One Malfunction Away

Last week we dropped off my boys at summer camp. It is a three week camp. They had never been to a sleep away camp – so this was a huge leap of faith and hope and money(!).

They love it. We’ve received two letters and it sounds as though they are having a blast.

From the moment we dropped them off – and I mean the very first moment, we weren’t even off the camp property yet – my Drunk Nancy voice started clamoring for some wine. She started screaming: “We are on VACATION! Let’s celebrate!”

Drunk Nancy has been screaming for seven days now, and she sort of has a valid point.

You know the feeling you get when you have just begun a much-anticipated vacation and you’ve made it to the airport: Work is behind you and the automatic email response is now in charge; the house is clean and ready for your return; you’ve checked your travel bags and made it through airport security. Responsibility and work are behind you. Fun and freedom await. You take a deep breath, giddy with excitement.

And we all know the perfect way to mark this occasion and kick off the vacation: A DRINK.

That’s how it’s been for a week now. Drunk Nancy screams for her drink and the other voices shut her up by telling her she’s stupid and sloppy and no one wants to be with her, so just go away already.

Each day has not gotten easier, but it hasn’t gotten harder either. Drunk Nancy screams and the other voices scream louder.

I talked to my therapist about it and he said: “Everybody white knuckles it sometimes.”

This was exactly what I needed to hear. Sometimes it is just like this. Life is good, and I want to drink. Life is shitty, and I want to drink.

So I stay sober and stick with the good life and try to make it better. Because if I drink, life will definitely be shitty. And there is no need to start from zero again.

Yesterday, my husband and I were reminiscing about the time we took a sailing class. I never finished the class because once I got out on the water in a teeny tiny sailboat and felt the vastness of the ocean beneath me, I was overwhelmed with my own insignificance and decided dry/firm land was more my style.

He felt the vastness too, but he liked it. To him, the vastness was a peaceful challenge – a reminder of his rightful place.

“You’re just one malfunction away from going SPLAT,” he said. “And nature doesn’t care.”

His comment helped me quiet Drunk Nancy for the first time in a week. Using compassion, rather than berating her. She’s just afraid. Of course she is.

No matter who we are, drunk/sober/perfect/fuck up, we are all just white knuckling it, trying not to go SPLAT.

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My Lifeboat Has Limited Space

I recently watched Titanic with my 11-year-old son. It really is a magnificent movie.

Famously, the Titanic did not have enough lifeboats. And once the evacuation started, many of the lifeboats launched only half full. As they drifted away from the doomed vessel, those in the lifeboats could hear the cries of drowning passengers. But they did not turn back because they were afraid the drowning victims would swamp their small lifeboat and kill everyone.

It’s a moral dilemma: Do you save yourself and leave others behind? Or do you take on as many other victims as you can and possibly capsize yourself?

If there is a middle-of-the-road solution, it is easily lost in the chaos of the event.

In sobriety, my lifeboat is sturdier than its ever been. And smaller than its ever been. I’m learning not to take on a lot of other “victims” because most people are not “victims” – they are adults making their own choices to drown in alcohol or self-pity or whatever their chosen self-destructive woobie is. As my priest-friend Cynthia once told me, if someone is in the gutter, it’s usually their choice to be there and they need to work that shit out with Jesus.

Still, I feel I need to find a doable middle-of-the-road solution. The problem is that I am really only familiar with 2 options. I know better than to put self-destructing adults in my lifeboat (Option #1) because it will capsize. But offering them an empathy sandwich (Option #2) seems heartless. These folks don’t want empathy, anyway. They want someone to feel sorry for them, or do their job for them, or just not hold them accountable for their decisions.

So, I am working on expanding my options to help those in need. I am hoping that I can come up some middle-of-the-road solutions that I could not see before because I was drowning, too.

Any suggestions?

Two Reasons I Am Staying Sober

I’m shocked I’ve neglected this blog for two months. It doesn’t seem that long since I’ve written.

There was indeed a change in the job situation I wrote about last. The incremental change is that I have gone part-time, which means I am spending half the time in that toxic environment and more time with myself and my family. It’s financially stressful, but emotionally healthy – so it’s ideal.

I thought that once this change of job status took place, my anxiety and stress problems would be resolved. This is a ridiculous notion and I should have known better, as I have fallen into this trap before. But there you have it: I thought once I got the job thing sorted out, I would be walking around in a state of bliss and harmony. (Spoiler alert: this did not occur.)

A new truth to me is this: I can have my entire life sorted out and I am still going to be anxious and fearful. I can be sober and activley engaged as a parent/partner/friend/daughter/sister/employee/citizen and still feel anxious and fearful.

I can have all my shit in a pile and still be rocked by uncertainty.

This is true because, it turns out, I am human and I live with other humans.  And no matter what sober and thoughtful tools I develop, I will always be human and live with other humans.

And humans are messy. The level of mess varies – but we are always messy. And it is the mess of being human that makes me anxious and fearful. That mess is FREE WILL. And free will is the reason we can drink and sabotage our relationships, or choose not to. We can beat up our animals or rescue them.  We can treat the Earth like an ashtray or pick up after ourselves.

Free will is the way the system works. It does not matter how I feel about the system. The rules of the system don’t change because I did.

And so this brings me to the Two Reasons I Am Staying Sober:

1. Drinking brings more anxiety and fear into my life. While I cannot be free of these demons entirely, I can mitigate my circumstances to give myself a fighting chance. I used to think drinking could help soften the blow of being human and help me tolerate the mess of life. Sometimes I still think this. But more often I think, No. So, while I am not leaning into the mess and breathing it in (like certain Buddhist nuns recommend), I am at least living parallel with the mess. I’m not looking at it full frontal, but I am not hiding from it either. That’s about all I can stomach right now.

2. My sister. My sister is a fully-blossmed alcoholic. To compare our drinking is to compare apples to oranges. I just dabbled in alcoholism with my silly jelly jars and hangovers, but my sister is the real deal: two bottles a night and the domestic wreckage to prove it. Many, many times I compare myself to my sister and think: 1) I don’t really have a problem with alcohol and 2) I don’t want to be anything like her.

And here is where I bring it home to you, sober blog reader. Because I bet you’ve thought this, too. I bet you’ve compared yourself to other drinkers and thought “nope, I don’t have a problem like they do. And I don’t want to be anything like them.”

I’ve not only thought this about my sister, but I have also thought it about the dozens and dozens of alcoholics I’ve listened to at AA meetings.  And those alcoholics are a gift to me: a glimpse of a possible future that I wouldn’t want for all the jelly jars in the world.

I dodged a bullet last December when I quit drinking my measly one bottle of wine a night and went to an AA meeting. And instead of spending time wondering how much damage that bullet really could have done to me, I just need to go to another meeting and hear another story and then make my grateful way home to my house – full of messy humans.