Tuesday 20 June 2017

Round 3, Day 644: Still sober, still quiet, feeling full of life again

Last time I wrote I mentioned going through a low spell, and I wasn't up to keeping up with comments or really even keeping in touch at that point. But I was (and am) really grateful to people who stopped by and said hello.

These days I'm doing much better. It's been almost 4 years since I started seriously considering stopping drinking, and during that time I've thought a lot about what we do when we drink and what it is to be sober. I still maintain that the two time periods during which I decided to return to drinking were useful to me, as they absolutely killed any remaining lure the drink might have had. These days I have no pull to drink. Booze smells like poison. Increasingly I can't even cook with it. Though I rarely do anymore, yesterday I tried to make a small white wine deglaze to go with dinner, and it smelled so much like poison I couldn't bear to eat it. My husband ate the sauce (he claimed it tasted good, not "poisonous") and I just squeezed a lemon over my fish and salad. Really, no wine for me, thanks!

The other day I was caught up in a 911 call to get some help for a guy who had fallen down drunk on the sidewalk in front of my building. The guy was a mess, and he was hostile to me (nothing personal, I'm sure, I'm any woman would get much the same misogynist words from him) so there was no cozy moment sitting with him to keep him company. And I don't want to describe the scene too fully as I hesitate to glamorize the ugliness of it all. But afterward, when my husband and I had continued on our walk to the local fish shop to pick up some food for dinner, I broke down in tears. I couldn't help thinking about how this guy's life has been wrecked by booze. I'm not claiming it's his only problem, but it's clearly a big one. He's a person, and once he was ten years old, and maybe he felt hopeful in that way you do when you're a kid, and he probably kicked a ball around with his friends and smiled and was loved by someone.  And I thought about how many people I know who drink too much and live through so much more misery because of that, and how much I drank and the damage that did to me and to people around me. And also, yes,  I thought about how lucky I am that I got hold of that problem and was able to resolve it. All this came crashing down on me as I walked down the road, and I was overwhelmed with the horror of the drink, how big a role it plays on our culture, and how much damage it does, and how happy I am to be free of it.

Well, I cried for a little bit, and my husband hugged me, and then I got over my weepy spell and, feeling a bit more exposed to the world than I'd been a little earlier, I picked up some fish and walked back home. By then the police were seeing to the guy, and he was sitting up, and my only further role in the event was a brief chat with one of the cops about whether the guy had actually had his pants off when I called 911, or whether his pants had just fallen a good ways down but were still somehow, technically, on. I had no solution for this quasi-legal conundrum. I just thanked them for coming, skirted the increased attentions of the (pants now definitely back on) guy, and came home with my husband to make some dinner.

Having been through another big depression (and I'm still shaky at times but I'll say I'm through it by now) I have such a huge appreciation for the ordinary things in life. It sounds cliche, but it's no cliche to live it. A short walk in the neighbourhood with my husband, a chat at the fish store. Some fresh salmon, panfried, served with a arugula, radishes and cucumbers from the farmers' market, some chewy sourdough from the bakery near my work, and a glass of fizzy water with a drop of cranberry and some sort of cordial that makes for a pretty pink drink. Then tea and strawberries with yoghurt and an early night. For me, that was a beautiful evening. I have many evenings like that, and I enjoy them.

I don't blog much these days, and I probably won't, as I don't have a lot to say about the drink thing anymore. I've been getting interested in doing some new things -- I took up sewing and have learned to make my own clothes! Life feels full. There are some things I find tricky, for sure, and I guess I am still on watch for the return of another low spell that could drag me down again. But life is good. So this is just a small hello from the other side of lots of things, in case anyone was wondering how I was doing, or in case anyone could use a flare sent from the far side of depression, from someone who lived through another low spell, sober, just to find out how it is. It's grand, I tell you, grand. Peace and joy to you. xo

Wednesday 22 February 2017

Round 3, Day 526: Quiet over here. Still sober though

I've gone quiet here on the blog, in part because I'm going through one of my depressions and this one is more sharp in the tooth than what I'm used to. I'm less sad and more angry than I've often been when I'm low, and that doesn't lend itself to social interaction much, even online interaction. Not that I'm angry all the time. It's more like 90% absolutely nothing, 10% rage. Neither is much fun. But I'm finding a way to do things that might be enjoyable and even enjoying some of them. I'll get through. These days I see how much I relied on drinking to get past the worst depression. Without that, I don't have the emotional release and the built-in checking out that booze brings. Now I'm fully in the world, for good and bad. Except when I'm reading fiction, and then I'm in that world. So I read a lot. I think it helps.

