentionally hurt dog when I was drinking, but the effects of alcohol on our loved ones are not always physical. I was never violent with my partner either. Dog always got given his biscuits and his water bowl never ran dry. He got walked, but like me, he grew soft and nebulous from inactivity. No, fortunately the wounds I afflicted on dog were temporary. I think he was genuinely confused and worried.

Funny as it sounds, I’m committed to making an amends to dog for the perceived hurt and confusion I caused when I was drinking, in addition to the missed walks and adventures when I was comatose on the couch. It is, what we call in AA, a ‘living amends’. This means that we undertake, through our words and actions, to be a better person. To be more Dog.

In practice, this simply means that I make our daily walks and adventures an additional non-negotiable in my routine, along with AA’s suggested actions that include taking care of my nutrition and physical wellbeing, getting enough sleep and exercise, meditating (or praying, if that’s your thing), attending meetings and working with other members.

*Miho Nagasawa, Shouhei Mitsui, Shiori En et. al., ‘Oxytocin-gaze positive loop and the coevolution of human-dog bonds’, Science, 17, Apr 2015, pp.333-336.