Tag Archives: happiness

Dealing with negative emotions

22 Apr

2:02 pm

Even today, I get angry.  Depressed.  Sad.  And, I think about drinking.  I do.  I don’t want to, and know that I never will–I’ve been there, done that–but, it’s still there, this DESIRE to soothe.  It’s more like a whine, faint, in the distance, reminding me of the hot mess I was when I first got sober:

But THEY get to get away, to escape, to use their substance of choice–why can’t I?

I was thinking on my run today:  it’s not that I am UNHAPPY–happiness is most certainly a choice.  And, after years of forcing myself to find happiness in the corners of my early sober life; and more years of learning how to cultivate happiness as a choice, 100% of the time–well, I’ve realized that I can be happy without being content.  I am not content, and frankly, I am not sure I ever will be.  At 42 years old, I think I’m just beginning to try things that might actually make me feel contentment, which I suppose might be the opposite of things like accomplished, or having won the prize, of having earned the medal.

It reminds me of where I am right now in my job search:  I have been contracting with the same company for almost two years, but they still haven’t hired me.  Not only that, but I’ve interviewed for more than one full-time job with them, and each time, the interview process has consisted of meeting/being interviewed by 7, 8, 9 people!  I’m wondering, are they simply trying to make me second-guess my abilities?  Cuz, you know, of COURSE, I can do these jobs.  It’s not rocket science.  The drinker in me, though, craves their approval; wants to do it “right;” wants to win!  In reality, for the most part, I so don’t WANT the job.  What I want is them to want me, like me, hire me.  I want to win.  Even if that means that both during the interview process AND while I’m doing a job that I don’t really want to do; I am totally freaking DISCONTENT.

Ahh, life.  Sobriety has allowed me to recognize the nuances to all this “character flaw” stuff, and well, the difference (in my mind, anyway) of being unhappy and being discontent.  And, while I’ve wanted to drink lately trying to figure out just what is going to alleviate this lack of contentment (as a writer, I wonder if I am always going to feel like I haven’t done anything, or need to do something more, or different, or else), the five years of sobriety under my belt–and feeling this way so often back in the early days–has given me the tools to realize that drinking won’t solve anything.  Won’t alleviate anything.  Is not an escape, and is not a reward.  No matter how many people I see drinking to reward or alleviate the stress of transition, or decision-making processes, it still reeks of bullshit.  Drinking is bullshit.  Do I want a thing, somewhere that I can go?  Yes.  Is it up to me to figure out where that so-called place is, that place of acceptance and happiness in the moment, for the moment, and of the moment?  Yes.

We whine, we do.  I do.  Yet, that is allowed.  And then, depending on how practiced you have gotten, you move on.  You place those negative ideas and feelings into the “perspective” box, and you move on.  I feel happy most of the time, and that’s what matters and what I try to continue to focus on.  That and remembering how AWESOME-SAUCE it still is to be here, and not there (hungover on a Saturday afternoon)–being grateful, and cultivating happiness, in spite of this so-called discontentment, which is fleeting, and fickle.

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My drinking past: a reminder

15 Mar

1:05 pm

Not to go into it in too much detail–to protect you from wanting to strangle me, and to protect me from my head exploding–but I went through my drinking past the other day. Yes, again. I wrote out all the drinking shit/stuff/shenanigans/problems/troubles/shambles that occurred since 2007. Why 2007? I don’t know; a friend emailed me and was waxing nostalgic about our “amazingly fun” (my words, but hers were even loftier, as if she had forgotten the Hell that I would go through) drinking binges at this one bar we discovered that spring, which would become our “go-to” or “local.” And which is where, over the next few years, my worst drunken mishaps would happen.