Still, I recognize that it's better not to be drinking, and I have no intention of going back to that. Every now and then I have a pang. I'm usually caught off guard when I'm reading something set in blustery weather and the character comes in from all that drear and has a wine or a scotch, and I wonder whether I could just step out of the grey and have a drink. But it doesn't take much thinking to see that it's never worked out for me before and there's no reason to expect that would change, and I see that tea or coffee or sparking water would do just fine, even for the imaginary me who has just stepped in from the imaginary nasty weather.

It's now the longest stretch I've ever been sober. Last time after around 15 months, I decided to drink again. I guess coming up to that time I was a bit worried that I might have to face rethinking all that again, but I didn't. For me, it's never been about a sudden urge to drink that I can't counter. Instead, I have in the past been sucked into thinking my way back to drinking, building a case for why I should try it again. People have laughed at that, but it does give me a strong foundation now. It would be a joke to think that drinking would make anything better these days. I suppose it's often a joke to think that. Not a very funny one either.

Hi to any blog friends who are still out here. This post is really meant as just a quick check in, in case anyone noticed I was quiet and thought I'd fallen back to the booze. I have not. I am here and sober and living. That's good enough for now. Peace to you all, and joy if you find it.

Monday 19 December 2016

Round 3, Day 461: Sober solstice

I haven't been paying much attention to the fact that it's almost Christmas and, to the extent that I do holiday stuff, I will once again be doing it sober. That's a huge change from a few years back! Christmas 2012 I was drinking and worrying about it. (I recall a tearful long distance conversation about our family and alcohol with my then-sober brother on Christmas day, and I was drinking wine all during the call). In the year leading up to Christmas 2013 I'd been sober a few months and then waffled between drinking and not drinking for a few, so by the actual holiday I was drinking joylessly and talking about quitting. One of those years I blacked out and forgot the details of the romantic gift exchange I'd done with my husband, and having to admit to that the next day was a new low for me. By now I have no more illusions about alcohol being synonymous with joy or celebration. For me, it often brought misery. I have now been sober for 35 of the past 41 months. Most recently I've been sober 15 months and a few days. And this will be my third Christmas in a row sober. I'm not always joyous over the holidays now, but when I am, it's for real.

All of those numbers matter to me. I like counting it all up, acknowledging how far I've come. But as I thought about writing today, and then thought about the fact that I am sober for another Christmas season, I realized it's kind of a non-issue these days. I've only been to one pre-Christmas party, where I showed up rushed and tired and without something special to drink, and I still managed to make do with some sparkling water I found there without too much fuss. My husband rarely drinks anymore either, so finding something non-alcoholic (and without scads of sugar) to drink is something we'll both do when we are out. We cheerfully turned down the shots of tequila that were going around without feeling we were giving up on the party joy! The first year I was sober, I planned out every event, and I was glad to do that, but I'm more resilient in being sober these days, and it's way less work than it was. This year we will go to my in-laws for Christmas, and I will stock up on some cordial and some good juices and sparkling water to make good drinks, and by now I know many of the people on hand will eschew the wine and beer to have what I'm having because it looks so good. I don't want to drink. No one else especially wants me to drink. I've started to say, "I don't drink anymore," so often, and it barely registers for me or for those who know me.

I have not been writing much about being sober these days. It's still important, but it doesn't need a lot of work right now. Most of my mental effort has been invested my recent dawning realization that I am on the autism spectrum. While I wrote about that in my last post, the ongoing details don't feel right to discuss here on my sober blog, so I'm writing quietly to myself instead most of the time. But being sober has been critical for me in realizing these deep truths about the way I am in the world, and in seeing the violence I have done to myself by all the drinking over all the years. Getting sober, and getting used to being sober, has been like a set of training wheels for me to learn to accept myself the way I am. I'm in the middle of a kind of rough patch, but I'm getting through it, and I'm getting through by facing things and figuring them out rather than by ignoring it all and hoping it goes away. Being sober is central to all this. It is the single best thing I've ever done to take care of myself. I heartily recommend it!

One cold, clear evening last week my husband and I walked down the street, all wrapped up in wool coats and scarves, and listened to the solstice concert that has become our favourite way to celebrate the season. The music was beautiful, and we both felt filled with the sadness and joy of this dark time of year. I always cry at the concert, and I'm always happy to be part of it all. Afterward we went for hot chocolate at a local dessert place. I take my celebrations this way these days -- they are small, but they mean a lot to me, and they contain absolutely no false cheer or obligatory happiness. This week we will drive to see his parents, where I expect we will enjoy some good eating, some walks in the woods, and plenty of hot tea and good conversation. I'm looking forward to the visit.

If you're still reading, thanks as always for walking along here with me and keeping me company on the sober path. Wishing you all peace and joy in the dark winter, and hope for the return of the light.

