“Boredom is rage spread thin” – Paul Tillich
I have sometimes heard of people early in their sobriety talk about the boredom that they encounter in their new sobriety. I recall hearing a man joke at a meeting about going back to drinking because there wasn’t anything exciting going on in his life. I got the impression he was half-serious. I also read it from newcomers on recover sites and other online forums, about this underwhelming feature in their lives, this prevailing feeling that life is no longer a made-for-TV movie, no longer fodder for rapid-fire water cooler exchanges and has come down to a level that makes Laura Ingalls seem like Lara Croft in comparison.
I do recall having that same feeling early on in my recovery. I was still reeling from a detox and 21-day treatment, the separation from my family and a difficult transition to a (temporary) life on my own. I also had no job to speak of, or even job prospects. I was stuck with me all day, and I didn’t like my travel partner much. So there wasn’t a lot going on – no projects to tackle, no familial obligations to schedule, no work overtime to keep my hours accounted for. Just me and my recovery.
One initial problem most alcoholics have when they sober up is the dreaded “What now?” Deprived (or at least at first it seems like deprivation) of our pastime, our constant companion, our way of life, we seek to build a life unanchored to the thing that once centered us, or that we centered around. We measured out our lives in shots and pints, but then our meter stick had been removed. The very fabric of our emotional state, even thought it was threadbare and in tatters, was still our tatters. And we were asked to start clean. Not easy.
Alcoholics tend to look at things through filters. And the biggest filter we viewed our drinking through was that alcohol was fun. F-U-N. And it almost always starts that way. Hanging out with friends, parties, drinks on the patio, a fine Sauvignon with dinner, champagne on New Year’s Eve, etc. were ways we associated joviality with booze. And sure, many of us conquered certain fears, felt comfortable in our bodies, saw ourselves connected to others and were able to be ourselves while hoisting our beverages. But it lasted only a short time, and as we continued into our descent in alcoholism, those fun times got shorter, and the problems started. As the fun times shrunk, the damage in our lives swelled exponentially. But contrary to the the evidence, we still looked at alcohol as a gateway to those good times. And even in early sobriety, many of us found ourselves gazing past the hospital visits, the jail cells, the divorces, the bankruptcies, the legal troubles, the broken bodies, the crushed spirits and the muddled minds to that focal point of “Remember when we could come out and play.” The fun times. No boredom then, right?
It reminds me of an episode of The Simpsons where Homer decides that he will no longer involve himself in hijinks – the very essence of the show. He starts to live a normal, decent life. Marge, the ultimate co-dependent and co-enabler of all time, finds her life boring now that Homer is on the straight. This prompts her to find her own level of craziness and eventually, Homer “relapses” and jumps back on the insanity train with her. Of course, that’s a sitcom, but it made me think of how it is when we cease and desist our drinking ways. There is that initial let down of insane thinking, followed by relief. But then a sense of ennui sets in, as nothing happens. Or nothing seems to happen. Just being happens. And being frightens alcoholics, as that is where the initial problem stems from. We never liked being with ourselves.
So what do we do? How do we deal with this restlessness, this listlessness, this tedium? What do we do for fun now? This is where we swing in different directions. Some dive, unknowingly, into other addictions – food, exercise, sex, gambling, etc. Others slowly find their way back to old hobbies or explore new ones. But most suffer because there is this still this lingering notion that alcohol was, and still could be, fun. And we know that is not the case. But we look outside and see others in that same place we used to be oh so long ago – reaping the rewards we now have burned to the ground. That elusive state of pleasure seeming to be inexorably linked to drinking. And we fear making the leap of faith that all will work out, that we won’t crumple up because our friends are having cocktails at the beach as we swirl the straw in our Diet Shasta.
So we just tell ourselves that life will be boring, that we will no longer experience joy or explosive moments of elation or quiet contentment. We will be spinsters and chambermaids and Amish farmers. We will be resigned to collecting kitten-themed socks as a thrilling hobby and discuss the latest potato prices with the widowers down at the Legion Hall.
We are not a glum lot.
We look at firefighters as living exciting, productive lives, worthy of hunk-a-month calendar status, and yet we put ourselves down because we aren’t dashing around like we’re in an Errol Flynn movie. For the longest time, I did nothing but just do recovery work. I didn’t look to anything pleasurable, as part of me didn’t feel I was worthy of having an enjoyable life, considering the pain and suffering I brought on. Guilt guarded the gateway to joy. It was through working the steps and getting through self-forgiveness and gaining self-worth that I was able to see that I was allowed happiness. I was allowed to enjoy what life had to offer. I could contribute and find fun in the things that others do, and have peace about it. I cannot lash myself for life. It’s wasted time and energy.
My life is rich with the rewards that come from being recovered. Try talking to any alcoholic with some time behind them, but you will need to book an appointment first. They’re busy people. We have learned to enjoy life again, slowly but surely. We make the transition in increments. We feel our way through the dark to a place of light, of sharpness to softness, of pain to serenity. But it takes time and effort. But we get there. There is hope.
The way I see it, we don’t have to be roaring around on fire engines to have an exciting life, saving lives. We do it ourselves all the time. We do it in helping other alcoholics. We do it by reaching out and lending a hand to someone who is suffering. We do it by going to meetings, or sharing our experiences, or talking to newcomers. We do it by writing on our blogs or responding to emails from someone who is hurting and doesn’t know where to turn. We do it by extending ourselves, our love, our compassion, our ability to identify with someone who is still vibrating and shaking from detox. We do it by buying a drunk a coffee. We do it by telling our story. We do it by helping someone through the work. We save lives. Every single day. We save lives…we are life savers.
How boring is that?