It’s funny how life works.
Sometimes I get the exact phrase or story or song lyric that I will need right before being blindsided. It’s as if someone hands me a lifeline just as I’m about to go overboard.
Yesterday’s lifeline came in the form of an email from a friend in early sobriety, and she included a link to Brene Brown’s Ted Talk on The Power of Vulnerability. (I’ve seen it before but was happy to listen to Brene once again discuss how embracing our weaknesses can help us connect with life and other people.) My friend described how she was using the Ted Talk to ‘lean in’ to uncomfortable feelings. I’d been trying to do that as well because I am forever scheming to avoid discomfort and pain, like most people. I am a great stuffer of bad feelings. Of course, I used to have alcohol to dull or sharpen or release ‘bad’ feelings, but that stopped working long ago.
My friend wrote about those overwhelming feelings and urges you get when you first stop drinking. I was beyond all that, I thought. I couldn’t really remember when the last strong desire to drink had hit me. I had graduated. Armed with almost a year of studying sobriety as if I were majoring in it, I felt safe.
On to Facebook ….
I rarely look at Facebook, mostly because I don’t have much interest in what people I knew years ago are having for breakfast. Or where their great-nephew is going to school. I do like to keep up with distant relatives and close friends, but that only takes the occasional glance at Facebook, and I wade past all of the invitations to like this or that. Consequently, I rarely post anything.
I was on Facebook to invite another friend of mine, Kim, on a spiritual retreat I was thinking of attending. I quickly Googled the retreat’s website to judge if it might be something that appealed to her. Unfortunately, the site featured a photo of a tired-looking group of mostly older women acting kooky to demonstrate that they were having fun. (Never mind that they were probably my age.) Ah, well … hopefully she could see past the images to the more spiritual aspects of the retreat.
Clicking on Kim’s Facebook page, I saw that she was on a boat somewhere in the Caribbean. There she was, frosty glass of mimosa hoisted in the air. “Breakfast of champions!” was the caption. She looked tanned and happy, and I casually scrolled down through her photos. Kim in a cocktail dress, glass of wine in hand. Celebrating a birthday with a gang of friends, all casually strewn about an island bar. More photos of friends, friends, friends. So happy, all of them.
And a feeling I didn’t like began to wrap itself around my heart.
I used to do that. I used to be on those beaches, feeling the warm sun on my skin, hugging people I barely knew, hoisting my glass in the air. I wanted that back again. It was mine too. I felt a familiar wave of grief wash over me.
Then I thought about the spiritual getaway I would be going to. That awful photo of sober, kooky fun. I didn’t want to do that! That wasn’t me. I am one of those women on the boat. That’s where I belong.
But this time I recognized the feeling I was having, because I had named it before. Heartbreak.
And I sat with the feeling. I let myself feel it. It hung on tight around my chest, and then began to dissipate. I honored myself, acknowledging that it was OK to feel this grief, however misguided.
It hurt to let go of who I was. It hurt to suddenly be the kind of person who talks about mindfulness and yoga and healthy food, sprinkled in with a few anti-drinking anecdotes. A person who goes to bed by ten and has become predictable and has successfully driven most every drinking friend to the sidelines of her life. And has yet to search for new ones among the non-drinking world.
But that’s OK. That’s change, I told myself. Change for the better.
More reasonable thoughts began to enter my mind. As if on cue, a quote from an Eckhart Tolle article that I had written down rose in my mind: “Now you can use thought instead of being used by it.”
The photographs, and my thoughts that went with them, were an illusion. I knew that. When I was drinking with friends, the photos never covered the following morning, hung over and remorseful. Or the drunken arguments that took place late at night. Or the swerving cars leaving the dock. And this idea that drinking somehow led to vacations was also an illusion. It led to overdrawn bank accounts and money wasted on gallons of alcohol.
And broken families.
And I knew Kim was actually having a crisis of her own right now, wondering about her marriage, her career, her kids. And her drinking. She also was trying to save herself from a life that looked glittery and colorful on the outside, but that she found increasingly empty and unfulfilling.
I sent her the invite. And I look forward to the retreat, with her or without.
I went back to the retreat photo, to see it through my own eyes instead of how I perceived Kim might see it. On second glance, the people in the photo seemed genuine, like they didn’t take themselves so seriously. They were unconcerned about their image. Hell, they probably posted the photo on their Facebook pages.
Maybe they were just waiting for me to grow up enough to appreciate them. Maybe this group, I decided, was exactly what I needed.