Recovery 101: Sh*t Is ALWAYS Getting Real
Okay, so you're newly sober and on the warrior path. Or, you're newly Buddhist/vegan/aligning your chakras/some other admirable decision to make your life better. You've assembled an inspirational Pinterest board, joined Facebook groups, and ordered 7 books from your Amazon wishlist. (You got that Prime, girl!) You've made a commitment, and now you're ready to receive the benefits of your new life. Like a honeyed glow and Instagram-able bowel movements. Sure, there will be obstacles, little fuzzy-headed troll dolls of life, but you'll just ruffle their velvety hair and keep on rolling.
WRONG! Wrong! Wrong!
Life is full of shit sandwiches and you're at the buffet.
My first few months in this sobriety were like a cock-strut through the park. I survived a year-long job search, transitioned away from my work family, started a demanding job, and handled a couple family mini-crises like the sober pro that I am. I took it all in stride, my arms swinging wide for all to see: Look at me - I got my shit together.
But then Life, that cruel goth mistress who likes to stick hooks in her back and hang from the ceiling, let me know who was boss in this joint. Just to be clear, it's her. Not me.
We all know what it's like to watch a tornado smash through our house.
After that easy first few months, my life started to unravel. I suddenly found myself over-committed with my day job and freelance projects. My chosen family careened into the worst crisis I've witnessed. My mom started to call with reports that she could no longer get out of bed. My husband and I were at a total stalemate with one of the most important decisions of our adult lives. Some time last month I got on the phone with a friend and had a major cry as I listed out the things piling on me.
My list of obligations was long, but I was meeting them. I was showing up, often as this superhero version of myself I didn't recognize: calm, caring, empathetic but also knowing about when to back off and rest. Sure, I was tired, but I was also managing.
I'm generally a glass-half-full person. I try to see the good in people and understand their perspective before I leap up to claw their eyes out. I believe we transform our world by first transforming how we understand and react to it, inviting kindness and compassion by giving it. But there is also the truth that you can be good, you can be kind, and you can be compassionate at every turn, even to the hairy-mouthed spiders watching you shower. And your world can still fall apart.
Welcome to the Club, Everyone
Recovery isn't exclusive to those of us who like to do keg stands in the French Quarter at 10 a.m. That's honestly part of a pervasive myth that keeps people away from workable solutions for too long. We all think we have to be huffing gasoline out of parked cars before we might need help. The truth is you can just be sick of turning to food at the end of a long day or over the superficial friendships in your life and have to do the kind of work we in sobriety do.
When we turn away from the easy comforts that take more than they give, we start down the same paths together.
Take that bottle of wine from the overwhelmed mom or delete the narcissist's phone number from your love-sick friend's phone and watch them both lose their shit in nearly identical ways.
Recovery for me is building up a long string of healthy coping mechanisms, relationships, practices, and good nights of rest. It's the training of Spirit Warriors. People who are battle ready at a moment's notice and who possess the spiritual equivalent of an abdominal six pack.
Doomsday Prepping: how I stay ready for the recovery apocalypse
The Great Pause
This is my #1 go to for trying moments. It's also simple, free, and works in every single situation in which you find yourself ready to hulk out. Whether it's your lover pissing you off, your boss micromanaging your work while demanding you take on more leadership, or the woman who cut in the grocery line only to need three price checks and manager approval for her expired coupons, the Great Pause works for all.
The real magic in the Great Pause is not that you'll suddenly be a zen master. It may not even prevent you from flipping off the person who ran a red light and almost t-boned you. That's fine. That is not the purpose of the Great Pause.
Instead, it offers you just a sliver of a moment to ask yourself, "What's the best thing I can do in this situation? Will my action make this moment better or worse for myself? Will I be proud of how I acted later?" The answers to these questions might be yes. Yes, dropping F bombs out your car window might actually make you proud later. Either way, your goal is to act with more intention. Not out of old habits.
This ties with the Great Pause for most important things I do every day to make sure I'm a warrior ready to slay. I've always maintained two to three close friendships. I used to believe that anymore than this would require the social energy of extroverts on meth. I could not understand how anyone kept up with the lives of more than three people.
It turns out it's pretty easy. We just talk to them. We care about what's going on in their lives. We set clear boundaries about what we can and can't do without investing ourselves in how they may have perceived the subtle tone of the emoticon in our last text. We don't waste energy worrying about things that don't matter - how we appear to others - and spend our time tending to things that do - how we are demonstrating our love in this moment.
I've found that I have a seemingly endless capacity for giving now, which has surprised the hell out of me.
Does this mean I'm always available? No. Does it mean that I'm never a selfish asshole my friends want to throttle? No. It just means that I care and I try to be mindful about how I show that to them.
Social Media: Not just for orange pukes and emotional diarrhea
When I gave up in alcohol in 2014, I also got off of all social media. I associated the awful way I felt about myself with my endless scrolling through other people's (seemingly) more exciting lives. When Nikki and I started this blog in January, I wanted to see if I could cultivate a social media life that enriched my life rather than made me feel bad about it.
Wow. Really. The relationships I've built online astound and sustain me. I've even met some people in person and found that we have an instant connection through our long interaction online.
How do you evacuate a toxic social media feed? Clean house. There are so many people doing incredible things every day tailored to any interest you might have. Social justice pioneers. Early childhood advocates. Trapeze artists. Circus instructors. Light workers. They are all out there and want to connect to other people like them, too. Comment. Tell people you love them and why. Write people letters. Stop scrolling and show up. We all want to feel connected to each other, and right now that's done online through words.
I work hard. I don't really need you to praise me or anything (although who doesn't like praise, amiright?), but I do need to acknowledge this. I love my job, I'm deeply invested in doing good work, and I enjoy collaborating with my teams. I also love writing. When I've got a deadline or too many projects smashing up against each other, I neglect rest and down time.
When I was drinking, I would just work straight through my days and fling myself at Friday like a woman dying of thirst. I lived for the pop and release a good drunk and a whole pack of cigarettes gave me. These were my fuckits. I'd spent my whole week being responsible and barreling through work, and I needed to let it go and release.
I still work like this. I mean, I could do a bunch of inner work and expensive therapy and maybe hire a life coach to move in with me. Or I could just accept that this is how I work for now and build fuckits into my life. I've obviously chosen the latter. They're just smaller now, don't last weeks, and don't involve hangovers or texts I'm ashamed of the next day.
Service with a Smile
This last one is the most surprising. I used to approach every situation with an unconscious question: how will this serve me? I've since switched this idea to one about how I can serve. It has made a world of difference.
This is not about making all the cookies and folding the napkins into origami birds or finishing the presentation your coworker was supposed to work on. This is not about being a doormat or serving to receive praise, recognition, or love.
This is just about feeling good about who you are as a human being. When I'm frustrated at my job, I ask myself, "What is the best use of me in this moment?" When I'm exhausted but a friend calls in need, I think before I answer it, "How can I best support this person and receive their support?" When I want to punch my husband because he didn't mow the lawn the way I like it, I think, "Why don't I divorce him and marry Idris Elba?" No, I'm kidding. I'm often thinking about how I can be a better companion to him. And this sometimes involves asking for what I need rather than making him guess.