This time around, just over five weeks into my third serious go at quitting drinking, I'm trying to do some things differently. Looking back at my older posts, I see that my thinking isn't all that different from some of what I went through earlier. I should probably come up with a great metaphor about peeling away layers or digging deeper or something like that, but I don't want to just fall into cliche here. Instead I'll try to describe what I mean.
The first two times I quit, I'm not sure I really owned up to how hard it is to quit drinking. I kind of did online, and I kind of did with my partner (now husband!), but I was slippery about it. I thought maybe quitting was kind of tough, but I could do it, which meant I could always do it again, which meant trying drinking again was no problem. Part of this, I know (and I'll come back to this point) is me reacting to the argument that you might not be able to quit the next time. The old argument from fear. Which only fills me with a strange compulsion to say, screw you, I'm not afraid, I can quit again if I want to. I'm not living my life in fear! But this reaction, I see now, is far too invested in what other people say and do about their own actions. It has nothing to do with me. And reacting to it paves over my own experience. So in a way, it wasn't that I was pretending that quitting wasn't all that hard. It's more that I wasn't paying much attention to my own experience. Or when I did, I thought, "Well yeah, OK, life is hard, suck it up!" or something like that. Which is still a reaction to the experience, and not the experience itself.
This time, I am slowing down in the tough parts and feeling them. And man, they are not much fun. A few times in the past couple of weeks--twice in restaurants on a little vacation we took, and twice coming through the door after a rough day--I actually cried because I wanted wine and couldn't have it. The last one was a great big sobbing, nose running and eyes red for the evening and a headache that stays for a full day kind of crying. On that occasion, I was tired and hungry and a bit cranky about some school/work-related personal issues, and I was fighting off how much I wanted a glass of wine, and when I arrived home, I found my husband (who rarely drinks) had just bought a bottle of scotch and left it on the counter and was sitting in the living room, listening to music and sipping a wee dram. I instantly broke down, and cried and cried and cried, and I said how unfair it was, and how sad I was that I couldn't have a glass of wine. And then I said (and realized) that I felt so ashamed that I couldn't do that. That if I were a better, or stronger person, I would be able to have a drink and enjoy it and then stop, like lots of people can. That if I had caught the whole problem earlier, I would be able to do just that. That I likely wouldn't ever be able to drink again, and that was devastating.
Now please don't tell me all these things are not true. On a factual level, of course they're not. But I'm starting to see that sticking to the facts and logic of the situation is often my downfall. I know, I know, I can make the same arguments about how booze is no good and life is great without it. But unless I admit how painful it is to have to quit, how much I just plain don't want it to be true that drinking doesn't work for me anymore, then I am sooner or later going to get swallowed up, again, in wanting to drink, and when that happens I won't even feel it but I will build a convincing argument about why it's a good idea to try drinking again. The change I need to make isn't about facts. It's on the emotional level. And that means I have to feel the sadness and the loss of not drinking again, even if it's illogical. (And maybe then I'll feel whatever loss is hiding beneath that.)
One thing I've been doing to help me in all this is meditation. I have been meditating on and off since I was 14 and a teacher have me the little book, "How to Meditate." And for a while I sat with a zen group, but got put off by some of the dogma that crept into the way this group practiced. I'd really left off practicing altogether for the past several years. But for the past few weeks I've been sitting for 20 minutes in the morning most days or, when I'm really rushed, using 20 minutes on transit to do a breathing meditation. (No need to look weird there. You just sit quietly and breathe. It's kind of lovely.) Also, I took a cue from something Mrs D posted on her newer blog (thanks, Mrs D!) and have been avoiding looking at the computer until after breakfast, instead of jumping into blogs/email/news the moment I get up, and that seems to help ground me a little better in my day.
I know from when I was a more serious zen student that it's not just the sitting meditation that's needed, so I've been trying to slow myself down whenever I have any strong feeling, just to see what's going on. That's a big help to me, because often I have no idea what I'm feeling. Only when it's a big wave of emotion that I can't possibly ignore do I know there's even any feeling there. Usually, with those big waves, I go for comfort--a hug from my husband, or a cup of tea, or a walk, or even a little lie down on the couch, they all work. I still do that, but at the same time, I'm paying attention to the feeling, and doing that helps me know what the feeling is about, and what's under it, and then what's under that.
There's another part to this whole "learning to feel" project. When I went to see a psychologist a couple of years ago, mostly to get help with the drinking, what I said was that I didn't have any idea how to know what I felt, and I knew I needed to get a handle on that. These days I'm finally starting to get to it. I wrote last post about having to make some decisions about my academic program, and I have been working on that over the past few weeks. My biggest realization--and I have to say I am floored by it--is how much I am influenced by reacting to what other people are saying and doing and (as if I knew that, too) thinking. It's not as simple as wanting people to approve of me. No, it's something like this: in any situation, I take the situation and the people in it as givens, and try to see how I can fit within things as they are. Now if you knew me, you wouldn't think that. I come off as strong and confident, like someone who knows what they are doing. And I do, if knowing what you're doing is swimming in the current that's around you. But my confusion about my school plans needs some deeper thinking than that. I might have to extract myself from that current and find one that's better suited to what I want to do. So being able to listen to myself and what I want to do is important. And that's where I get lost. Utterly lost.
Maybe that sounds bleak. But to me it feels like an opening, because I am starting to recognize my own patterns, and that's got to be at least the beginning of it all.
Years ago in a writing class, I wrote about a character based pretty closely on me, and in a pivotal scene she said, "I'm not very good at wanting." (Except for the one woman who got it, my classmates found it a strange line, and I started to see that they had some sense of normal that I just didn't get. Oops!) I have thought about that line so much over the years, and I see that it's true on an even deeper level than I knew at the time. So my project these days is to pay attention to whatever glimmers of feeling I find myself in, and when I feel the great big waves of feeling, to stay with them and pay attention too, and see if I can start finding my way through this. Can I say I want to learn how to want? It's something like that. I know feelings are supposed to be a source of something important, that they can help guide us in the world, and I'm trying to find my way to those feelings, even if it means sitting through a whole lot of "I want wine" and "I want cake." (And, as I write this the next thing that comes to mind is, "I want my mother." It's probably going to come back to that, isn't it? God help me.)
I have been reading Robert Stolorow on trauma, in part for school and in part for myself, and I dug around the web to see what else I could find him saying. I came across a short piece about vulnerability, in which he quotes the poet David Whyte as saying:
“Vulnerability is not a weakness, a passing indisposition, or something we can arrange to do without, vulnerability is not a choice , vulnerability is the underlying, ever present and abiding under-current of our natural state. To run from vulnerability is to run from the essence of our nature, the attempt to be invulnerable is the vain attempt to be something we are not and most especially, to close off our understanding of the grief of others. More seriously, refusing our vulnerability we refuse the help needed at every turn of our existence and immobilize the essential, tidal and conversational foundations of our identity.” (from David Whyte, Consolations, Many Rivers Press, 2015.)
I haven't read that book, but I will. And I will keep on trying to stay with these vulnerable moments, so I can stop closing down in the face of life. It's time to do less reacting, less deflecting myself out of those tough moments, more slowing down and feeling whatever it is I'm feeling. I'm expecting more tears. But I'm expecting some moments of deep joy, too.
Wishing you deep joy of your own, despite your tears. Thanks for reading! xo