Originally I had planned to have a second week of resources for you, but the most timely thing to do is to recognize that we are facing a pandemic and the world seems to be offering the recovery community a million triggers. My history with stress is not a secret: I have an anxiety disorder and I deal sometimes with depression, both of which were reasons why I first began drinking and then eventually quit drinking. Drinking bottles of a depressant wasn’t good for my depression and the shame-and-also-booze hangovers only made my anxiety unbearable. It’s wild to think that I drank a substance to try to take the edge off, but it only ever put the edge on. It’s a mind trick, really, because I still yearn for something that takes the edge off, knowing cognitively that sitting in the stress, letting the stress pass, and remembering that I can survive it is the only way through to the other side of the trigger, the side where I’m so grateful I chose moving through stress over my previous quick fix.
Right now, I’m packing to move. Yes, I know; moving in a pandemic? I don’t recommend it, but here I am. My life is a jumbled mess of boxes and news alerts and social distancing. I yearn to be able to set up a holy space in my home, but right now my home is in its most utilitarian form. Yesterday, I sat back in my chair from a shocking realization: it’s going really well. This packing process is going really well. I’m two days away from the move and I’m almost done packing. I have a game plan, lists, a timeline to make sure things go smoothly. I’ve already gotten everything set up in my new destination; I’ve created a moving budget and so far I’m in the green. Last night, as I was packing a box and watching my cats play in another, it hit me: this is the smoothest move of my life, because I’m sober.
Previously, I would have used the stress of the move as a reason to make sure I had a six pack or a chilled bottle of Pinot Grigio. It’s no wonder I moved slower then, worked harder not smarter, found myself frantic on the day the truck and movers arrived. I was unmoored, I was unsure, I was organized but rarely had the wherewithal to follow the plan. I was always waiting on the other shoe to drop, not realizing that I was also the force pushing both shoes to the ground. There’s nothing quite like being shocked by the obvious inevitabilities caused by your own actions.
In sobriety, I’m not sleeping well at all (I’m turning on chick flicks to fall asleep; my Netflix algorithm is shot), but I’m also not waking up hungover. Now, let’s be real: I’m still a hot mess. There are wrinkles in my life that no iron can smooth; there are tears in the fabric of me that no seamstress can ever mend. But, in all the hot messiness of myself, I’m feeling strong through sobriety. In the morning, I’m guzzling my coffee, updating my lists, calling the electric company to make sure I’ll have power when I pull up. I’m also still meeting deadlines at work, logging in for meetings, and writing. Sure, I’m not doing it joyfully per se (because is anyone truly joyful when packing to move?), but morning grumps are nothing compared to the bleary inability to do much that accompanied the sort of drinking I used to do, especially if I had an excuse as big and worth the extra bottle as packing to move.
Right now, chances are that most people reading this are not moving (again: I don’t recommend it at this moment in our world’s history), but all of you are, in some way, shape, or form, being impacted by COVID-19, no matter where you are in the world. The two tasks are seemingly unrelated--moving and navigating a pandemic--and yet I find myself, in the worldwide sense of my anxiety, calling on the same inner and sober strength to navigate it. I’ve thought a few times over the past week about my past regarding alcohol, and if you’d saddled me with moving and a pandemic? I can barely imagine what state I would be in, finally arriving in Austin (my almost new home!) running on fumes in mind, body, and soul. But now I sit in the awareness of COVID-19, packing to move, stressed but strong, a very organized hot mess with a plan.
Something that has been extremely helpful in my sobriety, as I continue to navigate stressful times but without my favorite way to numb myself from it, is to intentionally reflect on something difficult I have done in my life to remind myself that I have the strength to see the road ahead. In sobriety, when I’m faced with something stressful, as I begin to feel my anxiety rise, I stop myself. I remind myself that I got sober, which years ago felt truly impossible. Then, I ask myself, “If you can get sober, can’t you also do this thing in front of you right now?” And, for the past 16 months of sobriety at least, the answer has always been yes. And you do not have to be sober to use this exercise. You can find something impossible in your life that you have survived and go from there. The other reminder I give myself is simply, “God has seen you to this day, do you think God will see you through it?” And, though I may stutter when I say it, the answer is also always yes.
During this time of social distancing, I hope this can serve as a reminder that you can do this. You can meet and move past the days ahead. You have done impossible things before and you will do impossible things again. I hope it can also serve as a reminder to take care of yourself, knowing that your anxiety and depression are valid, knowing that you are not alone in this. And I say this as someone who knows the feeling, as someone who is also navigating her way through this (to borrow from our friends at AA) one day at a time.