Monday, August 10, 2020

Milestones

Four years.

It's coming up in about a month and a half, so I'm jumping the gun a little, but I'm so excited - I'm hitting four years sober in September. 

It seems like hardly any time at all, and it seems like a lifetime. It's an entire high school or college career, and it's time that goes so fast and days which, sometimes, feel very long. In those four years I have dealt with massive challenges, and there was a time in my life when I thought I could not handle anything on that scale without a drink. I hit six months just as my biological father started home hospice, attended his memorial service a week after eight months, and in the ensuing years I have lost and found myself again and again. 

I didn't know what it was to endure without alcohol. Alcoholism is progressive, and it took two years - ages fifteen to seventeen - to go from a glass of wine with dinner to splitting bottles of vodka on Saturday afternoons. Curing the same-day hangovers with more wine, cheap stuff, jazz on the radio, food on the grill, the muddy purple Baltimore sky, boundaries perpetually crossed. Alcohol was a problem and it was my solution to everything, especially to the deep pain of knowing it was a parent, a guardian, who was passing this problem on to me. Alcohol was love. Alcohol was forgetting.

I've heard, and said, that I'm powerless over alcohol, and it's true - but there's a snarky part of me which thinks, hell no, I was kicking alcohol's butt. I was chewing it up and neglecting to spit it out. I couldn't stop and for a long time I didn't want to, and gosh it was powerful, I felt untouchable, the first drink always tasting like the promise of the next, and the next. I could handle it, another thing I frequently said. I was better than the drink - how else could I drink so much and feel just fine?

But I knew. Of course I did. Because from so early on, drinking was the only thing which made me feel human. I could drown out the bad things, and the anger, and the utter loneliness, because there was the person I loved the most in the whole world, and he mixed a fantastic martini. It was easy to slip into it, a slow slide that felt so elegant, and I just did not have to think. It was a relief. And I knew.  

I'm responsible for all the drinks I took after that, without a doubt. I'm the one who bought vodka and scotch and rye, and I'm the one who drank all that beer, and I created my own world of brewery tours and trips to vineyards and cocktail mixing and anything, anything to make it look better. To make it look fun. That was all me. I was the girl at the party with her own bottle of Bushmills which was nearly empty at the end of the night, the girl who always took her shirt off or kissed other girls or said terrible things. I'm the woman who cried when there wasn't alcohol in the house, when there was no numbness on offer. All of that is my responsibility. I bought the drink, I poured the drink, I drank the drink. 

Again. Again. Again. 

And I had no idea how damned wonderful life could be.

Sobriety is fun. It's hard work, and there are moments when those pains come back, the loneliness, the fear of being unloved, the power dynamics of me against the looming purple sky and looking up to the people I adore, and I think that I know what would make it easier. And then I remember that all things spring from my sobriety. The health of my marriage, and my relationships with my family, and my enjoyment with friends, the words on the page, the tears I finally let fall, the trauma I sit with and allow to heal. All things come from that. From being awake - being fully alive.

My sobriety is a commitment to my body and its functioning, and to my mind and its continuation, and to my raw and wounded heart. My sobriety is the way I laugh with my husband and remember, the next day, what he said, and can smile in that remembrance. My sobriety is taking my sister to see shows on Broadway, no longer counting the breaths between each drink, no longer itching with a need I feel I can't control. My sobriety is evenings spent with my best friend when I tell her every stupid feeling I have, when she shares her life with me, and it's healthy, and it makes me whole. My sobriety is vacation with my in-laws, and weekends in Baltimore or Philadelphia or New Orleans, and quiet days on the back deck when my husband and I share the best bits of our favorite books.  

It is sobriety, now, which is love.

And I have so much love. I'm boiling over with it. It hurts, sometimes, to face love, especially when it used to come from the bottom of a pitcher of martinis. Especially when it was permissiveness; especially when it was abuse. It hurts to trust that I'm worthy of love when it doesn't come with such a terrible price, with hangovers, with a desperate acceptance that it will never, ever, be enough. With the knowledge that it is sickness. Sickness was what I knew, and it was easier, and I wasn't at risk in the way I am now - a self exposed, a self unbound, a clarity of focus, an admittance that yes, I love, and I love, and I love.  

What I grew up with wasn't love. 

What I deserve, is. 

And I couldn't understand that until I got sober. 