Friday 4 November 2016

Round 3, Day 416: New thoughts on never being "normal"

After writing to celebrate being one year sober again this time around, I've been quiet online. Just in case anyone follows and wonders whether that means I've fallen away from being sober, no worries. I'm here, and I'm sober! I'm not actually counting days anymore, so when I post I have to go to the wonderful Living Sober site and see what the number says. Last time when I got sober I drank at somewhere around 500 days, so I'm keeping track of some numbers here at least until then.

Whew! OK, that's it for the accounting. But what's been going on?

Last time I wrote, I said I was heading into some serious thinking about myself. Who am I? What do I want? What makes me happy? Now that I'm sober, I feel like drinking was a period of partially putting myself under a big rock. The parts that fit with the world were allowed out. The rest either stayed put, or just came out when I could pleasantly blur myself.

Part of the work I've been doing has been paying attention to what's going on with me, and tracing some of it to what may be very old patterns. I've been doing that reasonably intensively for a month or so, and I am somewhat shocked with what I'm finding.

First, I have so much trouble with people. I'm drawn to people in some ways. I really do want to participate in the world. But being in a room with a group of people is so much work for me, in a way that I just don't think is the case for most people. I like the buzz of the city, but mostly I prefer it when it's kind of impersonal. Actually being in a room with people, I take on board too much of what's going on emotionally with them, and as you can't expect people to bring only their settled and neutral selves out in public, there is usually an awful lot going on. This feels overwhelming. Usually I experience this as, "They hate me." And even though I can (mostly) rationally get to knowing that this isn't true, it takes a fair amount of work moment-to-moment to stay aware that it's not true. That's exhausting, and I can only do it sometimes.

As an aside, I see that that's one of the reasons AA didn't work for me. I liked hearing the stories, but being around people who could come into a room and know how to be with the others was more alienating than recovering home alone. I'd do better out walking in the rain, and that's what I usually did do. It's a lonely road sometimes, though. (And please don't tell me I didn't try hard enough. I did this for several months. I tried staying at the end and stacking chairs. I tried going up to talk to people, who said "keep coming back" but looked like they wanted to add, "But please talk to someone else when you do come back." There might be a better way of doing this, and that might work for you, but what I am saying is that is was massively uncomfortable and it didn't get easier and no one was friendly and my attempts to be friendly didn't work, and I generally felt so alienated that I worried I was at greater risk of drinking than I had been without the meeting. That's my experience. Maybe not yours, but mine.)

Recently, I tried signing up for a five-week meditation session. But when I went to the first class, it was clear to me that I wasn't going to be able to tolerate being there. The room was stuffy, and slightly smelly, and there were 25 people sitting in uncomfortable straight-backed chairs (the kind that are too high for me, so my feet can't reach the ground), and the chairs were splayed around the room in a kind of squiggly oval. I was a few minutes late, so I couldn't settle myself before it started, and when I joined the class, I could feel my whole body buzzing with the energy of everything that was going on in the room. We were about to do an exercise that involved paying attention to ourselves, except that's what I'd been doing since I arrived, and I was hearing, very clearly, a single, clear message in my mind: "Get me out of here." After twenty minutes, I stood up, took my bag and mu meditation cushion (which I saw no way of using), mimed a stomach problem, and walked out into the night. Walking to my car and sitting for a few minutes before driving home, I felt such clear relief, the kind you feel when you didn't know you were thirsty and then you drink a tall cool glass of water and you go, "Ah, yes, that was exactly what I needed."

Also, I have been so overwhelmed by what I need to do lately that I haven't been able to do anything except the things that are absolutely necessary to avoid crisis. That doesn't stave off the crisis for very long, but it means I keep out of one many days. Other days I have to lie around reading a mystery as the only way I can drop out of the world. Or sleep for ten or eleven hours, just to restore myself.

Besides the other people problem, and the probelm of feeling like I can't quite get anything done, there's the problem of getting too easily overstimulated. This is something I've had my whole life, but I've been paying close attention to it lately, trying to see if there are ways I can set up my life so I can cope with what's coming at me. It's partly why I've been trying out things like yoga and meditation classes, and partly why I've been thinking about how a person would feel way overwhelmed and overstimulated in a quiet room doing yoga (which happens to me more often than not.)

Several weeks ago at work, we had had a flood and so we were working in a temporary set-up that was so unbelievably busy and noisy. I felt like my whole body was vibrating. I spoke with a woman who is kind of a co-worker about it (she had a master key that could open a quiet room I was arranging to use later in my shift and I was explaining why I needed to do that) and she said something about having friends "on the spectrum" and understanding exactly what I meant. I knew she meant the autism spectrum, but I was kind of gob-smacked. What did she know that I didn't? A week later I asked her about it, and (after clarifying that she hadn't meant any insult) she said she had quite a few friends with Aspergers (now called high-functioning autism in the new blurry category of the DSM5), and she assumed by my description of my problem that I was signalling to her that I was, as she put it, "on the spectrum."

