Sunday, 26 January 2014

A bit bleak, but I'm getting through it

I always try to shape-shift what I'm feeling into something better than it really is before I can talk about it, or I try to see the good in it. But it's been a tough few days for me. (If you prefer to read upbeat cheery stuff, there's probably not much use reading along here. It gets better by the end, so if you like you can just skip ahead to the poem. I won't know, and even if I did, I wouldn't mind.)

That said, I am feeling a lot better today. Fragile, but hopeful. I have had a number of crippling depressions in my life. I've lost a few years to that, and I really thought I wouldn't have to sit under the weight of that feeling ever again. (Why would a person who had coped with massive depression many times run the risk of developing a hard-core drink problem, right? I know. I do know.) Now, a few days is not the same thing as months and months straight slogging through it. But I'm not all clear just because the morning was better than the past few have been. And I'm a little bit, no, I will tell the truth: I am very much afraid it will all come back again.

So what's going on? All week, I felt ill. I couldn't get enough sleep, and my head felt like it was exploding, and I could hardly move myself around. I thought I was getting a flu, but this is just as much mental as physical. Worse than the fatigue, I felt sad and low, unable to enjoy the things I enjoy, and for a while it dipped into that old standby of depression, the feeling that life was simply not worth living. I've hardly been able to get a full breath, and much of the time, when I notice, I find myself twisted into pretzel-like contortions, even when I'm just sitting having a glass of water. Tight and tense and heavy and sad, that's been me all week

And I feel dumb. Because I warded this off last summer when I quit drinking, and by late last summer, and September and October, I was feeling really great. I wasn't drinking, and I'd got over the tough part of quitting so much so that I'd forgotten that it had been tough. Earlier in the summer, when I was hardly able to do more than stare at the wall some days, I didn't talk much about it, and so once it passed, I forgot about it. And when I felt great, I was happy to record that so I would remember how good it felt to have quit drinking. But I don't think I did myself any favours by glossing over how bloody awful I felt at the time. I was working on a deadline then, too, and though I did finish the project and I got a good mark anyway, I was operating under some killer banks of brain fog, much like I have been this week. But because I'm me, which involves a large dose of being a difficult person, by October I was starting to react to a lot of what I was hearing in the world of getting sober. I need to stay sober. I think I can admit that. But I rail against a lot of the received wisdom about the single best way to do that. So here I'm going to have a bit of a tantrum about some of the things that rankled me then, and still do now: (This part is a bit of a rant, so feel free to skip to the end of the post, where things will lighten up a bit, I promise.)

  • No one knows what's best for anyone else. I just can't lock myself away from the world, eat a whack of cake and sleep for four months, and if I were to try, I would gain fifteen pounds and allow the kind of depression that plagues me to have at me, no holds barred. I know, because I have tried that before when I found the world too much for me. It gets ugly, fast. It isn't helpful to assume that everyone should do that, even if it does work for some people who really do need the break. 
  • There is no evil monster-demon that lives inside our otherwise perfect selves, rearing up to swallow us when we are weak. There's just some really bad habits that have physical and neurological traces, as all our good and bad habits do, and those habits will take a whole lot of work to break. Drinking too much is, for me, one of those habits. It's a part of the messy person I am, not an alien invasion.
  • I don't have to excavate into some precious inner self to look at my motives for everything I do. Mostly, we don't have motives, we just explain things after the fact according to some cultural system we adopt. I'm not trying to come out the other end of something shining and pure of heart. I don't believe anyone is like that, and anyone who pretends they are, no matter how often they claim to be non-judgemental, needs to get over some serious spiritual egotism. 
  • I do need to find a way to be in the world, to participate full-on in life, with all its messiness and problems, not cocoon myself in a sober bubble until I am somehow, in the miraculous future, better. If anything is going to save me, I'm going to find it in the world, not deep inside myself. I need contact with the woman at the grocery who is kind to me when I look weepy, or the guy at the butcher shop who makes me laugh, but yes, who does always go on about his hangover. I need to read things I have trouble understanding, things that challenge what I've always thought, like the new book I'm part-way through that questions everything we've usually thought about being a self. I need music and poetry, what Adam Zagajewski calls "the beauty created by others." I need to read more Adam Zagajewski. I need projects and deadlines and people who disagree with me, and barking dogs that scare me a little bit, and bratty kids screeching on the bus, and the people who use my doorway as a safe refuge for smokers because it's illegal to smoke on the patio of the coffee shop next door. That's what I need. The whole world, and me in it, sometimes crying and sometimes laughing, maybe even sometimes doing a little dance, learning how to live.

