I am a very restless person. I loathe sitting for more than five minutes at time. I pace when I think. I’m a toe-tapper, knee jiggler, and had the mama “rock and sway” stance down perfectly when my kids were fussy babies fighting their own stillness. I tend to be most comfortable when in motion. Even as a small child, my mother would take one look at me standing on the stoop with my wild energy and say “twenty laps around the house before you come in.” And I’d come back all out of breath and sweaty with my grubby little face and she’d look carefully into my eyes, measuring and sometimes she’d pull back the squeaky screen door to let me in and other times she’d say “ten more laps?” and off I’d go with my wild strawberry hair flying behind me and my bare feet pounding the dirt. I vividly remember thinking that my energy was some foreign thing to her. My mother is an artist. Which means she sits for hours, painstakingly creating; drawing and painting. She escapes and manages her lifelong struggle with anxiety and depression through creative expression. As children we would watch her in deep concentration, watch the rhythmic motion of her pencils, hear the sounds they made scratching on fine drawing paper, smell the tang of linseed and oil paints, note the tilt of her head as she considered a blank canvas and we knew to let her be. She would spend hours in her studio and then emerge blinking like she was disoriented to the fact that it was daylight and she was a mom when we asked for snacks or help with homework. She was always a little other-worldly and I felt she never quite knew what to do with my too much, too loud, too high wild child ways.
Even when I am still, my mind is going a thousand miles per hour. Some would call this a manic defense. Not ever slowing down enough to consider the reason for the constant motion. I have been a blur for most of my adult life. I walk fast, talk fast, think fast, drive fast. So the concept of stillness, of sitting IN something is incredibly foreign. And its’ been like lowering yourself into a too-hot bath this past year. First one toe, then one foot, one knee, then the other side, then your bum, then your waist until all of you is submerged and you can’t tell if you are burning or freezing, just that you are uncomfortable and then you… aren’t. I guess that’s the best metaphor I can come up with for early sobriety. At first it’s unthinkable but then you get used to it and then it even starts to feel comfy.
I am good with not drinking. I am lucky enough that the cravings have passed. I am comfortable stating that I am a non-drinker, and for the most part am honest when people ask me why. I kind of laugh and say “well, it tried to kill me” and when pressed am able to articulate why drinking became such a problem with me and why now I don’t drink anymore. And I’m clear about the fact that I’m BETTER not drinking.
But this stillness thing.. the idea of REST. I still struggle mightily with it.
A few weeks ago I had some unexpected down time when my oldest came down with a whopping case of the flu. All of my productive plans for the week, all my workouts that keep my crazy at bay were cancelled as I cared for my very sick girl. I was physically tired but feeling wired. The enforced rest, and confinement in the house really hit me hard. I got low. Low low low like apple bottom jeans boots with the furrrr low. I started having suicidal thoughts, dark hopeless thoughts like I hadn’t had since before I quit drinking. And I kind of stood on the edge of a deep, dark chasm and thought, “oh.” That’s what I’ve been avoiding all this time. Deep thoughts of worthlessness, failures, fear, regrets, bad memories. All the things I drank over and under and through and kept at bay by always moving, moving, moving. I got a sudden sense that THIS is what the next year of sobriety is going to be about.. moving forward from all of the things that lie behind. Making peace with them. Acceptance.
Running has been like a spiritual practice this past year. I’ve come to find that I do my best thinking when I’m in motion, and in the process I’ve worn out three pairs of sneakers. While running and walking, I’ve thought through a lot of the past five years; trying to understand how my drinking got to the very dark place it took me. I’ve dissected a lot of the whys, the patterns, the things that I need to work on. At the urging of several sober friends, I’ve been attempting here and there to meditate. It’s probably something I need to do more, since being so still in body or mind is a challenge. I’ve been doing a lot napping, aka”horizontal life pauses” and giving myself permission to slow down and even stop. Which is kind of huge. And I need to do it more.
One big question I’ve been pondering is whether I necessarily need to go back and try to do the post-mortem. Do I really need to re-live every crushing rejection, re-visit every time I added a layer of armor to my considerable wall, explore every bad choice? Every trauma, every loss? Every pebble that paved the road to my struggles with addiction. Is that necessary? It’s an honest question. And I’m open to opinions and thoughts from people further along than me.
Is it ok to close the chapter on it, forgive myself, and stop this endless attempt to “get back to who I was before the alcohol changed me”? I hear that a lot in the recovery community– phrases like “the person I was meant to be,” “the innocent me”, “the un-jaded version of me”. I don’t think there’s any going backwards. I am who I am because of the things that I have been through, including the considerable damage I inflicted on myself and those around me from my drinking. But go back? Impossible. I am irrevocably changed, for better or for worse by that self-violence. I can only move forward. Challenge the lies. Find new coping. Share the darkness with others when it rolls in like a fog over the mountain. Allow my scars to teach others who may be struggling with a similar battle.
