I received news this week, good news, in the form of a package in the mail. News towards which I have been working for nearly 3 1/2 years, longer even than my sober time.
In the interest of privacy, and brevity, because the story could fill the pages of a novel, the package in the mail put a final period on the sentence: The consequences of my addiction. Hmmm… come to think of it, that isn’t even a sentence. Oh well.
Someone once joked that the period of time waiting for this package was longer than the period of active addiction; depending how you define active addiction, that is an accurate statement.
So how did I celebrate this milestone? Did I call every person I know, shout it from the rooftops, rent a billboard along I-95?
None of the above; some friends or family may in fact be finding out the news by virtue of reading this post (sorry guys).
So what gives? I’m not sure, and of course, I am using my old stand-by of this blog to help me figure it out.
The first thought that comes to mind when I pose the question why aren’t you more excited about this incredible blessing is: disbelief. It’s been so long in the making, there have been so many setbacks, I feel like doubting Thomas, needing to put my fingers in the side of Christ before I believe He has risen. The paperwork is in my hands, and I’m still making phone calls in order to verify its existence, for Pete’s sake!
But I think, skepticism aside, there’s something deeper at play here, and, ironically enough, I think it has to do with fear. Ironic, of course, because the very post before this one I wrote how I can’t figure out how fear plays out in my life. Be careful what you wish for!
So of what am I fearful? I’m still uncertain, I mean, really, it’s only been a couple of days since I wrote that I don’t understand fear, how much could I have possibly learned in a couple of days?
On the most obvious level, while the package represents the end of the most tumultuous time in my entire life, a good thing, by extension that means it also marks the beginning of a new era, and change will be afoot as a result. Who isn’t a little fearful of change?
There is also a fear in trusting a process to do what it is supposed to have done, and I can say with certainty fear in trusting that process is an issue. Human error occurs all the time, I know I make mistakes, what if I trust this process and I wind up getting burned? It’s like jumping out of an airplane and trusting that the parachute is actually going to work, certainly that fear is going to run through your head at least for a split second, right? It might even keep you from jumping. Note to self: now that I’ve written that, I will not let this fear keep me from jumping, dammit! See this solution-by-blogging thing is already working!
Finally, and this is the part that is still somewhat elusive, almost hazy, in my mind: I think there’s a fear in letting go of this part of my identity. Which is a really strange thing to say, given that it is an entirely negative identity (I mean, I’ve labeled it consequences of active addiction, the title alone should indicate how negative it is). For the first year of my sobriety, I struggled to come up with a solution for resolving the consequence, the second year, I did the hard work to resolve the consequence; the last year and half was the fight to get my hard work recognized so that the resolution would actually happen.
And now it has, and, I don’t know, there’s this crazy, almost empty feeling. Really, really strange. And yes, now that therapy that I keep “dissing” will come in handy, perhaps my therapist will help me better understand. I hope to have a positive update to resolving this hazy fear next week!
There is a wonderful new website, addiction. com, I highly recommend you check out. And if you choose to do so, why not start with an article that’s got my ugly mug in it? Here’s the link:
It’s a staple lecture in my house: getting your feelings out, saying what’s going on in your head, is always better than keeping it in. It’s never as bad as you think it is, and you will feel better for sharing your mental burden.
Sometimes, I wonder, though, if there aren’t some exceptions to this rule. Are some thoughts so childish, so disgracefully unkind, that perhaps need only be acknowledged internally and then dismissed?
Because once you share something, you can’t unring the bell. Once you let someone in on your most troublesome thoughts, you can’t say, “You know what? Never mind, I’m okay.”
Growing up, I don’t specifically remember too many crushing disappointments. I’m not sure if this is because I was the most exceptional child ever, or if my expectations were that low, but when I think back over elementary school, high school, and even college and grad school, things I sought out I generally obtained: good grades, positions of leadership, friendships, honors, employment.
The first major disappointment that stands out to me occurred at my first full-time gig after grad school. To reiterate, I slid into every aspect of this career up to this point: I was able to reside and work in my undergrad institution while obtaining my graduate degree, at which point a full-time job magically presented itself upon graduation. Should of, could of, would of… been more grateful, but that is the trouble with youth, no life experience to allow appreciation.