I went home and looked it up, and of course, being me, I read a few books and a whole lot of articles about all this, and then I did the many online tests you can do to see if you have any of the features of Aspergers. I have been somewhat stunned to find out that I do. I score up into the middle to high ranges of people with Aspergers, well beyond the cutoff points that indicate you might want to get this checked out. Apparently Asperger's looks very different in men than women, and most of what I knew about it came from pop culture stories about men with Asperger's. I'm not Stephen Hawking or Bill Gates or even Temple Grandin. But the descriptions of women with Aspergers are terrifyingly apt. They capture the exact way I find myself to be a little bit weird. They sound like me.

I'm just coming to terms with this and trying to figure out what to do. I may talk to someone about getting an official diagnosis. It costs money, but it can also help get some services and accommodations at work when needed. But it costs money, and you get little in return for that, and even the experts say that once you're an adult and there are very few services to help, sometimes just knowing is enough.

Emotionally, I have conflicting reactions to what I'm learning about myself. On the one hand, I am saddened to think that I'm not going to find my way to the kind of "comfortable with people and OK in the world" normal that I had been hoping to reach. But the more important part of all this is a huge relief. Whenever I describe a problem that seems insurmountable to me (like something with people, or getting overwhelmed with tasks or sounds or something like that) people often explain how I need to do things differently, as though I hadn't been trying to do that my whole life. Seeing that I may be different in a way that I can (and have) learned to work with but never quite change means I can maybe stop trying to find a way to be a person I'm not. I may not be able to get over extreme jumpiness, aversion to loud noises and bright lights and extreme sensory anything, difficulty with people, or problems with getting some things done. But I can accept myself as myself, and find a way to live that works for me.

(It also helps explain some of what I loved about alcohol. Drinking was a way of turning the volume down on the whole world. God, I loved being able to do that! Interestingly, there's at least a lot of anecdotal evidence to suggest that people with Asperger's drink as a way of helping negotiate the otherwise overwhelming social world, and that's sure true for me, though I know it's also true for many people who are what the Aspies call "neurotypical.")

This past year has been very different from my first year sober. I think I have a better handle on the things I need to change, and on what matters to me in living a good life. Starting to learn all this about myself fits pretty well with that. Three years ago I thought I'd quit drinking for a while and then become a normal drinker. Later, when that wasn't on, I thought I'd get sober and be one of the sober people who ends up with a big warm group of sober friends, but that's not my life here either. Now I think I'm getting rid of any images of "normal" altogether. It may just be that I'm a little bit weird in a way that no amount of time sober or yoga class or therapy can change. I think I'm OK with that. I'm getting there, anyway.

Because all this is so tough in person, I'm all the more grateful to be able to come here and talk about it with you all. Thanks as always for walking the road with me, and for your kind support. Wishing you peace and joy.

Monday 26 September 2016

One year sober, second time around: belonging, healing

It's a week or so late for me to celebrate on the blog but I am here now and I'm celebrating anyway! Today is day 376 of the third round of committed sober living for me, which means it's 10 days past my second time reaching a full year sober. Today I want to reflect on what's different this time, what's working for me, and what I'm learning now that I didn't know before.

First, some numbers: Because one thing I've learned is that cumulative sober time matters. Since July 2013, I've had three stretches of living sober. Over the past 3 years and 2 months, I've been sober for 2 years and 8 months. During that time, over two periods that totalled almost 6 months, I drank. For me, both times when I returned to drinking, stepping back into that world meant I quickly lost the day-to-day gains I had gleaned from being sober. The first time I came back to sober again around 2 months later. Last summer I drank -- lightly, then eventually at times heavily -- for just over 3 months before I decided that I genuinely enjoyed sober living more. Both times, drinking initially seemed to allow me to reconnect with the world I missed, the late night camaraderie and raucous humour of drinkers, the softer edged glow of wine filled evenings. Both times, it didn't work for long. Being sober worked its magic on me even when I tried to leave it behind. The longer I'd been sober, the more I felt drawn to the living with a clear mind and enjoying the quieter pleasures of sober living. After long stretches sober, late night boozy conversations (that no one could completely remember afterwards) and the warm glow of drinking with others seemed a poor substitute for the kind of real connection with others I longed for.

