The peaceful calm of Friday morning — I did yoga, attended a 12-step meeting, then took a quick walk around the neighborhood with Christmas classics playing in my headphones — quickly dissipated as the day progressed and the weather intensified.
It was Dec. 23rd, and my husband and I were supposed to drive three hours north for the first leg of our weeklong holiday journey. I sat on the couch, fully dressed and packed, waiting with dwindling patience for him to get ready, and listening with mounting concern as the drip, drip of light rain on the deck turned into the rapid rat-a-tat-tat of sleet against the windows and whoosh of wind around the building.
My thoughts raced: WHAT was taking him so long? Furthermore, WHY was it so important that we leave today, when tomorrow might be safer? Anxiety bubbled up inside me like a runaway train, and I, simultaneously exiting the most challenging month of the year and entering the hyper-hormonal “danger zone” of my monthly cycle, felt completely powerless to stop it…
It’s easy to see, now that it’s Jan. 3 and I’m peering at Christmas vacation in my rearview mirror, how this turned into the most difficult holiday season of my recovery thus far.
It’s clear, in hindsight: Fretting over a storm outside instead of tending to the storm inside can be a recipe for relapse.
The new year dawned with almost 3 1/2 years between me and my last “adult beverage.” If we’re talking about alcohol, I’m still on track to hit 42 months of continuous sobriety this coming Saturday.
So, that’s the good news.
I weathered that perfect mental health storm — job stress, career uncertainty, fear of all the changes coming in 2023, family/relationship drama, IBS and perimenopause symptoms, plus the usual holiday hurricane of emotions — in the sense that I did not drink, and I’m still alive.
The bad news, though, is you can avoid your substance and still “fall off the wagon” of your recovery. You can succeed at sobriety and fail at living sober. “Acting out” in response to stress can lead to the same kind of misery as guzzling alcohol. Spinning off into old self-destructive patterns, forgetting or ignoring the coping tools you’ve spent years collecting specifically for this purpose, can produce a hangover just as nasty, in its own way, as a daylong tequila binge.
That’s what happened to me. Sitting here today, still “detoxing” from the holidays, I feel like I simultaneously stayed on track and ran my rig into a ditch.
Thankfully, we emerged from our trip with our new Jeep unscathed by anything but rock salt and slush. We didn’t have to drive through the worst of the winter storm that wreaked havoc throughout parts of the Northeast and Midwest just before Christmas (pics above show the aftermath along I-80 in Indiana 😳). The roads we traversed were all pretty clear by the time we traversed them.
Although temperatures fell below zero over Christmas weekend in Honesdale, PA, the worst weather we encountered was the dense fog that hung over our 13-hour return trip from Chicago to Bucks County on New Year’s Eve.
Weather really doesn’t scare me when it comes to traveling on foot. Fresh air and exercise are so important to my mental health that I’ll go walking or jogging in pretty much any conditions — bitter cold, pitch dark, soaking rain, slippery paths — and I held true to that commitment in both my hubby’s and my childhood hometowns over the holidays.
Wish I could tell you that communing with nature was — or is — enough to exorcise the demons I’ve been dealing with, but this seems to be a recurring issue, no matter where I happen to be: I start the day channeling St. Francis of Assisi, and the second I have to rejoin society, it all goes to shit.
The level to which I struggled with being out of my element this holiday season really caught me off guard. For the first time since the summer of 2019, I found myself craving alcohol. Actively pining for it.
It hit me on Christmas morning, sitting next to the tree in my in-laws’ living room and wanting to squirm out of my own skin. This, I vividly remembered, was why I spent every off day from work drunk, for 20 stinking years. It’s an all-consuming feeling — of underwhelm and overwhelm, of too much and not enough, at the exact same time. You want to fully relax and you want to run screaming down the street. You want to punch everyone, but you also want to hug them.
I could keep going, but this already sounds psycho enough…Let’s just say it was uncomfortable, and I missed that old “easy button” escape so much that tears welled in my eyes and started streaming down my face faster than I could subtly wipe them away.
I’m pretty sure if someone had offered me a drink, a drug, a freaking dental gas mask, at that moment, I would be reflecting on a different kind of wreckage today than simply my poor, f^cked-up digestive system.
There were no intoxicants within reach, so I settled for the next worst thing. I shoved as much food in my mouth as I could get my hands on — dysfunctional colon and gluten allergy be damned! — trying to soothe the awful anxiety and stuff down all those chaotic feelings, as quickly as humanly possible.
Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, ice cream, cheesecake, apple pie…I ate it all in a desperate frenzy, like I would never have the chance again. People in AA talk about “drinking at people,” meaning, harming yourself as a way of expressing anger and resentment toward others, and that’s absolutely what I did with food.
Binge eating is not a pathway to emotional regulation (pro tip!) and not surprisingly, gorging myself did not improve my attitude or clean up my overall energy. I mean, it made me physically unwell for a portion of the trip, so I was not always the jolliest person to be around. As if I’m ‘Good Time Charlie’ to begin with…
I ultimately settled down, smoothed some things over and let everything else go. Still, if there was an unstable atmosphere hanging over my family festivities this year, I definitely have to own my part in creating that climate.
So, to wrap up this holiday recap, the good news remains: I faced a stiff recovery test and struggled, but did not totally flunk. I slipped, but stopped myself before it turned into a fall. I didn’t say “f^ck it,” as I would have done in pre-recovery days, the second I veered off course. I didn’t let a few bad choices turn into complete self-destruction, which would have taken people I love down with me.
And as a result, the bad news is not really all that bad. Hell, it’s not even all that new! I have work to do on my recovery, on calming my inner storm instead of lashing out or numbing out, and that work is an ongoing, non-linear process.
No matter what I do to live better — avoiding alcohol, going to meetings and therapy, earning my master’s in counseling, starting a new career in a helping profession, completely from scratch — my life will always be filled with discomfort and pain. It will always involve unpredictable situations and temperamental people (like me! 🤣). And unless I fundamentally change how I respond to triggers and learn to apply the coping tools I’ve acquired when I need them the most, the ride will always be rougher than it needs to be…for me and everyone in my orbit.
Recovery is not a smooth, straight road that’s free of hazards. It’s not one big sunny, cloudless day. If you’re in it for the long haul, you will have storms to weather — almost none of which will be visible ahead of time on your radar. You will have ditches to tow your rig out of, and each inconvenient mess is an opportunity to learn and grow.
Forecast for 2023: 100% chance of learning with a good possibility of growth. Buckle up; let’s go!
3 thoughts on “Weather”
Well, I am so glad you made it to 2023 sober, now you can move forward & be happy that there are no more big Holidays in the near future 😉 Thanks for sharing the St Francis prayer (I have not seen that in many,many years) although i am also not very religious (brought up catholic) my confirmation name is Francis & the reasons you gave about St Francis is the same reasons I picked his name as my confirmation name.
Happy New Year Jen & keep fighting – you got this!
LikeLiked by 2 people
Thanks Jen. Happy New Year and welcome back! “Ongoing, non-linear…” BOOM!!! And so it is. 😁
Francis is one of my favorites also. As a child, I always pictured him as a soft spoken, easy going tree hugger who talked to animals. Later in life, as part of my journey, I drilled down a little deeper on his background to find out that he was actually quite radical, eccentric and strong willed and that some people believed that he was actually insane. Because of my own background, this discovery made me feel more connected to him and tripled my admiration.
So glad you weathered the storms and I really appreciate your thoughts. They always seem to stimulate mine.
LikeLiked by 1 person
p.s. Thanks for the pics!
LikeLiked by 1 person