The first thing sobriety changed for the better for me almost immediately was my sleep. From terrible sleeping patterns with waking up several times with the sweats and palpitations, it was only a few days in that I ended up falling asleep quickly (although to be fair, when I was drinking I’d be out like a light) and then sleep solidly until morning. Because being sober is a change for me, I’ve taken pleasure in noting all changes and even when I’ve felt bad for whatever reason I’ve enjoyed being able to experience my emotions completely as they are without anaesthesia. Even when I’ve felt really crappy it’s been a positive thing to just be faced with the actual crap, as opposed to a big, wet cluster fuck of wine soaked mess that may or may not contain an actual message from my soul. Plus I used to be too fucked from either being too drunk or too hungover to begin to untangle it anyway. Goes without saying that no matter what I’m feeling, when those emotions come along I’m awake, alert and ready to take them on no matter what they’re bringing me.
And here’s where I want to salute Mother Nature again for equipping me with this excellent survival system – all our senses are there to keep us alive! Even fear is our friend, if you think about it, Mother Nature’s genius way of letting us know that we need to watch out. And so I think of feelings as my subconscious sending me signals. Feeling good = keep doing that! Feeling bad = hm, let’s have a look at what’s going wrong here shall we?
This week has been quite crappy so far. I’ve been irritable and unsettled. Some I’ve assumed to be the work of hormones given I do get a bit down when Auntie Flo pays a visit, but this is worse than I usually get. I’ve slept badly over the past few nights. Not as badly as I did when I was drinking, but much worse than at any other point during these blissful five-plus months of sweet sobriety. Nightmares, lying awake, having trouble going to sleep. Can I just say though, that even when I’m feeling off and sleep badly, I still get to wake up without a hangover so even after a night of bad sleep I’m feeling miles better than I did during the Drunken Years. Either way, it’s been horrible lying there in the dark, unable to get comfortable, my jaw clenched and thoughts spinning webs of worry and anxiety. My jaw is cramping and achy – it’s where I carry stress. Some people carry it in their shoulders, for me it’s in my jaw.
Because I get to feel properly for the first time since I was actually in my late twenties, I don’t know what to make of it and it really frightens me. This isn’t a chemically induced alco dip. This is the stuff I’m feeling and I can’t immediately see any logical reason. Oh yeah, and there it is – my heart is beating faster than normal too. Hello palpitations, long time no see, how’ya been? What if I’m now plunging into depression or anxiety, or, heaven forbid, both? I’ve not been sober long enough before to truly feel everything so now that I do it can be overwhelming. What is this? Is it anxiety? Is it a lurking depression? The rational part of me kicks in and I decide I can only begin to understand this by spending some time with ME. Hubby is also tossing and turning, plus we went to bed pissed off with each other so his tossing is of the exaggerated kind – it’s like trying to fall asleep in a bouncy castle loaded with toddlers. When I’m confident he’s finally gone to sleep, I get up as quietly as I can, picking up my trackie bottoms and tank top from the floor and take them with me as I tip-toe out of the bedroom. I only put them on when I’m in the living room. And there I sit, at 1.30am, vaping and wishing I could make myself some coffee, giving my soul a private audience and waiting for it to help me understand what it’s trying to tell me.
Except the occasional breath that tastes of melon sorbet and menthol, I focus on my breathing and although it’s dark I close my eyes as an invitation to my mind to serve up any stresses I need to deal with. What are the images? What are the emotions? What am I so in knots about? Most of all I try to figure out what I’m feeling just sitting there alone in the middle of the night with only myself for company, doing nothing but breathing. I figure if I discover it’s uncomfortable I’m in trouble. What if it’s being me that’s uncomfortable and has me in this state? What then? I feel a little tearful at the thought but I know that I need to face this head on and if I can stare down the beast I can bloody search within myself for the cause of pain if I have to. So I do. For someone who has always detested any new age hippy-dippy shit I’m not exactly good at this but do my best. Inhale, exhale, fill my chest and then let it sink back – over and over until my mind agrees to focus on this only. I like it. It’s relaxing and it feels good. I go on to “think through” my whole body – this is quite funny because it’s something my childhood friend M sort of taught me. She used to get stoned and then do this as a way to relax her whole body and then claimed it was like she was in some sort of trance like state. I’ve never been much for drugs and so didn’t join in when it came to weed, but this little procedure of hers did stay with me. I start from the bottom up: I think of my toes, each one in turn and what they look like, the position they’re in, both visualise and feel each part and then the same thing throughout my entire body moving up through my feet, legs and so on. It doesn’t send me into a different dimension (possibly because I’m not stoned) but it does do the trick and I can finally feel my jaw relax and the tension in me lift.
When I’ve untied mind from being bundled up in a tight and whirring tangle of anxiety, the spikes go from struggling to buzz and strike at me all at once and all my worries and fears are just floating around me in separate little clouds, I can calmly examine them one by one. They don’t feel so charged and prickly anymore because I’ve given them this audience and each will have their turn instead of trying to shoot and crackle their way into my conscious that’s been locked down by anxiety.
Yup, there’s stuff in one in particular that hurts no matter how I turn it over. I feel the bumps and lumps and discover I can’t heal this pain or change it. This can only be lived through but I do reluctantly realise I have to be less selfish and that some of the angst I feel comes from putting myself first and losing sight of what’s important. Chuck in a little forgiveness and the tangle is less severe. The little cloud of worry still hovers around me and will continue to do so, possibly for a very, very long time and maybe even forever, but if I can reel myself back in like this once in a while and regain my focus on what matters it’s going to be much easier. I find a number of other little clouds that are just pathetic. The sort of clouds that have formed because I’ve just fucking lost another few marbles – stuff I’ve ended up worrying about for no apparent reason and even if there was reason to worry there’s nothing I can do about it. Those clouds I need to figure out what to do with – how to stop wasting energy worrying about stuff I can do literally fuck all about. Answers on a postcard please. With the rest of the little clouds that patiently wait there as they’re hovering around me, it’s mostly a case of acknowledging them and trying to be really fucking zen about it. Genuinely try to give each problem a little score or label to indicate how real and important it is and my level of power to change it.
So nothing has changed, really. It’s in the middle of the night and I’ve just sat on my own in a dark room with nothing but my breathing for company. But my thoughts, or my worry clouds rather, have calmed down because I gave them my full attention and that made them stop shooting lightning all over my mind like the little drama queens that they are.
I quietly and carefully creep back into bed. I don’t cuddle up to hubby because I’m still pissed off with him and at this point he is to my mind the one of us who was more of a dick last night. I may engage in the odd little spell of meditation but I’m still me and right now he’s a git. And that’s OK. My thoughts have quietened, worry and stress at least temporarily lifted and clouds dispersed for now. And I can finally sleep.
Oh, I’m still having a shitty week. But hey, that’s cool too. At least I know what I’m feeling, what I’m ACTUALLY feeling and not a haze of booze depression or paranoia. All home grown worry clouds here, folks! Au natural!
Today I’m not going to drink.