Do you ever feel like you’re finally getting your mental/physical health back together — like you finally realize that you’re not doing bad and you’re making progress, tiny progress chipping away at your flaws — only to fall back into the abyss? And fall down hard?
How I despise saying this in the opening of a blog post. Here I am awake at 3:30 a.m. Again. My brain won’t shut off. Again. Apparently I’ve built up quite the tolerance to the trazadones; they don’t do shit. Or I haven’t built up a tolerance to caffeine at 6 p.m. I thought I was done with this shit when I stopped drinking. I recall what being half drunk and coming out of the haze in the wee a.m. hours felt like. When the drunken bliss slowly turns into utter anxiety, terror, and Very Bad Thoughts. Thoughts that you’re probably going to die very soon. Maybe you’re in the process of having a heart attack right now?? Doesn’t your left arm kinda feel tingly? Thoughts that you’re losing your mind. Knowing that you (and everyone else) is hanging onto sanity by a very thin thread. People snap all the time, lose their minds, and do horrific stuff to themselves and others. And what if it’s just my time for my brain to go haywire and send me to a mental institution?
Luckily those days are gone. Tonight is just the vanilla flavor of anxiety. Too much shit going on that my brain can’t let go of. What about that thing from work I need to do? What about the blog post for Friday? Shouldn’t I be writing stories? Should I read the Wheel of Time or Essentialism? I still need to listen to that podcast too. Should I stop playing guitar until my tendonitis settles down or ignore it? Did I fill my coffee pot already?? What should I do next in Stardew Valley?
And is it normal to cry on the drive home after work once/twice a week? Weren’t I past that sort of depression?
Remember what I was saying about progress? Not drinking is a huge thing — probably the best thing I’ve done for my mental and physical health in forever — but why do I have all of these problems still? It feels like I’ve taken 10 steps forward and 9 steps back.
I was told (or naively thought) that drinking was my one singular problem: fix that and I’m good. I’ll be the best person I can be only if I stop drinking. I’m talking Zen-Monk/Buddha Incarnate here. Well, I’m six months sober I feel even more flawed than before. Maybe I had my hopes too high. Maybe I was lying to myself to get me through the critical first week sober (here are some tips on surviving that first week sober). After all that sounds more uplifting than the more realistic “Just stop drinking for six months and maybe you’ll feel slightly better by then. But maybe not. You could feel worse!”
The popular working theory for ex-drunks around the half-year sober point is something like this (poorly paraphrased): Sobriety doesn’t solve your problems but it allows you to face them directly with courage and then solve them.” I don’t want to face shit, dammit! I want to be Zen NOW! I stopped drinking — do you know how hard that was and still is — I demand to be happy!“
I have no clue why my mood is so funky lately (maybe that’s just how life is) but here’s my idea. I’ve been pretty drunk for so long I was numb to life. Drinking does like a “soft reset” on your memory so you honestly forget what was bothering you so much. The next morning feels like a new beginning. Suffer the hangover, do a couple of days sober to prove you’re not an alcoholic, drink when things get too hard, and repeat that for literal years. Eventually you find yourself in a sort of zombie life routine where everything exists around you but separate from you. It feels grey, washed out, faded like an old picture in your parents’ photo albums. Like a dream, a bland, mundane, banal dream. This is what you do, you drink, you work; what else is there to say?
Long-term sobriety. When alcohol is gone the world comes rushing back with all of its colors. Some days are bright and vivid like a child’s pastel drawing. Bold colors, hilariously out of proportion shapes, a lighthearted touch to everything, and since when did the grass have such a green color? And the sky is blue, like really blue — it looks like an ocean — and when did that happen? Has it always been that way?
That’s not all you get though; some days are a nightmare. Here you are in this terribly hostile place called reality, the universe is literally trying to kill you, and this is your life. This is all yours to deal with. Bad things happen to everybody, and you struggle with it the best you can. Some days there is no struggle as you lay down and let life take a few cheap shots at you as say to yourself, “What’s the point of fighting it?” Kick you in the ribs and all of that. There’s also an invisible clock ticking above your head — time is running out; you’ll die someday — so while life is taking pot-shots at you you have to somehow stumble forward and make some sort of progress in life because that’s what life is all about.
It’s a shock to the senses is what I’m saying. I’ve been numbed and dead for so long that this is all a shock. These vivid hues, the bright colors and the shades of the abyss, I haven’t seen them in quite awhile. It’s like walking outside on a sunny day and adjusting to the brightness. Crying after work? It’s because I woke up and realize I’m stuck at a job that’s awful. It doesn’t challenge me, it doesn’t give me pride, it doesn’t use my skills to their full potential. My soul is literally stagnant and festering each day for the five hours I’m there. And escape isn’t easy when you have a family to support. The severe insomnia? Probably a bit of everything there all cranked up to 11. Life is a complex mess. It’s hard not to worry about it all. I’ve let the clock tick way too much the past few years. I’m my own worst critic. I lie in bed and whip myself like some cruel slave driver. Of course all of this is a shock.
I suppose this is what you get for trying to fix your problems. Sobriety means awareness of the problems but that awareness sucks. But how are you supposed to fix anything if you’re so drunk you’re only vaguely aware of what problems you do have? Courage is also something that doesn’t come automatically; you have to work at being brave just like anything else. Awareness doesn’t solve anything on its own, and it’s a bitch that hits pretty hard when it’s all new. Forward it is though because, really, what else is there to do but move forward? One more day, one more struggle, each tiny victory leading every other tiny victory. I’ve went too long sober to give in now. If you’re around the half-year sober mark like myself, maybe you’re feeling something similar. You’re not alone and it helps knowing I’m not alone either. Let’s fight through this together and make it to the better days.
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