sober lifestyle

Illumination 💡

I guffawed when my husband showed me the four packages of bold-colored Christmas bulbs he bought to replace the way-too-dim strands we used last year.

Never in my 20 or so years of experience with interior illumination has the number of lights I own — however many that might be — been enough to cover the entire tree. Without fail, Hubby has had to run out and buy more, while I stand there staring at the bare top section and shaking my head. I can’t look down, of course, or I’ll go blind from the Griswold-level wattage emanating from the bottom-most branches.

I didn’t say experience made me good at interior illumination. Damn spacial awareness issues! 😫

Anyway, this year we witnessed something of a Christmas miracle, because four strands of lights were exactly the right amount for seven feet of Fraser Fir. I finished decorating the tree so fast I didn’t even have the chance to think about my old favorite hall-decking companion. 🥃

Not for those two hours, anyway.

I’m 17 months sober, and life is a struggle because work is demanding and chaotic, and handling stress has always been my Achilles heel. It’s a struggle because we’re in a pandemic, and I can’t visit my family in Chicago for the holidays, and there’s so much work to do for our skeleton crew that I’m worried I won’t even get to take vacation time, period.

I’m worried about losing my job altogether. At the same time, I’m worried I’ll have to do this stressful job throughout grad school and end up having a complete nervous breakdown.

Needless to say, the anxiety meds don’t seem to be providing much relief. 😫😫😫

I’m in that weird purgatorial place where I don’t want to drink, but I absolutely don’t want to feel like I feel, either. It would be soooooo nice to just 💨. Escape.

💡 LIGHT BULB MOMENT: That kind of thinking almost lost me everything that’s really important — my husband, my home, the respect of my family, my own self-respect, my life — and everything that’s really important has been getting better and better every day, ever since I got sober.

Responsible adults don’t escape. They cope. But honestly, you guys, “coping” sucks, compared to the DGAF oblivion that booze used to bring. Coping is too real. The situations and feelings you’re coping with are too intense, and you’re too aware of them to simply…what? Let go? Calm down? Pass out?

Don’t mind if I do!

It’s no longer alcohol-induced, which is great, but sleep is still my go-to coping mechanism. Melatonin gummies are my bedtime snack, and blackout curtains my security blanket. Crawling into bed before sunset is the norm.

“I need the darkness, someone please cut the lights.”

Those are Arcade Fire lyrics. They just popped into my head.

💡LIGHT BULB MOMENT: That song (I think) is about being true to yourself, blocking out all the exterior noise and focusing on what’s really important. Trying to keep it simple in an over-complicated world.

It’s not actually about managing stress by turning your room into a cave and conking out at 5 PM. Still, I can relate.

Recovery is about going back to basics. Surrendering all the self-absorbed bullshit you’ve cooked up in your head over the course of your life, about how things — how you — are supposed to be. It’s about trusting in a higher power to take care of all those maddening, worrying details that were always beyond your control. You have a purpose to serve and gifts to share with the world that have nothing to do with your paycheck. To actually serve/share, though, you need to get out of your own damn way.

Does this make any sense? Some things are really hard to explain. Trying to shed light on the recovery process is kind of like trying to slap a caption on a sunrise.

It stays dark until close to 7AM these days, and since I get up at 3, I find myself crawling into a content marketing rabbit hole in the wee hours, biding my time by the (much brighter!) light of the Christmas tree, with my laptop and two pots of coffee, until it’s reasonable to venture down to the gym or out on a run. Sometimes, I feel inspired and productive during those hours. Other times, I feel helpless and trapped, heading down the familiar path toward insane.

My current job is by far the hardest one I’ve ever had to do. Stress has a way of killing inspiration and stifling creativity — and wreaking other, worse havoc — if you can’t find a good way to cope.

💡 LIGHT BULB MOMENT: I own a headlamp that I never use, and on one particularly anxious morning earlier this week, I decided to give it a workout.

I strapped it on, got bundled up, and cast aside my (extremely rational) worries about coyotes attacking me in the park. I laced up my Nikes, opened the front door, hit the button on my forehead, and just ran.

It was still dark as 🤬 out in my neighborhood. Turns out the headlamp is pretty useless.

Luckily, I had the last rays of moonlight on one side of me and the orange glow of the horizon on the other. The sky above Tyler State Park was coming to life, little by little, as I plodded along up the incline to one my favorite spots in the world. The stretch of road between the main entrance and the causeway is a sacred place where my spirit always feels free.

I didn’t stop at the top to take a picture of the scene. I didn’t want any interruption to cause that euphoric feeling to fade.

💡LIGHT BULB MOMENT: Life is soooooo good!

Back in the neighborhood, with the sun up and the urge to check my work email starting to percolate under my skin, I decided I needed a picture to preserve this epiphany. I wanted to remember the miracle I’d experienced when I decided to un-trap myself from worry and let a higher power take over — to light my way — if only for just a little while.

It certainly wasn’t the first time this had happened, but it’s so easy to forget!

Really, that’s the brightest light I can shed on the reality of recovery, at 17 months, in the middle of a pandemic, for a chronic worrier with a stressful job: you start to spin off, then you bring yourself back to center, back to what’s really important. You spin off again, then you repeat the process, over and over, moment by moment, trusting that this seemingly never-ending repetitive cycle is the path to freedom.

Or, should I say…en-light-enment?💡😉

2 thoughts on “Illumination 💡”

  1. You are finding terrific ways of handling stress. Running/ exercise is a way to get your heart rate up . There is euphoria after stress is abated! Bless you , Jen! We are here fir you.
    PS- Facebook works well for family get togethers. When you’ve had enough you hang up!

    Liked by 1 person

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