Getting sober is supposed to be about fully experiencing reality as your authentic self and resisting the sometimes-powerful pull of oblivion. It’s supposed to be about staying with yourself in the moment, and noticing and feeling everything that moment brings, without grabbing for the ripcord on the escape hatch.
This is who you are. This is where you are. This is what’s happening. And you’re OK, as is, without that mood-altering substance or electronic device or compulsive behavior or codependent relationship. …Or that entire “family size” (😂) bag of roasted almonds with sea salt that’s going to tear your digestive system to shreds overnight and also contains 1,543 grams of fat.
Yeah, man, after nine full months without alcohol, I’ve totally fallen into a rebound romance with food, but we’re not here to talk about my expanding ass.
I’m not sure what we’re here to talk about, actually, because I’m having a hard time trying to wrap my head around what’s real right now, in general. I’m plowing through each day like…well, like a farm animal attached to a plow — head down, blinders on, feet mechanically lifting and lowering, mind so numbed by the monotony of duty that where I’ve been and where I’m going blur into the same patch of dirt — and when I occasionally snap out of the wake-eat-work-eat-sleep stupor and look around, everything appears to be completely, surreally insane. Like living in a melatonin-fueled dream.
My daily routine still involves swiping a red marker on the whiteboard in my basement to log another 24 hours of sobriety (with #270, I filled up the entire right side and now have 3 hanging out in the top left), but it’s funny how once novelty wears off and a habit is formed, you can lose all sense of perspective. Am I making progress in recovery? I’m too “in it” to see it. The same can be said for the other end of the spectrum: Am I stuck in a downward spiral of addiction that’s destroying my life? (10 years pass) …Holy @#$&, what have I done?
Finding your center and steadying yourself in the midst of chaos. Knowing what is true with conflicting, extraneous information swirling all around you. It’s what your recovery lessons tell you you must do. It’s what your soul tells you you must do!
And yet, pulling yourself out of the day-to-day muck of existence seems so impossible.
Earlier in this post, when I was talking about snapping out of the stupor to “look around,” I really meant “look at my phone.” I still instinctively do that the second my eyes open — at midnight, 3 a.m., 5 a.m. — and scroll through the latest “news” (facts? opinions? Who the fuck knows the difference anymore?) on social media, which of course is like throwing jet fuel on the calm embers of a cozy little campfire, if you’re someone who’s prone to anxiety, overthinking, catastrophizing…
I need to get sober from that shit!
I had one concrete thought after repeating this toxic routine today, in the wee-est hours of the morning: I need to be with my family.
I mean, duh, right? It shouldn’t take a Doomsday Virus to make you realize that people are all that matters in the world and THEY DON’T LIVE FOREVER. The number of people in this world who truly know and love me (and I them) can be counted on two pairs of hands (that have been washed so much the skin is peeling off). All of my blood relatives live three states away. My great aunt, the eldest of them, who sends me tear-jerking greeting cards every month to cheer my recovery, is in her 80s. My aunt and parents, who are basically all parental figures to me, aren’t too far behind. My sisters both have husbands and precious children, who make my eyes well up just thinking about their adorable little faces — and rapidly sprouting personalities.
Meanwhile, time whirs by, and I’m out here watching it go, waiting for something that is — I just realized it — already here.
Swiping the marker. Pounding away at the keyboard. Trudging around the neighborhood thinking about pounding away at the keyboard. Feeding my face. Falling into bed. Reaching for my phone…but not to call anyone. Worrying, worrying, worrying…but not seizing control over all of the very few things I can.
WAKE UP! NOW!
I’ve cut my lunchtime walks in half over the past month out of fear I’ll miss some important work thing while I’m out (🙄) so instead of heading to the park I stick to the short nature trail in my development. I’m usually listening so intently to a book (“We Are The Luckiest” by Laura McKowen might be my favorite sober memoir yet) — or wondering what work thing I might be missing (🙄🙄) — that I don’t notice much of anything in my environment. One day this week, though, I spotted a tiny placard stuck in a freshly mulched planter at the entrance to the subdivision. It was surrounded by neon-colored plastic Easter eggs. It said “BE HAPPY.”
A little farther down the path, someone took pastel chalk and drew a rainbow and a big yellow sun alongside the message “EVERYTHING WILL BE OKAY” on the macadam.
Happy frappy platitudes never did much for me, as a self-described “realist,” which in the past was really just a euphemism for “takes shit too seriously.” Now, we live in a world where it’s very easy to lose track of what “real” means, and where “fully experiencing reality” seems more terrifying than ever.
I still need reminders — sometimes, I need them to scream at me from the sidewalk — of simple, undeniable truths: that I can choose to be happy, and everything will be OK, as long as I keep catching myself, however stuck I get in the muck, and coming back to my center. What is important? Keep asking it, over and over.
That is perspective. It’s remembering what is real, in the moment, from moment to moment until the end of days (which could be tomorrow, so live right now). It’s what I must reach for, instead of alcohol, to be happy and ok. It’s what sobriety is all about.
And with that, I’m going to reach for my phone. I’ve got some people three states away who are owed some FaceTime.