sober lifestyle


In a seeming show of solidarity with widespread social unrest, Mother Nature unleashed a storm earlier this week that was so intense it splintered, uprooted and felled large trees throughout my neighborhood. Our little pod of townhouses lost power for 24 hours.

All things considered, we got off easy, even though my husband and I had to scramble on Thursday morning to find somewhere to go that had electricity, WiFi, and allowed for safe social distancing so that we could do our jobs. HUGE shout-out to my generous and hospitable sister-in-law, who took in a couple of un-showered, laptop-toting hobos — one of whom desperately needed coffee — at her lovely home in Montgomery County.

Everything worked out in the end; it just took a little creativity.

Of course, to get to the other side of the power outage, I had to put myself through the old Wielgus Wringer of Worry, spending the latter part of Wednesday aimlessly pacing around the house or tossing and turning in bed or going out to the car to charge my phone and check my work email. All the while, my thoughts raced between the deliverables I had to get to a client in the morning and the 1,500-word content piece I was supposed to write — no way was I going to try doing that on a tiny iPhone screen! — and the food rapidly warming in the dead refrigerator, and the question of how I was going to get my coffee or attend my regular Zoom recovery meeting, or work out if there wasn’t enough warm water to wash off the sweat, and oh shit, I just did a load of towels and I can’t use the dryer!

You’d think I would’ve slept like a corpse after all that madness. Instead, I lie next to my husband with daylight still streaming in the bedroom window, listening to the faint grinding of our neighbor’s generator and stewing in the uncomfortable stillness. I realized how completely lost I feel without an old “Law & Order,” “Twilight Zone” or “Forensic Files” episode playing on TV, or my phone constantly buzzing with a podcast, audiobook or meditation track. I begged my hubby — a naturally calm man of few words who could fall asleep at a fireworks display — to talk about something, report some news, tell me a story.

That’s how much I’ve come to rely on noise, to crave distraction, as a source of comfort.

Being in the moment, focusing on the here and now, tuning out/letting go of all the shit going on out there that I can’t control and steering my thoughts away from the infinite, uncertain future that fills me with fear…this is a constant struggle I’ve had to face head-on in sobriety.

Drinking was the ultimate distraction, and with the benefit of hindsight, I understand how easy it was for me to slide down the slippery slope of addiction. Every waking moment that I didn’t have a work assignment — or, for a while, competitive fitness — to focus on, my mind would spin off into a torturous, anxiety-fueled downward spiral. Free of any pressing responsibility and left to its own devices, my mind seemed far too powerful for me to control on my own, and I was desperate to find something, anything, to make it slow the f*ck down.

My go-to coping strategy involved some combination of the following:

  • Pouring straight tequila, topped off with flavored seltzer, in a giant MLB souvenir cup at 10, sometimes earlier, AM.
  • Switching on an old mystery show I’d seen multiple times before, and drinking mindlessly in front of the TV.
  • Going for a walk or playing catch with my husband…while drunk.
  • Getting on my phone and oversharing on social media or via text…while drunk-er.
  • Answering the random “Hey”s in my Twitter DMs….you have to be really drunk to ever think this is a good idea.
  • Shoving a bunch of food — or other edible substances, if available — in my mouth….while in a state of complete blackout.

No part of that was the least bit healthy or fruitful, but it served the intended purpose. It temporarily diverted my attention away from the great empty abyss and from wondering, what the hell was the meaning of my life?

After quitting drinking — and, thank God, (most of) the other shitty behavior patterns that went along with it — 335 days ago, it’s a lot more difficult to look away from reality and ignore the hard, scary questions. In fact, I’ve started to not just notice but actually see everything, in stark relief and with unprecedented clarity.

It’s a blessing, no doubt, but sometimes it feels very much like a curse. Those moments of silence where there is no escape can be excruciating to sit through, with a mind that always chooses worry over relaxation and tries to hold on tight when it would be much better off just letting go.

On Wednesday night, as the light streaming through our bedroom window faded and the storm in my head continued to rage, I squirmed a little closer to my hubby. “Come on, I’m going crazy, please tell me a story? Something from your childhood? There had to be something mysterious that happened!”

It wasn’t even that funny of a comment, but for whatever reason, we both lost it, laughing. Once I started, I found I couldn’t stop. I hadn’t laughed like that in a really long time.

The laughter came from somewhere deep inside, from a place I’d forgotten — or maybe never really knew — existed. A place of…I think, joy.

Maybe the abyss isn’t so empty, after all. Maybe meaning isn’t something you have to try so hard to find. Maybe everything that matters is in those little moments when you’re totally free of distraction and fully present in your life, when joy finally has a chance to sneak in.

2 thoughts on “Distraction”

  1. Booyah!!! There it is! You nailed it, Jen! Joie de vivre! It’s the “theme of these twelve steps”. It’s a luxury of which I was deprived for many years because the nature of my illness does not allow simple peace, simple joy or simple human dignity to its sufferers. Sufferers describe it in many ways: a void, a hole in their soul, restless, irritable and discontented etc. The peace (serenity), joy and dignity that are available to “normal”, healthy minded human beings are the first things I surrender with the first drink. Obviously, these are not permanent states for me but I know now from experience that no matter how frightened I get, or angry I get, or how sad I get, if I don’t drink they will return to me as I work through the challenges. Sometimes right in the middle of it! Drinking didn’t ease my pain, it temporarily obscured it and robbed me of the human potential of meeting challenges joyfully, with all of my faculties. And in those times when there is no challenge, because of my allergy, a drink will steal REAL joy, REAL peace and REAL dignity and replace it with plain old drunkenness and the same old cycle of ever deepening depression and then having to dig myself out again. The joy of living! A beautiful moment!

    Thank you for keeping it green for me! Peace.


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