Yesterday afternoon I went for a walk in the park with my partner, and we talked about how this time, quitting drinking is different for me than it was when I quit last summer. I wanted to write about this now so I remember it later, when I will need it.
First, I am taking quitting the drink more seriously, or maybe more personally is a better way to say it. Last time, I started out quitting for a few days, and then a few more, and then I found the 100 Day Challenge. That was great because it gave me a longer stretch of time without drinking. But I was so focused on the challenge part that all my attention honed in on getting to that day, as though something magical were going to happen at the end of 100 days. Of course, nothing did, and by the time I got there, I had stopped focusing on why I was quitting, and stopped doing all the little things I needed to do to stay sober. (I'm not denigrating the challenge here! Not at all! It's a great thing to do. I just didn't realize how much else I had to do besides make it to 100 days.) In a way, I think I was so set to prove I could do it--though I don't know who I was proving it to--I forgot why I even cared about setting sober.
This time, I'm taking a lot more downtime, and much better care of myself along the way. So in a way, that nasty depressive spell that flattened me in January and February was a gift (but no repeats, thanks!) because it forced me to slow way down. No superhero awards for me this month, or last month, or next month either. I am still sleeping like a sleep-demon, walking outdoors lots, reading about meditation and self-care, seeing a counsellor, paying attention to my feelings, all the things I'm going to have to keep doing. I'm shedding that competitive, muscular get-'er-done attitude that I didn't even know I had and, without that carapace of tough-me, I'm doing what I can only call real healing.
Dropping that persona means I have become much more aware of the denial that went along with my drinking. I just read a great novel, The Good House, by Ann Leary. In the book, the main character is Hildy Good, a sharp, funny 60-year-old New England realtor whose daughters sent her to rehab and who has, at the start of the book, resumed her drinking, though she restricts herself to drinking alone. I highly recommend the book. Ann Leary does a great job of showing what it's like to be an alcoholic, both the insane attraction to drinking despite consequences, and the enormous denial that the drinker feels. (My only reservation is that, early on, she makes drinking look so darn good that it could make someone want to drink. I read the whole book in a day so I moved through that part quickly, but it might be hard to read the book slowly and spend days and days in the narrator's "born three drinks short of comfortable" headspace. It's a good line, though.) As I read the book, I identified so much with Hildy. Like her, I have had that insane sense of being drawn in by booze, the feeling that I was only happy and myself when I was drinking, and the sense that keeping away from other people in order to drink alone was the route to my own personal happiness. As Hildy's life starts to fall apart (I'm not giving the plot away to tell you it did--she's an alcoholic and she started drinking again. File under, "Will end in pain," right?) I was horrified by her drinking. With my whole body, I did not want her to do what she was continuing to do. Like in those horror movies where you want to scream at the main character, "Don't go down that hallway!" I wanted to shout at her, "Put down that bottle!" It wouldn't have worked, of course, and that's the genius of the book. No one can tell Hildy what to do. She is an alcoholic, she's in denial, and the reader can feel what it's like to be her while also seeing the tragedy of what she's doing. It really is a beautiful book.
But I was talking about me, and denial. What's that have to do with Hildy Good? Well, she is an alcoholic in denial, and all through the book, I was reading along, seeing myself in her, over and over again. I had to admit that I was, I am, very much like her. Hello. Me, in denial? I hate those bloody recovery keywords. I am so utterly different than other people. I'm not going to let some generic description of an affliction--alcoholism--describe me.
In the novel, Hildy has a talent for what people think is a kind of psychic reading, but she explains that she's just a good observer. Here's what she thinks about it:
"Nobody wants to believe the obvious and visible reality that we are all quite the same. Most would rather believe in the invisible and the improbable--that fate is determined by the alignment of the stars, that there is a spiritual entity rooting for them, for unique and wonderful them, that humans can read minds, that their destiny can be foretold and possible altered. The simple truth is this: Most humans are very much alike. The simple and obvious truth is that there are very few variables to what a person might do, think, fear, or desire in any given situation" (p. 110).
That might sound hard and cold, but I find it oddly comforting. I am like Hildy. I am like you, maybe, and like a whole lot of other people. I am an alcoholic. Not a bad person, or a loser, or someone who just can't get her shit together. Not someone who will be OK at some future point when I will have fixed myself and started to do everything right, at long last. Just an alcoholic. There are lots of us. And now that I know that, there are lots of things I can do to live better. Some are obvious: don't drink; find out what works for other people, and try that out. Some are less obvious: don't worry about the future so much, or about much outside the next few minutes, if that's all I can manage. I'm telescoping it in real small here these days, and I'm OK with that, mostly.
And here's the really big change: it's all a huge relief. I feel so much different, so much better! That hard shell of tough-me I was talking about didn't do me much good, but it did stop me from connecting with people. Now I have never been much of a hugger, but good god in the past few days I have wanted to reach out and hug everyone in the world who is having troubles, who feels low, who is being hard on themselves, anyone who feels like they are not enough. I'm like a one-person giant love-in, sitting here on the couch, typing. I want to jump up and down and yell, "You are enough! I am enough! Right here and right now, with things exactly as they are, we are all enough!!!"
I have neighbours, so I'm holding off on the yelling. I'll go out for a walk instead while it's still sunny, and just smile at the world for a while. And yes, I know, these peaks are sometimes followed by more pits of despair. But I do feel a genuine change in myself. I'm not trying to prove anything to you or to me or to anyone else. I'm just here and alive and better able to see myself for the flawed but whole person I am, and I feel so much more connected to the world because of that.
Thanks for reading along with me here. I couldn't do any of this without my fellow sober bloggers and readers. Many many thanks for the company. Peace and joy to you.