So yes, everything springs from that. I'm hitting four years, and there are some days which are so dreadfully long. I have a catalog of moments when I'm so scared and angry and broken, and I think I can't keep going, but I know, of course, that I have to. There are times when I look at my loved ones and I think that there's no way they could possibly love me the way I love them, and I taste absinthe in my mouth - and there are horrible hours when I feel like I'm such a monster, because how else could this have happened to me, and I remember the burn of citron vodka. 

But most days are such incredible joys. Because I have my husband, my darling partner - and my sister, and my friends, and such beautiful family. Because I'm here. I am alive. And some of that impossible, all-powerful, agonizing and indescribable love - 

I keep that for myself. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

The Joyful Nihilist

It's all too big.

It's easy to feel right now that the world is ending, but that feeling is in some ways incredibly naive. The world has been ending for quite some time - by which I mean that systems of oppression and injustice have always existed, and the deep selfishness and anti-intellectualism of conservatism has always been there, and the religious right has always been dreadfully wrong, and the rich want to get richer, and whiteness yearns to preserve itself, and on, and on, and on. It's been like this. 

Right now we've got this... pandemic situation... which has highlighted the entire unholy mess. Communities plagued by inequality are hit hardest. People who cling to Evangelical nonsense trust their fictional white Jesus more than they do living, breathing scientists. Conservatives foment the hatred they've bred into the populace with shoddy education and dishonesty and racism and every other damn thing, every method of subjugating the people who seem to vote for them, anyway. 

Oh, hell. If you haven't caught on, I am just really, really done.

It's too big, and I'm done with trying to say this stuff in nice ways. It's beyond our capacities to comprehend, and I'm not bothering with the layers of politesse which have covered up my true opinions. My anger. It's so damned much, and I seem to have decided to live my life with integrity. Heck. 

I feel like we are really on the edge, folks. I know I am, and yet I'm deadly calm - I can't tell if that's a bipolar thing or a PTSD thing or simply a decision I've made to put things away. My husband goes to work, mask on, and I have the opportunity to worry about COVID, and I tuck that into a little box and type my overwrought romance. I spend some time with family, and I'm so happy to see them, and I'm worried, worried, worried, and I bury that somewhere under a giant rock, a label scratched on, here lies anxiety. It went straight to hell. I see my best friends at an appropriate distance and God, how I've missed them, and it's sad, and I put that sadness at the end of my pen and I scribble it away in my dreadful handwriting. 

I have my little bubble of people, some of whom I can call, some see, some touch, and under it all is this swift current, this voice, this whisper, here we are at the end of the world, and wouldn't it be nice to just... 

Be. 

I wonder what that's like?

I'm done, I've been done. I just don't have it in me to care about stupid things anymore. I don't have the energy. I've spent so long trying to detach from toxic people and I thought it was so hard and here I am and I just do not, cannot care. I've struggled with elements of my identity, some public, some private, and I've been mad at myself for things I can't change, and dear God, yes, this is who I am, so I'd better live it. 

I don't know how long I have. I do not know how long our country has. Our world. Does that sound extreme? How could it? Between COVID and climate change, white supremacy, fascism, voter suppression, honest to God secret police grabbing people off the street... Yeah. It's not that crazy to think that whatever we've known about our lives is about to change. 

In some ways, it had better. 

I didn't know who I'd be on the other side of the pandemic, and I still don't know. I can tell you that I am already a fundamentally different person while also being the most "Alice" I have ever been. I love more; I know I have so much more love in me than I realized. I'm a bigger person on the inside but with better boundaries. I've written ridiculously romantic dreck and called some of it good. I've had so many more deep conversations with my husband - which is just flat out amazing, I think - and I've forged other bonds which nourish me. I'm lucky. I'm extraordinarily privileged.

The world is ending. 

The world is ending and I'm here, I'm living it, I'm so damned fortunate, and I'm always taking my meds, and I put my worries in a box, and I love and make love and I write, write, write. 

What is the word for having so much hope when there is none?   

I'm going to do what I can do. Donate, vote, have tough conversations, educate myself. I'm not saying goodbye to the idea of a better world - I am invested in this one - but I've realized how many things I've needed to give up, how many layers to unwrap, in order to really live my own life. The image I had of myself was incomplete. Disaster has forged a newness I'd been craving for such a long time. 

It's just all so big. All the scary things, and the bad things, and the worries down under heavy rocks. I'm so small in comparison.

