I am here now, and I am OK

Winter makes me exceedingly tired. Not just physically, but mentally & emotionally. I am starting to become exhausted. Somehow, I’ve convinced myself in recent years that the remedy to this is to do more: work more, volunteer my time more, go to graduate school, travel often, etc.

But so often, even as I’m able to do these things I sign myself up for—and do them well—I get to worn down that even the act of waking up is a chore.

Some days I wake up despite my protest of my alarm clock, and I’m unable (unwilling, rather) to pull myself out of bed for half an hour or more while I stare listlessly at my phone.

Other days, I wake up before the alarm goes off and I pull myself up out of bed without much complaint.

These winter mornings are becoming lighter, earlier, and the northern hemisphere is starting to melt away all the reserves of snow and ice we’ve built up over the past two months.

Every day I wake sober and not hungover and yet some days, I rise from my dreams with body pain and a headache and frustrated boredom with my routine. Depression? Not clinical, or diagnosable, but semi-persistent and noticeable.

I wake hungry, I wake exhausted. On the days when I’ve got my internship in the morning, I wake somewhat frantic, knowing that I don’t have much time to meander. I grumble until I remember that I actually enjoy my internship work 99% of the time.

After I’ve shimmied my way out of bed, I press the “on” button on my tiny space heater to warm up my tiny room, stumble downstairs to make coffee and grab my daily yogurt + hard boiled eggs, and stumble back upstairs to the bathroom for a hot shower.

Once I’m done eating and showering, I pace around my room trying to find a semi-unique pairing of clothes to wear that day. Nothing too baggy or form-fitting, of course, but something with a little bit of hug in the right places—unless I’m feeling particularly bloated or misshapen that day, in which case there’s no reasoning with myself. Sometimes I spend 20 minutes trying to find something that fits me, and I still leave the house feeling lumpy. Other days, I find just what I’m looking for in a couple of minutes and I feel pretty darn good about myself.

And then, it’s off to work/internship. If I’m driving, which I often do, I usually forget to give myself an extra 5 minutes to scrape off my car, which makes me late. If I’m taking the bus, I often linger a bit too long in the kitchen sipping leftover coffee, which makes me late.

I’m late pretty often. I don’t like to be. It makes me anxious. But there seems to be something in the winter air that slows me more and more the longer winter holds on. I shouldn’t be surprised. I shouldn’t expect anything different from the Minnesota climate—we are the cold, bold north and we’re cold all winter long, slow like frozen molasses. We huddle down into blankets whenever possible, and muster up all the joy de vivre we can in order to survive.

The anticipation of spring just kills me, though. My busy schedule seems immovable for the time being (I know that’s not true, but it feels this way). I am beginning to juggle ideas about what I’m going to do this time next year, when I’m preparing myself to graduate and start working. Where will I go? Rather, where do I want to go? Is this cold place my forever home? Am I bound to keep wandering? I’ve been content with the idea of staying here and building a home for myself since I moved back in late 2014. But now that I’m staring down this new vocational path, I don’t know if that’s the right choice.

I don’t know where I will belong.

I struggle, and have struggled for at least a decade now, with the idea of a consistent home and a feeling of true belonging.

Lately, too, I’ve been struggling with the idea of “being sober.”

No, no, don’t start worrying—I’m not thinking about or planning on drinking. I wouldn’t. I can’t. I won’t.

No, actually, more of what I’ve been struggling with is this idea of how a large part of my life has become defined by the fact that I’m sober. That by calling myself sober, I am defining myself by what I don’t do, rather than by what I do. That somehow, my ability to break free from past behaviors of abusive drinking is the lynchpin to my current functioning. I feel framed by what I was, rather than who I am: every positive thing I do now is drawn into comparison with what I did before. I am the sober person. I am the one who had to stop drinking. I am the one who chose to quit. Even after over a year and a half, I feel like my decision to quit is what I hang my positive-life hat on. Every good thing I do now feels like some example of sober living, and every pitfall is just another “sober living & learning opportunity”.

This isn’t really anybody’s fault but my own. I chose, for a long time, to define myself as such. I drew a lot of meaning into my sober life by comparing who I was to what I am now. And I think that, at least for some time, this way of thinking really helped me claw my way out of addiction. I wasn’t able to fully realize and appreciate my sober potential in the earlier stages of my recovery without having something awful to compare it to.

But these days, that comparison feels like a stretch. The longer I am sober, the less attached I feel to those comparisons of my old, sad self.

This has gotten me thinking about the other ways I compare who I am to who I used to be, or how I used to act.

I sometimes refer to myself as a divorcee, or as someone who has gotten a divorce. I’ve allowed a big part of my relational identity to be framed by the fact that I was once married, and it implies that that marriage was so definitive for me that I can now only think of myself in terms of no longer having that thing—that relationship, that man—in my life.

I refer to myself as someone who has survived relationship abuse. I used to have an eating disorder but don’t anymore. I am a child of parental divorce. I am the manifestation of past pain and suffering turned joy. I was this, but now I am that. What I am today wouldn’t be possible were it not for who I was the day before.

And hey, I get it. I know that many people are sustained by this type of self-definition, and for them, it is a big part of what enables such a beautiful, intentional life that they see as worth living. That reminder of who they used to be drives them to be the very best version of themselves they can be, right now. But I think that at this time in my life, I want to start shifting away from that kind of thinking and labeling and defining. I want to stop defining who I am by what I no longer do. I think this line of thought has always made up some of my hesitance to publicly label myself as sober—I’ve typically only called myself that in my own head and with the people I’m closest to. To all others and to those who have had to ask, I’m just a non-drinker. End of story.

Nevertheless, I don’t want to be a sober kid anymore. I don’t want to be a sober kid just like I don’t want to be a divorcee, or an abuse survivor, or a sexual assault survivor, or someone who used to have an eating disorder, or a child of divorce. I’m done feeling like my past shame, pain, and agony define who I am today. These things have helped me write my story but I’m getting nowhere by looking backward and rehashing the same parables over and over.

I’m done. I’m done painting maudlin portraits of my past self and wondering what my life might’ve been had I used a different canvas, or different colors. This is me—I’m taking what I’ve learned through pain and joy and anger and abuse and addiction—and I’m painting my new picture with intention. This is me, learning one step at a time what it means to be okay in this world, in spite of everything that’s happened. And that’s the thing—I am here now, and I am okay. Maybe I’ve finally made it. Maybe I’ve been here all along.

Em

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