On Being Sober & American During Election 2016

This morning as I was driving into work, I saw a squirrel in the middle of my normal off-ramp, laying on its back, writhing and seizing after having been hit by a car, its tail flicking, arms jerking, head contorted. It was as if it were being jolted rhythmically by an electric shock. What would normally cause me a moment of fleeting sadness instead caused me to burst almost uncontrollably into tears. I held my mouth and tried to suck air in between my fingers but felt only hot, salty tears down my cheeks. The atrocity of life is this inevitability of death that we have no power to control. And this poor squirrel – one of millions killed by vehicles every year, I’m sure – could only fight against its inevitable death by performing a grotesque dance of life there on the pavement as we all drove by, coffees in hand, late for work again. 

I’ll admit, I’ve been a little more sensitive lately. I feel my nerves frying. I am raw around the edges. This election season has done little but invoke a deep sense of anxiety, fear, confusion and disbelief within my psyche; for many of my friends, family and coworkers, the same seems to be true. All at once, it is so hard to believe that I live in an America where values and beliefs have been bloated by fear and hatred; where human anatomy has been weaponized; where every value that I thought the majority stood against – xenophobia, homophobia, racism, misogyny, bigotry – has been embraced and uplifted by a large portion of our society, under the guise of returning our country to the greatness it once was. “Greatness” built upon the backs of the unwilling and paid for by the blood of those it oppresses. 

I’m not normally so depressed about it, I promise. In 2008 and 2012, I cast my vote with an accent of hope attached to every completely-filled-in dot, and joy aiming every arrow toward the candidate I believed would bring progress. Sure, I was fearful of what it might mean if the “other” won, but never so fearful as now. Never so anxious. Never so torched. 

It’s been an interesting experience to endure these last 4 months of this election while completely, 100% sober. In July, for many reasons, I decided to stop drinking. At the time I was aiming for better physical and emotional health, clarity of mind, more energy, etc. etc. What I didn’t fully expect, though, was the lesson I received in enduring pain, shame, heartbreak and fear without the familiar and effective crutch by my side. To be completely honest, it kinda sucks. 

Everywhere I look on social media, or while walking down the streets, or even in my own home, I see and hear the voices of my community writhing against this painful political process, uniting over one common vice: alcohol. Bars and breweries and restaurants are luring patrons in with the promise of a companion to endure the election and soothe their broken, divided hearts. There has been a swath of debate and election-day drinking games, with the ultimate goal being to get completely wasted. Because we can’t handle it, apparently. Because this is what it has come to. 

It’s not hard to see why, and I blame no one. We, as a nation, are in pain. Lots of us would really, really like to just forget this whole thing ever happened. We are embarrassed for our nation, for ourselves. We feel this deep sense of shame, knowing that we’ve sat mostly idle as this great divide beneath us widened, widened, widened – so far now that we fear it’s impossible to build a bridge to the other side. So far that we aren’t even sure if we want to anymore. 

No matter what side you stand on, there is this deep, visceral reaction that majority of people have to this year’s shitshow. In 2008 – my first election EVER, where I helped elect our first black president – there was more hope than fear, more determination than aggravation. At least on one side. Again in 2012, the nation showed not only ourselves, but the rest of the world, that we were ready to move forward with them – or at least try. This year, what started out as a joke became the something very real and scary. That progress has been threatened, and then some. 

Somewhere, through time and festering disillusionment, an angry, previously silent subsection of the population began to manifest. They are here now. Despite the fact that I am disgusted by many of the beliefs they have embraced, I can’t sit by and pretend as though their fears, rage and disillusionment are not real. They are very real. All of these feelings that everyone is having, on both sides of the political spectrum, are very, very real. 

And they hurt like hell. 

Sounds pretty similar to being sober in general, eh? We’ve gone so long as a nation trying to numb out and stuff down these “unmentionable” ideas with a stern shake of the head and a firm NO. But they’re here. The cancer of fear has metastasized. And instead of succumbing to its will, we have the choice now – no matter the outcome of this election – to allow it to sober us up, figuratively speaking, and make us really see what we’ve turned into. To help us know what we’re really looking at, so we can begin to heal. Chances are, many of us won’t really like what we see. Our young America has the face of a cracked widow with gin blossoms and tired eyes. She needs our help. 

As for my personal experience, being sober during all of this has been exhausting. Things that may have irritated me before now actively make my skin crawl. I’m fearful. I’ve had to avoid social media on and off because of how deeply it affects me. I have become very aware of how my anatomy, and the anatomy of my fellow women, has become weaponized – a feeling I haven’t ever personally experienced before. And today, when I saw that poor squirrel retching and seizing for its last few breaths of life, revolting against the inevitable, I couldn’t help but see myself and my country through the same lens. Scared. Jolted. Not knowing what to expect next, yet having to make the journey anyway. 

3 thoughts on “On Being Sober & American During Election 2016

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