Well, since it’s raining and I am valiantly combating the looming possibility of a sinus and/or ear infection, I figure it’s a good time to settle in with some hot green tea and get my blog on.
There is nothing like being cooped up in the house for a few days to remind one of how important it is to be connected with other people.
In my first year of college, one of my favorite things to do (aside from smoke pot, skip class, and neglect to put forth any serious effort) was pick up a burrito and a large, icy Pepsi. I would return to my dorm alone – I had a double room to myself – and add whiskey to my drink. This was a bad idea for a number of reasons, particularly because I could barely eat and was very thin and sick at the time, but mainly because it established my predisposition for drinking hard liquor in isolation.
I hated beer. Not only did it taste like shit but it also took too long to work and I liked to put as little in my stomach as possible. I rarely finished a bottle. Cocktails, however, were a different story. And Jack Daniels…let’s just say that whiskey commercials still make me ache a little. I’m extremely lucky Jack didn’t become my life partner.
It’s sad that Jack Daniels, Jim Beam, and Captain Morgan do, quite literally, become the sole companions of alcoholics far and wide. Isolation is a key component of the disease. My biological father, who died in the clutches of his various addictions, wasn’t found for at least two weeks. A moldy, barely eaten birthday cake rotted on his counter. He was completely alone.
There is no loneliness greater than that which can be found in the eye of addiction’s storm. Many people would be traumatized by the things I saw in my father’s house, but I choose to let those images drive me to make different choices.
I share this very personal story because I want people to know that you can stop before there is no one left in your life. I did.
I couldn’t stop, however, without a clean, sober, and behavior abstaining support network.
How can you help if you’re not in recovery? Go forth compassionately with the knowledge that alcohol can look like a loaded gun capable of exacting both murder and suicide. It can be a siren’s song. A poisonous temptress. Don’t look at someone abstaining with incredulity or pass judgement. Don’t ask: “Why don’t you drink?” or “Why would anyone want to stop?” or “Were you just going through a phase?”
I’ve experienced all of the above and then some. There’s a lot of talk about isolation and loneliness in active alcoholism and addiction, but what I don’t hear about that often is how lonely recovery can be, too.
Alcohol is the cultural norm and when you don’t participate in the norm you can feel very left out. I know that I do sometimes and it hurts. I don’t think the people in my life who aren’t in recovery always recognize how much it hurts and how much work it takes to fight the disease. I try not to take it personally. It’s difficult to understand something when you haven’t experienced it for yourself. The trade off to all of this is that I have a great life that isn’t worth throwing away to feel like I fit in with the majority of society. I have to constantly remind myself that I am not normal. I have a sickness that needs to be treated.
This past Winter I went to visit my childhood best friend. I am certain of very few things in the world, but one thing I do know beyond a shadow of a doubt is that he will always be there, waiting vigilantly to pick up where we left off or, on some occasions, to pick up the broken pieces of my heart. On this occasion, we were driving home from dinner with mutual friends and his wife was asleep next to him in the front of the car. “I am wide awake,” I said to him from the dark backseat, not referring to sleep, but describing what it’s like to be in recovery. “I wish I could share this wakefulness with everyone”. I went on to tell him about how lonely I felt having to experience emotions so poignantly – happiness, sadness, anger, fear – while inhabitants of the “real” world (v.s. the recovery world) seemed to numb and relax themselves with various substances. Instead of being a blessing, coping skills and emotions were feeling like a punishment.
When the strain of choosing to live my life differently gets to be too much, it is an absolute necessity to have someone with whom I can share my feelings of envy, anger, and sadness. I am lucky enough to know that there are entire rooms of people out there who understand exactly what I am going through and also how to find said rooms. They are the safe harbors from which I must launch into the activity of living.
Coping skills and emotions are not a punishment, although my nature bucks against them. They are gifts. I have the ability to experience life to the fullest extent without any form of dilution.
I also find meditation to be an essential practice. I recently downloaded a meditation app on my phone by Deepak Chopra (Ananda – Living In Love). On his free demo track, he instructs one to mentally say “soul” on the intake of breath and “hum” on the exhale of breath. Having neglected meditation for months, if not years, tears of relief and release streamed down my face. I had this very same experience the first few times I ever meditated. In the stillness, you come back to yourself. You reconnect to your own being.
Connection. It is the antidote for isolation.
A very special, very beautiful person (aka my girlfriend) just took a minute from work to bring my sick face a surprise Oreo Coolatta. When I went outside to fetch it, the humid air felt good on my cold skin. I was momentarily plugged back into the world. The people on the sidewalk and the holiday weekend traffic reminded me that I am a part of something much bigger and not a singular entity existing in a room with a laptop.
We are all a part of a “bigger something”. Soul hum. It is the sound of my breathing and the sound of yours.