Sunday 25 October 2015

Round 3, Day 39: Less reacting. More slowing down. Many tears.

I just realized I haven't written in a couple of weeks, so here I am. Hello! Still sober and doing OK, so that's the short version of the story.

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

Monday 5 October 2015

Round 3, Day 19: Listening to you, listening to me.

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.