Friends, I have 80 pages — a very rough draft — of a chapter finished. It needs editing, but I’m setting it aside for maybe a week.
After the distance of a few days, I’ll be able to take a look at it with fresh eyes and a renewed writing spirit. I’ve been buried too deep in this one particular chapter with Emmett, and when I finally tied up the document Friday evening, I was a little crispy around the edges — snapping at people, losing my temper over relatively small, non-important issues, that kind of thing. This had been going on for a couple of days; I’m not proud to own that, but it is the truth.
I must also admit something else: I’ve put this project ahead of my sobriety, rationalizing that my in-depth study of a fellow alcoholic is the same (for me) as working my program. I also rationalized that because my research takes me deep into alcoholism, I don’t have to do my own maintenance work; i.e., go to meetings and practice the steps. (My last meeting was nine days ago; before that, it had been three weeks since I’d been to a meeting.)
Folks, this experiment hasn’t worked. Pushing myself hard until near burn out is a symptom of my alcoholism thumping me on my head. It is a clue that my program is weak; therefore, my sobriety is vulnerable.
I do not have the desire to drink, thank God, but the alcoholic behavior still asserts itself, even while I’ve been seven years without a drink.
The disease is cunning, baffling, powerful. It can overtake you unexpectedly, even with years of sobriety, if your program is weak. For example: A friend of mine had 22 years of sobriety and went back out during Thanksgiving. She said she had stopped going to meetings, focused on work instead of a balanced way of living, and convinced herself that she could handle an occasional drink or two, because of her time away from the booze.
It didn’t work.
Today, I can’t escape life via a drink, but I can sure escape into my work/exercise/research project, or whatever else is going on in my life, which is what I’ve been doing instead of going to meetings.
Studying Emmett’s life has been helpful in understanding the history and nature of the disease, as well as with dealing with my own alcoholism; but the research itself (or any other well intended task) cannot take the place of going to meetings.
My takeaway from this experience:
- Living a healthy life is about all things in balance (as much as one can). Persistence is fine, but not to the point where I’m trying to force the writing or creative thinking. Before I sobered up, I would just push and push until I got something done, and because I was mentally and psychologically drained, the end product was usually poor.
- Character defects are actually character assets pushed to the extreme. For example, judicious persistence is a positive thing; burnout isn’t. Typically, I do not allow myself much of a break — it is the mentality that if something is good, more must be better — an old “drinking way of thinking”.
So, I’ve decided to do a 12-step study with my sponsor after the holidays. It is about getting back to basics; it is the gift of self-care, which is not about being selfish. None of us can be of service to family and colleagues when we am not in the best possible shape spiritually, emotionally, or psychologically.
And now, I am headed off to a meeting.
Before I go, let me add that I know that this time of the year can be stressful, whether one is in recovery or not.
Be good to yourself first and foremost. If anything, give yourself the gift of time, if you can, even if it is only for 15 minutes.