And that job had everything (with the exception of good pay, but what’s money when you’re young and carefree?): great hours, really fun working environment, and a belief in what I was doing. I genuinely looked forward to going to work every day, it was fun the vast majority of the time.
There were two of us that landed these magical positions, and we were (in fact, are still) very close friends. And what followed was predictable in a trite movie plot sort of way: one of us received the promotion for which both of us were vying.
In case I need to state the obvious: that someone was not me.
I am immensely oversimplifying a very old story, but what stands out to me the most is the outrage I felt with respect to the injustice of it all. In my heart, that promotion was mine, and it was an egregious slight that I took very, very personally.
My solution to this problem was to detach emotionally, and jump at the very first position I could find. A position which had nothing to do with my career path, had nothing to do with the advanced degree I just earned, and to this day I could not tell you what possible long-term career benefit it would have provided. Not coincidentally, it provided no long-term career benefit.
Stupid, stupid youth. If I could talk to my 20-something self, I would do so in a loud, frustrated tone of voice.
Why embarrass myself with this stupid story that is a distant memory? Because there is a lifelong pattern to it for which I created my own catch phrase: the end of the innocence.
When I started that particular career, I did not know where I was specifically headed, I was doing something new and exciting, learning and growing, and I wasn’t comparing or competing against anyone or anything. There were no real expectations, and so anything good that happened was really good, anything bad was taken in stride.
But at some point, and I am too far removed from it to determine where, I did develop expectations, and I was comparing myself to others rather than to myself, and when I came up wanting, that is where the dissatisfaction sneaked in. And since I did not have my sage 40-something self to advise me, we know how the story ends.
So, problem solved, right? Compare self to self, rather than self to others, and all will be well.
Except when that sneaky, snarky voice finds its way back in, and even when you know it for what it is, it still manages to wreak havoc with serenity.
A few days ago I was at my son’s final track meet. A very good friend from my college days surprised my son by attending and cheering him on. It made my son’s day to see this particular friend, because he is akin to celebrity status in my house: my friend completed his first Iron Man triathlon this past summer. His advice has gold status as far as my son is concerned.
So I express my gratitude and try to explain to my friend why his presence means so much to my son. He is surprised to be seen as a role model, and laughs, because in his circle he is the novice. He knows professional triathletes, so compared to them, his accomplishments are small. He told me a story that between events, I think he said swimming and biking, he stopped to eat a sandwich. His friends rushed by him and assumed an injury that forced him to end his journey, and were subsequently astonished by his decision to take that break. For them it was about finishing in the quickest amount of time. For him it was about enjoying that experience in the most complete way possible. And apparently complete enjoyment meant a sandwich break while enjoying the sights and sounds of Switzerland.
The best part of that story for me: his complete comfort with his decisions and his outcome, and his complete detachment from the decisions and outcomes of those around him.
I am in that stage of innocence with my fitness right now, and I consciously enjoy it. I do not see myself on the level of those training for marathons, or even 5K’s, I am just supremely happy with the fact that I can run a complete mile without stopping.
I actively miss that stage of innocence with other areas of my life. In those areas that I actively see the downward spiral I have taken, similar in trajectory to the career decisions I described earlier: I start something green and innocent, and am delighted by every new thing that comes along. Then comes that mental shift, and that sneaky voice “shoulding” all over me… I should have more accolades, more progress should be seen by this point, I should have more defined goals so that I should be even harder on myself.
And then, even worse, is when I turn on the unsuspecting people around me, and my envy at their perceived success has me regarding them in a negative light.
And it’s wrong on every level, and it’s shameful, but damned if I know how to turn it off.
Maybe there are some things that are better left unsaid. Just don’t tell my kids I said so.
Had the opportunity to host two different family members at my house, and am still relishing the spontaneity of it!
This may be funny to no one but me, I am about to write a post on change, and I am typing this on some “new, easier way to create” on WordPress.com (please read the part in quotes with the sarcasm I am intending). I already hate it, which probably is an indication of where this post is going.