But I won't make myself small. Not for anyone. Not for myself.

Not anymore. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Who We Are in the Quarantine

I like to talk to cashiers at the grocery store.

Ask anyone who knows me, and the first word that might come to mind when describing my social habits would probably be, "introvert." And it's true - I am quiet, and shy, and I get pretty drained by spending time with others. I thought introversion was an unchangeable part of my personality; I grew up alone, a lot of the time, and loneliness is sometimes more comforting than togetherness. I tend to protect my soft heart with a hard shell of long-accustomed isolation. It's easier that way.  

And people - even the people I love - are exhausting. This isn't a complaint, really, but an acknowledgment of the rich complications of everyone's existence. Everyone has their own body language, their own speech patterns, scents, subtext, subconscious insecurities. And I'm a sensitive person. I pick up on all of those little nuances and my brain tries to interpret them - I want to get it right, say the right things, offer the appropriate emotional response. I want to be able to give up what people need. 

Social exchange is difficult for me, especially when there's not some pre-approved script. I think that's why I like chatting to cashiers. I can make conversation within the allotted time, maybe throw in a few compliments, genuine interest in their day, and the exchange is successful. I am not responsible for the remainder of their shift, but maybe I can give them a little smile, a little warmth. My tender insides are untouched, and I've remained safe in the shallowness of small talk. 

Now, of course, the world has been ripped apart, and my social habits are totally thrown off. I don't go to the grocery store, or the mall, or the dry cleaners, and I've realized how much I have come to depend on that feeling of, yeah, I've talked to someone, and it went well. And I've been surprised to learn how much I need people in my day, in my ongoing existence. 

I've found myself chatting with three to four people a day - friends, family, my husband who is lucky enough to be able to stay home. Sometimes we talk about nothing in particular, and sometimes we share our fears, our hopes of how and when this will end. My mom and I trade funny pictures and comments about our eating habits; my college best friend coaches me through my anxieties and I listen to hers; I hear from other friends about what it's like to do this quarantine business with their kids. I've grown closer to people who entered into my life right before this all began; there's an intimacy to this enforced separation, as if we can and must share the deepest parts of ourselves. There's still this abstraction of distance, but in some ways I am open and raw. 

It turns out that maybe I'm not such an introvert, after all.     

Identity is a tricky thing. I thought that my concept of who I am was based on this structure of introversion - I thought that being alone was my natural state. But the quarantine has revealed another part of me. And it makes me wonder how many of us have uncovered new facets of our identities. We might be confident in who we are when the world looks as it should, as it always has; but maybe when everything is so vastly different we find within us very different selves. 

Who are we when our lives are normal? Who do we become when they're not?

This sense of captivity has made me rebel against myself. In isolation, I desire connection. A friend commented that I might really be ready to go out and have fun when this is all over; I think she's probably right. At least I hope so - I hope I've learned this lesson. I want to be with all of those complicated people with their own secret lives, secret selves, and maybe I won't worry so much about "appropriate social exchange." Maybe I'll let myself think that my friends and family want me in all of my weirdness just as much as I want them. 

And there are parts of me which have remained very much the same - Star Trek and long philosophical conversations with my husband, and complex makeup looks to start my day, dressing up and taking ridiculous selfies, strong coffee, loud music, holing up in my playroom (the guest bedroom that houses my vanity and gowns and garb) and writing overwrought nonsense. Those bits of me are unchangeable, it turns out. 

But I've made an incredible discovery - this need for other people. And as scary as the world is, I'm grateful. I've got so much love to give, far more than I knew. I'm not Alice-the-introvert anymore. I'm a friend and a daughter, a sister and a granddaughter, a wife and a partner. What a gift, this lesson. Such a wonderful thing to learn - that I don't always need to be alone.  

I'm looking towards the future, and I'm anticipating living up to this change in who I am. I think that when the doors open and the world is healed and we are set free, I'll set myself free, too. I won't worry about doing it properly or perfectly with a script pre-approved.

Because finally my hard shell has cracked, my soft heart is exposed, and I've found a new self to honor.      

And I am ready to yield up my love.  

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Hope and Hospitality

I keep thinking about a party.

I'm a bit peculiar, I guess. I have this strong urge towards hospitality - some latent Irish genetic code making itself known - and I crave the sweetness of using the beautiful dishes and silver passed down through my family, from my Grandmere to me. I like doing things well; I love hostessing, my outfit just as ridiculously over the top as the mounds of food I want to serve my guests. My cheese boards alone could make a grown woman weep. Anyway, maybe I'm some housewife stereotype, but without a doubt, I'm an odd duck.

