Monday, 12 September 2016

Round 3, day 362: Language, people, bodies

I think the biggest thing I'm learning as I find my way through sober living is how much I have let other people influence me. I mentioned this in my last post, and I've been thinking about it since then. One thing I need to learn as I head into another sober year is how to live respectfully with others without being overly influenced by them.

I am sometimes complimented on being so intuitive about other people. I sense people's moods and interactions, I notice small reactions and upsets, and I find quickly ways of acting to soothe and care for these small upsets. Which would be fine if I did the same thing for myself.

Now don't get me wrong here. I'm not saying I'm so unselfish and kind that I care too much about others and too little about myself! What I mean is that I don't know how to know my own reaction to many situations without first taking in the reactions of others, and even then it can be hard to find what part of it all is me.

Here's an example: I have started doing this yoga thing. And I'm liking it! Hooray! But I have a very hard time understanding word descriptions of physical actions. It's like I'm hearing a second language that I don't speak fluently. Someone says, "move your right foot to the left," and I think "foot, OK, right foot is that one, left is that way, so I move this part that way," but then I wonder how my weight is supposed to shift while I'm doing that, and I see that here are quite a few ways one could move the right foot to the left. It's really only when I see someone else doing the action that I think, "Oh, OK, something like that," and then I try it. I can copy actions well enough, and I'm not a perfectionist about getting that kind of thing right. I just find the language-body links are not very clear for me. I used to be a potter and when I first started taking classes, I was much the same. I loved working with clay, but I found the descriptions of what we were supposed to do incomprehensible, and it wasn't until I found a teacher I trusted enough to ask her, "Please stop talking when you're showing me and just show me," that I could get the most out of instruction. In many ways I'm all about words. But words get in the way of my body. And when I am trying to be grounded in my own body, I seem to operate best when I step outside of language.

So in my yoga class, I often don't know what I'm supposed to do. Sometimes that's frustrating. But if I'm left to figure it out on my own, and I have someone to watch, I'm kind of OK. I'm very surprised to find I like it a lot, despite so much not knowing. But this morning was rough. The instructor was extremely verbal, and I had more trouble than usual following what he was saying. And he wanted to be attentive. So he rattled off instruction after instruction and noticed when I stopped moving and just watched people. Once he brought me blocks and showed me an alternate to what the others were doing, and I felt I had to do this alternate thing, which left me balancing pretty awkwardly, holding myself up by my arms, instead of just watching to see what the others were doing. Another time he came up to ask me to see him after class if I needed help with a pose. Another time he suggested I drop my left hip, and I had to stand up to face him, figure out which was the left hip, then figure out what "drop" meant. I completely lost what I was doing, when I know he was trying to give just a slight correction. Later again he asked if I wanted him to go over a certain set of moves with me, and I just shook my head without even making eye contact. There were breath instructions that seemed to go too fast for me, so I would be exhaling when people were being asked to inhale and then I'd try to shift myself to the breath instruction but that just left me short of breath. Eventually I was so frustrated I was in tears. It was the exact feeling I'd experienced years before when I took a yoga class, which I called "Yoga rage." I could hardly catch my breath, and I felt trapped in the room with what felt like an endless list of action instructions I couldn't understand and an instructor who was taking much more notice of me than I was comfortable with, and who I felt I has to placate somehow, though I had no way to do that.

All that might make it sound like the guy was a poor instructor, but that's not where I'm going here. It's that there were just too many things going on at the same time for me. The language-body thing is already a very challenging translation effort for me. And then when the instructor started to interact with me, I really just wanted to do whatever he wanted so he would leave me alone. I get that he was trying to help me. That's his job, and he's likely good at it. But talking to him while I was trying to do the moves meant all my focus was on him, and making sure he was OK (not frustrated with me, not distracted by me from what the class needed, etc). So it was just about impossible for me to engage in any conversation with him and stay in my body.

In the first class, I think I started to understand this, and I remembered this moment after the class today. A different instructor was showing me a pose I wasn't understanding, and he asked whether I could feel the movement in my hip. I answered, "When I'm talking to you, I'm just talking. I don't feel my body at all." And I think that's the crux of the problem I'm trying to talk about here. It's not an issue of yoga, or good teachers, though those things likely matter. It's that when I'm talking to someone else, I am (often) so out of body that I have little or no physical feeling. It's not that I go numb. It's more that I shift to living in language, and when I'm there, there's not a lot of body going on.

