Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Down The Rabbit Hole

It is possible to be okay and not okay at the same time.

Yesterday I turned 42. We went up to my Mom's condo in NH, which is nestled on a beautiful lake. We went swimming, watched fireworks, went for walks, played games. I didn't really want to celebrate my birthday, but of course we did anyway. It's what you do. You keep on going, no matter what. There is a picture of me smiling over my birthday cake, made by my brother and given some extra flair with frosting by the kids. The smile is real - I'm happy, I'm grateful. And I'm also really, really sad.

People ask me a lot "How are you doing?  You okay?"  I give them a smile and say that yes, I am okay, that I'm muddling through.

But the reality is that I'm struggling.  I am functioning - I shuttle the kids to their activities, go to play dates, the gym, out with friends.  I smile and sometimes even laugh, but underneath it all there is a kind of flatness, a bewildered feeling that I can't shake.

I'm forgetful.  I lose my train of thought all the time; I grope for words and mix up my kids' names.  If it weren't for the reminder alarm on my phone I would forget about Finn's karate or Greta's soccer camp.  I can't hold a thought for very long.   Things that used to light a fire inside me, like making jewelry or writing, barely produce a spark of interest.

It is way more than sad.  It feels more like lost.

I spend as much time as I can with my Mom, who is teaching me so much about grace and gratitude, even as she navigates her grief, takes tentative steps into her new life without my Dad.  They were married for forty-six years.  I am in awe of her ability to be vulnerable and strong at the same time. 

I go about my day, groping my way from one moment to the next.  I am not curling up into a ball.  I am functioning.  But sometimes, just barely.  Every now and then, without warning, the world in front of me seems to shimmy and shift, reality slides off the page, and I fall apart.  But I always pick up the pieces, take a deep breath and keep on moving.

The thing I notice the most is that my old nemesis, Anxiety, has come home to roost.  She perches on my shoulder, a dead weight, and whispers into my ear a constant stream of unwelcome thoughts.  

I have always been an anxious person.  I know now that it was likely at the root of my drinking.  I would self-medicate, drown out the whispering voice of fear.  

But now, of course, I don't have that particular rip cord to pull; I can't simply drop away from myself, numb the sharp edges.  

I don't drink anymore, but I have my own private rabbit hole, a tiny place in my head where I can slip away, even as I robotically go about my day.  I lived here a lot in new sobriety, as I tried to get from one end of the day to the other without a drink.  In my rabbit hole I am safe from the whispering voices of fear.  I know I'm not fun to be around when I'm there; I'm mechanical and flat, going through the motions, phoning it in.   But I'm upright, I'm putting one front in front of the other, and sometimes that has to be enough.  I'm simply not capable of feeling it all.

My rabbit hole provides temporary relief from the anxiety.  I haven't felt anxiety like this in a long time.

There is something wrong with my back.  Perhaps I twisted it or strained it, but I don't recall anything specific.  Maybe it is stress, maybe a combination of both.  When I'm on my game, when I'm not hobbled by grief, an injured back is simply a call to the doctor to make an appointment; something to check off my To-Do list.  

But my brain isn't functioning on all cylinders, and instead of coping I'm paralyzed with fear.  It has to be something awful, it tells me, something incurable.   Instead of picking up the phone to call the doctor, I obsess about all the symptoms, adding brick after brick to my monument of fear.

My stomach churns when my kids aren't with me; I'm convinced - with a lot of help from the whispering voices in my ear - that something tragic is going to happen.  

Now I know that someone healthy, vibrant and alive can just be gone in the blink of an eye.  I always knew that, of course, but now I feel it in my bones, how fragile it all is, and it makes me very, very afraid.

There is a ray of hope, I guess, because I can observe all this, as if from afar.  I understand what my brain is doing; it doesn't want to process my Dad's death, so it is occupying itself by worrying over other things I can't control, like my health, or what happens to my kids when I'm not around.  My brain is like a cat batting around a crippled mouse before going in for the kill.   Needless torture and pain, but it's something to do.

This ability to observe myself, even with my neuroses clanging away, ensures that I will be okay.  I can talk about it, work it through.   On the other side of this is growth and enlightenment.  I know that is true. 

I have to do all the things I did in early sobriety.  I have to keep talking, be gentle on myself, not succumb to guilt that I'm not the best mom to my kids when I'm hiding in my rabbit hole.  I have to put faith in front of fear.  I have to do the next right thing - like call the doctor - instead of allowing my anxiety to grab the wheel and steer the bus off the cliff.  

I have to surrender, let the current take me where I'm meant to go.  My job is simply to keep my head above the water, and let time do what time does best:  heal.


  1. Thank you for your transparency and honesty here. I will be thinking of you and your family in the days to come.

    Thank you for letting us know that it isn't always a pink cloud.

  2. Such a good post. Of course your heart is breaking. You're doing so incredibly well with something so incredibly hard. Be good to you, you deserve it.

  3. I recently shared my wall quote with Heather, and I've probably shared it with you before--a great one from Melodie Beattie:

    Let go. Do the next thing. Ask for help.

