For the past couple of weeks, life has felt easy. That's come as a huge surprise to me. A couple of weeks ago I withdrew my applications from the academic programs to which I'd applied. Man, that was one big complicated circus! Neither program felt really right for me, but everyone involved tells me that nothing is perfect and you have to accept some imperfection when finding a program. And then I'd found out that we probably could manage to get around some of the legal restrictions I struggled with a few weeks ago, and then I received emails from both programs saying that I was first on the waiting list and was likely to get an offer within a few days. Argh! Once again, I was a twisted pretzel of anxiety. After some serious thinking, I decided to set the whole thing aside for now. That brought its own angst, because I still don't know what I'm doing next, or where or when I'll do it.
But setting aside the whole thing (for now) also brought a huge relief. Whatever I do, I don't want my husband and me to have to completely uproot our lives unless we're pretty sure it's a good idea. I have made major life moves many times, so I know how it goes. One friend said to me, "I never worry about you because you always land on your feet." Well, as I said to her, that's kind of the long view. When I have made major moves, each time I have landed hard and struggled with poverty and been depressed by being poor and unconnected in a new place. Each time it's taken me years to sort things out again. I don't want to do that kind of move again. And if we were to take up either of the possible options that might have become available to me, I thought there was a good chance that the big stress of the move and the new country might have taken a long time to recuperate from.
From a distance, I look pretty much like a normal person (whatever "normal" means), but I haven't always had the most stable mental health. Some of it is down to the drinking, and some is probably what made the drink such an attractive hideout for me. Over the years, I've learned how to set myself up in such a way that I am more stable. I've learned what works in my life and what doesn't. I know I need a fair amount of time to myself, and time with people I love, and time outdoors, and time to read and think and write. This whole academic application process has made me feel unsteady. I realized that I can't approach it the way I have done. If I'm going to continue my education, and I expect I will, I need to set things up in a way that it keeps me steady and stable. There's no point opening up amazing new opportunities for myself if I go crazy and can't make the best of them!
Part of what this whole experience has been a new take on where we live. Having considered moving, I thought about how we could best appreciate where we are for now. And that led to another big surprise. For years I've been an avid outdoor enthusiast. Partly because I have strong environmental convictions, and I have often been very poor, and I ride my bike to get around, I haven't had a car in ten years. Which means I live close to some truly amazing places, but I can rarely actually get out to any of them. Occasionally, my husband and I have found ways to bus or bike to a hike or an afternoon of kayaking or a camping trip, but it's trickier than it sounds, and requires plenty of time and organization. My time and organization skills get pretty darn used up, what with being in grad school and working two jobs.
So this week, I bought a car! It's very small, and runs on not too much gas. (Yes, I have some guilt regarding using fossil fuels. And I'm neither looking for anyone to excuse me on that score or to criticize my decision. I'll carry my own guilt there, thanks!) Yesterday, we went for a hike. Oh, the joy of walking in the damp, mossy woods! Stopping to sit on a rock and eat an apple, looking at the lake. This is some of what I love most in the world, and I have not got to it in years. When I last had the transport to get out hiking once in a while, I was new in this city and didn't know anyone I could hike with. My husband and I love doing many of the same things. And where we live--right now, not in five or ten years--we can do them! What a revelation!
Cars are not cheap, even small ones that don't use much gas. But since I quit drinking, I have estimated that I "save" $300 each month that I don't spend on wine. For the first 200 days of my last round of not drinking, I set aside $10/day, and if I had to borrow from it, I put it back right away. This time around, I did that for the first 100 days. So I had a little packet of money that I thought of as my sober money. I thought about taking a trip with it, but that seemed too much of a short-term thing to do. Because all of the possible moves for academic programs meant we would need a car, I'd thought about buying one, but I resented having to. I didn't want to use my sober money just to get around in the city where we'd end up living. I don't want to live somewhere where I can't bike and bus as my primary transport. But I realized I could sort of afford a car. And without having to use it to get to school or around the city (which is just plain easier on transit or a bike, and more fun anyway) I could buy a car and we could use it to get up into the mountains or away to visit my husband's family, and being able to do those things would open up our lives to so much more of the world.
Anyway, I did it. I'm surprised to say that my new car is such a symbol of freedom for me. Driving out to our hike yesterday, we drove past a liquor store. (Well, we probably drove past a hundred of them, but I noticed this one.) And I said to my husband, "I used to spend all my money on wine. Now I don't. And now, because I don't, I was able to buy this car and we can go hiking and camping and do all the things we love to do!" It's like being sober is even more of a gift for both of us.
The car is just part of the story. I also have a sense that life is already good, and it's already easy. I want to find a way to continue my education that adds to my life, not that takes away the good I already have.
Years ago, I remember reading a story (or maybe a memoir) that contained the line, "I have not valued that which I have loved." I've forgotten the source, and have never been able to track it down, so maybe I partly made up the phrasing. But the sentiment was so powerful! I saw how it would be possible to live in such a way that I didn't value what I loved, and how it would likely be the biggest source of regret in my life if I were to do that. I come back to that line once in a while when I need to re-orient myself. And I feel like that's what's happening these past few weeks. In my life, right now. I'm happy. I am so lucky to have met and married my wonderful husband. We live in a beautiful place, in a sweet little apartment that has nice light and cheap rent, in a city that's fantastic and a landscape that's awe-inspiring. For so long I was mired in the misery of drink, and now I'm not. I know that to old-timers, my 200+ days probably isn't a lot of sober time. But this is my third run at these long stretches of being sober, and it's coming up on three years since I started to seriously and continuously address this drink problem. Drinking has no appeal for me anymore. When I occasionally crave a drink, or when I see one and wish I could have one, it's easy for me to remember how the misery outweighs the glamour or the fun that the drink falsely promises. And I'm starting to see how drinking was part of me not seeing how wonderful my life already was, and is.
So yes, I have to figure out the school thing. And I will. But for now, I'm here and I'm happy, and life feels easy. And I'm grateful for all that I have (including my new car!)
Thanks for all the support you've all been as I have struggled though thinking about this whole drink problem thing. I'm so glad you are here to keep me company as I try to figure out how to live. Many thanks to you all. Peace and joy, and maybe even a little easy livin' to you all!