31 October 2018

Polk on Mo' - Movember 2018

2016 Mo' Kickoff
  When I first started talking about my own personal struggles with mental health (depression, anxiety, and addiction to be specific), I didn't think anyone cared. After all, I was just a fat guy who took pictures of his beer and was a bit of a drunk most of the time. What the last 3 years has taught me is that there is a large minority of folks just like me who have suffered in silence and darkness far longer than is healthy or right but they didn't know how to talk about it.
  They didn't know how to approach their friends or family to ask for help.
  They didn't know how to talk to their medical practitioners about the effects of this all too common problem because they didn't want to waste the Doctor or Nurse's time.
  They didn't want to admit that it wasn't their fault and maybe it would be okay to seek therapy, medication or a change in circumstance.
  The conversations I have when I go out are mostly beer focused but there is always a quiet moment when someone will want to talk about their personal struggles. They approach me, silently making their way through the laughs and cheers of a bar or taproom and want to talk. They tell me they suffered in silence because they were trying to be strong, to project a happy life online in spite of their turmoil inside. They talk about not wanting to bother anyone or how someone they love had bigger problems than just not feeling well mentally. I am always open and honest with my ongoing struggle and I do my very best to let them know it is the first step they have taken in even acknowledging that they need help. I encourage them to open up, if not to me then someone they know and love. Trust plays a huge part of coming to grips with mental health issues and if being a public part of the conversation helps people, I am all for being even more open.
2017 Kickoff to Mo'
  The biggest problem facing many of those who suffer is trying to be strong for someone else. Spouses, siblings, children and so on seem to take precedence over your own life and while admirable, it isn't doing them or you any good to ignore your own health. Being strong isn't hiding and working yourself down to the bone. True strength comes from knowing when you need to lay down your shield and shovel and simply face your true self. You cannot help those around you forever because you will break down eventually. The people closest to you love you and care about your health, but it is your own self that you have to admit you're breaking down first. Talk to the people you love and tell them you need their help, they will surprise you with their support.
  Finding time to get help is another prominent reason so many of us ignore or suppress with other means our issues. We seek solace in the bottle, pill or drugs because it is easier to drown out the noises of hopelessness than address them. Work and home obligations seem to take up every waking moment until we have no time left for ourselves. Leaving yourself stretched to the limit will only make your crash all the more damaging as without a safety network of others to help, those relying on you will suddenly be bereft in a sea of uncertainty if you collapse. Take the time to seek help, self care is just as important as everything else in your life. You are no good to anyone when you are not good to yourself.
  As Movember gets underway for another year, I will continue to push for a better understanding and acceptance of the axiom "It's okay to not be okay". Men want to be strong and tough for our family and friends but the time has come that we act to change the idea of what that is. Being strong enough to reach out for help and being tough enough to know when you are doing more harm than good to those around you by carrying anger and depression with you every day.
  Healthy lifestyles include physical and mental components and when you know you are loved and supported no matter what, it can be a truly uplifting and even freeing feeling. I'll be adding to my usual focus on mental health this year by trying to be more active and getting myself out of my comfort zone a little more.
 Get moving, get talking and let's change the conversation.

If  you'd like to donate to my Mo' page, here's the link :

Drunk Polkaroo on Movember

Take care of yourselves.


22 October 2018

I Drink (but not as much as you think)

"How much do you drink?"

  A serious and not so serious inquiry I get a lot of as a very public consumer of beer. I post daily, often multiple times and that leads people to believe I am in a permanent state of either being hungover or drunk. I will admit that a year and a half ago when I did The Truth in May challenge, I was a little shocked to hit 150 beers in a month, almost 5 per day. Hard to fathom for even me and it forced me to look at myself in the mirror a little harder going forward. 
  The last year or so I have been slowing down a little bit. Whether it was over-work or just plain beer burnout, I found myself starting later and consuming less...for the most part. There were still times I would go a little over the top and drink a few too many but those days are rapidly becoming an anomaly rather than a common occurrence. I find little joy in getting hammered and drinking just to drink, instead trying to only buy beers that I want to try and write about as a way to help me control my natural impulse to drink them all. Old favourites, such as Ransack the Universe, have been reduced to buying single cans so I am not tempted to pound a few after posting something on social media. Weird for anyone to do but I understand far more about my own predilection for over consumption now after 3 years exploring craft beer than ever before.
A good night but not every night

