Growing Pains and a Learning Curve
Photo by Hazwan Hashim on Unsplash https://tinyurl.com/3b9w7jf2
Trash bags full of unopened mail. Kitchen cabinets full of cockroaches. Outdated prescription glasses. Untreated cavities.
Cars towed away and never picked up. Electricity turned off, then back on, then off, then on, then off, ad nauseum.
Unpaid alimony. Missed court dates. Homemade splints for broken bones. Stitches left in for too long. Not showing up for work.
If you met me and some of my sober friends, you’d think, “Hey, that’s a pretty cool group of people. Lively, engaging, smart. I like them!”
You’d never guess that we lived that way during our drinking days.
I’ve got a good friend who is one of the most responsible and compassionate people you’ll meet. He’s had a number of excellent jobs, and has thrived in many different posts working for New York City. He’s a good family man and known and loved in his community.
He lived on the streets for years.
You may have heard the term high-functioning alcoholic. Yes, they exist and many accomplishments we admire and love were done by active alcoholics.
It’s the faltering of the interior life, emotional and psychological, that brings people like that to their knees. That, and physical problems.
However, for most alcoholics, the drink gets in the way of dealing with many of life’s simplest and most straightforward tasks.
And it’s crazy how many people in my area lived with their Ma way, way past their expiration date. And, of course, moved back in, and out, over and over.
It’s called enabling. That can keep you from growing up and learning basic things.
When one never really learns how to deal with life as an adult on their own, it can be a hell of a thing to be faced with it, especially at an advanced age.
Bouncing from bar to bar as a barkeep doesn’t set you up with knowledge of how to format a resume and do well at a job interview.
And, many alcoholics get sober due to court cases, especially if confronted with repeated DUI offenses.
A lot happens in the body and brain when copious amounts of alcohol stop being ingested.
It can take an extremely long time for the brain to be able to focus and function.
Reading comprehension may be elusive for many months, or even years. A lot of people get what is called a “sober job,” which is a non-demanding gig where they can learn the ropes of being out in society without a load on, and earn some money while at it.
So many things come up, and so many questions arise.
I have friends who never opened a checking account because they earned cash and spent cash. How do you open an account? How do you make out a check?
How do you talk to the boss? What about when the big boss comes around? What about when you get sick and need to call out because you’re actually sick and not hungover?
What about when your co-workers don’t show up and you’re pressed into stressful work? Can you hold it down and not blow up?
What do I do when I run into a drinking buddy? What do I say?
How does one open a checking account? What’s a credit score? How do I get an auto loan?
Do you know a good dentist? How do I get health insurance?
What do I say to my brother-in-law whom I got drunk with at ballgames when he keeps asking me to go to a game with him?
A great term that’s come into popular use is the word boundary, as in making boundaries.
I had to make a boundary in early sobriety which was extremely difficult to do. One of my best friends and I had a plan for him to visit from out of town and stay with me. We’d gotten drunk and done drugs together for years.
I got sober a short while before his visit.
I wasn’t as much afraid that I’d end up drinking with him, although that was certainly possible, as I was freaked out about the idea of him stumbling into my place and me having to deal with that.
I couldn’t have it, and I didn’t have the words and the skill to put across nuance and to engage in conversation about it.
After talking it over in group therapy, I decided I’d call him and let him know that he couldn’t stay with me. Doing something like this was a new thing in our relationship that was pretty much boundary-less.
He didn’t like it. I think he felt I was pointing a finger at him somehow. He pulled out all the stops and pressed the hell out of me on it.
But I was ready for that, in the only way I was able to at that moment. I repeated “I’m sorry if this upsets you, but I can’t get into it. I mean no offense, I just need to take care of myself.”
What can you really say to that?
All I had at my disposal was a blunt instrument. I had no capability of engaging. I got off the phone pretty quickly.
It led to some bad feelings between us for a good long while.
But I stayed sober.
Later, we patched things up.
The idea is to strap in and be ready for life to feel awkward.
One of the most important lessons I had was at a coffee shop with about 8 or so sober and single young men and women. There was something revealed between a guy and a gal that was weird, and we were all in on that part of the conversation. It was very awkward for everyone there.
But, it was awesome because there was some quiet. Then someone spoke up and said, “Wow, this is awkward.”
It was. The moment passed. We moved on and the conversation and coffee flowed, and no one drank and no one died.
I learned that night that feeling awkward is OK. I don’t have to fix it or cover it up with a drink.
That was huge, and it helped me because there was more awkwardness to come as I learned to live in my new skin. I didn’t have to run from it.
I had to learn a lot of basic stuff. My Dad was a fix-it type of guy, and he did a lot of terrific work with antiques, and with our house and our cars.
It still makes me sad that I didn't hang out with him and work together and learn things and make things.
I was more interested in running off to get high and drunk.
When I got sober, I had to learn some simple things, like how to use a drill and what hardware to get. How to put up shelves and to use electric saws properly.
I determined that I wouldn't let embarrassment hinder me from asking for help. If I hadn't learned something, I hadn't learned it. Nothing I could do about that, but I could try to learn today.
If you’re early in sobriety, be kind to yourself, and be patient.
And if you know someone who is new to sobriety, try not to expect too much of them. If they’re staying sober, that’s amazing.
The brain and body are healing.
The psyche is busy creating an entirely new definition of self.
The past is close behind, and the future feels far away.
And a lot of detritus from the dark days is still swirling around.
Alcohol is a depressant, and it becomes a crutch.
Remove the crutch, and one has to learn to walk anew.
It’s OK. In fact, it’s great.