“Seriously? It Takes This Long?”

Posted: January 15, 2012 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , ,

I’ve had a few challenging days at a new job I’ve taken on.  With good training but no experience, I’m screwing up from time to time, and (because of the nature of the position) these errors have a pretty immediate, negative effect on people.  I’ve been coming home exhausted, literally jumpy, and unable to shake off mistakes I’ve made during the day, no matter how small in the grand scheme of things.  My employers say I’m doing fine, but it doesn’t feel that way.

Yesterday marked the end of a long week.  Instead of going home directly, I picked up my partner for a much-needed trip to the

What I imagine my self-recriminations produce in a hypothetical test kitchen. It's actually called "bat paste." Yum.

grocery–never my favorite task.  Walking around the busy, Saturday frenzy of the store, I was grateful not to be at home, stewing in my self-flagellating juices.  My instinct was to go home, squirrel away quietly in some self-involved task or more literally in my basement study; but, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in a year, it’s that my instinct for isolation should never be trusted. Cranky and exhausted as I was, concentrating on the price of clementines and trying to remember to buy cat litter were much healthier uses of emotional energy than going home to whip up a batch of masochist chowder.

I’ve also been in the midst of making plans to visit family out-of-town on one of my days off.  As the trip neared and my week got harder, I began to regret the decision.  My new job also means waking up at 4:15 each morning, and I’m having a little trouble adjusting to the very early hours.  Wouldn’t it be preferable to rest, take some time for myself?  It might, if I completely ignored the motive behind this “wisdom,” which is (again) to isolate.  I don’t know why my instinct is to walk through my interior landscape when it’s clearly a minefield.  My recovery hasn’t brought me that far.  I only know I do it, and I shouldn’t.   So, I’m making the decision not to.  Instead, we’re going to go to a big aquarium today to look at sharks and jellyfish and sea turtles.   We’re going to have lunch with family.  I won’t let myself jump on self-created grenades just because they’re there.

I wasn’t surprised by the sudden craving I felt when we passed the beer aisle at the grocery yesterday.  I’d been expecting it.  I’ve had lots of changes–all good ones, but changes nonetheless–in my life, and I knew the fall-out would be stress.  Even good stress is still stress.  And if I add that to the anxiety produced by adjusting to the new job….well, I’m an alcoholic!  Since when did my lizard brain NOT think that opening a bottle couldn’t make the day a little better?  I was also Hungry (hadn’t taken enough lunch), Angry (at myself for errors I’d been making), Lonely (because I thought no one really knew how I felt), and Tired (4:15 a.m.!).  When I felt the craving, I was able to smile and say, “Ah…there you are!  I’ve been expecting you…”  and simply walk on.

But my other thought was:  “Seriously?  It’s taken me this long to develop an interior dialogue with myself that isn’t an inebriate transcription of a Beckett play?  Has it actually taken more than a year to respond with some sanity to a common, self-destructive tendency?  Just one self-destructive tendency?”  Apparently, yes.  It takes this long.  In the midst of feeling proud of my ability to identify my emotions, trace their etiology, and formulate a healthy response, I felt overwhelmed by the smallness of this “victory,” and felt intensely humbled by the progress still ahead of me.

In AA, the phrase is “progress, not perfection.”  That’s meant to encourage me, and it does, but this progress stuff is hard!  and slow!  It would be more embarrassing to feel that it’s taken me nearly forty years to start becoming an adult, except that I know too many people (most of them outside of recovery) who aren’t bothering with the process.  I also feel immense gratitude to have the chance to change.  I nearly didn’t get it.

So, instead of playing with the painful loose tooth of my recent mistakes, I’m going to go look at fish.  And a sea turtle.  Just one:  an adolescent, loggerhead sea turtle named Denver.  As a turtle teen, so I was told last time I visited the aquarium, he hasn’t quite figured out how his breathing should match his diving depth.  I’m also told he’s just a little clumsy, and will get wedged in rocks and need some help getting out occasionally.  It’s kind of funny, and I’m not going to anthropomorphize the amphibian to make a metaphor either.  He’s a sea turtle, and therefore not prone to chop himself up as the main ingredient in a self-recriminating bouillabaisse.  He doesn’t worry about getting stuck and is unaware of any “progress” he’s making.  He’s fast enough for himself.

No metaphor.  I shouldn’t be more like the sea turtle.  And I’m glad for him he’s himself and not me.  Anyway, he’s stuck in an aquarium outside Cincinnati.  And there’s no wrap up here, no neat moral between the pages.  Just the humble acknowledgement that progress in recovery is slow, even glacial at times, which is frustrating.  I can’t predict that there won’t be spurts of insight again, as there were in my first six months, but I’m hoping I get more comfortable with the small, forward pace of real life as an adult.  Making better choices daily, maybe even “better” mistakes.   Sobriety, not for itself only, but as the first small step toward serenity.

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