I think this is what I mean when I say I am overly influenced by others. I mean that I lose touch with my own physical being when I talk with people. And that means I am caught in noticing everything that's happening in the emotional world of the other person, and in the language, but there's not much me there. I come back to me when I'm biking or walking or running, and that's probably why these things are so good for me. When I'm with one of the (few) people I'm close to,  I'm less cut off. But it still happens.

I know this has something do with my drinking. I used to love that moment of bringing a glass to my lips, and I think some of what I loved about that was the sheer physicality of it. I'm never, never going back to that. And I don't need to. These days I get some of that same pleasure with coffee, or ice cream, or fresh peaches in season, or a whole host of good tastes. So it's not that I'm always only in my head.

But what I want to learn is how to stay in myself so that I can talk to people without shifting so much into a "being in my head" mode that I lose touch with my physical being. I think this is the beginning of how I might start to know my own reactions. I'll be less influenced by others if I have a reaction that's separate from theirs, and I know what it is!

This is a little convoluted in my description, but maybe at least some people will know what I mean. Anyway, for now that's enough tangled words. Thanks as always for keeping me company while I figure this out. Peace and joy to you.


Monday, 5 September 2016

Round 3, day 355: rambly post about NOT crashing headlong into crisis!

Hi blog world. Sorry I've been silent for such a long time. I've been in an odd patch, hunkered down thinking things through, and I seem to have needed to do that thinking away from talking with others.

First, don't worry, I'm not drinking. I say that just in case anyone is following and reads into a long silence that I might have slipped back to that. And I have no plan to drink, no desire to. Before when I drank again after long stretches sober, I spent some time thinking about how I was deluded about being sober, or hating the whole sober thing, that kind of thing. If you've been sober for a while or if you follow sober blogs, you know that lots of people go through that once in a while and drinking isn't the answer. But that's not what 's going on here.

Instead, I think I'm getting to the part of being sober where I realize I need to make some changes, and I need to do some more of what is probably called "working on myself," or anyway, taking care of myself. It's been a rough summer. My mother died -- and thanks for kind comments about this on my last post, which I very much appreciated but couldn't bring myself to answer. Mom's death was expected, and I'm doing OK with coping. Still, it's the end of a long, difficult process, losing my mom to dementia after a lifetime of dealing with the vibrant, intelligent, difficult person she was. So there's that.

Also, I've been struggling to figure out what I'm doing with my life, in particular with my academic work. I've talked about this here so many times I'm sure it's getting dull, and I still don't feel all that coherent about it, though I'm getting there. As it stands now, I've decided not to continue with pursuing a PhD in what I've been studying once my MA is complete, though preparing for a PhD is very much the main purpose of my MA program. Instead, I've been accepted into a library science program that starts in January, and I've decided to do that. So after more than 15 years of working in libraries/bookstores/publishing in one way or another, I've decided to train as a librarian. Now I feel compelled to say it's not the calm and peaceful quiet job people think when they think of the cardigan-wearing, glasses and hair-in-a-bun lady they remember from childhood libraries. I think there are lots of dynamic, interesting things I might be able to do with the degree. I think I wrote about this a while back, but since then I've done a fair amount of waffling (PhD? librarian? quit everything and move to a small town? just quit everything?) Now I've made a commitment to the program. Hooray for commitment! It means I have to finish my thesis and get it defended some time in the next few months. But it feels good to have made a decision I can stick with.

The even bigger issue, in which all this is nested, is that I see how important it is to find ways to stay connected to myself. Since I've started this blog (three years ago!) I've written over and over about finding my own way and finding my own voice. It's something that plagues me. On the one hand, in my life I come off as a strong, independent-minded woman who has no trouble speaking her own mind. And that's true, in part. But I find myself susceptible to losing my way, getting swallowed up by trying to figure out how the world works, and in doing so losing touch with what is matters most to me in that process. I think the academic world in which I've been immersed isn't so good at supporting people. In that world, I'm good at academics, and that's what counts. But though I started out keeping myself firmly planted in a healthy, day-to-day life, as I've got busier I've lost track of doing the things that support me as me. I don't cycle as often (in part because my husband's accident last summer means he can't cycle as much, but it's not just that.) I don't walk outdoors as often. I don't revel in the small moments of silence that keep me going. But more importantly, I've lost tough with how to connect what I'm doing day to day with a deeper source of meaning in my life. Starting last summer, I've been trying to speak with my supervisor about this, but those have been tough conversations. He ends up thinking I'm being critical of the work he's done, or even the way he's lived, and then the focus of the conversation shifts to me reassuring him that that's not what I'm saying instead of exploring how to stay connected to a world of meaning. I just end of feeling bad about needing to find meaning in my work, and then feeling like I'm alienating someone I've had a good connection with on top of all that. That's no fun, and it hasn't served me very well. I see that now.

