Actions have consequences. They also have emotional consequences. You know that, your children know that, everybody knows that – but I didn’t.
I’ve always possessed a certain swagger that’s helped me both personally and professionally. It’s a trait that I always assumed was an inherent part of me, and was also one of the things I liked the most about myself. Now sobriety has robbed me of this too, replacing swagger with fear.
I always relied on alcohol as a parachute. If I ever tried something and failed, I didn’t have to actually feel the failure. Embarrassment, frustration, shame – all gone, replaced by a relieving numbness. There were no consequences; at least not substantial ones. Sure, the plane’s gone down before, but I’ve never gone down with it – I’m somewhere else, gently floating down to earth.
Now that I’ve thrown the parachute away, I’m a lot more hesitant to fly. If the plane goes down, now I’m screwed too. Forget that, better keep the damn thing on the ground…
Let’s ditch the plane metaphor and talk about boats instead: I recently tried to take my wife and three year old out on a canoe ride. My family vacations every year in Maine, and canoeing is one of our favorite activities.
My wife and daughter were sitting in the boat, ready to go. I decided to show off a bit and sort of “skate” the canoe out to the lake. With one foot in the boat, and the other on the lake bottom, I pushed off as hard as I could to give the canoe a bit of a boost; picture someone skateboarding a canoe (and try not to laugh at how stupid that is).
So obviously, this is a pretty dumb maneuver, and also one that is completely pointless since the boost you get takes you about 5 feet further than you would otherwise go. But it’s a cool way to get in a canoe. This is a great example of what I mean by swagger – Showy, confident, and often pointless. But look at how cool I am.
But of course, this time I fucked it up – the boat capsized almost immediately, dumping my wife and 3 year old unceremoniously into the water. My daughter was terrified. My wife was pissed.
I now had to drag the half sunk canoe back to shore while trying to comfort my daughter who was sobbing hysterically. Her fun boat ride was ruined… and now she’ll probably be too scared to get in the canoe again – at least on this trip. My father-in-law and my wife’s cousin looked on with expressions hovering between amusement and vicarious embarrassment.
Four weeks ago, I would have excused myself, went up to the cottage, and drank a glass of whiskey. I would have come back down to the beach, probably made a self-deprecating joke or two about how stupid that was, and life would go on. The parachute would open, and I’d glide back down to the surface. The swagger would live on.
Now, sober me has no fucking clue what to do. I felt embarrassed, ashamed, and angry at myself. My mind immediately turned to alcohol, and I felt the strongest urge to drink that I’ve felt in weeks. This was supposed to be fun! Now I fucked it all up! I fucking suck! I need a drink!
I assume a logical, healthy person who experienced this sort of set back would recognize it as just that – a minor set back. I assume they’d process it in a matter of minutes, and would be on to the next thing. My wife got over it in less than a minute. Even my 3-year-old got over it in a couple minutes. But me? My response was to go inside, isolate myself, and sulk for over an hour. Did I mention alcoholism has turned me into a child?
I suffered a trivial defeat and had to face the consequences. I had to feel negative feelings; and over the past 10 years of alcoholism I’ve completely destroyed my ability to do that.
I’ve started to actually worry about what I’m doing. You probably take that for granted, but the whole concept of worrying about anything is completely foreign to me. I suppose this is anxiety – I’m not sure because I don’t think I’ve ever felt it before.
It once took me about 10 seconds to decide I wanted to move out of state when offered a job promotion – If I’d been asked to make the same decision now I don’t think I even could make a decision. The anxiety would probably kill me.
How do people deal with this? Do they? Is this why so many people live such safe, boring lives? Do they fear the emotional consequences of failure, and so avoid the possibility altogether?
Presumably healthy people have a way of working through this, but I have no idea what that is. I guess on the surface a little bit of worrying is probably not a bad thing. I mean, if it stops me from riding a canoe like a skateboard with my wife and 3-year-old in it it can’t be all bad. But like almost everything else with sobriety so far, right now it just sucks.