I think about the changes going on in my life right now, and the word that comes to mind is “layers.” When I first started thinking about the content of this post, my initial thought was not to write it at all; after all, isn’t anyone with kids going through change right now? Mine is a bit more complex than years past in that both kids are attending new schools, and the schedule change is dramatic for everyone in the house, but other than that, who doesn’t experience change this time of year?
Plus we just got a dog, which in my life I never thought we’d have, so there’s change with fitting Dimple’s schedule into the mix.
Plus the usual rigmarole of sports, and no one wants to listen to me talk about that nonsense.
So this week has been a hectic one, filled with missed buses, forgotten alarms, lost lunch boxes, but, and maybe this is the recovery talking, but… I can put all of that into perspective fairly easily. It is week one, and sooner or later this stuff will become as habitual as getting ready for the pool was a week ago.
The change that has me a bit more unsettled in within me, and I’m not sure I’ve diagnosed it properly myself, much less found an answer to it that settles me.
I used to look forward to the beginning of the school year the way a child looks forward to Christmas morning. I’m sure if I were to go back to last summer’s posts, August would be filled with countdowns, and rants about the kids driving me crazy. I’m sure if I went back to the first day of school last year there would be some sort of celebratory post.
Not so this year, and I’m still trying to figure out why.
I can, with no small amount of shame, confess to some of the realizations that occurred to me as I puzzled over this non-excitement. The first: I was, until a few shorts months ago, a secret smoker, most especially secret from the kids (well, secret in my own mind, anyway). So kids in school meant the ability to smoke with relative freedom. Sounds ludicrous, but bear with me, I’m getting to a point.
Another obsession from which I’ve recently disentangled myself: soft pretzels. I have been threatening to write a post about my feelings on soft pretzels for years, and I may still find it within me to do so. I was obsessed to the point that I knew the one and only place I wanted them from, the people knew me there, and it was almost a ceremony the way I sat down to eat them (Recovery-minded readers: remember the ritual of getting that bottle of wine and your favorite glass? Not far off of that, seriously).
And, like the progression that alcoholism takes, I preferred to eat my pretzels uninterrupted. So, again, kids running around, asking to share the pretzel, etc = not fun. Kids in school = pretzel-eating fun.
And as I considered all of this, I got that “someone walked over my grave” shiver, because all of this was exactly as I behaved in active addiction. Because those substances, in addition to being mind-altering, were my little secret, my reward for… well for what exactly, I don’t know. Waking up that morning?
So this day one of school season felt really, really different, and I really can’t give it a label like “good” different or “bad” different. I guess the word I can best come up with: uncomfortable. On the one hand, I consciously recognize that there are a bunch of unhealthy coping mechanisms that I have risen above, evolved past, what have you, and that is obviously to the good. On the other hand, there’s this vaguely empty, “now what?” feeling going on. I have learned enough from my recovery experience that I can sit with it, and realize that it will pass, but there’s this nagging voice telling me, “You’re not working hard enough to figure out what you have to learn, come on, just get there!” And then there’s the counter voice, “Come on, you may have given up all of those things, but can’t we find something to replace them?!?”
One theory has occurred to me as I’m typing: in addition to having all of the external changes going on that I listed above, I am on the cusp of some personal change as well. I am on the tail end of the “clean-up process” of the consequences of active addiction… the finish line is in sight. So perhaps this uncomfortable feeling is the set-up for the next chapter of my life, preparing me for, God willing, a professional change. Although the finish line is in sight, it’s still far enough away that it’s not yet time for me to write a whole lot about it, there will inevitably be more to come on this subject.
Other than that possibility, I’ve got no other thoughts, but I’m open to possible solutions. Which, now that I think about it, is another big change: being open and willing to consider anything other than my own opinions. Because, no matter what happens, I am alive, and I am sober. Everything after those facts is icing on the cake.
That I typed for as long as I did in the “new editor” of WordPress. I have no idea where spell check is, so I now have to switch to classic mode, but still, I lasted a lot longer than I thought I would!