In a way, I've been here before. Over the years, I have been swallowed up by the world, and eventually crashed into massive depressions. Once that happens, the world lets you go. If all you can do is sleep and cry, no one asks too much of you. At that point, you have all the time in the world you need to find your way to yourself, except you have no strength to do that with for quite some time. When I got sober (each of the THREE times I've done that! ack!) I did it by retreating into a quieter, more nurturing world. I slept well and ate well and walked/ran/cycled plenty. I treated myself like I was a living thing that needed care in order to stay alive, like I would treat a major depression. I know what works for me in that kind of crisis. After a while though, I felt better, and I got myself back to getting schoolwork done, writing papers and going to conferences and all that stuff. And I like that world. At the risk of outing myself as an even bigger nerd than you all know I am, I find academic conferences exciting! People getting together, stepping away from their day to day lives to talk about what they are thinking about and working on. But I have not been able to find a way to make the academic project sustaining for me. I feel like my studies have morphed into an area that's critical of some things that need to be criticized, but what I want to do is be part of the active world of living, not the stepping back world of criticism. I think people can do both. But I have not found a way to do so. And without being immersed in the active world of living, with all the messy hopes and sorrows that that world entails, I just dry up.

I think that's the best way of describing what's been happening to me over the past year or so. In my personal life, I'm happy. I love my husband, and I love our life together. But to follow this academic path, we've been considering moving to a bigger city in a less hospitable climate, farther away from his family and the ocean and mountains we love. And I've been feeling quite torn by it all. At the same time, I've been getting sick more often, and having spells of depression that are getting worse and closer together. I know what I might be heading into if I don't make some life changes, and it's been scaring me, but I haven't known what to do, what changes to make.

I don't think life has to be so hard. If everything looks super difficult, maybe there's another way. I've figured that out before. So recently, I've been trying to see what the easier way is. One thing I've been doing is noticing what I like doing and what I don't. What brings me joy, what doesn't. And trying to imagine a life that has more joy in it, without trying to ignore the inevitable pain and suffering that's in the world.

My answers have surprised me, though they might not surprise people close to me. I want to stay where I am. Same city, same apartment, for now. Same field I worked in before returning to university, though I'll be changed by what I've learned there. I want to write more. Blog more. Maybe take up a different kind of writing project again, rather than the academic writing I've been doing (or avoiding doing this summer.) I want to go outside more. Walk in the evenings with my husband. Do more hot yoga! (Ok that one's a big surprise to me, but I just started it and I love it. Oh, the joy of the hot room, and sweating!) I want to read novels, read mysteries, read poetry. I want to reread Rebecca Solnit and Thich Nhat Hanh and all those people who inspire me, and  figure out how to live an engaged life, one that engages me with the world, one that sustains me and contributes to the world.

So I'm going to write a serviceable thesis and defend it, pronto. And in January, I start a different kind of school program, the MLIS, which is geared to working with projects and people in a way that I can connect to differently than my academic work has allowed. I'm almost one year sober this time around, and I think I'm looking at the kind of personal life changes that I need to make to sustain being sober. No, that's not quite it. I'm seeing that there are things I can do to help myself live more fully and joyfully, and being sober helps me see that way. Avoiding seeing them is easier when you drink, but that's something I don't do any more, and I never plan to do again.

I'm a bit under the weather this week with yet another of the mild illnesses that have been knocking me sideways as I've struggled with  all this. But I feel filled with hope, and I think I am onto a solid way out of what I believe would otherwise end of in another of the kind of crash I never want to see again.  I expect I'll have more to say on this later, but for now I think I'll get out of my big yellow chair and go outdoors for a walk.

