Well, I have written before about listening, but if you write you may find that the same themes come back over and over, and this is a big one for me. This week I have been thinking a lot about two kinds of listening that I guess complement each other: listening to others, and listening to myself.
Listening to others is, in one sense, a challenge for me. I resist a lot of recovery wisdom, in part because it's sometimes presented in language that makes things sound more straightforward than makes sense to me. I am both blessed and cursed with seeing many issues from multiple perspectives, and I try not to resolve things too tightly into one perspective as I think it will simply leave out too much, or will stop ringing true for me. But I know that people who have been through major changes know something that can help me, and when they are generous enough to offer their experience, I need to find a way to take that up in a way that's helpful. Not much else to say about that, except I'm trying, and please be patient with me!
On the other hand, over the past few months, before my recent return to being sober, I feel like I lost my ability to listen to myself. Now, some of that isn't all that surprising. I was a bit busier than is good for me with school, just because it all crept up on me (I have decreased some of that now), and then my partner's accident earlier in the summer (he's doing well now) resulted in me not having very much free time for a couple of months. I am used to having a reasonable amount of time to myself, and it's one of the ways I keep myself on track. (I used to suffer severe depressions and now mostly I don't, so keeping myself on track is worth the time and effort it takes. It might sound like a luxury, but it's pretty basic survival for me.)
Anyway. One of the things I think I have lost my way in is my academic work. I don't write a lot about that here, for a whole lot of reasons, but I'm going to talk a little bit about it now because I think it's central to this listening thing. In many ways, I'm not sure about the academic world. In some ways it's very good--I like my thesis project, and I think it's definitely worth doing. And of course it's a privilege to be doing it at all. I get that. But I don't run into a lot of people who have set up their lives in ways that bring them balance and meaning, and that's been gnawing at me. The other day, I had lunch with two people who are quite senior to me, and who in many ways I admire. But their lives seem rigid, somehow. Maybe that's not it, rigid. Maybe what I want to say is that their lives seem so compartmentalized, and I don't think I can live like that. I can't spend most of my time doing what needs to be done in the hopes of scraping out a little time to do work that matters to me. Now, maybe I don't have to. But I feel like I need a role model, and I don't have one. Part of the problem may be that the department I am working might not be the best fit for me. But if it isn't, I have to find a place that is, and then make enormous changes, and it's hard to know where to start. I just don't always know how to connect to the sources of meaning that I need to keep connected to in order to keep myself going, and I'm not sure whether that's a personal problem or an institutional problem, or whether it's a matter of me just not fitting where I am. But I wrote about not feeling like I fit anywhere, so it seems a bit rich to think that I am going to be able to feel that in school. And yet, if I can't, I'm not sure I can do what it takes to keep me in it for the long haul. It's not the hard work that I mind (though sometimes I do, of course!) It's more the fear of being swallowed up by the academic machine and not being able to hear what's left of my own voice. That scares me.
I really don't know if that makes sense to anyone. Maybe I sound like I am whinging. But I know that I have some major doubts about what I am doing, and these doubts are not unconnected to the drinking. So I'm trying to look them square in the face and say, "Hello doubt. What's up with you these days?" rather than racing past them in the hopes that they disappear. And I'm not expecting any great answers from myself on this, or at least not yet. I'm just admitting that I have big questions. And they are painful.
On the not drinking front, things have been actually pretty darned easy. My "not drinking" habits were well-established after 16 months sober, and I feel like I have reverted to them with a certain ease. I've felt low, and I've felt altogether just too much, that's for sure. But I haven't felt like drinking. (Well, except once, fleetingly, at a particularly festive recent dinner party, but I was still getting over the flu then and I really didn't want to feel any worse than I already did. Still, since drinking while ill was never a problem when I was drinking, I'm pleased that even that one evening, the temptation was only slight.) No, for me, I am starting to realize that the problem isn't being overcome with craving. Not anymore. The problem is more trying to figure out how to live so that I stay connected to my sources of meaning. If I lose them, and things start to seem pointless, that's when drinking starts to look appealing. As in, if it's all pointless anyway, why not just drink? I don't think it's all pointless. But I do feel like that at times. Working on that is what I need to do, and what I'm writing about.
Thanks for reading, if you made it through all that! It's nice to have some company while I face down these doubts. Wishing you peace, and joy, and maybe even a little fall sunshine.