Sunday, October 20, 2013

Lost in Thought

For the past few weeks, I've been meditating. Not sitting around on my porch or anything....I mean going to organized, guided meditation. I've been going once a week for ninety minutes, about half of which is Buddha talk and since that's not really my thing, I meditate extra during those parts. I'm sure I'm doing it wrong, but I'm finding it helpful. I'm not emptying my mind, if that's what I'm supposed to be doing. I'm just re-arranging the things in it and prioritizing them, and that's good enough for me right now.

I'm not certain if it's part of the "official" meditation instructions, but each time I've been, as the leader of the group guides us into wherever it is we're headed as we're sitting there with our eyes closed, he says "nothing needs to be done right now." Every time he says it, I can feel hot tears pressing against the inside of my eyelids. Because recovery is hard. Really hard, like full-time job hard. I spend a lot of time thinking about meetings - which ones to go to, which ones I like, which ones I don't...and that's on top of my regular job. One of the recurring things I hear in meetings is "if you work a tenth as hard on recovery as you did on drinking, you'll make it" so I must have been working REALLY hard all those years.

Like any normal person with a job, I do find it hard sometimes to find the time to do the things that help me re-set my life when things get a little messy and history shows that if I don't do that, the consequences get ugly.  So I'm taking a few days and going to the woods to unplug, to sit and be quiet, to breathe in and out and be conscious of my breath. Nothing has to be done right now.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Weight, Loss

What is the weight of a single resentment? Of a particularly nagging fear? Of months of sadness and grief? What does the physical presence of those things look like?

These things come up because I'm starting to do the part of all of this that involves looking at fears and resentments and my part in them all and if you think that sounds like something you would like to do...well, have fun.  It's hard, and I'm struggling with it and would rather be doing almost anything else. But I'm not. I'm doing this, because I can't do the rest until I do. It's not all sixty-day chips and free coffee, apparently.

At the same time, I am losing weight like crazy. I'm down twenty-plus pounds in just over a month. As each pound disappears, it's hard to not imagine it walking off hand-in-hand with whatever particular resentment or fear I'm trying to rid myself of. Ohhhh, that lady cut me off in traffic! Let it go, let it go. Oh look, there it goes, in tandem with a half pound from my left side. I've started thinking that the more I clear my brain and heart of dark things like fear and anger, the skinnier I'll be. So that's my new fad diet idea -- look for it at a bookstore near you soon.

I don't think it's nuts of me to make those connections. People say it all the time: I feel like the weight of the world has been lifted off of me. Well that's what it's like: every time I get rid of something bad, my back gets straighter, my shoulders go up, and the dial on the scale inches counterclockwise.  Some of the things that were weighing me down were easy to get rid of my biggest triggers in the past was that I was incapable of saying "no" to invitations. I would say "yes" (and mean it) to every e-mailed invite that came my way and then as those dates neared, I'd look for ways to cancel. I mean! I could drink at home! Right? And then that would start a whole cycle of resentment: whoever I stood up would be mad at me for canceling and then I would be mad at them for being mad at me and then I would drink and eat until I needed to go put on my fat pants.  Well, that's all over now. I've learned to say "no" in the damned first place and to be honest, I find it very slimming.

But some are harder. Grief, for instance. I'm not ready quite yet to deal with some of it head-on, but I am allowing myself to nibble at the edges of thinking about it. At a meditation session last week, I used almost the entire time to meditate on my lost friend and put in order the different things he was to me over time. Acquaintance, drinking buddy, co-worker, friend, confidant, not a friend, friend again. It was important to put them in the right order so I could deal with losing each one of those people. I'm not dealing with it yet, but I'm getting ready. That's all I can do for now, other than look really skinny for him.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Dates of Birth

So this program is really birthday-focused. When I first started going to meetings, I noticed that there was a lot of birthday talk. "Please fill out an index card and put your birthday on it!" I kept hearing that and I thought, "oh, that's nice. They give you a little party on your birthday, how sweet." But even though I was going to the same scheduled meeting over and over, I picked up on the fact that that there wasn't ever any cake. It took me longer than I am comfortable admitting to realize that they meant sobriety birthday and that it was tied to the chips that I had seen handed out like Yellow Pages. So, whew, there's a bullet declaring my 47th birthday just two months out of rehab.