OK, I could go on, but I think that might be enough. I think one of the reasons I felt so awful all week is that I don't allow myself to feel awful around people, so I wait to do it alone. But none of us is going to make it alone. Two good things happened this week, and I'm going to try to build on them. Last night, I told my partner how bad I felt, and how scared I was that the big depression was coming back. And I cried, big ugly loud crying, the kind where my nose goes red and swells up a bit and huge wrenching sobs rip out of me. I really didn't want to put all that on my partner, but I am going to need all the help I can get here, and he is a big part of that help. So I let him in, and he was good with that.

The second thing, and I remembered it while I was talking with my partner, was this moment 'm going to tell you about. All week I have been spending an hour or two outdoors walking. Walking helps me a lot when I'm really low, when not much else can. Two days ago, I meandered through the nearby park, and I walked up and down hills and mingled with kids and dogs and tourists with cameras, and I stood by the tiny waterfall for ten minutes, just listening to it. On the way home, I was walking down the mossy green hill, muck squelching around the bottoms of my boots. The sun was low in the sky, so the moss was that special luminous green, the way it gets in the late afternoon January light. And just for a moment, the world cracked open for me, and the beauty of the sun on the moss filled me up, and for that moment I was a part of the mossy green shining hill and it was a part of me. Not little, twisted pretzel me, but big wide world me. I stood in the sun and felt the life in me and around me, and I smiled, which I have not done a lot lately. It faded after a while, and I walked home and made dinner, but I had that moment, and I still have it. That's what I remembered last night, and I think that's what's going to save me. Moments like that, and being in them 100 per cent.

Thanks for reading. Peace and joy to you.
And just in case that was all a bit heavy, here's the full text of the Adam Zagajewski poem I was quoting from:

In the Beauty Created by Others

Only in the beauty created
by others is there consolation,
in the music of others and in others’ poems.
Only others save us,
even though solitude tastes like
opium. The others are not hell,
if you see them early, with their
foreheads pure, cleansed by dreams.
That is why I wonder what
word should be used, “he” or “you.” Every “he”
is a betrayal of a certain “you” but
in return someone else’s poem
offers the fidelity of a sober dialogue.

(Translated by Renata Gorczynski. Reprinted from Without End, p. 127.)


  1. We're always so fearful to speak truthfully about the shitty side of things. I'm not sure if this is human nature or more so addict nature. It's like we want to shine things up and act as if -- but like you said in a comment -- that's kind of painting a deceitful picture.

    My first year (hell, my first two years) of sobriety, I didn't complain in public very much. I swallowed a lot of anger and resentment, and when asked how I was, "Oh, I'm fine!" was always my answer. I think it was blogging that really helped me vocalize my icky feelings. And oddly, those first posts where I would complain and vent were my most popular. At first, I thought it was because misery loves company, but now I realize those posts were my most honest. And people respond to honesty. It doesn't matter if you are genuinely happy, or truthfully pissy, something resonates with us when someone is sharing who they are. It's like a gift, to be shown that in others. To know that none of us are perfect, but that we can try to honest about ourselves as we go along.

    Now it's my turn to wonder if what I said makes any sense... Keep writing and venting, and don't worry if it's bleak or dark. Don't feel the need to make excuses for it either--just work on being honest and vulnerable in your writing. It will help you, and it will help those who read.

    (and thank you---because I think I just wrote my next RoS post. LOL)

    Hope today finds you well, Christy

    1. Thanks so much, Christy. You do make sense, as always. I'm grateful to have a place where I can be honest, even when it's not cheery or pretty. And I think vocalizing the ick might help me get through it. It's not easy, but I'm trying. And yes, I do feel much better today. Many thanks to you, and I'll look forward to that next RoS post. xo

  2. Thanks for your honesty and sharing the rawness. It's really hard to do that, but so important. For me the hardest thing about being sober is dealing with the stuff I routinely numbed away. I spent a good chunk of today lying on the couch, grappling with this crushing tightness in my chest and throat has come back with such a vengance. It's a feeling from when I was really young. It's a physical symptom -- maybe similar to what you wrote about being tight and twisted like a pretzel. When I drank I could just numb it away. And now I'm not drinking, I have to actually experience it. Learn it's message. Listen -- stop numbing, blotting out. So yep, it's not all rainbows. It's brave and tough. But we're brave and tough. And I love your moss story. Elizabeth Gilbert's Signature of all Things is about moss, and a good light read. Keep writing!