It occurs to me that what I am longing for, and what I possibly fear I won’t find in all my restlessness is Peace. When I look at nature and the created world, I have a deep sense that we as humans were also created for rhythms in life– delight and joy and not just suffering and pain. Yet so much of our culture, our accepted rhythms mean that we do things just for the sake of doing them. Because we “should”, or just because we “can”. And we feel the weight that comes when we don’t rest and re-charge because we were created for that as well.
So, my goal for the next few months is to learn to slow down. To embrace the idea of Sabbath or holy rest. The Hebrew word Sabat means ” to stop, to cease, or to keep.” And it doesn’t have to be the traditional Saturday or Sunday sabbath. It can be a short pause, with intention. Whenever it’s needed or even better, before it’s needed. With cognitive restructuring we are taught to ask “is this true?” when confronted with a feeling. I still have the relentless drill sergeant in my head, pushing me to do more, be more, tackle more, more more more… it doesn’t stop to ask why. The same lack of moderation that led me to drink lakes of booze is still underlying and it needs to go.
I’ve said no to a lot of things and made some big changes to support my new sober life and so in year two I want to focus on adding things. Adding the PAUSE button to my manic life. Adding more rest.
I want to learn to Be Still.
8 thoughts on “Be still”
Learning to be be still and sitting with your thoughts is one of the hardest things to do. You sound like you are making great progress. I am happy for you.
Thank you! It's a slow process but so worth it.
I say do the full post-mortem. But make sure to have a sense of humor about it as you careen through some events and misgivings which truly have shaped how you got to where you are now. Try to see things with an attitude of AA's so-called Rule 62, with a lighter perspective.
Self-knowledge is very powerful and it doesn't mean you're going back to that pre-booze person. It just gives you a shot at appreciating things even more now, as you look back through different lenses and all you gained through the pain.
For me this has led to some peace and made it easier to be still and honest with myself. It has also helped me understand my better qualities which were sometimes swamped by booze.
Year 2 is a major growth year and it comes without stepping on the gas. Just sit back and pile up the days as your head continues to clear and and you see Fear Jail farther and farther in your past.
Thanks for this, ER. I love your recon reports from further up the road! I also appreciate the reminder to not take things too seriously.. you are right about that. I think that was one of the first things that told me I was getting better; when I rediscovered my sense of humor. I think about that quote about comparison being a thief of joy but I'm finding the comparison of the drinking me to the sober me is an exercise in relief and yes, real joy. Because the darkness has rolled out and there are certainly strong, positive things left behind.
In your first period of long term sobriety did you do all of this work on your inner landscape or would you say this time around things are much different in how you approach your sobriety? Just curious
In my first period of sobriety (mid-thirties), I was very focused on a business I was starting. I was working so much that I was just thinking about success because my back was really against the wall. In fact, this career I was starting was a big reason I knew I had to get sober. I just wasn't gonna be successful as a boozer, period.
My first sober period was all about elation, relief, hard work, optimism and commitment. I was as focused as a rifle shot and in the prime of my life. Not as much introspection then. More about I've got a job to do, now do it.
Now, I'm way past the prime of any career and frankly, I need to start another career before too long. It's just a lot harder when you are 65. So my second sober period has been a lot more about the reality of my alcoholism. This time I quit for me, not for my financial future.
It turns out that sobriety is better the second time around. I'm ready to exploit my sobriety in more ways now because understanding myself and how I relate to the world is just a lot more important to me now. I have studied alcoholism to a much greater extent now because I was so curious about how it suddenly took me down again. And with less time left for me on this earth now, I need to make more sense of myself and how to make the last chapter of my life the best.
I don't know if this all makes any sense to you, but it's the best I can do. I wish I had been more introspective about my sobriety the first time around. Learned more. Maybe I would never have taken it for granted then. Of course, that's all just speculation. Sometimes the cards just fall where they may. I hope I'll be better at accepting that the second time around.
I love the idea of being focused as a rifle shot–that's certainly how I feel about this. I'm not messing around. I really do appreciate your sharing your experience and as always your words are relatable and real. I think you are definitely making something beautiful of this part of your life and saving and changing others' lives because you are sharing your wisdom and mistakes. I know you've helped save mine and I will always be grateful beyond words that you took a risk and gave me the straight, unflinching words that I needed. Thank you from the bottom of my heart
Thanks so much for your kind words. You've helped me as much as I've ever helped you. The more you really believe and understand that, the better you will understand your own sobriety. I could never thank you enough for your blog and your contributions to all us BFBers.
This is lovely…
I wish you success all the way