When I was newly sober, having a list of amends to make was like having a big pile of bills to pay. And I hate that feeling: a stack of checks to write and a list of people and places I owe. It’s just always on my mind, lingering in the back row like somebody murmuring behind you at the movies. When I stopped drinking my conscious woke up and I start hearing the voices of remorse.
And then there was that one time when I was in high school that I stole a whole bunch of books from the public library. It was way back when shoplifting was easy. Go in with a nearly empty backpack, load it up with Hobbit adventures, and walk out. Just be careful and it was really that easy. I didn’t feel any guilt at the time because for whatever reason in my head, the world owed me.
And then there was that one time when I was in high school and in a car wreck. Of course I was drinking so the details are all a blur. I had huge gash on the top of my head after hitting the windshield. I would tend to believe there was enough blood to make people worry.
My friends and I are outside the car and the police are there and it’s all a big commotion. The car’s smashed, there’s broken glass, flashing lights blue and red.
Toward the end of my drinking it was like treading water. Never going anywhere, not having any fun, just struggling to do the bare minimum to stay afloat. A soggy, pathetic, emotional mess.
I was well past my reckless youth, going out and getting into trouble, wrecking cars, being thrown in jail. Well past the padded room I chased an orderly out of with a safety pin. It was just me, the liquor, and myself. Paddling in a sea of cold air in a dark, damp basement.
I’m going to mix and match reality and imagination. Analogies and metaphors. Because that’s what you do when you’re me.
Alcoholics can related to this. I’m not sure if others will…
But one of the things that made it so easy for me to continue drinking was that I never had any real consequences. I never was in jail for more than a day or so, the bank never threatened to take my house. My jobs were always more than supportive and somehow I still have all my fingers and toes.
It’s not that I didn’t think about the consequences. I could think about them all day long, but if it were in my head that I was gonna drink, there was simply no stopping me. I didn’t resist at all. There was no debate, no trying to convince myself it was the wrong thing to do. I never tried to talk myself out of it. All of that internal yammering was too painful and willpower is nonexistent when I’m drinking. It was easier to just give in, give up, quit fighting a fight I’d never win.
For much of my life I’ve been internally combustible and physically uncomfortable. I felt ill and under and unequipped just being human. Even trying to be human. Too much shit gurgling in my stomach. Never ending mallet beating my heart. Intestines put on backwards and inside out. My thoughts whirling and jerking back and forth by some restless, mechanical bull.
I’m melodramatic, I know.
But when I found drugs and alcohol as a teenager that fixed me, that calmed the bomb and made life tolerable, comfortable. The whole reason why I drank as much and as hard as I did was because drinking brought me relief. And not only that but it took me to a place of adventure, a place I was fond of, a place without restraints. A feeling inside and out that nothing mattered, nothing could touch me, and I just didn’t give a fuck. If it was sunny outside then that was perfect and if it were raining then that was fucking awesome, too.
Of course being alcoholic there always comes a point where the watered down solution becomes a problem in itself. Becomes more of a problem than the anxiety I was trying to do away with.
And then when I did stop drinking the pressures of everyday life were back. More painful than ever. I didn’t have many skills to deal with them and oh boy, did the mechanical bull launch full throttle again. The first year and two I was sober I felt the craziest that I ever had my whole life. Like every nerve in my body was exposed, every sight a cause for alarm.
Am I going to be able to drive all the way home? I can’t even fucking think straight.
And every sound twice as loud.
Why is everyone talking through a megaphone?
In related news, it feels like there’s been ringing in my ears since I was nine.
Freshly sober my anxiety would have me up at 4:30 in the morning, pounding down the coffees. Other times I’d be up well past midnight, smoking cigarette after cigarette. Day and night making my combustion worse by not sleeping and pumping more toxins into my system.
In the here-and-now, even well into sobriety, when I’m uncomfortable my go-to reaction is to fix how I feel. Reach for cigarettes that aren’t there. Look for something outside of me to soothe the unrest within. Something, anything to take away the worry, the doubt, the paranoia. Unplug the melodramatic bull.
After I got back into 12-step recovery one of the most valuable tools that I learned was the cosmic pause. To take an interlude. To stop. For a moment. To breathe.
And also to learn how to feel my feelings, especially the uncomfortable ones. I’m sure I’ve quoted Tony before when he said, “those that make it are the ones who learn how to be uncomfortable.”
My last divorce was certainly uncomfortable and plenty difficult for everybody involved. Every time I would get a text message from my ex-wife my heart would race and I felt like I was holding a bomb. My hands would shake as I was pummeled with nervous, dizzy emotion. And it would all happen in an instant. Maybe kinda like a panic attack. :)
Then of course I would immediately read/react/reply, and the text messages would explode with overflowing wells of anger. Puke and shit everywhere. It was the same story with my first ex-wife except we’d actually be calling each other all frenzy-like since cell phones weren’t an everyday thing.
And then somewhere along the way the cosmos gave me some insight.
I didn’t have to respond to someone’s messages right away. I didn’t even have to read them right when my phone popped up an alert. Hell, I didn’t have to read them at all if I didn’t want to. Fucking spiritual revelation.
