Long before I developed an addiction to prescription medication , I abused drugs and alcohol regularly to make things in my life easier; to make the things I perceived as scary, a little less scary.
As with every other paradoxical surprise that seems to come with sobriety and recovery truths, this one is right up there with the rest of the ironies. Clearly, the recovery gods have a sense of humor.
Here are four things I considered to be way too painful to face head-on without the aid of any substance to take the edge off of my anxiety ridden fear, and in the end, the joke was on me.
In every instance, I have found that these life things are more bearable, manageable, and much less scary to face stone-cold-sober.
Equipped, but sober.
Off we go:
- Tattoos. Holy of all holies. Someone should have told me that I was causing myself more suffering than what is actually necessary to get some ink. I am completely sure I would have listened. In all seriousness, though,really. I got my first tattoo as a drunken sixteen-year-old, with a group of my girl friends, in the back room of some shitty town house by a strange some guy named Dink. I thought I was probably going to die for that illegible “Chinese” symbol. The subsequent four, although professional, were equally harrowing and intolerable.Since sobering up I have been tattooed over a half-dozen times and each experience was dramatically different from my escapades under the influence. My tattoo artist mentioned that sometimes, depending on which drugs you take, they can have an opposite effect of what you are going for, enhancing the senses, thereby enhancing pain perception.
- Pain. The emotional kind. Not a remarkable notion that as a person in recovery also happens to be a recovering runner. Surprise! Running is especially tiring. So while I believed the age-old misconception that my keys to happiness were likely hiding somewhere in a pain-free realm, I missed all of the good stuff. I was so busy and focused on numbing my wounds, digging around somewhere on the surface for elusive joy.In reality, happiness for me has been found within the tending to my wounds, and allowing others to help, and you can’t go all in and do either of those things while you’re running.
- Emotions. The positive & negative kind. I thought I was doing myself a favor by habitually avoiding any kind of emotion. I had no idea what I was actually doing at the time, other than desperately trying to avoid unwanted discomfort. Positive emotion smelled of vulnerability, and negative emotion shook memories I had laid to rest without a proper goodbye. I convinced myself that if my life looked and felt ‘good’ on the outside, then surely, that meant I was ‘good’ enough and that I was ‘normal’. Then, I would be happy and afterward, I just might fit somewhere.Sober living in recovery me has learned that managing emotion is essential to human living. I am a living, feeling being. Avoiding emotional discomfort provided temporary relief, and living in recovery taught me to appreciate the walk through whatever season I am in. Which also means, there are no short cuts to anywhere worth going. Even if that means the way I have chosen is more scenic, terrifying, or demanding, breaking me or pushing me to my limits.
- Stress. Of all kinds. Learning to relax has always been a desire of mine. Whether it was a cigarette or a bottle leaving my lips, or a pill disintegrating in my mouth, I have always craved and looked forward to that feeling of decompression. Shutting off of my wondering, racing mind has always been a problem I didn’t know how to solve without pills. Of course you can imagine my continued disappointment, waking up every single morning disappointed, with a headache pounding on my face, only to face another day that reflected the redundant format from the movie, Groundhog Day, circa 1993.For me it helped to learn that anxiety and depression were a pretty big thing for me, active and destructive in my life, having gone ignored, unknown, and unmanaged for so long. So while my life is not perfect, smooth, predictable, or stress free, I find comfort in knowing that I can face hard things without escaping for the short-term, as I searched for long-term alleviation.I don’t want to mislead you. Tattoos hurt, but they aren’t unbearable. Stress can be suffocating, but there are so many other alternatives to relaxing besides downing wine. Emotional pain pierces parts of who we are, with an uncomfortable reach, but it can help us build character and resilience. And letting ourselves feel emotion does require a level of vulnerability from us that most definitely can feel paralyzing, but avoiding the waves is avoiding opportunity to grow into the next version of who God created us to be. We don’t get to grow without the experience. It’s all just part of it.
Most importantly, it’s all hard life stuff. It’s not always enjoyable. But it is always rewarding to conquer our old beliefs, our old assumptions about who we are and what we are capable of facing. And don’t ever forget, you won’t be conquering your fear alone. We’re out here.