Long before I began drinking, I preferred time by myself to time with other people. Don’t get me wrong; I had friends that I loved dearly. No one would have accused me of being a hermit, but it was understood that some afternoons or evenings that I’d just be at home reading, writing, or hanging out with my family. As a kid, I explored my neighborhood as much by myself as I did with my best friend. During high school, I worked at a local grocery store. After work, I talked with my co-workers and usually went back home to decompress and work through my day.
As my drinking increased, I became much more isolated and bought into the self-imposed story line that I was much more than an introvert with anxiety issues; I became convinced that I was destined to be a social outcast for the rest of my days and that no one in his or her right mind would want to be around me (including my family). Like so many other alcoholics, I thought I was unique. I locked myself away from the world as much as I could to not only protect myself but also to protect others from me.
In a way, I was correct to do the latter. I had no business interacting with people because I couldn’t be authentic. I’d accumulated layer upon layer of deceit that I employed without so much as a blink. I lied constantly, and I manipulated people without an inkling of remorse…not because I’m a sociopath but because I figured everyone did this as a means of self-preservation (which used to be one of my favorite words). Perhaps I took my self-preservation to extremes, but again, I thought my situation was unique. I did what I had to do in order to survive.
When I got sober, I realized I didn’t want to live in survival mode anymore since that’s not really living, anyway, and my survival skills were destined to kill me sooner or later. At 93 days sober, I realize a few things about myself:
1) I’m still an introvert, which is perfectly fine. I still need to recharge by spending some time alone during the day. I can do that in my office at work, which is wonderful, and I’m learning to ask for help at home in order to do the same thing. For me, being in the kitchen and listening to a podcast while I make dinner calms me down, and my family respects that. My children don’t always follow the rules and leave me be, but they’re little. They’ll get it. Being an introvert doesn’t mean I’m a social outcast.
2) I need to stop listening so much to my thoughts. Someone told me once, “Thoughts are not truth,” and I agree. I find it difficult to put that into practice all the time, but I’m getting better at it. I believe that my thoughts create my reality, and until I got sober, my thoughts could be pretty shitty. Einstein said, “Reality is an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.” I can’t change the state of matter or shove my hand through a wall (at least, not without a significant amount of pain), but I can realize that everything is in flux, including my thoughts and emotions. As the old adage goes, this, too shall pass. Everything will pass in time. The key for me is to remain in the moment, regardless of my thoughts or feelings. I’m learning to be at peace with that I’m experiencing. Which leads me to….
3) Practicing compassion for myself. Pema Chödrön encourages us to practice compassion for ourselves, to treat ourselves kindly and with a sense of humor. It isn’t always easy, of course, because of ingrained thought patterns and inner negative voices. I realize that all that I need to be at peace and to be happy is within me. Other people can’t provide that, and alcohol sure as hell can’t. If I’m having a bad day and I can’t change the situation and my thoughts are locked into a downward spiral, I take a few deep breaths, sit with my feelings, and pat myself on the back. I’m okay where I am. I’m where I’m supposed to be at that exact moment, because really, where else could I be? I can’t drive to the mountains of Virginia, breathe in the clean air, and relax; I can’t necessarily climb into bed and cover my head with a pillow if there are things I need to do. But I can be at peace with being a conscious human being experiencing the present, regardless of what that is.
For those that know me, this is a revolutionary way of thinking. I wouldn’t have gotten here without rehab, AA, my family, authors like Pema Chödrön, and others who’ve walked along with me on the path to recovery. I’m grateful to them, as I’m grateful to those I’ll encounter as I go forward.