Five weeks - that's the number I've got stuck in my head for how long I'm supposed to be sequestered in my house. Maryland is shut down through the end of April, and while I'd like to believe the world will have righted itself by then, I know I have to mentally prepare myself for the possibility - probability - that there are more weeks of isolation to follow. The virus won't magically go away, and as long as there are foolish, selfish people determined to flout safety measures, all of us are at risk. But I'm clinging to those five weeks. For now, five weeks are the difference between me feeling trapped and me delighting in anticipation.

Because I do anticipate - I keep making plans, places to go and people to see. I think that's the only reasonable course of action, the only thing that'll keep us sane. We should look towards the future. We should hold onto the things we love. I miss my family so badly, even though they're a five minute drive away; I need a big hug from my closest friends. But I'll see them, I will, in the future which simply has to come.

So I'm thinking about a party. I'm thinking about grilling steaks and broiling mini crab cakes, and making my killer ghost pepper dip, and serving brightly colored mocktails, and playing my favorite albums. Doors and windows open, the whole house flowing with fresh air. I'm thinking about a mismatched conglomeration of friends and family and the hunger that we'll have, maybe, to socialize when we haven't for so long. My husband's board game group, my college companions, old friends and new friends and my nineteen year old sister and my extremely introverted parents. People I fall in love with more and more as they seem, now, so much further away.

And right now - now I feel grief, though I'm adjusting. I already had plans, you know? Just a few weeks ago I was meeting new people and doing new things, and I had enough focus to dig into my fiction. I'm not trying to shove myself into the very real grief of those who have lost loved ones to this vicious virus. I just... I think there is mourning for all of us. For the future we thought we'd have. The months spent caged by circumstance and anxiety. Powerlessness.

And idleness. There's a sort of consensus among the people I've talked to that we are experiencing a constant state of arousal cocooned in an unrelenting nothingness. The world is scary, and we are on alert - at the same time we are locked in our homes with not a whole hell of a lot to do. It's strange. We're not meant to be like this, as if we drank far too much coffee and then downed a couple Valiums, experiencing both to their full extents. And there's so much love, so much passion, so much desperate care, and we remain divided. Separate. All the feelings and none.

A very real threat of illness and death. Netflix, junk food, time spent on the couch.

Life continues. We pray that it does.

So in four weeks I'm going to polish all the silver. As soon as the weather turns, the screens are going in the windows, and I'll keep the house open as long as I like. I'll clean off the decks and wipe down the outdoor furniture. I'll plan some menus. Hell, maybe I'll iron the napkins (okay, Alice, let's not go too crazy). I need these things. Beautiful things, living things, nonsense that is a part of me.

Because I want to have a party - a big, no-holds-barred, high heels until they hurt, so much food I could burst, John Coltrane and David Bowie mess of a party. Laughing and maybe crying and choosing not to hide in the kitchen, for once. And it may seem shallow, but these things, this mad planning, this simple and sweet hope - that's what's going to get us through.

I hope you'll make plans, too. And pencil me in, whether it's in five weeks or a few months -

Because you'd better believe you're invited.         

Friday, March 27, 2020

Bad Darn Day

Man, this stuff is rough.

I got up at 6:30 this morning, did my usual stumble to the kitchen followed by the caffeine-addict clutching of my moka pot, checked the internet while it bubbled away. I went through the typical motions, wrapped up in my Harry Potter bathrobe (Slytherin green, of course) and tucked under the beautifully crocheted blanket given me by my mother in law. I did everything in order - Facebook first, then twitter, then tumblr. It's been like any other morning, nothing remarkable about it.

But, you know, the world is on fire.

I'm feeling "hung over" this morning. I got triggered by something I watched last night and had an hour long meltdown, of which I am not particularly proud. Crying used to be a lot more common when I drank - now I can go weeks without getting to that level of upset. So perhaps I've formed some sort of association: if I cry at night, my body and mind think I've been drinking.

Thank God I'm not. Everything would be so much worse.

Anyway, I feel horrible. I know I'm not the only one. I've seen a lot online from other people dealing with PTSD - this social distancing, plus the feeling of impending doom, feels a lot like trauma. It is trauma, really; the world is falling apart. We're forced into a posture of grief.