If you're still around after the long gap between my posts and then this long and possibly tortured post, thanks very much. As always, I am grateful for your company as we all figure out how to live. Peace and joy to you.


Thursday, 14 July 2016

Round 3, Day 302: Life, death, life

I left a few more weeks than intended between my last post and this post. But I'm still here, still sober. More and more, I'm settling into being sober as a source of strength for me.

My mother died a little over a week ago. It wasn't unexpected. She had dementia and we all knew she was in the last stage of that illness. A year ago I visited and spent some time with her, when she still had some of her faculties. At that point she could sit up and interact with people, and she loved to laugh. After that visit people often asked, "Did she know who you were?" but one thing dementia teaches the family, or should teach the family if they are open to learning that lesson, is that visiting the sick person isn't about you, and it isn't about getting what you need from the person the sick person used to be. By last summer, my mother was years past knowing who I was. But she was alive, and somehow still vital. She was still herself, in a way that we understand as people but that the medical and scientific descriptions seem to miss. I was able to connect with her during our visit, and we laughed a lot. Over this past winter, she mostly lost her ability to sit up unassisted. She slept most of the time. Eventually she could hardly swallow. Occasionally, when she woke up, family members said she still smiled or laughed for a moment. Thanks to the wonders of the iPhone, I have a recent photo of my mother laughing with my youngest brother. By the end these moments happened very rarely. Now they are gone, except in memory.

My husband and I flew across the country at short notice, the way people living away do when family members die. The trip to where I'm from takes pretty much a whole day. We stayed with family, participated in the wake and funeral, then spent a couple of more days visiting and resting. The wake was a traditional Catholic wake, with an open casket, so for two days people who had known my mother, or who knew members of my large family, came to pay their respects to our family, and to the memory and the body of my mother. There is something about the open casket wake that I find comforting. For two days, in that room, the person who was my mother and the body of my mother were the same and not the same. My mother looked beautiful. She was dressed in a pretty blue dress, which made her look more like herself than she had wearing the drab easy-to-wash clothes she wore in the nursing home. Her hair was done in a way she would have liked, artfully mussed by a hairstylist relative who was horrified by the old-lady do that the morticians had done. From some angles, her face looked as it did when she was alive. The set of her mouth made it easy to imagine she was about to make the kind of sharp (and likely cutting) comment she was known for much of her life. But of course she lay perfectly still, still as only the dead can lie. In that room, we had photos of my mother laughing and dancing, and stories of things she'd said and done, but she wasn't coming back with any more sharp remarks or one more quick laugh. Yes, we all knew that, but the wake gave us space to be with that knowledge, to try it on and take it into ourselves. We did this for two days, and after that we closed the coffin, had the funeral, and then we put the coffin, with the body of my stylish, still mother in her pretty blue dress in it, in a hole in the ground. At the graveside, I was bent with grief. A hole in the ground is a lonely place, and my mother hated being alone. It seemed wrong to leave her there. I wanted to stay. But there was a funeral meal to be shared, and more stories to hear. The living have to eat, and talk, and I had to get on with that part of the funeral. For the rest of the day, I stood and sat with relatives and friends and talked some more about my mother. She was still with us, and at the same time she was alone in that hole in the ground.

My family lived in a small rural area, but my mother was born and raised in the city. A couple of days after the funeral, my husband and I walked through her childhood neighbourhood, past the house she grew up in and the school she taught in starting at age 16. It helped me see the city differently, walking from one end to the other, thinking about my mother's hard childhood and how she loved teaching and what it must have been like for her to be a young person so long ago, before she was my mother. One of my nephews had a sports event in the afternoon, so my husband and I walked across the city to meet up with some more family members and watch the young boys rowing on the lake. Some of us went out for fish and chips, and then my husband and I went walking some more, through the downtown and up a big well known hill that overlooked the city and the wild ocean.

