End of the world spiritual scrambling
This is probably my first sober holiday season since the 90s. Seriously. And what that means is that I have to feel everything, without reprieve but for maybe when I sleep. And for me, drinking was all about running from my feelings.
I still don’t know what to do with many of my feelings other than know they will pass (even the good feelings). And I used to drink over all of my feelings whether they were unpleasant or not because my feelings felt (and sometimes still feel) overwhelming to me. And I am learning to frame my sensitivity, my keen emotional awareness as a gift.
Last week was tough, reader.
Middle-aged-lady exhaustion, plus middle-aged-cancer-patient exhaustion took the piss out of me. And when my body gets tired, when my body says, “stop” my mind seldom complies. Instead of resting, I make my body still while my mind paces the narrow hallways of my mind until the floors are worn down. And I get depressed, and the depression makes my physical fatigue feel amplified, and before I know it I can’t parse what is psychological from what is physical and let me tell you this is a crazy making, shitty place to find yourself during the holiday season or any fucking season for that matter.
I feel infinitely better today, Sunday, than I did last Sunday or last Monday or any day last week. My body rested. My mind eventually followed suit but I had to first force my thoughts to rest with tons of meditation, some medication, and patience. Mind rest is not easy for me.
And there is nothing “wrong” with me.
Yes, I have cancer and yes, I take chemotherapy 21 days a month.
And yes, I am a middle-aged woman with a very stressful job, and (not “but”) these are only circumstances in which I find myself. Neither good nor bad, these circumstances merely exist, indifferent to me, my ego, my desires, and I choose how to frame and react to them.
So simple, and so not simple at all!
My anxiety has been bad this holiday season. Some mornings, I’m thumbing my malas so hard I think I’m going to crush the bead (but they’re wood and quartz, so I can’t), and I know most of my anxious thoughts are merely undisciplined thoughts, thoughts mass produced by my ego and carelessly scattered throughout my mind. My ego tantrums when I have to rest. Tips out the whole fucking toy box.
This holiday season, many of my mantras have been gentle reminders to do what is in front of me — shower, teach, grade, take meds — instead of gallivanting off into some imagined future I know absolutely nothing about.
And neither do you, reader.
Have you seen the news out of the American Midwest this weekend? Breaks my heart and reminds me again (and again and again), “there but for the grace of God.” Not God-in-heaven. Not God-with-pronouns. Just plain God. God as I knew God before I knew any Man Made (emphasis on man) religion. I ascribe to no man’s religion anymore, and I apply the term “religion” broadly. Religion is 12 step programs. Religion is Capitalism. Religion is The Constitution.
I ascribe to no man’s religion, but I will steal from man’s religion in order to survive. I encourage you to do this, too, reader. Ideas are plentiful and free and more potent than any thing money could ever buy.
Yesterday, a care package from my family in The Midwest that included my first pack of Tarot cards. I’m sure Tarot cards are partly “man’s religion,” but what I’m owning is the feminine energy of the practice. Tarot is often aligned with the feminine, and therefore mostly dismissed/undermined by larger society. And I know it’s all silly, all this end-of-the-world spiritual scrambling, but if tarot was good enough for Mary Todd Lincoln, then it’s good enough for me.
I’m figuring it out, reader. Ever since I got sober, I’m seeing it a bit more clearly. This doesn’t mean I’m delighted, always, by my newfound “clarity.” On the contrary, with sobriety comes a good deal of “clarity” that is blunted, cumbersome, burdensome. And that’s the clarity I want to “drink at” — problem drinkers will know what I mean — that’s the clarity that overwhelmed me and still sometimes overwhelms me.
Now, though, instead of drinking at that feeling of being overwhelmed, instead of trying to numb out completely, when I get overwhelmed this way, by things that may-or-may-not be reality, I try to recenter myself on the moment. What am I doing, what am I trying to do in that moment? Am I trying to sleep? Shower? Grade? What is my “objective” in this moment and are my thoughts helping me get there or holding me back? And when the Reason Brake fails, as it sometimes does for people like me with clinical depression, I go to medication. And usually, with one or a combination of both, I can achieve at least an approximation of the peace and serenity I am seeking. Maybe you need alcohol to do this. I used to feel I needed alcohol to truly “relax,” to truly find a place of quiet in my soul. And while alcohol did help me achieve these states, the feeling was short lived and there was glass (literal, proverbial) in the wake of the short reprieve. Not worth it. Then again, I never knew “how” to “properly” use alcohol. And when I pause to think about this, to be honest with myself, I really don’t miss this feeling anymore. To know, with 100% certainty, that I will be fully and completely in control of my thoughts and actions each day of my life? To know, with 100% certainty, that I am not actively contributing to my own demise (with substances, at least)? That is a gift, the greatest of mercies. And it was a man-made religion that saved me from my drinking. AA was begun by a white man, for other white men, in the greatest decade for American White Men ever: the 1950s. You could be a total All American Asshole — if you were male and white — with almost absolute impunity. This is why as a gay, working-class woman I always squirm when people pine for “old days.” The “Old Days” were not days of mercy for people like me and my friends. And in this way, the New America is bittersweet to me: I love to see the Old Days and Old Ways finally collapsing, finally failing, and sometimes I miss the old days and ways. I try not to “miss” things too much because I can’t with nostalgia at the holidays — particularly this year. Like I will seriously gag if you try to serve me nostalgia right now. I am the Gruber Who Stole Christmas. I don’t even want to hear one note of any one song that has anything to do with snowflakes, lights, or God forbid, “Santa.” I can’t, this year, go through the motions of tradition. Maybe you’re with me, reader.
Maybe like me, you are beginning new traditions — fancy tea and cannabis by the fire at night, pajama Saturdays, mid-morning meandering walks in the neighborhood with the dog. Or maybe you’re still comfortably in your old traditions, and that’s cool, too. As John Lennon once said, “Whatever gets you thru the night . . .” Speaking of Lennon, in parting, a question — does anyone else find The Beatles documentary Get Back! incredibly stressful? Sarah and I have watched a couple installments and I find my palms sweating in response to the tension between the musicians. It’s intriguing, beautiful, yet incredibly stressful and at times heartbreakingly sad. Kind of like the holidays themselves.
Be good, hooligans.