Getting sober again didn't entirely bring me that connection. I still only have tendrils that I am starting to see are growing into real connections. But I see that I do need to feel connection, I need to feel a sense of belonging to the world. And I see that alcohol gave me just an occasional, fleeting taste of that. Not one I could rely on. And eventually, not one that I could continue to substitute for the real thing.

This past weekend, I attended a conference, one I've attended now for three years. It's a very small group, about 16 people, and we spend three days living together, sharing meals and walks, listening to papers and discussing them. Three years ago, I was newly sober (3 months), and I was excited to spend days talking with people about ideas. Nights I sat up with the drinkers and sipped fizzy water, happy to be part of the group. It was all new and exciting, and I think that newness substituted some of the buzz that drinking used to bring. The second year, I led a discussion that went very well, and I felt like a contributing member of the group. I was newly sober, again, (one week!) and suffering a very bad flu, so at night I went to bed at nine and ignored the festive part of things. This year, I was, for the third time, sober at the conference. But this time I was solidly sober, and the newness of the event had worn off. And this time, I felt strongly the damage drinking does at these events, and how central it is to the social thing that's happening there as it's currently structured. People spend nights sitting up late drinking together, where they knit together a sense of belonging that's an important counterpoint to the solitude of of academic life. Evenings people knit themselves into the group via the social, and if during the day the conversation gets heated and even mean, the sense of belonging to the group helps heal the rifts. It's all ritual, and all the parts matter.

But it doesn't work. Some people don't sit up drinking. This year, I didn't. The first night, when I said goodnight early, one of the hard drinkers made a joke that all that San Pellegrino had done me in and I'd have been better off joining them in the wine so I could stay up. I said, "I'd rather go to sleep." And this was the tone of the evenings this year. The next night, I went to a yoga class after the days talks. I ate dinner with the group but by then many were already well into the drink, and as a group they were rude and boring. I noticed that only about a third of the group were hard drinkers. Among the others, some slipped in and out, seemingly enjoying the fun but not completely merging with the group. But that hard drinking group was a core of the event, so that belonging to it conferred a kind of glow that changed how what people said was taken up in conversation during the days, and there were many unexplained references like "as we were talking about last night" as though the whole group had been there, or at least anyone who mattered had been.

As you can tell from this description, I found the event quite alienating. At times, I didn't belong, nor did I want to belong to a group who would carry on in that manner. There's a lot to say about his that I'll skip here, because I really am talking about my changing relationship to alcohol, and my deepened awareness of the social role it plays. I see that alcohol is used to replace the hard work of finding ways to communicate with each other. Drinking was the route to instant membership in the group, and members were relieved from having to take responsibility for their statements. Rudeness and stupid comments were accepted from people because they were "good guys" and "you can't take him seriously." People who didn't join in during the evenings, (not just me) had to work harder to be heard during the day. So alcohol divided the group even as it knit a smaller one together.

It makes me feel sad to see that this kind of belonging is what used to feel meaningful to me. I'm happy to say that it's not what matters to me any more. After this full year sober, and three years of working on figuring out this drinking thing, I feel I see more clearly the great lie that alcohol offers. We all need to belong. But belonging means real sharing of yourself, making yourself vulnerable and being open to opposing perspectives and finding common sources of meaning through the real, hard work of communicating and authentic being with each other. That's what matters to me now. Ephemeral feelings of belonging that are built through conversations no one can remember and the camaraderie of shared hangovers is a sad substitute.

Of everything I've learned in my three years working on this, and especially over this past year living sober, that's been my most powerful lesson. These days, I don't have the kind of belonging that I know I want, and probably need. I am very happy with my husband, but in the wider world I'm still lonely, still on the outside a lot of the time. That may have been why this weekend was, for me, so very painful. But I do know that we all need to belong. And if alcohol offers a false way into that, in a world that doesn't offer much in the way of real belonging, I can see why it had such power over me for so long, and why it still has power over so many. I feel a deep compassion for the me of several years ago, and for anyone who needs alcohol for the glimmer of belonging it offers.

This time, at one full year sober, I feel like I am finding my way to bigger life changes. One is my shift away from the academic world, as I've found that it can't be the source of meaning and intellectual companionship I had hoped it to be. I have to look elsewhere for that, but I think I'm better equipped to find it now. Also, I am finally beginning to understand what people talk about when they talk about the wisdom of the body. I am loving this yoga thing I've started! (Imagine, me, loving yoga! It's like saying I finally realized turnips are delicious (still not likely) or that sleep is overrated (equally unlikely!)) And through it, I am starting to be able to know my own reactions. Yesterday, driving back to the airport after the final meeting of the conference, I realized I felt very sad, and that I wasn't quite breathing. I couldn't. I stopped at a little health food cafe to buy myself something to eat on the plane, but as I sat there, I realized what I really wanted was to sit in what felt like a healing space. Later, once my flight had landed back in Vancouver and I was walking home from the Skytrain, still not quite breathing, I noticed the red leaves still on the trees, and I felt lifted up by the beauty, surrounded by the flashes of that quick fall red and by the dark, constant green of the tall firs that line the road to my apartment. Walking along, I acknowledged to myself, "I really hated a lot of what went on this weekend," and with that I felt as though a metal band around my chest had fallen away and I took a deep, healing breath. (And that same deep, healing breath just breathed me again as I typed about it.) This is something that the yoga is bringing me, and it's what I have needed, though I wasn't open to it before now.