When I sat down to write this post today, I didn't mean to write what I did. I was going to talk about drinking, or more accurately, not drinking. On the Saturday morning at work when I got the phone call from my family, Saturday afternoon at home making travel arrangements for the long flight, all day Sunday reading and doing sudoku and passing the time on the flight, at the wake and the funeral and during the days visiting afterwards, and then in the always somewhat guilty return flight home, I didn't drink. Many people did. I come from a drinking family and a drinking culture, and wakes and funerals are steeped in booze. People got drunk and loud. At least one person got drunk and passed out. A few people got drunk and, only then, cried. I didn't want that. I wanted to be sober. Just once, getting the bus on the way home from work the morning I got the news, as the bus passed a wine store I used to frequent, I wondered whether I might have some wine. But I didn't want to.

Somehow, over the past three years of being sober and then not, and sober and then not, and then sober, I have become sober. It's who I am. I was so grateful to be able to face the news and the travel and wake and funeral and all that time with family, to feel the grief I feel in my mother's death. I was able to experience the complicated love I feel for my family and the straightforward love I feel for my husband, and enjoy the powerful connection I have with the people and the place I come from, even when it was sad and painful. I had some amazing conversations, including one with a woman whose son I used to tutor, who took me aside at the wake to tell me about her near-death experience and caution me that death isn't something to fear. I was able to live in the presence of death. I didn't need to turn away from it all and find solace in drink. Life itself is solace, even when it's sad and filled with grief. And I'm grateful for that.

If you're still reading after this long post, thanks for keeping me company through this getting sober thing. I'm grateful for all your support. Peace and joy to you.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Round 3, day 259: Not just bobbing along anymore

Recently, this odd image has been flitting through my mind: a cork, bobbing along in the waves. It's insistent but fleeting, like a fragment of an old childhood memory you're not sure really ever happened, or a dream you had just before you woke up and now can't quite recall. Every now and then, when I'm out walking, crossing the street maybe, or when I'm sitting down to dinner, or just picking up a book, and I glimpse this cork, somewhere in my mind just for a moment, bobbing along.

And from the first time I saw it, I knew without doubt, that cork is me. It's taken me a while to understand it, but it's coming clear.  I'm getting a sense of myself as a cork that's been bobbing along in the waves all these years. I see how much I have been pushed and pulled by the forces around me. And part of what's interesting is this: I see this as something that's in the past. I used to be like that. I'm not anymore.

There's something that many people talk about once they become sober, and that's happening to me, too. I realize what a people pleaser I have been! Now if you knew me in person, you'd probably say, No way! I mostly come off as decisive, sure of myself, quick to speak up. I'm someone who has no trouble putting myself forward. I'm not all that nice at times. When I hear people talk about people pleasing, they always sound like they fold themselves passively around the will of others, or anyway that's what I've always pictured, and that's not me.

But maybe it has been me. Despite seeming to be a strong person at times, I simply haven't been all that aware of myself as someone who can shape a life of my own. It's the old, "not good at wanting" thing that I have talked about here in at least one earlier post. Years ago, I was dating a guy who had such a forceful personality, and whenever we were going to eat out, I'd refuse to make a suggestion because I knew he would just make the case for going somewhere else. I didn't want to be attached to a plan only to have it argued away. For me it was easier to simply not want to do anything in particular, and then I could be happy with whatever we did do. At the time I thought it was all very zen, not needing to be attached or in control, that whole story. Later I saw I was being swallowed up by him, and I left him. (And that's a whole other story.) But these days I think I've done too much of that in my life. I've let myself fall into this or that situation and then made the best of it once I was there. I've done a whole lot of accepting, but not a lot of wanting.

One great exception to this is my relationship with my husband. Being with him has been an active choice, and it enriches my life. Meeting him was lucky. But we chose each other.

But in work, and school, and in so many things, I feel I am only now coming into a sense of myself as someone who wants this and not that. I'm just feeling my way with it all. It's early days for these shoots to be growing here. Some are barely peeking their teeny green heads out of the dirt. But I have a strong sense of me, alive and hoping, and learning how to want whatever it is I want. I don't know much how to do that yet, and I don't even have much of a language for it. But I wanted to say all this today, write it down here, so I can remember the new green feel of it all later once it's not so new anymore.

That's me today, glad to be here, sober and learning all this. Peace and joy to you all. And green shoots all around!

Monday, 16 May 2016

Round 3, Day 243: Finding my way back to joy

I quit drinking (again) eight months ago today. This is my third major stint of sober time, and I'm starting to realize how much I've changed.