    1. Thanks for your kindness, Sue. I hope you are feeling better, too. Your description of that crushing sensation does sound much like what I was talking about. I'm not at all pleased that you have to deal with that, but it is good to remember that other people do have similar things going on. Man, does this stuff ever suck, doesn't it? I appreciate you taking the time to comment. Yes, like you, I am trying to stop the numbing and listen. I didn't realize how much I was not doing that. And I'm so glad you liked my moss story. It felt great to write about it! Thanks for the EG recommendation, too. She gets a bad rap for having written a popular book, but I think she's a very good writer and will search that one out. Thanks again for the comment and the much-needed moral support. Wishing you deep easy breaths and a great day. xo

  3. Hey there my friend.. I feel like wrapping you in a big squidgy hug or at least pouring you a lovely cup of tea and having a good heart to heart with you... I think you are so brave to be opening yourself up so hugely to yourself, your partner and now here in lovely anonymous public sphere. tough times for sure.. what wonderful comments above... I'm not sure what to add except that adding alcohol sure won't help so press on press on press on fighting the brave sober fight and you will figure it out. I have absolute faith in you doing that xxx

    1. Mrs D, you're such a rock! I'm taking you up on that hug, tea and chat, even if it is virtual! Thanks for your ongoing kindness, and for having faith in me. I really do know that staying away from drinking is the road through this. Drinking makes it easier only in that oblivion is a temporary reprieve, but I am more interested in getting through than I am in staying stuck here, and I know for me in this, drinking=stuck. Thanks so much for your help. I hope you are recovering from the stress of moving and you're getting settled in your new place. xo

  4. You you don't have to do it any way but your way. That's the beauty of this blogging world...through it I discovered that I didn't have to do anything I didn't want to do while I got sober. The hardest thing was figuring out what my way was!!!

    What I remember was that being able to vent and post and rant on my blog was the best therapy ever!

    Keep being honest, and raw, and real.


    1. Thanks so much, Sherry. Of course you're right, but it takes a while to figure that out, or it has for me. Everyone else seems so polite and agreeable, and I'm the crankiest person in the world, sometimes! I don't know what my way is either, yet, but I'm figuring it out. Writing it out here sure is part of it. Thanks for reading and for your comment. It means a lot to me. xo

  5. I agree with most of this, I think. ;) I do think that calling our addiction something outside of ourselves does more harm than good. Then you just stay mad at this imaginary thing and never reconcile your feelings of anger nor do you take the responsibility for your actions.

    We all do it our own way. Without knowing it I relied on sweets and treats to get me through, and then I knew it, and then I gained 15 pounds. But, then I was ready to face things, to make better rules for myself. And so I put the cookies down and lost that blasted 15 pounds.

    I think as we get ready we put down our training wheels and start to glide. And then we fall. And then we glide, and maybe fly. And then you don't need imaginary evil drink pushers, or cookies.

    It's been hard for me to learn too that the people we love want to share our burdens. That it's OK for me to lean on my husband, my friends, my family. It's so damn hard to let go of my rigid ok-ness. To feel safe. But there's no getting across the rope until you start to go on out there. I hate that. But I do it anyway. Mostly sometimes. :)


    1. Thanks, Amy. Finding what that own way is has been the tricky part for me. It doesn't help me to feel hard done by because of how the world is. I need to understand how things influence me, but for me blaming is always a temporary solution. And I just can't stay angry long enough to sustain much real change.

      And yes, learning to lean on other people is so important. I like your phrase, "my rigid OK-ness." Oh boy, do I have a bad case of that sometimes. But I'm learning to just not be OK, because I can't do it. No one dies, and things get better.

      Thanks so much for your reflections, and your ongoing support! xoxo