At this celebration of one year sober, I am confronting some big questions: Who am I? What makes me happy? What do I love? Where do I belong? I don't have answers. But I feel I'm on the road to some answers, and some joyful exploration of these meaningful questions. That's the next stage of sober living for me. And I feel blessed to be here.

Thanks as always, fellow travellers, for reading, for your fine company and your supportive comments. This sober blog space is one place of belonging for me. I hope it's one for you, too. Peace and joy to you.

Monday 12 September 2016

Round 3, day 362: Language, people, bodies

I think the biggest thing I'm learning as I find my way through sober living is how much I have let other people influence me. I mentioned this in my last post, and I've been thinking about it since then. One thing I need to learn as I head into another sober year is how to live respectfully with others without being overly influenced by them.

I am sometimes complimented on being so intuitive about other people. I sense people's moods and interactions, I notice small reactions and upsets, and I find quickly ways of acting to soothe and care for these small upsets. Which would be fine if I did the same thing for myself.

Now don't get me wrong here. I'm not saying I'm so unselfish and kind that I care too much about others and too little about myself! What I mean is that I don't know how to know my own reaction to many situations without first taking in the reactions of others, and even then it can be hard to find what part of it all is me.

Here's an example: I have started doing this yoga thing. And I'm liking it! Hooray! But I have a very hard time understanding word descriptions of physical actions. It's like I'm hearing a second language that I don't speak fluently. Someone says, "move your right foot to the left," and I think "foot, OK, right foot is that one, left is that way, so I move this part that way," but then I wonder how my weight is supposed to shift while I'm doing that, and I see that here are quite a few ways one could move the right foot to the left. It's really only when I see someone else doing the action that I think, "Oh, OK, something like that," and then I try it. I can copy actions well enough, and I'm not a perfectionist about getting that kind of thing right. I just find the language-body links are not very clear for me. I used to be a potter and when I first started taking classes, I was much the same. I loved working with clay, but I found the descriptions of what we were supposed to do incomprehensible, and it wasn't until I found a teacher I trusted enough to ask her, "Please stop talking when you're showing me and just show me," that I could get the most out of instruction. In many ways I'm all about words. But words get in the way of my body. And when I am trying to be grounded in my own body, I seem to operate best when I step outside of language.

So in my yoga class, I often don't know what I'm supposed to do. Sometimes that's frustrating. But if I'm left to figure it out on my own, and I have someone to watch, I'm kind of OK. I'm very surprised to find I like it a lot, despite so much not knowing. But this morning was rough. The instructor was extremely verbal, and I had more trouble than usual following what he was saying. And he wanted to be attentive. So he rattled off instruction after instruction and noticed when I stopped moving and just watched people. Once he brought me blocks and showed me an alternate to what the others were doing, and I felt I had to do this alternate thing, which left me balancing pretty awkwardly, holding myself up by my arms, instead of just watching to see what the others were doing. Another time he came up to ask me to see him after class if I needed help with a pose. Another time he suggested I drop my left hip, and I had to stand up to face him, figure out which was the left hip, then figure out what "drop" meant. I completely lost what I was doing, when I know he was trying to give just a slight correction. Later again he asked if I wanted him to go over a certain set of moves with me, and I just shook my head without even making eye contact. There were breath instructions that seemed to go too fast for me, so I would be exhaling when people were being asked to inhale and then I'd try to shift myself to the breath instruction but that just left me short of breath. Eventually I was so frustrated I was in tears. It was the exact feeling I'd experienced years before when I took a yoga class, which I called "Yoga rage." I could hardly catch my breath, and I felt trapped in the room with what felt like an endless list of action instructions I couldn't understand and an instructor who was taking much more notice of me than I was comfortable with, and who I felt I has to placate somehow, though I had no way to do that.

All that might make it sound like the guy was a poor instructor, but that's not where I'm going here. It's that there were just too many things going on at the same time for me. The language-body thing is already a very challenging translation effort for me. And then when the instructor started to interact with me, I really just wanted to do whatever he wanted so he would leave me alone. I get that he was trying to help me. That's his job, and he's likely good at it. But talking to him while I was trying to do the moves meant all my focus was on him, and making sure he was OK (not frustrated with me, not distracted by me from what the class needed, etc). So it was just about impossible for me to engage in any conversation with him and stay in my body.

