As a stressful time (almost) draws to a close and the holidays approach, it is time to reflect (briefly, cause I ain’t got no time!) on the meaning of these last three months and on this HUGE achievement of successfully making it through 100 days alcohol free. For the first time in three months, with these two beautiful “00”s looking me straight in the eyes, I feel really proud of myself. I feel like I have done something important and proven to myself that I am (somewhat) trustworthy and dependable – that I can do scary things and that scary things can turn out to be beautiful gifts provided one takes that first step and opens up the wrapping (Xmas is cooooming the geese are getting…. ok back to the point). Instead of brushing it off and moving on to the next “problem” to fix, I am going to stop and savor this joy, and be grateful to past-Anne for embarking on this journey when she was unsure of whether she could do it or not. I am proud of her and happy that she trusted herself enough to keep going. As a smug, all-knowing future-Anne, I never doubted her 🙂
On paper, these were a rough three months. They included the pain of a breakup, the emotional rollercoaster of early sobriety, the waves of stress from the last year of a doctoral degree, all packed into a series of mini waves which, once strung together and looked at retrospectively, lose a lot of their intensity and almost look like a peaceful ocean, with its ebbs and flows and occasional storms but overall calm tranquility. It’s so strange… Despite the difficult events and lots and lots of crying, I haven’t felt this centered in years. Dare I even say it, this feeling of authenticity, of really feeling what I feel and getting to know myself better is slowly participating in a more general feeling of “being happy”.
As many of the more experienced of you out there already know, “being happy” does not need to exclude unpleasant feelings. On the contrary, it’s all about accepting what is. Even if you hate what’s happening. It’s about letting go, giving up the futile fight to try and resist what is beyond your control. [SPOILER: that’s many many many things!]. You always lose that fight. Best to lay down your weapons from the start.
And here is the great teaching of these last three months: in learning to remember (over and over again) to just give up the fight lies the difference between just “stopping drinking” and Recovery with a capital R. I have learnt (I am still learning) how to let these feelings pass, and every time I do so, another grain of sand is added to the “See, there was nothing to be afraid of” bank. [Pile? Dune? Sand castle!]
And this growing fearlessness in the face of intense emotions is a HUGE help when it comes to not feeling the need to numb or escape (i.e. to not experience “need to escape induced cravings” anymore). This new found sense of happiness is nothing else than a feeling of gratitude for what is already here, as opposed to the well known fantasized state of perfection that is ALWAYS “to come” but never arrives. It is the polar opposite from the chronic dissatisfaction that I had been feeling my whole life. This is such a new feeling. It seems to involve my personal responsibility and hard work in being created and maintained. Unlike what I had always thought, it is NOT this miracle that just falls into your lap one day, and BAM, there you have it, you’re happy! You have to find it. But you also have to know where to look. And I spent 15 years looking in the wrong places. In two places, to be more specific: 1. Down, at the bottom of a pint (or maybe I should call that “eslewhere”, in the feeling of being tipsy/drunk), and 2. ahead into the future, when x or y achievement has happened. But happiness is neither elsewhere nor far ahead. It is right under your nose, right here, right now. Most of the time we complain that we can’t find it, but that’s because we have yet to discover that we have to change the way we look at things. Then we begin to see. [HAHAHA HERE I GO AGAIN SOUNDING ALL SOLEMN AND PREACHY]. This, I think, could be another definition of Recovery.
I still experience the occasional pang of “man I miss the taste of a good IPA” or “uuuuugh I would KILL someone, anyone -YES, YOU!- for a cigarette right now”, but they are so much further apart than they used to be. I’m talking once a month, vs. one million every day. I still have a lot of work to do on the self-esteem/ performing under pressure side of things (see my previous post!). But when things are “normal”, i.e. in every day ordinary life when there are no extraordinary stress factors, I now feel very confident in my ability not only to survive, but to ENJOY life alcohol free. WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT? Defintiely not past-Anne !
Now, I see my alcoholic friends struggling – I see the pain, and the denial. Ooooooh, the denial. I can see how much I was in it. But I say nothing to my friends. That’s not my place. (I would rather set an example than tell people what to do). And when they want to talk about it I do, and they stare at me with saucer eyes like I’m a weird astronaut exploring a dark and scary planet. Then I do my best to suggest that if I, Anne, —the Anne who over the last few years talked about her Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde split personality disorder (Drunk-Anne vs. Sober-Anne) because she could never remember the shit she had done the night before—, could do it, then so can they. And so can you, if you are in the early days of this AF adventure. Sure, you will probably run into a couple of aliens (it turns out they are really nice once you get to know them!), and it does take a bit of practice to not look like an idiot floating around in the middle of zero gravity outer space with a giant inflatable suit on and a fish bowl on your head, but you’ll soon get the hang of it. (Cue end of space-metaphor!!).
All in all, I consider myself not at the end of a 3 month long period of hardship, but at the beginning of a potentially life long path of self-improvement and self-discovery, no matter what that means. This was really unsuspected before I started all this, because back then it looked so scary to “give up the booze”. But if one follows the lovely Buddhist idea that “the path is the goal”, from where I stand today I can begin to sense that this might also be the plain and simple good old path to happiness: IT’S ALREADY RIGHT HERE UNDER OUR FEET 🙂
Hang in there !