And, that got me to going into my past again, and realizing after I had written it all down in a text file, how draining, how sad, how wasteful, but yet…how painfully instructive it all was. Mostly, I saw just how wending wine was in my life–threaded into every nook and cranny. It was not just a part of my life; it became a driving force, a mitigating factor. It was, in essence, what everything else revolved around, and worse, sort of determined how everything else went, or turned out, or happened. In my worst of moods, I think back and hate myself for not seeing it, and my family and friends for not only allowing themselves the luxury of denial but also, for letting it happen out of ego, or spite, or resentment. In my best, like I said, I take it as a painful, yet instructive, part of my past.

Now? I’m pretty damn relieved to have stopped drinking; stopped the madness; to be making my choices, steering my ship, with a sober mindset; which is to say, my choices and driving force is about my essence as a person, about what I want, about who I am, about who I really want to be, about who I really want to be with and what I really want to accomplish.

I’ll be turning 40 in June, and realistically, I have a good 30 years left to do shit. That shit better be well chosen, you know? I can’t afford to waste any more time–and spirit energy–on drinking; on wrapping my life around a rotten core. On making life choices based on how it will or will not affect my drinking, and vice versa!

I hate to say it, but now, I’m actually living my worst fear. Quitting drinking has allowed me to confront what I was running from, and professionally, I think my worst fear was writing–working as a freelance writer! Which is what I’m doing now. As I was lying in bed last night, I realized that it was/is my biggest fear. I drank to avoid writing and then I drank to forget that I was running from what I should be doing. And, while I often tell myself, Enough is enough, you should simply give up and do something else–this is what I have to do. At least for now. Which, in a big way, has kept me sober.

I tell myself things like, I won’t drink until I get a story published here; or, until I get a story pitch accepted via THIS route of query. (I’m a biologist at heart, so I can’t help but leave no stone unturned, meaning, no estimates, and no shortcuts…which is the God damned mentality that made (makes?) me want to drink, but hey, we can’t strip our core overnight.) So, until I do this, and do that (pitch here, write this, volunteer there), I can’t drink. And, this is basically the hardest, scariest thing I’ve ever done, in my own mind; so, if and when I get over this hump, maybe I’ll drink then. Maybe I’ll be able to afford the time spent and the money wasted getting drunk instead of working on my life. Not yet, though.

And, that’s been good enough. So far. Lately, though, that drinking past of mine has come up again, and in realizing so clearly how drinking LED my life–it wasn’t something to fill the time, a diversion, an afterthought, as I told myself for years–well, it makes me really, really, REALLY not want to go back there. I mean, I COULD drink, but man, I’ve already been through that wringer. I’ve tried it all before. I’ve done it from every fucking angle. And frankly, I think I hit bottom. I think this is what they mean. YES, I could get that buzz again, and I could then be like, Woo hoo, my life is back to normal…

…but, THIS is normal now. And, that buzz comes with not just a bad hangover the next day, or the sober day count being set back to zero, or a sense of “Oh, I can drink now” and the obsession slowly but SURELY coming back; but, that buzz also now comes with my entire drinking past. That huge text file of a million words covering all the drunks and hangovers, and scraps of a night out, shrapnel of people and places and things–it’s just not worth it. As my sense of denial has disappeared in the face of remembering more accurately, that buzz HAS BECOME not worth it. So very much not worth it.

It pains me to admit it, it really does. And, I know I will continue to struggle with the IDEA of drinking again, of it being fun and a release and a refuge; but really, that is the old myth of me. I am coming into the new myth, and starting to believe it. Was it always there, lurking in the shadow? Or, have I torn down the old statue, and there’s a hole waiting for the new one–which I am building, and will erect in its place soon? It’s like changing religions, coming to believe in a new myth; and it takes time. It takes moving a boulder, inside and out. But, you do it, and you come to understand that you can change myths, you can tell a new story to yourself about yourself, you can become new. You don’t have to live in the drinking past, but you can use it as a tool to build your new statue.