Recently I wrote that I have realized I've been going through a bit of a depression lately. I have a lot of uncertainty about what I'm doing with my academic work, which means a lot of my life has been uncertain, as it meant I didn't know where I'd be living or what I'd be doing a year from now. It felt like my whole life was up in the air, and that's a pretty unsettling place to be.

Somehow, over the past year or so, I’ve lost the joy in what I’m studying. When I returned to school a few years ago, it was such fun to encounter so many new ideas! I earned a degree and am most of the way through another, and I’ve learned a lot. But without actively sharing what I’ve learned, something essential is missing. In my area (and  probably in a lot of academic work) learning is such a solitary exercise. I always have spent a lot of time alone, reading and writing, and I love that. But I also need to interact with people. I realized that I don't want to do work that means I'm mostly alone in an office, struggling with something that I can't quite connect to any real person or worthwhile purpose.

This has been the central struggle for me over the past year. Surprisingly, no one I've spoken to in my academic life seems to have understood me on this, which may just be that I haven't expressed it all that well. But more recently, I've been reading stories of people who have left the academic world--people who quit their PhD programs before they completed them, people who finished and then worked outside academia, and people who worked as tenured faculty but left to work in what academics sometimes call "the real world." Many of their stories resonated with me. I see that, for now at least, leaving is for me. I'll finish my thesis and get my MA. But I'm already withdrawing from many things that are not directly connected with that project, and I won't continue on with the PhD as I'd planned. It's just not for me right now.

Part of what's happening here is that I am starting to have a better sense of who I am. A lot of what I have been experiencing as alienation over the past year is, I now see, a great thing! (Though if you'd told me that last September, I'd have bit your head off!) I don't have a clear direction yet regarding what I will do. But clearing a lot of this out of the way has helped me gain clarity on what I might want, and on what I definitely don't want.

I know enough about how depression works in me. I go into a kind of system shutdown, a deep winter of the soul. I become unable to do things that are not good for me. And if I accept that, and wait and watch carefully, and force nothing, I know I will find the tendrils that connect me back to joy again. This isn’t a quick process. I’ve learned to trust myself on this. I’m not generally patient. But there is no other way. I know that if I don’t do this, things so very badly indeed. 

That's where I've been lately, following those tendrils. Spending lots of time alone, doing whatever I want, which is often a whole lot of nothing. I've been reading a lot of mysteries, and running sometimes, and doing a few hikes. Lot's of cooking-- the spring vegetables are starting to show up at the farmers markets, and there's so much that's fresh and green right now! And the rhubarb is out, so there's that tart sweet pleasure to enjoy. I've been working library shifts, which is one of the ways I earn enough to go to school, and it's a way of being in the thick of people in the right sort of way. (Spoiler alert: I'm actually applying to train as a librarian, which seems like such a better fit for me and how I want to live. I won't hear for a month or so whether I'm accepted, and I won't start until January, but it's a tentative plan that has a lot of joy and hope and openness in it, and I'm very pleased with that.)  I've been doing enough of the academic work to keep things ticking, but not a whole lot. I've been hanging out with my lovely husband, walking and eating and going to some great concerts. 

All of that is starting to feel pretty good. There really is a lot of joy here in my life, right now. 

What does this have to do with being sober? Well, everything, I think. For me, the first two times  I quit drinking, I didn't feel a need to reevaluate everything in my life. But sooner or later, the tensions in my life pulled me back to the drink. (No need to get into too much detail here, but I will say that the busyness and stress and alienation of my academic work was part of that.) Now I am committed to not drinking. It has no appeal anymore, and if it ever did bring me fun and connection and some of what I'd longed for, that had stopped working for me ages ago anyway. And along with living without alcohol, I'm committed to finding a way to live that suits the person I am. Some of what I find seems obvious (after 14 years of working in libraries, I find I like libraries!) But it wasn't obvious to me earlier. This process of becoming more myself is a slow one, and it's not so easy, but I'm liking it. I think a lot of the pain and angst that I have felt (and that I've inflicted on people kind enough to read along here) has been the result of me not fitting too well in my life and not being able to see that. People talk about laying down the big burden that they don't need to carry anymore. That's exactly what this all feels like to me. 

So that's me these days. I'm still a little low, but I also have a lot of moments of hope and joy, and that's what always gets me through these low spells. And I have a new appreciation for who I am, which means making some major life changes and avoiding others. I feel like I'm figuring this out, and I'm so very glad to be sober and finding my way.