In the first class, I think I started to understand this, and I remembered this moment after the class today. A different instructor was showing me a pose I wasn't understanding, and he asked whether I could feel the movement in my hip. I answered, "When I'm talking to you, I'm just talking. I don't feel my body at all." And I think that's the crux of the problem I'm trying to talk about here. It's not an issue of yoga, or good teachers, though those things likely matter. It's that when I'm talking to someone else, I am (often) so out of body that I have little or no physical feeling. It's not that I go numb. It's more that I shift to living in language, and when I'm there, there's not a lot of body going on.

I think this is what I mean when I say I am overly influenced by others. I mean that I lose touch with my own physical being when I talk with people. And that means I am caught in noticing everything that's happening in the emotional world of the other person, and in the language, but there's not much me there. I come back to me when I'm biking or walking or running, and that's probably why these things are so good for me. When I'm with one of the (few) people I'm close to,  I'm less cut off. But it still happens.

I know this has something do with my drinking. I used to love that moment of bringing a glass to my lips, and I think some of what I loved about that was the sheer physicality of it. I'm never, never going back to that. And I don't need to. These days I get some of that same pleasure with coffee, or ice cream, or fresh peaches in season, or a whole host of good tastes. So it's not that I'm always only in my head.

But what I want to learn is how to stay in myself so that I can talk to people without shifting so much into a "being in my head" mode that I lose touch with my physical being. I think this is the beginning of how I might start to know my own reactions. I'll be less influenced by others if I have a reaction that's separate from theirs, and I know what it is!

This is a little convoluted in my description, but maybe at least some people will know what I mean. Anyway, for now that's enough tangled words. Thanks as always for keeping me company while I figure this out. Peace and joy to you.

Monday 5 September 2016

Round 3, day 355: rambly post about NOT crashing headlong into crisis!

Hi blog world. Sorry I've been silent for such a long time. I've been in an odd patch, hunkered down thinking things through, and I seem to have needed to do that thinking away from talking with others.

First, don't worry, I'm not drinking. I say that just in case anyone is following and reads into a long silence that I might have slipped back to that. And I have no plan to drink, no desire to. Before when I drank again after long stretches sober, I spent some time thinking about how I was deluded about being sober, or hating the whole sober thing, that kind of thing. If you've been sober for a while or if you follow sober blogs, you know that lots of people go through that once in a while and drinking isn't the answer. But that's not what 's going on here.

Instead, I think I'm getting to the part of being sober where I realize I need to make some changes, and I need to do some more of what is probably called "working on myself," or anyway, taking care of myself. It's been a rough summer. My mother died -- and thanks for kind comments about this on my last post, which I very much appreciated but couldn't bring myself to answer. Mom's death was expected, and I'm doing OK with coping. Still, it's the end of a long, difficult process, losing my mom to dementia after a lifetime of dealing with the vibrant, intelligent, difficult person she was. So there's that.

Also, I've been struggling to figure out what I'm doing with my life, in particular with my academic work. I've talked about this here so many times I'm sure it's getting dull, and I still don't feel all that coherent about it, though I'm getting there. As it stands now, I've decided not to continue with pursuing a PhD in what I've been studying once my MA is complete, though preparing for a PhD is very much the main purpose of my MA program. Instead, I've been accepted into a library science program that starts in January, and I've decided to do that. So after more than 15 years of working in libraries/bookstores/publishing in one way or another, I've decided to train as a librarian. Now I feel compelled to say it's not the calm and peaceful quiet job people think when they think of the cardigan-wearing, glasses and hair-in-a-bun lady they remember from childhood libraries. I think there are lots of dynamic, interesting things I might be able to do with the degree. I think I wrote about this a while back, but since then I've done a fair amount of waffling (PhD? librarian? quit everything and move to a small town? just quit everything?) Now I've made a commitment to the program. Hooray for commitment! It means I have to finish my thesis and get it defended some time in the next few months. But it feels good to have made a decision I can stick with.

