The first step, he said, was to pull yourself out of the ignorance of your dependency, whatever it happens to be. Then you need to get clean–get clean from your mistress, from your addiction to work, from your lust for power, whatever. In the modern era, we might be hooked on cigarettes or soda, likes on social media, or watching cable news. It doesn't matter whether it's socially acceptable or not, what matters is whether it's good for you. Eisenhower's habit was killing him, as so many of ours are too–slowly, imperceptibly.
– Ryan Holiday, "Discipline is Destiny"
This is the 13th year of writing these annual reflections for my birthday. The routine for each of them has, for the most part, been a bit of a ritual for me. The few weeks leading up to my birthday, I start reflecting on the past year, what's happened to me, what I have read or listened to that has resonated. Usually this happens during my walks down the Mission Creek greenway when the colours are at their peak, golden yellow lighting up the trail. I start formulating the words I want to get across for the evening before my birthday to type it all out. Around 8 o'clock, I fix a drink, pick out the playlist, and start typing.
This year, all of that happened again, except this is likely the first birthday edition that will be written with a mug of tea beside me, not bourbon.
Alcohol has only touched my lips once since June 2nd, 2023. The one time it did was with a dinner with my parents celebrating the end of summer with my daughter. How can I pinpoint the date of when I stopped drinking? It was not a proud moment for me and possibly a new low.
I was in Whitehorse for work, the hotel consulting job, and had an incredibly long week working with the hotel staff. The work days are always intense when I visit, something I am not quite used to working from home. Friday comes, and I decided to set some time aside for myself. I walked over to the neighbouring motel which has a restaurant and lounge. The restaurant was busy, so I sat down in the lounge. Ordered the pork chop special with a double bourbon. The food was taking forever, so another drink was ordered. A third was ordered while eating the meal. While recovering from the meal, I was now alone in the lounge, the other tables had departed.
For anyone who has had multiple drinks and been tipsy, without being fully drunk, you know the point where I was at. Quit while ahead, or have another and then call it a night? I couldn't decide. I did the most logical thing (remember, I am tipsy at this point) to determine whether I should I have another drink or not: I asked the bartender.
Looking back at it now, and even then, I would say it was almost a plea for help. It felt like I was asking the bartender to stop me before I got worse. I have never been cutoff before, and I wasn't then. She suggested a single instead of a double, and that was the end of the night there.
I remember getting the bill and looking down, seeing the number of drinks ordered and how much more they were than the $25.00 special. The food fueled my body; what did I get from the drinks than a temporary escape from the stress from the work?
For the Saturday morning, I had planned to go on a walk on the trail through Miles Canyon, a beautiful area within Whitehorse's city limits. I woke up with a slight hangover and put it off, focused on hydrating myself and working at the hotel again. Sunday, I took off for the trail.
It felt really good to be outdoors again, on a trail that was not crushed gravel or pavement, getting the shoes dirty and discovering new areas I had not seen before. I left my Airpods at home since I was paranoid about losing them along the trail which is beside the canyon walls for most of the trail. I was left to my own thoughts while walking, making sure I didn't slip and fall into the swirling waters below.
According to my watch, I was out there for an hour and a half, put in the 10,000 steps and climbed the equivalent of 20 flights of stairs. It had been a long time since I had done that. I felt better than ever afterwards.
I returned to Kelowna and made it a point to get out for longer walks more regularly again. The previous summers, I always tried to go out for walks at least once a week. The other days of the week, I found myself making excuses. Even this spring, I shied away from pushing myself again. Always too tired, too cold, too rainy. After the night in the lounge, and the long walk along the Yukon River, I was more determined to turn things around.
I still feel a deep and terrifying aloneness – mostly when when I'm worn down. But now I can slightly detach myself from it, tell myself that we've felt this before, that we've come out of it, and believe in that pending emergence.
– Craig Mod, Tokyo Walk, TBOT Cover, Aloneness
Craig talks openly about his use of therapy to heal from his traumas in one of his latest essays. I haven't talked with a therapist before, but something else Craig does (much much better than me) is go for very long walks over multiple days for his photo essays. I can't speak for him, but for me, walking is therapy. My walks have almost entirely been alone, which provides time for me to think things through in my head, tackle a current problem, dream of next steps, and think about life generally.
The downside to these walks is I am alone. I go out alone, I return alone, I recover alone. Yes, my daughter is staying with me regularly, but she is very much a teenager. She comes home and almost immediately retreats to her room. Being alone has been going on for a very long time now. Aloneness, as Craig puts it, is a subject I have touched on in the past too.
