This weekend, I was supposed to go to a local addiction treatment center and share my story with a group of women at a recovery meeting, but you’ll never guess what happened.
Yep. It got corona-ed out.
I was totally prepared, and eager, to go, and maybe this is a great example of how f*cked up I am: Neither pandemics nor public speaking engagements give me the slightest pause, but pretty much everything else on the planet scares me to death.
Heights. Crowds. Needles. Enclosed spaces. Awkward silences. Negative vibrations. Hell, the prospect of being even a minute late for something plants a firm knot in my stomach. I could go on, but I’m afraid you’ll stop reading.
See? It’s bad.
Believe it or not, quitting drinking has amplified my anxiety issues exponentially, to the point where I sometimes feel like…let’s see, how can I describe this with one my trademark dated pop culture references?…
Oh! I’ve got it.
Which one am I, Louis or the possessed gargoyle? Honestly, both. It just depends on the situation.
Yikes, I know. You can maybe see why intoxicants might have appealed to someone like me, and why it took like a liter of straight tequila to calm me down, near the end.
Over eight tumultuous months (251 days, to be exact) of sobriety, I’ve realized that anxiety has been THE guiding force in my life, all my life. Anxiety is a term that gets thrown around a lot; to me, it means an innate hyper-vigilance and deep emotional sensitivity to everything around me. Or, in other words, I notice every damn thing and take it all personally. To give you an idea of how I experienced anxiety as a little kid: I remember worrying about my dad’s work situation and my parents’ finances in like kindergarten. Fast forward to today: If there’s any drama going on in the office, even if it doesn’t remotely involve me, I get agitated and have trouble focusing on my work.
Anxiety formed the core from which all my behavior patterns, be they healthy or unhealthy, sprouted and grew into deeply ingrained habits. At some point, I started instinctively reaching for “things” to slow my motor and soothe my never-ending restlessness — to make me feel like everything was OK — and because those “things” worked, at least initially, I kept on reaching.
When one thing stopped working, I just reached for something else.
First, it was other people’s approval, attained via academic and athletic accomplishments. Then, when I got to college and everyone I knew was smart and good — wait; I mean better — at sports, I reached for approval by trying to get as skinny as I possibly could. Then, when I entered the workforce as a frightened cub reporter and it became clear that eating only rice cakes and working out three times a day was not a sustainable lifestyle, I had no idea what to do, so I just reached for anything and everything all at the same time. Food. Sex. Shopping. Traveling. Beer, beer, beer. A full pitcher of frozen margarita that made me vomit in the passenger seat of my own car while being driven home (thank goodness) from the Cinco de Mayo party at the Rio Bravo in Macon, GA (true story! I’ll skip the part about trying to clean up said vomit in 90-degree heat the next day, with only paper towels and Lysol spray).
My early-to-mid-20s were a roaring bonfire of a hot mess, and when I somehow emerged alive, I had decided that of all the things I reached for in an attempt to quell my inner (and outer) chaos, alcohol worked the best. So it stuck.
And just like every other maladaptive coping strategy ever employed, it eventually stopped working. It took 20 years, but the rabid devil dog eventually caught up with me (cute little pooch! 😂)
It would be great to sit here and tell you how I’m a completely different person now, less than a month away from my 42nd birthday. The truth is, while getting sober and entering a recovery program (two different things altogether) have transformed my life in quite a few ways, not much has changed on a fundamental level. I can’t “quit” anxiety or run away from it. It is as much a part of me as blonde (yep; still mostly natural blonde!) hair. Sometimes, I am that terrified nerd backed up against a wall, wishing he had a milk bone to make it all go away…
I could keep trying to stretch this “Ghostbusters” thing even thinner than I already have, but it’s time I finished up and let y’all go.
The #1 lesson in my recovery has been that in order to live the life I want, I have to seriously address my underlying mental health issues with something besides talk therapy. It’s a scary challenge, but then again, what challenge isn’t, and then yet again, compared to the health crisis some others out there might be facing right now, I feel like this is a good problem to have.
Here’s wishing all you wonderful readers good health, and minimal anxiety, during these uncertain times. I’d offer to help, like, go food shopping for you, but the grocery store gave me panic attacks long before COVID-19 came calling. 🤷🏼♀️