As luck - or coincidence - would have it, my 47th birthday is this Thursday, the same day as my 60th day of sobriety. It's not really a sobriety birthday ("birthday" is only for years), but it's still funny that they ended up on the same day after I almost made a fool of myself over the whole birthday thing. A few people have asked me what I have planned for my actual birthday, and you can tell that they are kind of disappointed when I say "Nothing. I am going to get my 60-day chip and then I am going home to bed." And I can't fucking wait.

Birthdays in the past have been celebrated in epic fashion - dozens of friends gathered around sizzling hibachis at one of those silly cook-two-shrimp-in-front-of-you clip joints, all of us posed like Leonardo's "The Last Supper" - me in the middle, like Jesus. Or ten people bowling in progressively drunken fashion over the course of three or four hours, coming up with equally progressively stupid team names (the winner: "I Can't Believe It's Not Gutter").  In past years, October 10 signaled the beginning of The Haze, a season of near-constant drunkenness that rounds up each fall and winter holiday and doesn't end until January 2.  But I need this year's birthday to be the opposite of those prior; I need a new tradition for this day. This isn't the year to figure it out exactly; I am, uh, otherwise engaged with larger issues. But I do want to make a point of breaking the birth-day cycle of the past. So, early to bed, with a plastic chip on the bedside table.

I thought about what my gift to myself would be as well. I ran through all the bumper-sticker ideas - "I'll give myself one day at a time!" "I'll take it easy!" "I'll blah blah blah and be grateful about blah blah blah until I blah blah blah!" Then I decided that I had kind of given myself enough stuff over the past couple of months. I gave myself time, I gave myself some confidence and - crucially - I gave myself peace. All of that seems like enough for this year.

Except....I have a friend from out-patient therapy who - one night when we were comparing war stories about our drinking pasts - said "sometimes, the greatest gift of all of this recovery stuff is being able to brush the back of my tongue without throwing up in the sink." I could not agree with him more. So happy birthday to me! And happy birthday to me.

Friday, October 4, 2013


One of the biggest things that happened to me during my days out on the rehab ranch was that somewhere along the way, my guard lowered. I know that sounds like a completely positive thing - and in most ways, it was...I was able to talk about ways of feeling that weren't just anger or frustration, two emotions that had been kind of dominant for a long time. I was able to discuss grief and sadness and regret and happiness and joy, and I was able to discuss how I wanted some of those and didn't want others. But a lowered guard is a little like a compromised immune system: bad stuff can get in too. I discovered that I am a little bit of a "fixater," especially if I find out that someone likes me for any reason. Even a total stranger who laughs at a joke of mine can become an object of my fixation. It's not stalker-y...I don't mean it that way. It's more like the way you really admire a pair of shoes and can't stop thinking about them until they are part of your shoe collection - even though you have plenty of shoes and will probably never wear this pair. So maybe "fixater" is the wrong word; perhaps I am just a collector.  Whatever it's called, it's a distraction and once I noticed it, it kind of embarrassed me...not that I could in any way control it. Other bad things crept in too: my competitive streak ("I want to get an 'A' in rehab!"), my jealous streak ("why is the counselor paying so much attention to that idiot over there instead of me?"), my mean streak ("oh, this guy might as well get a rehab punch card").

Worst of all is sadness. I did a good job of keeping it at bay while I was out there, and I've fenced it away toward the back of my brain as much as possible, but a few days ago, I could detect a few drops of black ink in the clear water surrounding me. It wasn't too tough to pinpoint why...a friend's relapse, some job stress and the impending end of my out-patient therapy. This last was particularly distressing; I absolutely loved my out-patient therapy and had been feeling anxious about its end. The final session was last night. I was predictably teary and more than a little upset later in the car on the way home. I took the long way so I could just cry it out, but when I got in the driveway, I was still churning out big fat tears.