I keep thinking about the role of our leaders - cough, Trump, cough - and how I feel particularly powerless. The people who are supposed to care for us simply aren't, they don't, and that's pretty damned familiar. So every day ends up feeling like - like we're back there. In the unsafe place. Our political "father figure" is... a person too well-known.

I spend a lot of time feeling as if there is poison inside of me, a toxicity planted there against my will but staining my insides all the same. I'm a carrier of this thing, the sick thing - gosh, that sounds a little like what's going on now, doesn't it? And most days I carry it with a sort of pride, a strength, or at least I try to; I make different choices, choices to love and care and preserve, and I recognize the beauty in those acts of compassion and grace. Humanity.

But right now I feel the poison in me. I wonder if I'm already carrying the virus, and I wonder if, in moments when my mental health suffers, I'll spread a different kind of sickness. I wonder if I'll hurt other people, my greatest fear. I wonder if I'm capable of love, even though the proof is there - marriage, family, friendship. I don't feel like a person. I feel like a pandemic.

This stuff is hard for everyone. No matter how well we're handling it, this is a huge change in our lives. We probably all have morning routines - coffee or showers or hitting the snooze button - and we're probably doing our best to stick to those routines. We've got Zoom meetings and happy hours, and phone calls, and texting. We exercise if we can. We adjust; we are adaptable. And heck, maybe we're doing more creative cooking, or journaling a bit more, making little bits of progress we didn't have time for before.

But I think I can safely say that there are some parts of us, even if they're little parts, which are suffering. I watched an episode of one of my favorite shows - something I've seen, what, maybe six times before? - and had an emotional flashback from hell. The day before I woke up from a nap and smelled the place where I grew up, and I was terrified. Every day I worry that all of that will arise from within me and harm the people I love. Typhoid Alice.

I meant to write about something else today - still on this topic but with a more optimistic spin. I wanted to write about the idea that trauma is an explanation for behavior but not an excuse, about the anger I have to accept and then release, about the hard work that I'm happy to do to be so easily kind and sweet and responsible. And of course I am those things, I'm just...

I'm really struggling today. I've got a hangover from a virus I can't control and a childhood I wish I could forget. I see the president's face and it looks like someone else's. And other days will be better, no doubt; other days may be worse, but I sure as hell hope not.

I do have friends and family at the other end of the telephone, and I've got pretty much the best husband in the entire universe; I've got Star Trek and Miss Fisher and Kushiel's Dart and so much glittery eye shadow, I swear to God. Music played at maximum volume. Chocolate and Cheetos. Pajamas and lingerie. Perfume. Bodices. Corsets. Hot baths with coconut oil.

I'm just, right this minute, a bit of a mess. I need to accept that, give myself the compassion and understanding that I'm always giving to others. I need to write even if it's an act of processing rather than creation, and I need to keep eating even if it's junk, sometimes. I need to convince myself that the sickness I feel inside was not my fault and that I am not in any way giving it to others.

But man, this stuff is rough. It is probably going to be rough for months. Me and my coffee and the routines which keep me grounded. Keep me safe.

I'm doing my best.       


Friday, March 13, 2020

Constitutionally Capable

I haven't seen 3:00 AM in years.

There's a particular type of quiet which exists in the early hours of the morning. Some might call that time peaceful - a calming solitude - but I've always known different. 3:00 in the morning is not when you're alone but when you're alone with yourself, and that self might be a scary person.

I've filled those hours with prayers and I've filled them with erotic fiction - with music, with wildness. I've seen so many of those mornings and I've seen the hours pass; in my first year of college I'd wait, shaking and wiped clean, until the grocery store down the street opened at 6:00. I'd gather ingredients for a gourmet dinner to be cooked and served for my then-boyfriend, acting out a particular fantasy of bohemia and housewifery.

I was so young and already so exhausted. I wanted to be myself; I wanted to be someone else.

Later, 3:00 was around the time I'd be watching some tragic or artsy film - usually, "Brokeback Mountain," or, "Henry and June" - and I was alone with deep and enduring heartbreak. Secrets and lovemaking and doomed affairs and me, happily partnered, crying, feeling the after-effects of people and events I could barely remember.

And then came a different sort of 3:00 - the hangover which arrived too soon.