    Also--you are not alone. http://www.marriedmysugardaddy.com/?p=563

  4. Thank you for sharing this.

  5. Thank you for sharing! I identified with the fear and the anxiety. I recently figured out that my fears that something tragic would happen to my famiy stemmed from my fear of abandonment, which I had suffered 30 years ago when my Dad suddenly decided to leave my family. This fear of someone close leaving me riddles me with fear at times. I imagine the worst sometimes and the consequence is severe anxiety, where I even forget to breathe! Thank you again for sharing, it helped me feel not so alone!

  6. This post is well-timed, as I spent the night being an insomniac due to anxiety. I have a hard time managing it-- even as my rational brain screams that everything is fine. I keep working through it, though, and being cognizant of what's going on in my mind helps immensely.

    I continue to think about you and your family.

  7. I imagine this post was difficult to write, but I have to tell you that you are an AMAZING writer! For example, your analogy about the cat batting around a crippled mouse was such an incredible description of what the brain goes through when dealing with anxiety (something from which I, too, suffer). I hope that you are able to find some peace and solitude to appreciate all the memories of your father and all the GOOD things in your life. Thanks for such an honest post!

  8. Gosh I am in this rabbit hole with you- on so many levels- I feel your pain, your paralysis and frustration- everything continues and yet your world comes to this shrieking, halting stop. It's almost like once death touches you on this kind of primal level- you are never the same again...it's a fabricated new kind of normal. Thank you for baring everything- it is so incredibly illuminating

  9. Holding you in my heart, Ellie.
    I'm sure this was a difficult post to write and share. Though nuckingfutsmama was right on about your analogies and abilities as a writer. It was all so accurately and beautifully rendered. {My favorite line was about adding bricks to the monument of fear.}

    As so many others have said, keep talking and be gentle with yourself. Also, you're right, your awareness about what your brain is doing and why are a huge step toward maintaining perspective and allowing time to heal.

    {{Hugs}} to you, Ellie.

  10. You could be experience peri-menopausal symptoms! *hugs*

  11. Ellie,
    There is a shift and a change in your life...and one of the more difficult ones to walk through. Walking through pain sober is new to you...so that adds to the shift. I am glad you are openly sharing and I am hoping it is also helping you some to grasp what is going on within and around you. I can still relate to where you are. It is 5 months for me now, but the healing is not over, and I am not believing I will completely heal. I have learned to move and live with happiness again, but I can't imagine I will find a way to fill that one void. And that is ok...I am going to allow that, it is just a new part of me now. It will not devour me, or steal my future, it is just a new piece of my heart and soul that I will contend with here and there. Hold on to your faith, and allow it to pull you through this mucky part. Float on the sailboat of peace when you need to reach above the muck because it weighs you down. You remain in my daily prayers. Take care and know that you have people out here (even ones like me you don't know) who care and can listen if you need to talk. Sometimes it is good to have the totally unconnected person to share with.

  12. Thank you for sharing. Keep taking care of yourself.

  13. My dad died when I was 33, of brain cancer. He was the only oasis of peace in the turmoil of my growing-up years and I still miss him. The pain does leave - it needs to happen and yes, it sucks. But that you are going through it, preferring to feel the hurt than to feel nothing at all, is a testament to how far you have come in your recovery.

    Death of a dearly loved family member is never easy. It's much harder when the death is unexpected, when it happens to someone healthy, young...like my niece at 25 years old. She dropped in the shower - just like that. Every so often when I get in the shower I have that same feeling of dread - like something is going to happen to me in there, and nobody will find me. It's normal - it sucks, but it's normal.

    I have told so many people that feelings are part of the human condition and they were meant to be a transitory state to alert us to something that is wrong. They hurt but they also help us heal. They are essential to acknowledge - to allow ourselves to feel, no matter how intense - and to work through until we can get to a place of serenity.

    Thank you so much for sharing this part of your journey: it's such a private thing, grief.


  14. Also, forgot to wish you a belated Happy Birthday, Ellie! :)

  15. I'd like to hear more about this "rabbit hole." What do you mean, exactly? Like.. is it a form of disconnect? Keep writing, it's got to be helping you, and helping others as well, perhaps more than you know.

  16. I commend you for such an honest post and for not drinking. You are SUCH a strong woman. I wish I were there just to sit with you. Hey, if you still have my face stick, I am!

    Love you lady!

  17. Sending you so much love through the internet. Love and hopes for a peaceful heart...

  18. I'm so sorry for your loss. You write beautifully and eloquently.

  19. A belated happy birthday. And - be patient with your self. It's okay to be where you are. Hugs.

  20. I'm so sorry. And I know exactly where you're coming from. My mom died two years ago this month, and I was going through the same emotions with my dad. And about getting sick -- thinking everything weird on me, my husband, or the kids was cancer. I don't know if that helps.

  21. I am so sorry for your loss, Ellie.

    I've been away, off of Twitter, away from blogging, dealing with life. I had no idea.

    As always, your writing is so wise, and deep. You an do this. Patience. One moment at a time.

  22. Your post always touch a special place in my heart.Thank you Ellie!