When I get in those kind of tense situations where I’m feeling nervous or unsure I do my best to simply pause. Accept that whatever I’m feeling is how I’m supposed to be feeling at that very moment. And then say a little prayer, sometimes a big one, and ask the cosmos for direction. I breathe out and imagine I’m exhaling the anxiety. Blow it out like the smoke that used to give me so much comfort.
On a side note, imagine taking a drag off a cigarette and then never blowing out the smoke. That choking feeling, that suffocation is how I feel when I only hold on to my emotions and don’t process them.
Anyways, absolutely not doing anything when I’m in a mess is almost always the right thing to do. I’m not good at reacting under pressure. Even more so when there’s barbed history. I usually make the situation worse if I act on that first impulse. I can easily freak out and go some place emotionally I don’t like being. So I pause and ride my emotional, mechanical bull until it powers down. Afterward the feelings subside, if not pass altogether, and then I’m able to make sound decisions with a clear mind.
My solution is always divine. No amount of material things will ever fix me. I need to reconnect with the cosmic spirit if I want peace. By letting the cosmos care for and guide me I don’t have to take on the burden of trying to fix myself, trying to manage my anxiety. Control whatever situation I’m in or even control how I’m feeling. I can just let go and know that the answers will come so long as I allow myself to be a complete human being. With uncomfortable feelings and all.
And back to that “holding a bomb” feeling.
The funny thing is I know now most of that was pretty much all about me. My gears grinding and circuits working overtime. My heart would beat so fast and there I was the one holding the mallet.
Mechanical bull up in my head, glaring eyes of red, snorting steam they said.
I can’t speak for my ex-wives or anybody else but it wouldn’t surprise me if both felt just as nervous as I did when they reached out to me. My behaviors and responses were unpredictable. At best. And divorces are messy, too. Emotions high. Feelings hurt. That in itself is reason enough for anybody to slow way the fuck down.
Most of my messages in the here-and-now are light and nonchalant. I’m overall calm. I don’t feel the mechanical bull winding up and bashing me around when certain people message me. I do my best to stay consistently plugged into the cosmos and walk that spiritual path. When I am and when I do, I’m not as eager to race ahead and react to fear, perceived or not. If I stay ahead of the anxiety game I’m less likely to lose when it’s time to play.
When I’m plugged in nothing can touch me either. I’m on that spiritual journey and get a text message bomb, then it doesn’t matter. I don’t care. Other people can behave badly and I don’t give a fuck. And that feeling of being okay is what I was after the whole time I was drinking. I was trying to get okay. I just made the mistake of using man-made fixes.
Physically uncomfortable and internally combustible. Life doesn’t have to be that way. More importantly, life’s not supposed to be like that.
I needed a better way to live. My solution has been always divine but there were things that I could certainly do.
So when I stopped chugging coffees after 8 pm was when I started closing my eyes and falling asleep come bedtime. When I stopped taking things so damn personal, when I stopped seeing people as threats was when I finally was able to relax and life wasn’t so loud anymore.
When I stopped analyzing and scrutinizing every detail and started trusting in the greater good of my fellow humans was when l started building meaningful, long term relationships.
When I stopped worrying about getting hurt was when I was finally able to love you guys.
When I stopped using quick fixes for the major problems was when I started to heal.
And then when I realized that most of what I thought was important in life was irrelevant, when I finally let everything go was when I was finally set free.
“I never knew I had anxiety. I just knew I needed another cigarette.” I don’t know who said that on NPR but I was all like “YES” when I heard it. ↑
Text-based conversation is possibly one of the worst things that has happened to modern communication. It lets people write things that they would never get away with saying to another person face-to-face. ↑
Just to throw this out there, some people need medication. I’m not saying that everybody can get by on a spiritual solution alone. But for me much of my anxiety was driven by how I lived my life. ↑
“…we are our very worst selves in fear. We are the most dangerous to ourselves and to each other.” -Brené Brown↑
This lady was eating popcorn with complete disregard for public safety
I was sitting in a room full of people that obviously have the same kind of interests that I do. But I didn’t know anybody. So I did the next rational thing which is to get on my phone, post on Facebook, and visit the event website. For some reason I had it in the back of my mind this was all related to anime or Pokémon or something.
I was quite wrong. It’s more akin to TED Talks but it gives everyone a chance to present. “Great!” I thought non-sarcastically.
We believe there is nothing social about online social networks, so get out from behind your screen and get to a live event, with real people, real communication…
So there I was at a live event, reading from the event website that I should put down my phone and socialize.
This is a tricky scenario for me. I don’t do well in groups of people, even more so when I don’t know the humans. It’s part of the story when I relapsed. I want to hang out with other like-minded people but group settings make me feel awkward and uncomfortable. Overstimulated. Like I’m in a swimming pool and there’s constant splashing. And too many people talking. And I have water in my ears. And there’s beach balls flying around. And I’m trying to keep myself from drowning. Maybe it’s not exactly like that but it’s close.
Drinking makes social gatherings easier. It lubes the conversations with people I don’t know. It feels like I’m wearing a life jacket when I drink. It takes the edge off. And I have too many edges. Too much shame and too many bullies when I was a kid or something. I doubt if I’ll ever feel confident or at ease in public.