I knew true exhaustion, then. I knew an unquenchable thirst, standing in front of the fridge and sucking down whatever cold liquid existed therein, praying, yet again, to a God which might not be listening or might not be there at all. I promise, I'd mumble, desperate - I promise I won't do this again. 

Just let me live through the night. Tomorrow, I will do better.

I never did.

It's kind of funny, telling people that I'm a recovering alcoholic at my relatively young age. I've actually gotten some incredulous responses - how could you know, I've been asked, young as you are? I'll tell you, 3:00 in the morning let me know for sure. I've been drunk in the early hours since I was sixteen or so, and I was probably seventeen when I knew I had a problem. Then I really was young, staring in the mirror at my wine-blue lips, and I'd think, ah, the hell with it. I flirted with my mortality, bating it like a bear on a chain.

When I first got sober, I was pretty scared to admit publicly that I was an alcoholic. I lived with that secret for such a long time - nobody knew. Fifteen years of steady drinking - my tolerance ridiculously high since splitting pitchers of martinis when I was a teenager - meant that I didn't black out. I rarely got sick. No one was with me at 3:00; that time was my own. It was between me and God.

I never drank before or during work, and I never got in the car if I had been drinking. The idea of being around children while intoxicated was so repulsive to me, for some pretty obvious reasons, so I was sober and effective and safe. I don't say this to brag, or to say I was some sort of "good" alcoholic. Actually, I think it's another layer of this disorder - the rules we make as alcoholics which keep us from the truth.

But 4:30 in the afternoon always came - or whenever I returned home after work - and despite my 3:00 promises I found myself mixing one of my killer cocktails. I hated myself and hated myself and when I looked in the mirror I didn't see wine-blue lips anymore - I saw the person who introduced me to this life, and I hated myself all the more.

The only person who is responsible for taking a drink is me. I know that to be true. I also know that 3:00 in the morning is a shared time of shame, passed down, communicable. It's erotica, and sad movies, and things you can't remember - it's re-enactment.

I haven't seen that time in years, and I am beyond grateful. Sobriety is the best gift I've ever given myself and the people around me. I'm alive. Ha, I am so alive! I don't blur my edges anymore; I've had to learn to live with them. Life can be such a pain in the tush, but it is so, so much easier to heal that pain when I allow it to exist. I don't swallow it, pressing it down in layers of anger and despair and rye whiskey. I don't hide from it, and I don't hide it from others.

It's taken me a while to be okay with saying these words. I do feel a sort of responsibility, now, because I have some sense of what it feels like to be an active alcoholic, secretive and ashamed - I think my honesty might be important for someone else. Even if it's helpful for one person, just one, I've done something good. My honesty is a form of amends, I guess. I hid in the shadows. I've got to let the light in.

I could talk a little bit about the stigma against addicts, but I bet you know all about that already. I'll bet that, even if you're compassionate and open-minded, you have some notions of "weak will" and "self control." I'm not saying that to be mean, but non-addicts will never truly know what this feels like. It's not about taking a drink. It's not about the drink feeling good, because eventually it really doesn't. It's not about parties or happy hours or champagne toasts at weddings. If you are capable of putting a glass down then you just don't have this perspective. Count yourself lucky. I hope you'll be kind to those of us who have to put every glass down forever for the rest of our lives.

Some of us can't be open about this because of the stigma. Some don't want to. And that's okay, it's a personal choice, but maybe, reader, you should think about what you say and how you say it. We hear you.

I don't regret being an alcoholic - I think that's part of how I can speak so openly here - but I do regret the years I spent hiding. I regret feeling like I needed to have a drink in order to live. I regret the dishonesty. I regret the damage I did to my body. But I am so thrilled that I get to experience sobriety and that I get to know what it means. I'm not sad. I rejoice.

At 3:00 in the morning, I am asleep. I'm snuggled up next to my husband - and the next day, dinner will still get made, and I'll be that bohemian housewife. I'll read and write racy stories. I'll watch sad movies at appropriate times. I will be me, and I won't be anyone else. Now, I look at my reflection and marvel at this person in focus - this person un-blurred. I'll be in recovery every single day, and every day will hold this promise, this strength not of will but of love. Self-love. Love for everyone around me.     

I am an alcoholic. I'm in recovery, and that work will never end.

But now, I sleep just fine.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Deep Breaths

Christ on a cracker.

(Well, if you went to the same kind of churches as I did growing up, Christ was a cracker.)