  I don't pretend to not be at least a mild alcoholic, addicted yet not overwhelmed. Perhaps a vague notion but as a person who knows all too well what it feels like to just let go and drown in a haze of booze for days on end, I feel different now. I have a fridge full of beer, 2 actually, and a cellar that is not unimpressive. I could easily get jacked many times a week without impacting my wallet too much but I really have stopped feeling the need or desire for that anymore. I detest feeling like garbage the day after and have little patience for myself when I step out of line when it comes to drinking. Finding a balance between a few and a few too many is at best a last ditch effort to avoid a return to complete drunkenness.
  I have become a little reclusive in the last year or so when it comes to festivals and hanging out. I began to see the social anxiety that plagued me from time to time become more prevalent when we were out and my natural tendency was to drink more to cover up the fact that I felt I didn't belong there. It is something I will have to address at some point and it only seems to bother me when I am at a gathering of a lot of people, like a beer festival. I quickly get overwhelmed and pursue beer after beer until I feel the buzz calming me down but that is often too late as I have passed the point of good decision making and leave my well trained control at the door.
  While it is easy to say I have a handle on my drinking, I am not na├»ve enough to think I am without fault or mistakes. I slip up. I make jokes about getting drunk and post encouraging things about booze on social media. I do it in fun, although with a grain of truth in there, part of me wishes life were a series of parties without consequence or work the next day to get in the way. My desire to drink has been met with a new respect for what I consume, a chance to enjoy without losing the battle for control. Having 2 or 3 pints and then putting the glass down for the night is easier and easier, often just 1 will be enough for me on most days. Do I want to just get hammered? I'd be lying if I said that kind of beautiful oblivion didn't have its appeal from time to time, but I desire it much less than I thought possible a few years ago.
Jaunty but mostly drunk
  As I continue to learn more about who I am while writing and creating with my beer, I lean hard on my words to keep me level. I post my beers on social media when I am having them for the same reason I have always talked about, it is my safety net to put the brakes on my impulse to consume more and more. The art of the picture has taken a bit of a back seat but the creativity has expanded with my poetry reappearing in my life when I needed it most. My love affair with beer will probably never end but it was in taking control of it that I found the words that I thought had abandoned me so many years ago return and bring me great joy. Finding other people who have done the same has given me even more reason to keep doing what I do. I want to see more voices and opinions about life, beer and what we make of it,
  See you on the other side, pints in hand.



19 October 2018

It's not you, It's me - Breaking up is hard to do

Is it really over?

Dear Untappd,

  It's not you, it's me,
  I never thought this day would come. I mean there was a time when I couldn't have imagined not having you front and center in my life while I enjoyed many cold beers and spent time chasing goals and being rewarded for pursuing those dreams. We were a hell of a team.
  But all good things must come to an end.
  It's not that I haven't enjoyed our time together. I really have, you were there for me at the beginning and I wouldn't be here without you. But over time we seem to have grown apart and to be honest it feels like you're barely part of my life any more.
  Where once I couldn't wait to see you and fill you in on my day or night so you could grow and be strong, I now ignore you for weeks on end, almost on purpose and when I do spend time with you it's almost with a heavy sigh and a "let's get this over with" attitude. Neither one of us benefits from that and I can't help but think we could have been so much more.
  I still remember the thrills you would bring me whenever we would go out drinking, adding joy to our growing list of achievements by giving me badges for my various activities and inspiring me to try new and different things to keep that adrenaline going. Where would I be without your encouragement and ever expanding suggestions?
  Why can't we just let things be the same and grow old together, man and app, side by side, phone in hand?
  Truthfully, I know so many other people love you and your addictive rewards based love. they crave to tick and get a badge, add a number and I know that at my most fervent days I was one of them. I couldn't get enough as my number rose and your tendrils of endorphin releasing acknowledgement of my prowess. It felt good to be part of this club and show off all my additions, life became more about the pursuit of quantity over quality and it happened without me even noticing. Chasing flights and samples everywhere we went so we could pop that unique number ever higher and receive accolades we can see in a world that stopped caring a long time ago. Maybe that's why I stayed so long, lingering when I knew I should leave, longing for us to reconnect and fall in sync with each other like it was back in the good old days. I wanted so much to be part of the ticking community when it all began but I have changed and while you have too, some say for the worse, it has become increasingly apparent that we just don't do it for each other anymore.
We all start somewhere...
  I'll be the first one to say that I never thought my life would change so much when we met on that cold February day and I logged my first old Milwaukee. We were young and had no idea the world of beer was on the cusp of changing and nothing would ever be the same again...but it did and so too did we. I ticked with the best of them, downloading festival and taproom lists so I could add them even after I was far too drunk to rate them, it was all about getting the number and the badge...Make me special and make it public baby!  Then came Instagram, Twitter and YouTube and I found a better way to share my love of great beer, albeit without the fancy badges and stats to prove it. The community of people I met started to mean more to me than getting a number and when the day came I realised I was more than a couple of hundred behind in adding to your list, I knew the end was near.
  I'm not here to put down anyone who enjoys using Untappd, sharing beer on social media helps keep me sane so I'm never against you doing you. But for me, now and moving forward, the ticking culture and pursuit of badges has just lost its lustre and shine. Breaking up is hard to do and this goodbye is a long time in coming.
  I will always have the memories of nights spent squinting to focus on trying to type in the 15th sample and cheering badges with my friends as we got hammered with intent to log in our conquests. I will miss some of the times I had at the very beginning of my exposure to Ontario Craft beer and the wider world of what was available but now is the time to say goodbye. I leave the ticking culture to the next generation of beer explorers and can only hope they will to progress to the point where they can let go of their compulsion to tick and acquire badges, freeing themselves and escaping the endless need to acquire more and more.
  But we will always have Old Milwaukee, morning beers and that one glorious time when it was you and me against the world.



