I think that, sometimes, I allow my mind to stray a little too far into the deep end of the emotional pool. I often lose sight of the fact that I only need to gather my wits and swim calmly back over to the shallow side in order to find relief from my own flailing. It’s like a meditative trance; once my toes leave that cool tile bottom and I begin to drift, I find myself wandering aimlessly, not even noticing that my head is starting to go under until the water comes through my nose and down my throat, leaving me a coughing, sputtering mess.
Many people will probably tell you that their earliest days of sobriety were filled with a tidal wave of unfamiliar feelings. Where once you could wash over the discomfort of fear or anger or sadness or loneliness with that amber-colored poison (or golden-colored, blood-colored, glass-colored, whatever), you’re now left to your own devices to stay afloat, struggling to catch your breath in what can feel like slam after slam of emotion.
I know it’s certainly been true for me. I’ve had multiple days over the past 100+ where I felt like I could barely breathe. All at once, I was seeing the panoramic view of the disaster I believed my life to be, and all horizons were cloudy. I didn’t have my safety anymore. There was nothing I could do but brave it and push ahead.
So, I tried. And I really felt quite sorry for myself, much of the time. I lamented every broken friendship and every dream left unrealized. I wondered what had happened to my body. I cried during several car rides home from work, convinced that I had this unbearably heavy and painful load tied to my shoulders, and that there was nothing I could do.
Most of the time, those fits of despair come and go pretty quickly, depending on how long I’m willing to let myself flounder. When I’m capable and ready, I calm myself down, stop struggling against the waves, and begin my doggy paddle back toward solid ground. And I feel okay. I realize more and more that I don’t have to stray so far next time I feel myself pulled away from the safety of the shallow side.
Most recently, my drift into the deep end involved feelings of complete loneliness. I felt lonely at home, in my relationship, and in my community as a whole. I didn’t feel like I had many people who I could call on. I left two separate 12-Step/AA meetings feeling hopeful, but also intensely disappointed that I didn’t immediately make any friends.
“What the fuck is wrong with you, Em?!” I thought angrily to myself. “Why can’t you just be more likable? Why can’t you be the type of person that people want to hang out with all the time?”
And so despite it being my 100th day sober, I spent Sunday being pissy, withdrawn and fighting back tears whenever I thought about how many friends I didn’t have. I tried opening up to my boyfriend – about lots of things, like going more in-depth about my drinking problem, and how I feel so lonely these days – but I realized that he might not be able to fully grasp the level of loneliness I was feeling, because he’s got strong, secure friendships that date back to his middle school years, and neither he nor his closest friends have anything that resembles a drinking problem.
I was angry, annoyed, and irritable. I felt like nobody would understand what made it so difficult for me to just go out and meet people. It’s not that easy, I told the boyfriend. I know what I should do. But knowing what to do and actually doing it – especially as an introvert who doesn’t even drink anymore – is super hard.
Yeah, Sunday wasn’t my best day. I spent my time making a fuss and splashing in the deep end while life was gently coaching me to calm the fuck down, take a deep breath, and just swim back over to the other side.
Despite my shitty mood, I decided to go to a Meetup group that night – a poetry writing group! what I’ve always wanted but never actually tried to do until now! – in an effort to keep putting myself out there. It was the third time I went to spend time in a room with strangers that weekend, and even though I was nervous and tired and not exactly hopeful, I showed up.
And it was…fun, actually. Relaxing. I spent two hours being creative in a room full of other creative people without any pressure or pretension. The woman who organized the group actually ended up being someone who I went to high school with, so when I walked into the room, we saw each other and were all like, “oh – hey! what’s up?!” and it was good. I felt like I’d walked back into an element of creativity and openness that I had been searching for for a long time, and the relief was so goddamn welcome. When the meet up was over, I went back to my boyfriend’s place, showed him my poetry creation, and distracted myself with Westworld and LaCroix.
This morning when I got in to work, as I was sifting through emails and sipping my coffee, I saw an email from the Meetup website come through, letting me know my old classmate had sent me a message:
“Hi Em! It was great to see you at the poetry workshop. I was wondering if you’d want to get together sometime and talk about poetry/books. I don’t have a lot of literary friends in town and am coming to realize this is a problem. Also, there’s a free book reading/signing at the University on Wednesday. If you’re interested maybe we could get coffee or a drink somewhere near the U and then go to that?”
And just like that, friends, on this normal Wednesday morning, yet another sweet lesson of sobriety was swiftly learned: patience and perseverance are everything. Patience with the self, patience with others, patience with life as life is going to be. Perseverance when it comes to going after what is important, what is enriching and encouraging, even if it feels uncomfortable. Because what you’re looking for might be right beyond some corner you hadn’t considered rounding before.
Another lesson: struggling against life and wishing for things to be different than they are does little more than make your arms tired and your eyes all puffy from getting chlorine in them – I thought one of the nice things about sobriety is that we don’t have puffy eyes anymore! While you’re in there splashing and getting the people around you all wet, you could be perfecting your backstroke, or floating by the buoyancy of your own lungs.
Anyway, getting that message really humbled me. Because it made me realize that when I put my energy into struggling and feeling sorry for myself, there’s a good chance I could be missing out on finding exactly what I’m looking for. When I focus on the answers, though – going out and meeting people despite my fears or shyness, opening up my heart to others, continuing to cherish my sobriety and the clarity it brings – everything in life has a much better chance of improving, especially when least expected.
You just have to be open to accepting the answers, even if they’re different than what you imagined or hoped them to be.
Day 103 in progress – looking forward to making a new connection over coffee & books tonight. Perhaps a brand new friendship in the making, if I’m lucky.