(this title might be too obscure even for my super-smart readers who, we must remember, were probably at best only slightly self-aware during the 80s.)
I’m really feeling remarkably well so far in my week without hooch. I’ve been spending time reading, writing, and catching up with old friends. Maybe it’s not related, but my food seems to be filling me up more, and to keep me feeling satisfied for longer. It could be psychosomatic, but somehow I even feel…lighter.
I think it’s everything that I’ve been doing, not just the abstention from alcohol. Because that’s not really all that I’m trying to do. I’ve been trying to stay off the computer as much as possible when I get home from eight hours spent online. I’ve been reading and cooking and thinking instead of watching “Always Sunny.” I’ve been going to bed earlier and luxuriating in the feel of my new comforter.
I’ve been relaxing.
Perhaps this is just a period of lull, and won’t last. Lord knows that I certainly know how to be busy, and with fundraisers and performances and playwriting and all of that about to get into gear, I’m sure I’ll be nice and stressed out again soon. But for right now, I’ve been taking some time to just relax, and I can’t speak highly enough of it. In fact, I think it could make quite a bit of difference in my life ongoing.
I noticed when working at Groupon that it wasn’t until I reached a point where I didn’t worry if people liked me or not that, paradoxically enough, the coworkers I didn’t know very well started to like me. This was puzzling but not at all unwelcome to a lifelong people-pleaser like me. I noticed it again at my new job. When I came bounding in, hoping to make a good impression, trying to get “in” to every conversation, I felt awkward and only politely tolerated. When I chilled out a little bit, suddenly I was having genuine conversations and making real connections with people.
It’s obvious in hindsight, and certainly in principle: Be yourself, be comfortable with yourself, do your own thing, and people who genuinely like that self and that thing will enjoy being around you. It can be very, very hard in practice, because you have emotions and wants and needs! Of course you do! And those can feel like they’re screwing everything up. Who hasn’t been on a first date they fumbled because of nerves or an interview they flubbed because they wanted the gig so badly? When these things don’t work out, it’s tempting to say, “You know what? I’m just going to stop caring about things. I’ll stop hoping for that awesome job or the exciting new partner. It’s not worth the disappointment when I don’t get them.”
This is, of course, not what I am suggesting that you do. Here is, instead, how I have been approaching things this week:
What if everything you had right now was enough for you to be content?
I’m finding that the mere thought-exercise of “what if this were enough” is somehow making where I am now be enough. At least it’s making it easier to see what it would be like to have enough of what I want. It seems a little odd, at first blush, that it’s my hiatus from drinking that makes me think this way, but it also makes sense when I look at it more closely. You see, drinking–for people who drink in order to feel the sensation of being tipsy or more than tipsy, not for people who really do just enjoy the taste and can stop at one, if those people exist–is a clear expression of “this is not enough.” When you drink because you had a rough day or you’re feeling stressed or you want to loosen up, you’re saying, “Hey thing outside of myself, I can’t do this for myself, can you help me?” You don’t want to be where you are. You’re grasping for something different, and often enough, once you start, you keep wanting more so that you can get closer to that place where you will finally feel like it is enough.
For example, I rarely turn down “one more drink” at a bar. But this weekend I was out at a friend’s concert, in a bar with a two-drink minimum, and after my Diet Coke and my Shirley Temple I really didn’t want any more soda. I wasn’t thirsty for more water. In fact, after hanging out for about an hour after the show, I didn’t particularly feel the need to be out much later that night. I had had a great time, heard some lovely music, caught up with some friends; I was satisfied with the food and drink I’d consumed; I had had some nice conversation and felt that I had said most of what I had to say that day, and the idea of my warm bed was nicely enticing.
Had I been drinking alcohol, I would almost invariably have pushed for us to go to another bar, or to pick up a bottle of wine somewhere and go to someone’s house. It was 10pm on a Saturday! Prime partying time! And my two drinks would have started to muddle my sense of time, and I’d want to restore the buzz of my first drink as it began to wear off, and the next thing you know, I’d have been stumbling home at 3am, exhausted, and have woken up at 1pm without feeling very refreshed.
I’m not saying that this is a bad way to spend an evening, especially when you’re young and free and your body can take it. But it’s a way of behaving that, at least for me, often has to do with wanting something a little bit more. A more exciting night. A better story for tomorrow. A sillier, happier, tipsier feeling.
Instead, I went home, got a good night’s sleep, and was able to make it to Wicker Park a half hour early for brunch the next day so that I could reserve a table for my friends at a busy restaurant while waking up to some Wormhole Coffee.
It’s not a better story, but it was a very comfortable night and morning. I was very happy with how it went at the time, and remain happy with how it went now.
It was enough. It was relaxed.
I keep using the word “relax,” but the way I’m feeling right now, and have been feeling, is more akin to “relief.” If you can internalize, even just a little, that you have everything you need right now, that you don’t need to be proving yourself to anyone or striving to get anywhere or checking one more thing off of your “To Do” list, it’s a huge relief. It’s where that feeling of lightness I mentioned earlier comes in. My favorite thing about being (close to being) in the moment is that I, at least, carry around this backpack full of obligations and little anxieties and miniature checklists at all times, it seems, so often that I tend to think that that’s just a part of the weight of being me, and these times are as close as I’ve gotten to taking that backpack off and walking around for awhile without it. The air is easier to breathe, everything seems full of potential, and being nice to people–to strangers, even–feels completely natural.
I like it.
There’s a phrase I’ve been thinking about lately: “Know that what has been taken is superfluous.” There are plenty of aspects of my life in which, at some point or another, I have felt like something was taken from me, like I lost something. Even the possibility that nothing that can be taken from me is truly crucial (we’re speaking metaphorically or metaphysically; take away my food and water and I will die, although who really knows if that isn’t the beginning of a new adventure for the most essential and non-corporeal self?) feels liberating.
So here’s what I’m working on right now. A list of things that all, secretly, in truth are the same thing, summed up in the last bullet point:
-Drink tea, not alcohol
-Use food as pleasant fuel, not comfort
-Focus on enjoying what you’re doing, not ensuring that someone else is interested in you
-Remember: This is enough.
A quick and possibly unnecessary note: I am incredibly privileged to be at a point in my life where I can feel like I have enough. I think appreciating what you have is important for everyone, for the sake of mental health, but many, even most people, truly do not have enough of what they need around them or cannot manage to feel like they do. I would never suggest to someone in an abusive situation, someone without shelter or food, someone working a miserable job just to survive or support a family, or someone facing a major illness that they should just “accept that they have enough” and be happy with their lot. I don’t believe in “The Secret” and I know that we all have times when we need help from others and need to fight for what will allow us to have what we need. In these cases, gratitude can help, but it won’t solve all your problems. And if you’re in a situation like that, I believe that it is the duty of people in a better position to help you out. One of the reasons I continue to work on myself is that it makes me far more able to help other people. So, as always, if you’re in a difficult place and you need a hand, I’m around. I might not have your answers, but I’ll do all I can to help you find them.