The even bigger issue, in which all this is nested, is that I see how important it is to find ways to stay connected to myself. Since I've started this blog (three years ago!) I've written over and over about finding my own way and finding my own voice. It's something that plagues me. On the one hand, in my life I come off as a strong, independent-minded woman who has no trouble speaking her own mind. And that's true, in part. But I find myself susceptible to losing my way, getting swallowed up by trying to figure out how the world works, and in doing so losing touch with what is matters most to me in that process. I think the academic world in which I've been immersed isn't so good at supporting people. In that world, I'm good at academics, and that's what counts. But though I started out keeping myself firmly planted in a healthy, day-to-day life, as I've got busier I've lost track of doing the things that support me as me. I don't cycle as often (in part because my husband's accident last summer means he can't cycle as much, but it's not just that.) I don't walk outdoors as often. I don't revel in the small moments of silence that keep me going. But more importantly, I've lost tough with how to connect what I'm doing day to day with a deeper source of meaning in my life. Starting last summer, I've been trying to speak with my supervisor about this, but those have been tough conversations. He ends up thinking I'm being critical of the work he's done, or even the way he's lived, and then the focus of the conversation shifts to me reassuring him that that's not what I'm saying instead of exploring how to stay connected to a world of meaning. I just end of feeling bad about needing to find meaning in my work, and then feeling like I'm alienating someone I've had a good connection with on top of all that. That's no fun, and it hasn't served me very well. I see that now.

In a way, I've been here before. Over the years, I have been swallowed up by the world, and eventually crashed into massive depressions. Once that happens, the world lets you go. If all you can do is sleep and cry, no one asks too much of you. At that point, you have all the time in the world you need to find your way to yourself, except you have no strength to do that with for quite some time. When I got sober (each of the THREE times I've done that! ack!) I did it by retreating into a quieter, more nurturing world. I slept well and ate well and walked/ran/cycled plenty. I treated myself like I was a living thing that needed care in order to stay alive, like I would treat a major depression. I know what works for me in that kind of crisis. After a while though, I felt better, and I got myself back to getting schoolwork done, writing papers and going to conferences and all that stuff. And I like that world. At the risk of outing myself as an even bigger nerd than you all know I am, I find academic conferences exciting! People getting together, stepping away from their day to day lives to talk about what they are thinking about and working on. But I have not been able to find a way to make the academic project sustaining for me. I feel like my studies have morphed into an area that's critical of some things that need to be criticized, but what I want to do is be part of the active world of living, not the stepping back world of criticism. I think people can do both. But I have not found a way to do so. And without being immersed in the active world of living, with all the messy hopes and sorrows that that world entails, I just dry up.

I think that's the best way of describing what's been happening to me over the past year or so. In my personal life, I'm happy. I love my husband, and I love our life together. But to follow this academic path, we've been considering moving to a bigger city in a less hospitable climate, farther away from his family and the ocean and mountains we love. And I've been feeling quite torn by it all. At the same time, I've been getting sick more often, and having spells of depression that are getting worse and closer together. I know what I might be heading into if I don't make some life changes, and it's been scaring me, but I haven't known what to do, what changes to make.

I don't think life has to be so hard. If everything looks super difficult, maybe there's another way. I've figured that out before. So recently, I've been trying to see what the easier way is. One thing I've been doing is noticing what I like doing and what I don't. What brings me joy, what doesn't. And trying to imagine a life that has more joy in it, without trying to ignore the inevitable pain and suffering that's in the world.

My answers have surprised me, though they might not surprise people close to me. I want to stay where I am. Same city, same apartment, for now. Same field I worked in before returning to university, though I'll be changed by what I've learned there. I want to write more. Blog more. Maybe take up a different kind of writing project again, rather than the academic writing I've been doing (or avoiding doing this summer.) I want to go outside more. Walk in the evenings with my husband. Do more hot yoga! (Ok that one's a big surprise to me, but I just started it and I love it. Oh, the joy of the hot room, and sweating!) I want to read novels, read mysteries, read poetry. I want to reread Rebecca Solnit and Thich Nhat Hanh and all those people who inspire me, and  figure out how to live an engaged life, one that engages me with the world, one that sustains me and contributes to the world.

So I'm going to write a serviceable thesis and defend it, pronto. And in January, I start a different kind of school program, the MLIS, which is geared to working with projects and people in a way that I can connect to differently than my academic work has allowed. I'm almost one year sober this time around, and I think I'm looking at the kind of personal life changes that I need to make to sustain being sober. No, that's not quite it. I'm seeing that there are things I can do to help myself live more fully and joyfully, and being sober helps me see that way. Avoiding seeing them is easier when you drink, but that's something I don't do any more, and I never plan to do again.

I'm a bit under the weather this week with yet another of the mild illnesses that have been knocking me sideways as I've struggled with  all this. But I feel filled with hope, and I think I am onto a solid way out of what I believe would otherwise end of in another of the kind of crash I never want to see again.  I expect I'll have more to say on this later, but for now I think I'll get out of my big yellow chair and go outdoors for a walk.

If you're still around after the long gap between my posts and then this long and possibly tortured post, thanks very much. As always, I am grateful for your company as we all figure out how to live. Peace and joy to you.