Sobriety Day 9

I work at a bar because drinking comes naturally to me, and drinking comes freely to me because I work at a bar. I can wake up at 3pm, still hungover, pound down a Miller Lite or two, walk my dog, eat some greasy food, and still get to the train on time to be ten minutes early for work. I maintained that schedule for nearly two months without any real problem, but it’s easily the case that I was avoiding a lot of emotional and financial tumult boiling under the surface of my dulled awareness.

I happened to have two days off in a row, and the only money I had access to for those two days was the change in the jar on my counter. Luckily I worked a private party right before that, so I packed up three or four to-go boxes of leftovers to sustain me, but there was no feasible way I was putting any alcohol into my system. It was a sort of circumstance-forced rehab that I was honestly incredibly grateful for.

I had plenty of time to think about sobriety and its benefits during those two days. First, it’s always nice to remind myself that I have some modicum of willpower and self-control. Second, according to some very basic arithmetic, I figured out that I’d been spending my rent over again on alcohol and associated outings every month. If I just cut that shit out for 60 days, I could not only fix all my financial trouble, but I could also fund the ten day backpacking trip in the Great Smoky Mountains and still have some savings left over. Sure it sounds obvious when I lay it out for you like that, but nobody did that for me so succinctly, so I had to let gears turn for a while before getting there.

So anyway, like the title says, I’m now on Sobriety Day 9. Instead of my usual post-work beer, I’ll have a non-alcoholic beer, which provides me the same “cold glass bottle in my hand” experience, combined with a frigid, fizzy, semi-bitter liquid pouring down my throat. And really, it’s only a small step down from the experience of Miller Lite. I also drink a fuck ton of sparkling water, which is a similar workaround.

I can say with certainty my mind is clearer now than it has been for the prior two months, but I think my expectations for sobriety were a little high. Sobriety doesn’t instantly solve all your problems. Substances serve to numb you to the world around you, and to your own emotions, so when you take them away, you end up with a torrent of shit that you’ve been shoving into the recesses of your consciousness. Turns out that sucks. I tear up at the slightest sappiness in movies, I find myself angry at things I used to shrug off, and I find myself sad just randomly throughout the day.

Thank the gods for my already well-established mindfulness practices – they’ve given me the capacity to acknowledge that I am not my emotions and that none of those feelings are permanent. But it’s still fucking hard to experience no matter how much awareness you bring to the table.

I worked a private event the other night, and it was my job to ID everyone coming in and put on a wristband. My fingers fumbled with the task and I’d say, “Clearly I wasn’t hired for my fine motor skills.” They’d look at my muscular hands and biceps, and the ladies would all giggle. “Oh, and he’s funny!” I’d imagine them thinking. But internally I was damning my digits for not doing their fucking job, and questioning my bravado.

In my mind, sobriety was supposed to make me infallible. Turns out I still trip over things occasionally, drop something from time to time, randomly stumble for no discernible reason, and generally am reminded that even sober, I’m human and that means I fuck things up sometimes. I’m trudging through the muddy, emotional alligator-filled swamp that is my life with more clarity, but it’s no less laborious and it still hurts to get bit.

Still, though, it feels worthwhile, so I guess I’ll keep going. Cheers! *chugs Pellegrino*

Sitting and Breathing: Day 14

As you’ve probably heard, it’s quite cold in the Midwest today. Presently, it’s sunny in Chicago, and a balmy -11 degrees that feels like -35 with windchill. That means I’m relegated to my apartment for the day, and the landlord (who controls the heat) has cranked all of the building’s heaters up to the max, so I’m currently in only my shorts, and still quite warm.

Today’s sitting and breathing session was the first one in Week 3, which is largely focused on emotions. Today’s practice – titled Meditation on Emotions – involved sitting and focusing on my breath, and just sort of letting emotions happen. When they happened, I was to note them with a descriptor, and let them along by refocusing my attention on my breath.

I was particularly restless today. I have things on my to-do list that took up a lot of my attention largely because I’m excited about doing them. Also, I was sweating from man-made inferno of a space that is my bedroom right now. I felt it collecting on my palms, and along my brow; not enough to drip, but enough to be noteworthy. It made me want to move around more than usual while simultaneously lulling me to sleep while sitting up.

All of that said, I felt like I had the easiest time yet focusing on my breath today. It was very easy to fall into and continuously return to my breath throughout today’s session. Largely, I was in a very neutral emotional state throughout my practice. I was able to note when I was hit by infatuation when an object of affection popped into my mind, anxiousness and anticipation when I thought about the alarm going off to indicate the end of my sitting, or restlessness for any of the reasons I mentioned before.

At one point about fifteen minutes in, I almost nodded off, then jerked awake with a deep inhale. More deep, rapid breaths followed, as did an overwhelming anger that quickly morphed into panic. The panic gave way to sadness almost as fast, and I felt my face contort. I didn’t exactly hold back tears, but I didn’t exactly let myself get to tears, either. I mentally gave myself permission to cry if necessary, but my body didn’t seem to want to.

I let the emotion hang out for a minute while I investigated its physicality. After taking note of the welling in my chest, the light-headed feeling, and the increased heart rate, I brought my attention back to my breathing. It slowed, and I felt each of the muscles in my face relax again. I’m not sure what brought on that little moment, but I’m excited to learn more about it.

I also noticed that even with every other muscle in my body completely relaxed (except for the ones keeping my in the sitting position, I guess), I’ll unwittingly hold my tongue against the roof of my mouth. It seems to be a way for me to hold tension without anyone else seeing it, and I wonder if the literal holding of my tongue is a manifestation of a more metaphorical tongue-holding.

What is it that I’m not saying? Is that self-imposed silence causing the inexplicable tension or is it a byproduct? Moreover, was the rapid succession of emotions I felt an unearthing of sorts? Is there a sadness underlying the anger, frustration, and anxiety I experience more regularly?

Luckily, I’ll be spending quite a bit of time this week focusing on my emotions in my meditations. Hopefully some attentiveness will shed some light on some of the answers to those questions, if not this week, then eventually. Ya know, whenevs, no pressure.