THREE MORE DAYS, people! Till I turn one. Woot woot! I am planning a little get-together (at a wine bar, no less–no worries, I will not be imbibing, it’s just a really cute little place with lots of ambiance), and…I feel really good about that. Like, a birthday party that you weren’t going to give two shits about and now that you’ve decided to celebrate YOU, you’re at peace with that and looking forward to it.

It’s the end of the world as we know it…and I feel fine. 🙂

Allowing myself to be happy, or, the balance between “should” and “want”

18 Oct

4:41 pm

The longer I am sober, the more I am learning–having to learn, and painfully most of the time–how to allow myself to be happy. I had a friend about ten years ago who used to tell me that I liked being in pain. That I liked not being happy. I took offense to that, as well as feigned confusion: Me? Reaaaaaallllly?

Years later, after sort of (well, OK, totally) confronting my drinking problem, I am realizing just how much truth there is to his observation. I don’t–I never fucking DID–allow myself to be happy, and I drank because of it. I did things I “should,” never things I “want.”

In fact, I had a nightmare the other night in which I was rendered unable to breathe in the midst of a “craving panic.” You know what craving panics are, I’m sure: that anxiety that must be quenched, now, right now, and if it’s not, which it won’t be and can’t be but has to be, you start to feel your insides boil, your heart clench, your throat close…and your breathing stops. You need wine, right now. Yes, it was horrible. I woke up feeling sick, and had to take a few minutes to catch my breath.

And what was I doing in said nightmare? I was sitting in a salon chair, getting my hair cut. But I hated the hair cut. And, I couldn’t tell her (who?) that I hated it. Which made me want to drink more than I ever remember wanting to drink. And, after I woke up and calmed down, I remembered something, a small thing really: when I was about 12, going into the 7th grade, I got my hair cut really short. I don’t remember exactly how it happened, but it was the 80s and my “stylist,” Louise, thought my curls would look SO CUTE short. My mom wore her hair severely short, and she agreed. Me? Not so much. I sat there in silence, though, as my hair was butchered. Tears started to pinch out of my eyes, and my face went red trying to hold them back. I was crying, and my hair was gone. There was nothing I could do. We all looked at each other. “She’ll get used to it,” and “It looks SO CUTE!” I felt voiceless then, and I remember now how often I felt this way growing up.

Fast forward to now, and this voicelessness–stifling my own ideas of what I want, my expression, my creativity–remains to a certain extent. And, it was a large part–an integral part–of why I drank, I see now. Never allowing myself to do what I wanted, instead only what I should, what I thought everyone wanted me to do! I mean, I could go deep into this, but the gist of it is, as a twin, as an introvert, as a perfectionist at heart, as someone with an absentee father and fighting parents, all my efforts went into overachieving as a kid. When I got to high school, this morphed into a masochism that kept me up until 2 am every morning, joining and trying to excel at every single extracurricular activity on tap. College brought a crash-and-burn of sorts in the form of bulimia, heart palpitations, running away to France for a year. And finally, wine. Wiiiiine.

After my early 20s, when I WAS doing something I wanted, I reverted back to my old ways. Late 20s came and went, early 30s. I thought I was doing what I wanted, so why was I drinking all the time, exhausted and anxious and irritated and downright angry? My brain always hurt. I felt alone. Was it supposed to be this way? Everyone ELSE in New York was running around, overachieving, working and then, drinking until all hours, weren’t they?

I drank, that’s all I know. I drank after a long day of doing a job that both bored me and overwhelmed me. I drank all throughout a graduate degree that stressed me beyond which I thought humanly possible. I drank to be able to get the courage and extroversion to reach out to sources, to interview them. I would drink for these very reasons now, if I had my way! I notice now that most of the day, my stomach is sort of clenched, my gut apprehensive: ugh, I have to research this complicated subject matter; ugh, I have to get the balls and the thick skin to be able to pitch and then, face rejection of my pitch; ugh, I have to worry CONSTANTLY about earning enough money to pay my rent. Some of the best days are when I don’t have to think about this shit.

