Monday, February 28, 2011

Breathe. And Wait.

The hardest part of sobriety for me, now, is sitting with unpleasant emotions.

My triggers now are mostly emotional:  irritation, boredom and monotony top the list.

This past week has been all about irritation, boredom and monotony.

It was school vacation week, and we had no plans.   Most of our friends - the kids' regular play dates - were away, having hightailed it to warmer climates.   The weather is abysmal - alternating between snow and rain; the world has been reduced to a black and white photograph.    I ache for splashes of color, birdsong and the sun on my face.

There was only one day this past week where we could go outside.   The rest of the days were spent pinging around in the house, tripping over our own feet and trying to stay out of our own way.

By Saturday, I was done.  My moods alternated between excruciating boredom and profound irritation.   I did my best to interact with the kids - play games, read books, color, do crafts.   These activities don't come naturally to me, and this is a source of existential angst.  Playing Legos with Finn and drawing endless pictures with Greta are amusing to me for about twenty minutes.   Then the guilt (what's wrong with me?  Aren't I supposed to want to do this with my kids?) and itchiness (oh MAN I'm bored) sets in, and I feel trapped in my own skin.  

I longed to escape into the computer, the television or a good book.   None of these things were possible, not really, until the kids were in bed.    Every evening I would lie on my couch and soak in the silence, too edgy to watch television, write or read.   Then I would go to bed and start the cycle all over again the next day.  

By Saturday evening my mind drifted to thoughts of a drink.  Just one freaking glass of wine to loosen my shoulders, wrap a warm glow around the tedium.   

Food is another challenge when the days are long and boring.  Rewarding myself with food was a big part of eating for me, before.   My mind scrambles for relief and eating and drinking were my trap doors, my ripcord out of my own head.

Now I don't drink, and I don't eat to excess, so at the end of that long day I felt bereft, lost, and more than a little edgy.

There are tools I can use to get through difficult times, and they work. Sometimes.   I made gratitude lists, I thought about how much worse this week would have been if I were drinking.   I remember the self-hatred I felt after a bout of mindless eating.   I know I don't want to go back there.   But it doesn't stop me from thinking, on the really bad days, is this seriously all there is?     Just an endless stretch of road with no relief? 

My mind is programmed to find the nearest exit away from unpleasant emotions.   When the days are full and I'm rushing from one thing to another, I don't have time for existential crises.   Too much time is not easy for me.   The hyperactive squirrel in my brain wakes up and starts foraging for self-pity, negativity and angst.

Saturday evening, as the kids watched a movie, I lay curled on my bed, longing for escape.   Steve was away on a business trip and wouldn't be home until the next morning.    The thought of giving the kids a bath, cooking dinner, getting them into their pajamas and reading a story seemed insurmountably hard.  

I can't do it, I thought.   I want to drop away from my life, just for a little while.

Finn yelled from downstairs that he wanted popcorn, and my shoulders hunched in irritation.   I can't even escape for five minutes, I thought.  I'm so done.

Everything passes, and Saturday night did, too.     

Recovery, for me, is about learning to feel everything.    I can no longer adjust my moods with food or alcohol like some mad scientist. 

Sunday morning I woke up with a peaceful mind.    If the hardest part of recovery is learning to sit with the tough emotions, the reward is the self-love and pride I feel when I make it through. 

In the rested, sane light of day, I wondered what was so difficult about the night before, anyway?   I realized that so much of my trouble is born out of my own thoughts.    I can't think my way out of unpleasantness.  

But I can breathe.   And wait.  

And so that's what I do.


  1. Thank you. Your honesty is so often the very thing I need, Ellie.

    Also. ME TOO. This weekend was just hard...the weather, the cabin fever, the endless hours...ugh, I just LOOOOONG for winter to be over. Thank God it always ends.

  2. This was a very validating post. Sober for four years, I still have cigarettes (which I am trying fervently to quit) as my 'mad scientist' escape. Very refreshing to be reminded of the necessity of resting in one's emotions, and the rewards of waiting it through. Thanks, Ellie.

  3. yes. and i'm just a mom, without the addictions, yes, to all the need to escape and all the will in the world just to get through one more minute .... and it passes... thank God, it passes. . .

  4. I love this:

    "I realized that so much of my trouble is born out of my own thoughts."

    I've been thinking about this lately too - trying to differentiate between what does feel awful and what feels awful because of the way I'm thinking about it.

    Thank you for the post - I've really been struggling myself lately.

  5. OMG your week sounds like torture. Tell me again WHY you don't want to go back to a fun and interesting job and get the kids a daycare/nanny/afterschool care? I would be totally insane by now if I had to spend a whole week staring at my (admittedly adorable) son.

  6. Learning how to feel everything. That is so hard for me. I often disassociate or bury my feelings in food, instead of sitting with them and allowing myself to really feel them.

    As far as board games and color sessions, I hear you. My attention span for those things is about ten minutes, sometimes less. The guilt attacks me,but I just can't seem to get into it.

  7. thank you for sharing your heart. as always, its so validating and im so glad to get a peek into your head while you show how you process through these moments. *HUG*

  8. Great post. Wonderful to know that even in those dark moments of irritation or irrational dis-satisfaction, that we don't give up "hope" and know that emotions are something we can survive. I remember when I was a using addict, that I would feel like I would never survive the negative feelings. And so...I used some more. Thank g.o.d. for hope. And for blogs. Thanks, Ellie.

  9. Actually, I take back my comment about irrational dis-satisfaction. Nothing rational or irrational about feelings. That's why they are feelings. Whoops.

  10. Well said! I am in the process of quitting drinking (AGAIN) and I was just trying to come up with a plan as to what I am going to do later today when I pick up the kids from school and they start bickering and I want to come out of my skin and slip into a bottle of wine...only to wake up in the morning hating myself. It's not my kids, it's me and it sucks.

  11. I love your redesign. Wonderful!

    I do a lot of checking out and ignoring my kids. I've gotten to the point where I mostly don't do the things I don't want to with them (Legos) and offer up things I don't mind instead.

    "No I won't play legos, but I'll read to you, play solitaire or Uno"

    And if they whine or don't want to, than fine.

    REALLY. Fine.

    I don't buy into the mom as playmate role, but rather look for other ways of spending time together. My close friend Erin (of Nesting) is a Montessori expert of sorts, and she reminds me that 15 or 20 minutes 1 on 1 per day is all they need.

    That said, your ability to live with discomfort--that you've worked so hard on--is amazing. You amaze me Ellie.


  12. I often have to remind myself that recovery rhymes with discovery for a reason and sometimes just waiting it out/breathing leads to new insight. But I have to say, the hyperactive squirrel imagery is spot on!!! Thanks so much!