I'm definitely unsettled at the moment, to put it mildly. I don't know what your process is as we consume news about covid-19, but I've found myself refreshing twitter and double-checking Facebook far more than I ever have before. I think that that's what a therapist might call unhealthy mental hygiene - they would be right.  

I am prone to anxiety. That's just a fact of life. Before I was diagnosed with C-PTSD, I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder - both names for a constant state of hyper-arousal (fight, flight, freeze) which can lead to some pretty epic meltdowns. I've been that way my whole life; my anxiety seemed to arrive in bouts of intense, terrifying nausea when I was a child, and after my grandfather's illness when I was nearing 20 years old, I developed some truly un-fun medical anxiety. I can't stand to be around a man yelling - my husband, frustrated while putting in the storm windows, learned that the hard way - and going to the doctor is an exercise in trying not to run away.

Which I kind of still do, whenever there's a needle involved.

Both of those have subsided in the past year or so since I began separating myself from toxic situations and committing to the hard work of therapy. But anxiety is a part of the way my brain works - the function of my dysfunction. My brain is literally, physically different than other people's brains. Does that make me lesser, or broken? Not a bit. But it means I have to learn to cope with things which other people might shrug off.

Enter the coronavirus.

Christ, I repeat, on a cracker.

I think we all have some anxieties in life. Maybe you get nervous talking to large groups, or get a bit of jitters on a first date; maybe you feel a spike in your blood pressure when you go to the doctor's office, or perhaps you worry when someone doesn't answer your call. These are all pretty typical things, acceptable things - oh yeah, a friend might say, I feel that way too. And those anxieties might ebb and flow over the course of your life. If you've endured a stressful event, you might feel them more; if life is going well, you might feel them less.

But what do we, as a society, do when there is a tangible public health emergency? And how do we approach those of us who might experience a serious surge of their anxieties?

I'm not sure if it's possible to convey what this feels like. I've seen some writers joke that they're more prepared for mass anxiety because they deal with their own personal anxiety every day. I've also seen commentary on how covid-19 - and the reminders for frequent hand-washing - is making OCD symptoms and behaviors a hell of a lot worse. PTSD and hyper-arousal - ready to run, ready to fight, ready to hide - feels rather more urgent given the threat of lock down or sickness or death. And, an added bonus as an alcoholic, I've got my face rubbed in all of the people not-really-joking, time to hit the liquor store!

And we're told to practice social distancing - creating isolation for ourselves - and some of us have gotten pretty good at that already. But, at the same time, isolation can make anxiety echo, because we are living not in the world but in our own minds. All I want to do is reach out and get big hugs from my friends, right now, but I've gotta keep a six foot distance.

I know I'm not alone in worrying, and I don't want to downplay the worries of neurotypical people who might be facing intense anxiety for the first time. We're all dealing with this in our own ways. It is, I should mention, much more difficult to cope with when we know we can't trust our own government - and the coronavirus is just the cherry on top of that particular sundae. Many of us have been anxious since 2016, I can tell you that.

So it sucks all around.

My brain works differently. My brain never really learned what it meant to feel secure. My brain has patterns, grooves of trauma and maladaptive reactions, and my brain got used to using alcohol to numb those reactions. I am just better at worrying than I am at not. Again, does that mean there's something wrong with me as a person? Hell no. I think I've got a bit of an edge, actually, because when I feel anxiety I know what it is. I forgive myself - I care for myself.

I hope you will, too. I hope that if you're worried right now, you will give yourself the space to be worried. Some people might laugh or tease or make fun - but it is totally rational to be scared of scary things. We are totally reasonable when we practice social distancing and we are totally understandable if we need that hot bath with epsom salts. Hell, I did hit the liquor store for my non-alcoholic Cabernet and I will be having a glass this evening (disclaimer: please don't do this if it would be too difficult in your recovery).

We need to take care of our mental health just as we preserve our physical health. We need to eat healthy food and we need to be kind to ourselves as we nibble on chocolate. We need water, we need a bit of sunlight, we need to laugh, we need to have a good cry if it would help.  

We need to give understanding and compassion to ourselves - and always to each other.

Worry is a part of life. I'm basically a pro, but we've all been there, I think. As we cope with this rapidly evolving situation, I hope that we can take any chance possible to share ourselves - calls, texts, messages, whatever - and say, hey, I'm here. I'm feeling this too.

Being anxious is normal - so let's get through this anxiety together.