And then also drinking makes me feel normal around other people. Like I fit in then. I’m part of a tribe that I’ve never belonged to. When I relapsed I was in a similar situation, a venue serving alcohol, surrounded by creative people enjoying themselves. And I was out of place. Without social skills. I didn’t know how to swim. And then I got a drink. And then the pool party wasn’t that hard. It wasn’t really a pool party but you get the analogy. And then that one drink last for ten years.
But I wanted to be at tonight’s PechaKucha event, wanted to get to know people in the area other than those in recovery. Not that there’s anything wrong with the latter but I also have a magnetic attraction to another set of people, ones who are artistically passionate. Because we’re similar. Same expressive wavelength. The art makers and art lovers. I’ve got something to say creatively, just as they do.
When I read the “get out from behind your screen” line I knew that I was doing it wrong. So I put my phone away and walked over to the greeter who had taken my money when I came in. I asked her how I could get one of the name badges some people were wearing. The lady told me those people were either helping out with the event or presenting that night. I asked her what time would I get to present. Because when I feel awkward I make jokes. She smiled and told me that I needed to fill out a form and maybe I could present at the next event in February. That was good enough.
I then saw Jaime and his wife across the room. He had invited me so I was happy to see him. And he wasn’t with a group of people. I hate when I feel like I’m standing on the perimeter, waiting for my turn to talk. I won’t even bother with that anymore.
Anyways Jaime, his wife, and I had a nice chat about the event and then meditation which was kinda surprising. But cool. Then the presentations got underway.
I left the event a little early to go to a 12 step meeting. I enjoyed myself at PechaKucha, got a dose of artistic socializing but it’s important for me to remember that if I hang around non-alcoholics too much there’s a good chance I’ll start to think that I’m non-alcoholic as well. But I’m not. When I drink at social gatherings I continue drinking afterward at home. On a Thursday night, well past my bedtime. And then when non-alcoholics are having their morning coffee I’m having a morning drink.
So I guess my takeaway for the night is that it’s important for me to get out. Replenish my artistic well. If I sit at home I’ll have nothing to write about, nothing to talk about. Other than my sad songs from yesterday. Well that’s not completely true but you get the point.
And finally social skills are like any other. I won’t be good at them unless I practice. Put myself out there. Go outside. (Albert gasp).
People always say that the 12 steps are in order for a reason. I guess I never really paid that much attention to that statement until after I was in recovery for a year or so. Looking back on my experience with Step 4 I know there’s no way in hell that I would’ve been able to write a searching and fearless moral inventory if I didn’t have a concept of God that I believed in. I just wouldn’t have.
Writing them was hard (I’ve done two) and I felt all kinds of feelings with the second one. Anger, shame, guilt, regret. Horror. Felt all the things that drinking kept me from feeling. I had burning resentments and sexual traumas. Had broken friendships and ruined relationships. And more.
I needed to pray for the strength to make it through, pray to that God concept each and every time I started writing. All those feelings I’d kept hidden under blankets and in boxes in the basement came up and out. Like boiling bubbles in a stock pot. I was finally feeling what I should’ve been feeling all along when I was drinking. Being in touch with that hideousness forced me to lean on, rely on that Higher Power. Reaffirm my decision to turn my will and life over to the care of God. Remember that a better way of life lay on the other side.
And I was willing to feel and deal with all my monsters if that meant that I didn’t have to drink again. If that meant that I didn’t have to be the person that I’d become. Be the person that I hated. That I was. I was willing to work the Fourth Step if it meant that I could be somebody new. Be a sober me.
Back in the Second Step it talks about being restored to sanity. Writing the Fourth Step is part of how and when that restoration happens. It’s part of how my life became manageable again.
This step also gives us the freedom to make our inventory however necessary, with the guidance of a sponsor of course. It doesn’t even say that we “wrote” it but only that we “made” it. I pay close attention to the wording of the steps as they are the program, they’re how we get and stay sober.
As an aside I got into a minor debate once with someone regarding if everyone should actually “write” their inventory. We need our sponsor’s input on how we make it and that doesn’t always mean that we write it. Why not? If a person is blind or if a person can’t read or write, then they need to do what works best for them to make their inventory.
The most important thing is that we make it. Don’t complicate or procrastinate.
I was also relived to find out that we don’t need to make a complete inventory but only a “searching and fearless” one. I wrote the best one I could at the time and the Tenth Step allows me to self-analyze and follow up on issues later as needed.
And after I put the pen down (because I wrote mine), I realized that doing my Fourth Step hadn’t kill me. It was horrible for sure but I made it through with only a deflated ego. And that was one of the best things that needed to happen to this alcoholic.
I also finally got some real relief. The kind of relief that drinking never gave me. Relief at the spiritual level. All of my secrets were no longer secrets, they were out in the open. At least on paper. After carrying around emotional trauma for so long it felt good when I was done.
So I made an inventory the best I could, took a look at the things that were holding me back, that were standing in the way of me being the best me that I could. And I thank God for the help I was given. Without God, I wouldn’t have been able to write those words.