What I love about the Delaware Canal towpath — long, flat, soft stretches of trail uninterrupted by roadways — is also what I hate about it. How I’m feeling depends on whether I’m on the way out on a run, or on the way back, when I’ve gone as far as my achy lower back, touchy hamstrings and crampy calves can carry me without anything snapping or falling off, and I’ve slowed to a walking pace out of self-preservation.
That return trip to the car takes for-EVER.
It feels like plodding away on a treadmill, watching the seconds tick by but not really getting anywhere. You know you’re covering ground, but the distance ahead only seems to grow and grow. Your mind starts to dwell on all forms of discomfort: you’re cold, even moreso because you’re sweaty, and the coffee + energy drink from an hour ago is sloshing in your bladder, and your entire lower body is stiff as 🤬, and you wish like hell you could time warp to the point when you’re showered and cozy in house coat and pajama pants, probably also a winter hat for added warmth, and you’re eating egg whites with spinach and broccoli in front of some “Law & Order” rerun on TV.
It occurred to me, as that exact scenario played out on Sunday morning, that I spend a ridiculous amount of my life wishing away my life. I’m constantly looking at the clock, then looking anxiously ahead to when whatever is happening will be over.
This is why I’m not a good cook. Who wants to stand idly in a kitchen for 20 minutes, waiting for meat to reach that no-longer-potentially-deadly “done” point, or for a pizza to get un-soggy in the center? Who wants to spend TWO minutes heating up water for tea in the microwave? It’s so uncomfortable I have to, like, grab my phone and start scrolling through Twitter to occupy the emptiness.
“Patience is a virtue…something something…” Hell, I couldn’t even stay in the moment long enough to listen to the entire proverb my grandmother used to say back in the day. No clue why she was always saying it to me. 😉
A pathological lack of patience sets you up for addiction, not to mention social issues. I know this from personal experience. If you squirm out of your skin every time you’re tasked with sitting still and dealing with the situation at hand, or really listening to the person across from you, and if your mind is constantly jumping ahead of the present to anticipate the future — which, of course, you can never really know or control, so then you get to worrying — it’s no surprise when you develop compulsive behavior patterns or have trouble maintaining relationships.
My patience hasn’t improved much since I got sober. The same struggle to stay in a moment, rather than flee, either physically or via food/drink/pick-your-distraction, that used to drive me to the bottle at 10 AM on a Saturday, still plagues me today.
It might actually be worse without alcohol. Guys, I was eating ENTIRE FAMILY SIZE BAGS of almonds mixed with ENTIRE CANISTERS of cashews in a weekend, basically just substituting “good fats” for silver tequila, until I tried to put on “real pants” and realized I really needed to make a change before I completely ruined my body.
So, yes, life in recovery demands that at age 42, I finally learn some patience. Not only is it unhealthy to habitually reach for a thing or a substance when I’m bored, or because I can’t stand stillness, but it’s a miserable way to live.
The moment, after all, is all we have. It’s where life actually happens. Why be so damn eager to skip over it — and miss out on it?
Patience can be painful, that’s why. Dealing with stuff can be painful. Feeling stuff can be 🤬-ing painful. Letting go of your protective illusion of control and allowing life to take its course is absolutely excruciating.
At least it is for me. 😩
Recovery is impossible without patience, though, and to say I haven’t practiced it at all in these 470 sober days would be selling myself short. Every time that old urge gets triggered — and trust me, it gets triggered plenty — I have no choice but to resist, be with it, ride it out, let it pass.
Like the day I got my tattoo, and I was so elated that it didn’t hurt and I made it through all by myself — I didn’t even have to listen to my headphones! — and while I was driving home, feeling over the moon, I was struck by a very powerful, very familiar thought:
I wish I could celebrate like I used to celebrate.
I wish I could drink.
Those moments are tough, no doubt, but what can I do? Throw away everything I’ve accomplished in the past…heck, I’m almost at 16 MONTHS!…and everyone I love, just to feel one hour of sweet intoxication?
That’s what I told myself in the car on the way home from the tattoo. I actually spoke the words out loud: Everything good that you have in your life right now, you have because you are sober. You DO NOT want to 🤬 this up.
And what do you know? The feeling passed. I went home, showed off my inked-up arm to my hubby…and went for a walk to burn off all the excess frenetic energy. (Pretty sure I crashed that evening at 5 PM.)
Will those urges ever stop popping up at random moments — especially when I’m happy? I mean, I surely wish I could get to that point. But there is no way to speed up this process. You want to grow and improve? You have to deal.
And so it is with my other mission of the moment: undoing the damage of poor dietary choices and fitting back into my jeans. I started by giving up my go-to snack. I mean, nut consumption had probably added like 1,000 extra grams of fat to my weekly diet, for all of 2020, and every bit of it went straight to my hips/butt (hello, Wielgus genes.)
It took four weeks to even start to see a difference, which I have, but I’m nowhere near my goal. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to give up and crawl back into a bag of comfort food. And yet, I know that at 42, if you want to see actual positive physical changes, you have to find the strength to alter your habits, then find the patience to let the effects play out — however long that takes. However much that sucks.
Grappling with alcoholism is a great way to build character, but the same principle applies. “Time takes time,” is something I’ve heard in meetings, and to the inpatient addict, it makes perfect sense.
Rough as it is for me, trying to learn patience after all these years, it’s absolutely worth it. And all things considered, it’s the path of least resistance.
Have you ever tried “learning moderation”? 🤣😂🤣😂