15 October 2018

Friday leaving Work (Part 8)

"I'll see you again..."
  As soon as he said those words, he knew he was either lying or hoping and he couldn't figure out which he was wishing for more. Leaving was never easy and for a man who craved routine inside of what appeared to be a chaotic existence, walking away from the normalcy of regular life into the unknown was strange, dangerous and thrilling all at the same time. Drunk or sober, he was never about taking chances and he lingered as he watched this one slip into the oblivion of  what could have been once again.  It wasn't that he wanted to pour his heart out, but he should have at least acknowledged what she had meant to him after all they had been through. Faded images of times gone by filled his mind as he drove away, headed home to an empty apartment save his cat and a fridge full of beer to soothe his empty heart. A little maudlin, but given his penchant for screwing up relationships, perhaps the most apt description of this day.
  She had been a fixture in his daily routine for as long as his faulty memory could allow him to remember. While it had only been a few years, his fuzzy recollection was sure it felt like forever. That smile etched in his brain like a fire brand on his skin and the lilt of her voice lingered long after she said her last words to him that final day, her composure a sure sign he would never see her again in his mind.
  Their relationship had always been above board but he felt more could have been found if he wasn't such a damn coward. They went deep many a night at that chain pub around the corner from work and even though it remained unspoken, they both felt that there were moments left in the past where it could have been so much more. Knee deep into their 5th pitcher of Coors Banquet and trading off the buying of shots of cheap whiskey, they came close but never could make it over the mutual fear of ruining something that meant so much to their day to day existence.
  Driving home, he paused at every stop sign and red light, trying to work up the courage to turn his old truck around and go back to lay it all out for her. Did he think she would agree and run to him with open arms or was that delusion even too much for his cynical mind.  But still he drove slower than usual as he wondered if a grand gesture was indeed what was warranted to turn his rapidly diminishing life around.
  Pulling into the municipal lot his building shared with the surrounding businesses downtown, he made sure his pass was visible on the dash lest he get a ticket he would be too lazy to fight and would end up costing him more than a few pints around the corner. The contents of his now empty desk were in the backseat and while it was probably a good idea to take it all upstairs or even more appropriately to the nearby dumpster, he felt leaving it there meant she existed for a little while longer in his life.
  Many nights he had chosen poorly and this was to be yet another nail in his long and lonely coffin to self immolation at the tap handles. The not so newish brewpub beckoned and as the Friday night traffic swirled beside him, he pushed open the doors and was met with the familiar face of the people who poured happiness by the glass and always had a little extra for the man who had so little.
Greetings and the usual social graces were exchanged and as he headed to his usual corner booth to wallow in what may be yet another poor decision, he noticed a familiar hand raising a pint and realised that she was here, waiting and with that, everything changed...