But yet…I LIKE IT. I need it!

See, on the other hand, I NEED this sort of achievement in my life, goals that are gotten by hard work. If it’s not hard-won, if it doesn’t hurt, it couldn’t be worth it, right? I have to achieve at least as much as my competitors, if not more, don’t I? Where is the line between doing something that you put up with in order to “grow” and “push your boundaries,” and doing something that you love and it being easy, almost too easy in the sense that you stagnate, that you never find that sense of accomplishment that comes from a hard job done well?

Sigh. It’s especially confusing now that I’ve gotten sober. I put down the wine glass only to realize that I drank to avoid this edge, this cliff, one which I can neither back away from nor jump off of. I am sitting on this cliff, scared out of my mind, knowing that I “can’t go home again” but pretty sure I can’t fly!

I know now that I drank in the face of these feelings of wanting to do something easier, more fun, more with my grain; while at the same time feeling afraid that I wouldn’t be challenging myself enough if I put down my burden–and, abandon the sense of identity that doing the hard work got me.

I’ve been this way all my life–a highly overachieving, academic-focused person. It’s served me well, and believe me, when I look at my resume and see my degrees from Ivy League schools and “impressive” roster of companies that I’ve worked for, I’m not ashamed. I’m proud, but only to a certain extent. At this point, I’ve realized that life is forgettable if you’re not doing something that makes you happy, that makes your day enjoyable. That’s all that we’re going to the grave with, is a memory of our happiness, locked into every cell in our body. Maybe that’s what gets us to the next plane.

What does being happy mean, though? Right now, to me being happy means not feeling stressed to the point that I’m going to get cancer of the second (voice) and fifth (sacral) chakras. Yet, it also means being challenged, and having the ability to write, to teach, to explain–I am good at this, and I like the process. So, how do I do this AND not let it get to me? How do I reconcile a desire to “achieve” in the sense that most of us here in the US understand–working for appraisal, and winning–and an equally strong desire to “let it go” and work to live? How, in fact, do I allow myself to be happy, no matter what I’m doing for work, or for play?

Letting others take responsibility for…

7 Oct

11:38 pm

Their anger.

Their sadness.

Their confusion.

Their lack of sense of purpose, of self.

Their lack of trust, or faith.

Their joy.

Their “luck.”

Their change, or growth.

Their happiness.

I have been working on an “amends” with my brother for almost two years. Two years over ONE incident in which I blacked out and screamed mean things at him and his girlfriend, mainly at his girlfriend.

The other night, we finally talked. After months, maybe close to a year.

I got the impression that my brother was drunk. It made me smile (in an “oh, the irony” sort of way), and cringe a little. He finally asked a question about my boyfriend, which rubbed me the wrong way anyway (mind you, he’s never before, in the near-two years we’ve been dating, even acknowledge him as being in my life). And, he’s never ONCE asked me about my sobriety, how any of that is going. Not once. Ever. It’s relevant here because, if it was such a big deal, isn’t my getting sober part of that big deal now, too? Or, shouldn’t it be?

I don’t feel that pissed anymore, just sorry. Sorry about what happened, sure, of course. But sorry, too, for them. Sorry that he can’t forge the courage to call his own sister because his girlfriend is telling him he can’t. Sorry that she and he are in a relationship where she fans the flames of his anger and resentments–to match her own, many of which are based in her early-life trauma (psychological problems, incest, rape). Sorry that they don’t have any friends. Sorry that they don’t want any friends. Sorry that they might not see any of this; sorry that they seem to feel the pain that it causes anyway. Is it I who is in pain here, though? Am I unhappy because they seem unhappy to me? (Some of it is that they ARE unhappy; some of it is that I am projecting my own goals and values on them, for better or for worse.)

