Sometimes You Just Suck It Up

Out for dinner a couple of nights ago, and boy was it EVER one of those nights. Wine on the table at the cottage has settled in to a mild distraction/annoyance that quickly passes. I did most of the cooking the nights we were there with family, so this is always a great distraction for me. Being physically busy really helps me to stay grounded in all kinds of ways, including staying sober.

This time, though, we were in a restaurant. It was a beautiful summery night, and everyone at the table (except my ten year old niece) was drinking beer or wine. I was so agitated, and missing my best defense: the ability to move around. It was really tough. I suppose  I could have gone for a little walk, but this was a last resort. I just pretty much decided I’d have to suck it up. It was not fun. But it passed, as I kept reminding myself it would.

Meditation has helped a lot. When you’re meditating and cultivating mindfulness, one of the aims of it is to observe and accept your feelings as things that your mind comes up with. But Your feelings aren’t “you.” They are things you can acknowledge without letting them define you. You get the gist of this in meditation, and then in a very weird and wonderful way, it starts to pop up on other areas of your life where you aren’t thinking at all about meditation. How cool is that?

So let’s say your craving is like an annoying office colleague. You have to work with this person and you don’t like her very much, but hey — she’s there and you have to cooperate with her to get shit done. So when you have to meet, you acknowledge her politely, and have necessary conversations. You don’t get all pissy, or aggressive, or passive aggressive. You just stick with business, and think about something pleasant you’ll get to do later. In other words, you have to have the interaction, but you don’t get all emotionally invested in it because you don’t want a few difficult moments to wreck the rest of your day.

So I had an annoying, unpleasant, annoying interaction with craving. Sometimes it is just like that. Some days suck. Some moods suck. Intense cravings really suck. But you really can just sit with those things and not invest a pile of emotional energy in to them. You don’t have to dwell. You can acknowledge the suckyness is there, but still stick with business. This is a really hard thing to learn if you are someone like me who has spent a lifetime reacting sharply to every feeling that’s ever entered your body or head. I’m a work in progress for sure. But the little victories feel good.

 

 

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Cottage Cravings! Ugh.

It is Day 40 today. Last night was sooooo hard. I thought at first with this whole not drinking thing that I would be most at risk at home, because that’s where the daily habits are most entrenched. However, this hasn’t really been the case. If I’m alone and happen to be feeling sorry for myself, I might fantasize about drinking, but the audience for my fantasy is a skeptical, Sober Me going “Really, genius? And then what?” Maybe there have just been too many times in the past that I’ve self-medicated and… well… it never actually works.

Last night I was not alone. I am with folks at the family cottage. The cottage is very cottage-y: one swims, naps, reads, cooks and drinks. So G&Ts and beers come out around 5:00, followed by copious amounts of wine with dinner. The dedicated (myself formerly among them) would carry on with one or two more drinks after supper during “everyone sits around reading” time before bed.

Around 5:00, I was starting supper while cheerful people around me bustled back and forth fixing cocktails and pouring cold pints. I thought I was going to have an aneurysm, I wanted a drink so badly. It’s alarming how something that is psychological can feel like a physical thing that is taking over your whole body! I mean I wasn’t twitching on the floor or anything, but it was really uncomfortable. “If I just… do it, everything will be easy and normal again,” I thought. I wanted relief. I wanted to stop trying. I wanted a fucking drink!

I’ve got nothing here but waiting it out. “This will pass,” I kept reminding myself. One thing I’ve found useful from Buddhism is recognizing that there are two kinds of suffering: primary suffering – the “shit that happens because you are a human being” – and secondary suffering, which is the extra shit you pile on by trying to wrestle down the primary suffering, if that makes any sense.

The short of it is that when we feel uncomfortable, stressed, anxious or otherwise miserable, we scrounge around trying to make those feelings go away – to fix them, or drown them, or distract ourselves from them. To make them go away and never come back. Paradoxically, all this struggling can just compound the problem.

So, the idea is that, instead, you look that primary suffering squarely in the eye, and do nothing. You go: “Hello craving. You kind of suck.” And you just sit with it. You don’t screw yourself in to the ground analyzing it (my personal favourite); you don’t fight it; you don’t give in to it either. You just sit with it. And it does pass.

Last night’s craving moments passed. About midway through supper I was still noticing the wine on the table, but I wasn’t salivating for it anymore. Supper was good and my strawberry, basil and balsamic drink was good. And there was ice-cream and strawberries after, and those were good. I got to wake up this morning sober, which so far has not gotten old. It’s awesome.

Hopefully every craving you survive makes you stronger?

 

Dem Precepts

If you really want to be a good Buddhist you take the five precepts: you agree to

  1. refrain from killing (I’m still not a vegetarian. Sigh.);
  2. refrain from taking stuff that doesn’t belong to you (This isn’t just material “stuff.” It can include others’ time, attention and labour.);
  3. refrain from inappropriate, exploitive, or harmful sexual relationships;
  4. refrain from false speech (like not lying, which is of course harder than it ought to be); and
  5. refraining from taking intoxicants that cloud the mind.

I will say that not drinking gives me a fighting chance of living according to the precepts. It’s always bugged me that I haven’t been on board with number five.

Lots of the precepts seem like “well duh,” but like most religious stuff, it is much more complicated and subtle once you dig in to it. The gist in basic Buddhist terms is to live your life in a way that minimizes your own suffering, and that of others.

So a little more on number five there, for obvious reasons: Buddhists don’t tell you drinking and drugs are immoral in and of themselves; rather, intoxication is more likely to lead to you screwing up the other precepts. (You know. I know. We’ve all been there.)

The “clouding the mind” thing is super important too. One thing I’m struck by when I listen to other recovery stories — I’ve been doing a ton of that on the Bubble Hour — is how people describe coming to see themselves and the world more clearly. They don’t always love everything they see, but there is a freedom and peace that comes with knowing that you aren’t bullshitting yourself day in and day out about your alcohol use.

But its more than that. People talk about getting their heads out of their own arses — about how drinking leads to self-absorption, and sobriety helps them to re-evaluate and work on their relationships with others. Community is really important for most people in achieving and maintaining sobriety because we need to give and receive love to feel whole as human beings.

Maya, in Eastern faith traditions, names the veil of ignorance that we live under when we cannot see ourselves and the world clearly. And one of the biggest deceptions we live under is that we are separate from others. You can’t achieve enlightenment without grasping, fundamentally, that we are interconnected, and you really have little hope of seeing this when you are chronically under the influence. I think that Maya is kind of synonymous with using alcohol for “numbing,” because we just don’t want to see things clearly! It is, or has become, too painful.

I’m still a long way off from achieving enlightenment! On good days I have catches of light — tiny spaces where I feel the kindness and compassion toward others that one tries to cultivate as a Buddhist. On bad days, I walk around lost in the noise in my own head. But sobriety may be turning down the volume a bit, and at least I’m feeling less stuck. And I can finally *nail* that fifth precept. Yeah!