Thursday I had a long, busy day at school--a seminar class and two discussion meetings with professors--so I had to be on all day, able to talk about some complex ideas, and report in on where I am with my big project. But the day was marvellous. I had already admitted to both my professors that I was struggling with some heavy depression. And, in much the same way that admitting to myself that I really do have an addiction to alcohol was actually a huge relief, telling my professors about the struggle was an enormous weight off. So we had good discussions about the work I have to do and, maybe because I didn't feel I had to fake being OK, I was OK. For a while, I had felt like the me who went to school was a hollow, polished version of me. At times like this, I worry I become two people: one who gets through life and looks like she has it together, and one who walks in the park weeping, not sure how to go on. Admitting what's going on--at least to some degree--allows those two seemingly separate selves to get back together somehow, and I feel human again. I'm not sure I'm saying this in a way that makes sense and doesn't sound too whacked-out crazy. But this splitting into publicly doing well, privately depressed, it's something I've been through before, and I know it's got a big sign above it: "This way lies madness." It's exactly like being the closet addict who seems all good from a distance, and it's just as dangerous. It was good to be more honestly myself, admittedly having trouble with some things but still able to enjoy my studies. So hooray for that!
But feeling better blind-sided me in a way I didn't expect at all. While I was at school, I got advance notice of some good news that isn't yet official, and I was very pleased about it. For the past few days, the worst of the depression has really shifted, and I have been feeling like life is a whole lot of sunshine and blue skies after a long spell of crap weather. So on the way home, I caught myself thinking, "Maybe we can have some wine tonight to celebrate." No no no no no!!! What the hell is that? I've been under a crushing weight of bad feeling for a month or so, and as soon as it starts to lift, I think I'm going to drink again? Oh man! I gave myself a gentle talking-to, a bit of, "Oh love, you know that's not even what you want to do, you're just relieved to be out of the mire, that's all." It was all. But over and over, on the bus ride home, I would drift off from reading, or just stare out the window, and find myself planning to celebrate with some wine. Or maybe champagne. A nice dinner out, with wine of course. Did I mention the wine already? OK, so you get the idea. I was really surprised about how many times on that bus ride home I slipped into that old habit, thinking celebrate=wine. Over and over and over, I fell into that pit and then picked myself out of it. I was late arriving home, and my partner was even later. While I waited, I read blogs for a while, and kept reminding myself why drinking wine was a really bad idea. (REALLY BAD IDEA, repeat as needed.) When my partner arrived, I told him about my good day and good news and about me keeping on planning to drink wine. We decided to go out to our favourite fancy restaurant to celebrate. Not with wine. With dinner and dessert and the lovely walk through the city there and back. And it worked. The evening was lovely--we shared an endive salad and some lamb dish, and duck confit, and creme brule for dessert. I drank sparkling water, not wine. I really knew I didn't want to have wine anyway, I just wanted to have some sort of celebration, and that's what we did.
I think, maybe, instead of fighting down the thoughts, or instead of pretending they weren't there, it was good for me to pay attention to how I felt, how the change to feeling better after a month of feeling crap was another way I could slip into the old bad habit. By paying close attention I could remind myself what I really wanted. But it is amazing to me how strong that old habit-thinking can be. Now I know to look out for it. Happy=wine is a big one for me, and I have to slow down in the moment, feel the happiness, and disconnect it from my longstanding knee jerk reaction to happiness.
OK, that worked out well, but the next day I had another lovely small revelation, showing me how absolutely wrong I had been when, a few months ago, I wrote about alcohol bringing people together to relax. Hooray for me being wrong! Friday I had another school meeting--long discussion of some interesting ideas with students and professors--and afterward, people headed to the pub to continue talking. Back in November, I had written about noticing how, as soon as people planned to go for a drink, they started to relax. The ritual of leaving the school part of the day behind and going to socialize with some drinks is powerful. At the time, I saw this as a sign of how important alcohol is in our lives, and I didn't want to miss out on that. Yesterday I went along to the pub after the meeting, because the conversation was still going on and it was interesting, and I do like the people. I knew I wasn't going to drink. I had practiced quietly ordering a cranberry and soda (best option on a student pub), and when we arrived I discreetly placed my order. When a pitcher of beer was passed around, one young woman still didn't have anything, and a young man passed his beer glass to her and said he would wait for the next pitcher.
Here's where it get's astonishing, at least to me. The young woman threw her had back and laughed--I'm telling you, she really laughed out loud--and as she passed the beer back to the guy, she said, "I don't drink. How long have you known me, and you didn't know I don't drink?" This appeared all light-hearted and breezy for her. I swear she tossed her hair when she said it, like Mrs D talked about in her early blog posts when she imagined her future self just not drinking. It was late afternoon, so the pub was filled with the kind of slanting light that makes everything glow. You know those ads we all have in our minds, the one where everyone is lovely and the light is perfect and people are sitting at the pub, and in our minds that's the (false) image we associate with drinking? Well, it was like that, but instead the ad was remade, and it showed how the glorious moment is made up of the people taking the time to get together, just the sheer pleasure of that. No booze required, thanks anyway! The guy asked if she ever drank and, still smiling, the woman said, "Trust me, you don't want to see me drunk. Anyway, I don't need it." Another laugh. "I'm high on life!"
The subject was dropped. After I picked my jaw up from the table and sipped my soda, I was able to join in the conversation again, but I really was stunned. That's all you have to do? Just smile and be a bit glamorous, laugh even, and say, "Oh no, not for me. I don't drink." I felt like someone had reached into the world and straightened a few bits that had been bent. This was the woman who had convinced people to go to the pub the time I wrote about earlier, who I had been noticing closely when I talked about how planning to drink was, in itself, relaxing. And she doesn't even drink. What a delight this was for me, to be so beautifully wrong! I realized I have actually never-- never ever, not once in my life--seen a real, live, slightly glamorous young woman actually do that, just say she didn't drink, and laugh that people didn't already know such an obvious thing about her. I wanted to ask her a million questions, but I didn't. I just enjoyed sipping my soda while we all chatted, and then I went home, feeling light-hearted about how easy it might all be if I just let it be.
So that's my week. I'm feeling about a thousand times better than I was a while ago, and I'm grateful for that. I know I will have to be vigilant, because it seems when I'm relaxed and happy, that's one of the things that can make me think drinking is a great idea. I know it's not, but I will have to keep reminding myself until that's the new, ingrained habit. In the meantime, I might practice throwing my head back and laughing, and saying, "Not for me, thanks. I'm high on life."
Thanks for reading along here, keeping me company in the dark patch I just went through and now in this better time too. Peace and joy to you, and some real-people real-life highs!