What I realized in all this is, everyone is responsible for their own happiness. And to grant people that responsibility is you telling them that you have faith in their ability to tackle what I would consider life’s hardest challenge–to live without resistance, i.e., be happy. Me saying I’m sorry a million times, and worrying about whether two “co-dependent” people are going to forgive me–this does me no good. This is meaningless, actually. I don’t have to care about this outcome, and I don’t have to make them happy. I don’t have to worry about whether they’re happy or not.

See, I think I’ve spent a LOT of time in my life not only caring what others think about me, but shouldering–internalizing–their responsibility for their own happiness. For some reason, I feel guilty that my brother, or my mother, or my father, or my boyfriend, or my friend is unhappy. I drank over it, in one way or another. It’s taken a lot of work, actually, to see this tendency to want to please taken to the extreme: the need to solve everyone else’s unhappiness!

Sigh. Deep breath. Like I said, I carry this around, like a burden. It’s so deeply ingrained in me that I’m barely conscious of it–this “ability” to see others’ pain and lack, and then, my habit of not letting that go and leaving them to tend their own gardens. However, when I quit drinking, it was staring me in the face, and there was no way around dealing with it. And, once I started learning how to let go, even forcing myself to “not care,” I became MUCH happier–more balanced, had more time and space to focus on my own self, my healing, tackling of cravings, even probing into deeper mental realms.

Some people don’t like it when you leave them alone, though. They don’t like it when you hand them back their issues and say, Here, this shit is YOURS, bitch (Breaking Bad reference!). It’s a rejection, and an abandonment. I’ve felt that way, actually, when certain friends (and even my brother) have told me to get a handle on my drinking…and then literally disappeared, walked away. I felt abandoned; it was unfair, I felt, and it hurt.

It was the catalyst, though, for me learning to finally stand alone, and take charge. Whether there is anyone to lean on or not. And, I could do it. I CAN do it.

So, this handing back responsibility is also a way for them to say, And, I know you can do it. I have faith in you; I know you can take responsibility for your own happiness. It’s a way for them to say, I can’t do this for you, and you can’t do mine for me–but, hey, that’s life, kiddo. We are ALL responsible for our own happiness.

This is not to say that amends aren’t important. I have to say that I don’t think I would stir the pot in the case of most of the people I’ve hurt and/or offended; it’s over, and revisiting the hurts would cause more damage. I do, however, believe that continual effort on my part to conduct my relationships well, to handle my end of the deal, is key to dissolving any and all remaining bad karma. I guess.

I wasn’t pissed at my brother after hanging up. I wasn’t dubious, or sad, or emotionally changed in any one direction. In fact, I just kind of let it go. So be it, I thought. If they’re still pissed, that’s their problem. Literally. And, problems can be solved. Just with this one, it’s not going to be by me.

Happiness is a choice

24 Sep

10:47 am

Good morning. Or, is it?

I woke up to some fierce lower back pain and immediately took 4 Advil. It’s a bummer, knowing that at 39, all I can do is work with the pain and not–maybe never–remove it. It’s weird; I feel handicapped. It makes me sad, angry, and worn out. It is constant, and I feel like I’ve tried everything to fix it. I have, for the most part, given up.

And, this is all before I commence to sit right back down on my ass, spine crunching nerves, and get to work. THIS is what I do; I can’t seem to figure out another way.

Yet, the day is bright, and I have my plans, and I’m not thinking of drinking, and, well: happiness is a choice. I’m not sure why it’s a hard one to make sometimes, and why is should take effort (as in, maybe I’m doing it wrong), but, happiness is a constantly-being-made choice, isn’t it? Happiness is a choice. And, I can do this. If there is one thing I can do now, it’s this. I can usher the bad thoughts out, or sequester them, or filter them out gradually through some deep breaths. I’m still left with the pain, yes, but I can see my choice, facing me, and it is simple: happy or not?

I choose happy. But, mostly, I know now that I GET to choose. How black is that? (SNL reference!)

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