But I did not drink. Which is how I normally deal with sadness. I just drink until I am not sad anymore. This has gotten me in a significant amount of trouble - I still have to deal with a tremendous well of grief from an event about a year and a half ago. But I'm not going to drink over it.  I'm also not really ready to deal with it realistically so I am back-burnering it for just a while longer while I concentrate on the rest of me for a bit.

What I can do now is work on raising the wall a little - not all the way back up to be full-on on-guard, but just enough to slow some of the bad things down, to tamp down some of the sadness until it's a tiny pile of embers rather than a full-on fire. Otherwise I'm like a baby, reacting to things completely based on emotion rather than stopping and thinking them through before deciding how to process them. I am a lot of things, but a baby is not one of them.

Thursday, October 3, 2013


Someone once told me - and I really wish I could remember who, because I have talked about this before - that in the hiking world, there are really only two types of hikers: Destination Hikers and Journey Hikers.  It's easy to figure out which one you are: if all you can think about is the magical waterfall at the end of the six mile hike and then the parking lot going the other direction, you are a Destination Hiker. If you stop and look at every fucking leaf on every fucking trillium and oohhh and ahhh over the pattern of the bark on a tree and hike for six hours and only go a hundred yards, you are a Journey Hiker.

For years and years, I was a Destination Hiker. I was the first one out of the car, barking orders and getting everyone to line up and making sure we all had film in the camera so that when we got to Ohmygod Falls, we could all pose for the identical picture that everyone else who had ever hiked there had also taken, which was also available as a postcard in the gift shop. The hike would begin and I would set the pace and god help anyone who happened to be interested in lichen along the way.

That did gradually start to change, but not because I was having any big revelation. It changed because I got seriously out of shape and getting to Ohmygod Falls started to be more of a concept than a reachable goal. Many hikes were abandoned mid-trail, many friends disappointed by my lack of enthusiasm over the very hobby I had gotten them all interested in.  I did manage to complete one whopper of a hike, 14.6 miles at the famous Fiery Gizzard, but I should also tell you that I had a Percocet at about Mile 11, so I'm not sure I can say I well and truly completed it.  But my poor health did make me more of a Journey Hiker. I didn't have much choice - I had to pay attention to what I was seeing along the way because it was fairly obvious I wasn't going to see Ohmygod Falls. "I'll see you back at the car," I would say, and peel off from the end of the hiking column and head in the reverse direction.

This whole recovery experience has been kind of similar, I think. I'm definitely now a Journey Hiker, this time by choice, though I don't think there's really a Destination Hiker option, because I don't think there's anywhere to get. The journey is the hike, it's the point. I take note of things I didn't before, even dumb small things. I climb into the linen envelope of my bed each night and notice how it all feels, smooth and cool and soft and designed to help me rest. Before, I just fell down on it and sozzled off to sleep until it was time for breakfast wine. But every little thing matters differently now, or they all seem to have different meaning, anyway.

Last weekend, I bought a new hiking pole. I used to have two of the fancy expandable ones but they both broke. So I replaced them with a hand-made wooden one, turned in some hillbilly's woodshop up in the foothills of the Smokies. It feels better in my hand than the metal ones did, friendlier and warmer. I can use it in the physical world to find balance, to poke my way across a boulder field, to ward off snakes or - if such a gift were mine - even divine water.

Today is the final day of my out-patient therapy. After this, I have to proceed along this particular trail on my own, with meetings and the help of a sponsor. But there are no more requirements; I don't have to collect any more signatures or add up hours spent in conference rooms or turn the pages of worksheet assignments. It's all me from here on out. I think, though, that recovery is allowing me to do in the abstract world what my new hiking pole is doing in the physical: to balance. To poke my way across a boulder field. To ward off snakes. To - if such a gift were mine - even divine water.

I'm ready and willing to use either pole. I guess it depends on the journey.