Thanks as always for your company and support. Peace and joy to you, and a good dollop of hope, too!

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Round 3, Day 228: A little bit lost

When I first realized I needed to get sober, it didn't start out as me thinking I needed to quit drinking. I knew I drank too much, and I knew I'd need to "cut down on the drinking." (Quick side note: cutting back wasn't the answer for me, but I gave it a few good runs, and now no one would be able to convince me that it's an option.)

The bigger problem was a deep sense that I didn't know how to know what I felt. This is something I've written about on the blog here and there, and in some short fiction I've written as well. It's sometimes an obsession. I find myself easily swamped by the world, and when I am swamped, I don't know how to separate my own voice from the voice of the world.

There's plenty of advice kicking around about this, except I don't find much of it all that helpful. People will say, "Listen to your inner voice," or "Don't give in to social pressure," as though it were clear to them which voices were the voices of others and which were their own. Maybe it is clear to them. It's not clear to me though. Sometimes I think my inner voice is a ventriloquist. I have read an enormous amount of fiction and memoir over the years, and I have an easy time imagining myself into the heart of a character. Recently, I was talking to an advisor about the direction I am taking (or not taking) with my academic work, and he said that I should only follow such and such a path if I "could absolutely not imagine doing anything else in the world." That doesn't help me much. I can imagine just about anything! That's the root of the problem. I can picture me in many possible lives. I just don't know how to know which one is the one I want to do. Not being able to imagine otherwise just sounds dim to me.

When I started to get sober, I quickly thought that getting the drink out of the way would address this issue. I figured if I didn't drink anymore, all the ability to feel and connect and know would somehow bubble up naturally. That's a sweet idea. But it doesn't seem to work that way for me.

For me, this is really the pressing issue. I guess I have been somewhat depressed lately. I felt some blessed relief when I withdrew from the various "shake up my life" academic applications. I'm not setting my husband and me up to move cities, countries, careers, or at least not in the next few months. OK. But I don't know what I am doing either.

Being as uncertain as this leaves me swinging wildly between raging doubt and brief, temporary certainties about various possible paths. It's hard to even write about, as I can just hear the platitudes about taking things one day at a time, and they make me want to scream! If I am going to continue with school, I have to find a way to do it--some combination of a program, a supervisor, or an institution that will support my study. That's a long term plan that involves a series of steps, not just a single day focus. Long term planning requires a kind of muscular vision, an ability to see at least the thread of a possible path, along with the flexibility to take the better step along that path when that step is available. And having a vision is something I can do, but it all seems so wildly speculative, and it falls back to nothing so easily. Even if I were not going to continue with school, I'd need to find my way in the working world, and all the same things would be needed there.

Somehow I see that, to get through this, I need a better sense of who I am and what I want. And I'm not sure how to get it. I'm middle aged, I'm reasonably smart and sociable and I've done lots of interesting things in my life. But in some important ways, I feel like a blank slate. Sure, not 100% blank. There are some things I'm sure I like, and some I don't. I despise the taste of turnip. I'm scared of barking dogs. I'm easily startled. Sometimes I get rattled in noisy, chaotic environments, but I worked in one for eight years and often thrived in it. I love the buzz of the city, and fast-paced, witty conversation. I also love sitting alone reading, and getting away from the buzzy city. I remember the glaring certainty of hating the taste of turnip as a two-year-old, spitting it across the kitchen table form my seat in the high-chair, and I remember quickly learning, with a different certainty, that spitting out food you don't like wasn't what people did. But most things aren't that certain. And I'm not two anymore.

I have no answers today, and not much comfort to offer myself or anyone. At between 7 and 8 months sober, I don't feel I have much sense of myself and what I want in the world. The giant blank of it all frightens me. But this is where I am right now. I'm not at all tempted to drink, but the problems that the drink covered up are more glaring. And the escape drink provided is lost to me for good. I guess I wanted to write this because writing sometimes brings me closer to a real knowing. Maybe in time I'll know more. For now though, I'm just a little bit lost.

Thanks for keeping me company in this somewhat bleak post. Wishing you peace and joy, and some knowing.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Round 3, Day 206: Easy

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!