Have you ever gone to visit an elderly relative, been ushered into their somewhat musty-smelling living room full of old yellowed photographs in garish frames, knickknacks, military memorabilia and scratchy crocheted pillows? They motion for you to sit down and as you do you have a sudden realization that the couch is shiny and CRUNCHES and instead of sinking in like a regular couch you just sort of perch atop the thick clear plastic cover. You try to make polite small talk as you realize that you are beginning to sweat and you are totally uncomfortable in a way you have never experienced before.
Later, when you’ve eaten cookies and had strangely strong unsweetened iced tea and it’s time to leave, you try to get up and if you are wearing shorts, make an obscene sucking sound as you separate yourself from the plastic. Your legs are stinging and you are scared to look to see if you left any skin behind as you stoop to receive heavy on the aftershave kisses from your very tiny elderly uncle who seems to be held up by his massive belt buckle alone. Anyone else had this delightful experience? Or maybe it was just me.
I’m not sure if it’s a generational thing: folks who lived through the Depression and WW2 and saved things “for special occasions” decided that covering their couches in thick clear plastic covers meant that they would endure indefinitely. I guess what they lived through meant they were willing to give up comfort and the very essence of “couches” for an illusion of everlasting newness? I mean, everything about a couch that is couch: comfortable, shabby, womb-like on bad days, with the perfect lumpish pillows, where you can curl up with a book and your favorite blanket and maybe spill a little coffee or tea but it’s a practical brown or greige color and so it’s ok. It just gets more worn and more comfortable and to others it may be a little questionable, but to you it’s just your couch.
I’ve been thinking about this lately when I consider what life was like when I was drinking and also as it applies to my relatively new sobriety. In those years when my drinking went off the rails and crossed over from being a coping mechanism that worked for the most part, to something that absolutely was going to kill me, alcohol was like that plastic couch cover. When I was drinking nothing touched me, nothing stained me, there was no wear and tear. I was perfectly preserved and uncomfortable as hell in a prison of my own making. I had armor. I felt nothing, or if I started to, I was quick to smother it in a sea of wine or whiskey.
And now that I’m sober, I feel like my sobriety is something I’m protecting in a similar fashion. It was so hard won that I think part of me thinks it needs to be preserved at all costs. Forget comfort, I’m covering it in thick plastic because I’m scared it’s going to be ruined.
RELAPSE: the boogie man, the scary clown, the monster in the closet of those of us who are in active recovery. I fear it. And so I wake up every day and decide, today is not the day.
I’ve been reading a lot and listening to podcasts on relapse: the signs, the ways you slip and slide and honestly, it scares the shit out of me to hear people tell their stories. People who had lowish bottoms like mine, who had years of sobriety and then relapsed in huge, painful, public ways. They went down HARD. And the common denominator seems to be that they stopped making sobriety their number one priority. It’s tempting, even at almost 15 months which is just a drop in the bucket to think that I can take a day off, slack on the self care, maybe indulge in some old patterns of thinking. But where does that lead?
The other deadly error for many seems to be overextending, even in recovery advocacy work. Once things got out of whack, the drinking came roaring back and as we have heard ad infinitum, the drinking picks up right where it left off. Everyone who relapsed says that getting sober again is harder than staying sober. I read all of this and so I stay in my little sober cocoon. I keep my sobriety under wraps where it’s safe.
But then I get to the big themes of Service. Breaking stigmas. So much work that needs to be done. Yet I look around at others I feel are better qualified to do it than me. I sit and wait for them to do it, and wonder why nothing is changing in public opinion. How are these stigmas and fears ever going to change unless WE, the sober, the alive and thriving ones show people what it looks like? And what does that mean for me personally? At what point do I decide that I’m “legit” enough, that my sobriety it strong enough for me to put myself out there?
That’s what I’m pondering these days. I’m trying these thoughts on for size, and saying them out loud. Admitting my fears and cowardice makes it seem less powerful in a way. Of course I’m scared. Who wouldn’t be after all I’ve been through the last few years and as my fried synapses are healing it almost shocks me at random times when I take an inventory to realize I feel freaking awesome. Even when I’m tired, it’s a good tired. An honest tired from being engaged with my three kids all day, or working in the garden or a shift in the ER, or running a few miles at the end of the day. I never want to go back to that soul-dead crushing exhaustion that haunted my every day, my every waking moment that I wasn’t drinking. I don’t want to lose what I’ve found.
And yet I wonder if my fear is just a safe little excuse not to be brave…
One of my favorite books as a child was the Velveteen Rabbit; the story of how this little rabbit was played with and had adventures and to the critical eye, he got shabbier and shabbier as time passed, yet he became more beautiful and magical to the boy who loved him because of the experiences and time they spent together. Like my shabby couch where I float off to far off Netflix lands and my lazy dogs curl up when they think no one is looking, and my kids watch tv and eat cereal in their jammies in the morning and it’s all just comfortable and not something we save “for a special occasion.” I wonder if in keeping it so close, if in being so afraid to mess it up or get some dings and scratches on it if my sobriety doesn’t have a chance to be fully Real?
Am I ready to rip off the plastic?