In The Challenge of Solitude, I wrote:
I have made peace with [solitude]. I don't want this to digress into another piece about dating because this feeling is different. It's not about being frustrated with not having someone, but instead being comfortable being alone. I am finding ways to explore the joy of solitude.
That was nearly four years ago (pre-pandemic). Four years later, I have started to feel the bouts of loneliness that Craig has been fighting as well. The peaks that occur where I am feeling at peace at being alone, are higher than they were in the past. I feel more content when alone than before. I believe that feeling is almost entirely because I stopped drinking. Having drinks on the weekends (and during the week when I was at my worst) prevented me from experiencing the joy of being alone and only heightened the feelings of loneliness.
The lows were very low before; now, the lows are more manageable. The best way for me to pull myself out of those funks is by going for walks and listening to podcasts or audiobooks. Hearing the voices makes me feel less alone than I would otherwise. The jokes and laughter, the banter, the profound conversations in some of the serious podcasts lift me up. With audio books, the stories that are being told remind me that I am not the only one who has been struggling. Everyone struggles in their own ways.
Listening to Ryan Holiday's Discipline is Destiny has only made me more aware of how hard some great people have overcome their inner struggles, while other great people caved to them. The one thing in common with the people that defeated their challenges is, as the title suggests, discipline. Having discipline to remain in control of your actions and not overreact; to not allow yourself to have the moments of weakness where the drinks are more tempting; to be disciplined in now making up excuses for going on walks and pushing your body to maintain a routine; the discipline to remain content with the solitude of life and not look for an easy way out of it.
I learned how best to handle the challenges in my life this past year. For this coming year, I need to remain disciplined to stay on track and not return to old habits. Keep staying sober, keep up the routine of walking as much as possible, and keep finding ways to enjoy life on my own until the right person comes into my life.
Another birth year is finished; time to continue building on top of the foundation I started this year to have more success in life.
Read the previous birthday entries dating back to 2011
Who by Fire by Matti Friedman.
Repeating this pick from last year because of the events going on in Israel currently. I listened to Matti read this on Audible and it went by quickly. A very captivating story about Leonard Cohen travelling through Israel during the Yom Kippur War of the early 1970s. This whole trip was a spur of the moment thing and not planned. He played for soldiers in their camps, not citizens. The book is based on an unfinished transcript by Cohen and interviews with people. Matti helps piece together the details of how some songs evolved over this time, and what caused Cohen to give up retirement to return to creating music. Definitely listen to Matti Friedman's interview with Bari Weiss about the book, which includes snippets of the songs Cohen sang on the tour and wrote immediately afterwards. It ends with a reflection on how popular Cohen remained in Israel years after his tour.
Discipline is Destiny by Ryan Holiday
I touched on the subject matter above. For people that have followed me over the years, me recommending this book should not be a surprise as Stoicism is a philosophy I have been reading and practicing for many years. The second book in the latest series by Ryan is covering the four virtues of Stoicism. Like his other books, he draws on the biographies, articles, and other sources, about the lives of some of the most famous people in the past hundred years and more. He touches on Dwight Eisenhower, Lou Gehrig, Angela Merkel, Queen Elizabeth II, and more. Check out Daily Stoic if you are interested in learning more about Stoicism.
The Fifth Column with Kmele Foster, Matt Welch, Michael Moynihan
Three gentlemen, all with media backgrounds, covering the latest events in roundtable discussions or discussions with some very smart guests. Some discussions are more US-focused, but overall their topics are broad enough that they can be enjoyed by a global audience. The three of them are incredibly funny together and the discussions are lively. Free episodes once a week or pay to be treated to a wealth of content.
Plain English with Derek Thompson
This is a more interview-like podcast covering some broad topics. The last month has featured several discussions about Israel, covering both sides of the argument, which I have found helpful in framing the complicated situation happening.
Moby– yes, the same Moby of the late 90's and early 2000's– has come out with a new album. It has been on repeat for me almost daily ever since I discovered it. It takes the songs of his popular Play and 18 albums, and remakes them into something different. Not really a full remix, because the songs are sung by different artists, and different instruments are used. I love listening to it.
An electronic duo from Martinique. They mix electronic music with reggae, blues, and Caribbean rhythms. Their music has been on repeat a lot for me while working and writing on projects.
Is a French DJ and electronic composer. His latest album, Orchestra, is a real mix of melodic classical music over dance beats. It is a little difficult to explain. All I know is I heard the first few tracks and I was hooked.
And, finally, if you have made it this far, please subscribe. I am planning to do much better about writing and sharing more photography on this site in the near year. Tips for my birthday are also welcome and appreciated.
Stayed tuned for her birthday update at the end of the year! ↩︎
I will likely have a drink or two to celebrate my birthday though. ↩︎