My holiday season was great. At least, it was great on paper. I had lots of family time, lots of neighborhood parties and festive work events. I slept-in to the best of this early riser’s ability on many days. I didn’t write much, didn’t record any Untoxicated Podcast episodes, spent almost no time on social media, didn’t promote my SHOUT Sobriety program, had two weeks off from high school soccer coaching and hardly watched the news at all while listening to Christmas music and watching football bowl games. I took some downtime and relaxed. During the first 11 1/2 months of the year, I put in long hours like most Americans, and the rest was well deserved. Perfect, right?
Here’s the problem. All those things I didn’t do are the things that make me feel good. There’s a line from the movie, Tommy Boy, that often pops into my mind. Tommy’s father, and very successful business owner, Tom Sr., says, “You’re either growing or you’re dying. There ain’t no third direction.” I feel a lot of stress to keep going, and sleeping-in before watching college football doesn’t do anything to scratch that itch.
I am three years sober, and the unease I feel after a couple of relaxing weeks of semi-work does not make me want to drink. Not at all. There is literally no temptation, and that’s a huge blessing. But this is exactly the kind of uneasiness that used to make me drink. There is a reason my last drink came in January of 2017. I’m sure I felt just as unproductive coming off the holidays in this same month three years ago. I’m sure that discontentment led to my last, depressing bout of overconsumption – self-medicating stress and disappointment.
The story of my last night of drinking is compelling and tragic in a high-functioning alcoholic sort of way. You can read about it here. The only thing that’s consistent between that night and right now is the nagging feeling of not being or doing or accomplishing enough.
There are as many different reasons people abuse alcohol as there are drinkers. Many can trace their alcohol addiction to trauma, tragedy, abuse and/or neglect. I’ve certainly had my ups and downs, but I’ve been fortunate to live a pretty blessed life. For me, I think the thing I’m experiencing right now, the first week of another January after another restful holiday, is the reason my drinking gradually spun out of control.
There’s an old-fart medication commercial that runs on CNN that says a body in motion stays in motion. I can’t remember which medication that particular commercial is advertising, but that tagline sticks in my head. When we slow down, even for well deserved reasons, it is hard to get the mojo rolling again. Momentum is a real thing, not just in sports, but in life. When I’m writing a lot, interacting with readers, interviewing people for our podcast, working with SHOUT Sobriety members, and generally producing in our society, I feel pretty good.
Is downtime the self-love that I read so much about? Now that I don’t drink, I don’t spend much if any time in self-hatred. But somewhere in between, I can definitely get a powerful case of self-insignificance. I can almost hear my AA friends telling me that it’s an ego problem, and I need to turn it over to God. Maybe, but I don’t think so. I pray a lot, and as far as I can tell, God wants me to get off my ass and get moving again.
I’m jealous of my wife, Sheri. She can sleep for 12 hours straight anytime the opportunity presents itself to her. She prioritizes loving on our kids over any societal definition of productivity. And she can binge watch television, completely guilt free, on the rare occasion that she has a few hours of free time. She is a very hard worker, and does more than her fair share to ensure the health, happiness and success of our family.
But she also knows that what she is doing is enough. I never feel that way. I always feel like I could be doing more.
I’ve had a lot of conversations lately, with my dear friends in the SHOUT Sobriety program, who are trying to survive early recovery, about the dangers of free time. I’m supposed to be helping them stay sober, but these conversations in particular have been remarkably helpful to me. They talk about how idle time leads to temptation. Of course, I’ve heard explanations like this before, but I never really thought it applied to me. I thought I drank because of stress, depression, anxiety and an unquenchable thirst for action. Those things are the opposite of idle time.
But the more conversations we have about the topic, the more I realize how uncomfortable idle time has always made me feel. I am a firm believer that eight hours of sleep, some time for self reflection and some daily veg-out time are necessary to a happy and healthy life. I believe it, I just can’t seem to practice it without feeling guilty. What’s that all about?
When I first started interviewing for jobs right out of college, I remember receiving advice about answering questions about my own weaknesses. “I just can’t seem to let go of a problem until it is solved,” I would say when asked about my own shortcomings. Answer a question about my negatives with one of my positives. That’s what I feel like I’m doing here – bragging about how I’m not satisfied unless I’m getting more done than anyone I know. For me, it’s not about money. But I’m just as greedy for impact as others are for cash. I want to help people. I don’t want to be famous, but I want to leave an indelible mark. I want to matter. And when I’m resting, I become increasingly irrelevant.
Often, lately, I choose topics to write about based on a result I want to extract from readers. Sometimes, I write in a certain way that I think will gain me more registrations for SHOUT Sobriety. Other times, I write articles that I think will stir interest in my ebooks. Whatever the goal, when a write with a desired outcome in mind, the results are mediocre at best.
This article is about the uncomfortableness I’m experiencing right now. It’s over a thousand words at this point, and will probably finish around 1,500. It has only taken me ten minutes so far (my fingers can’t keep up with my thoughts), because it is from the heart.
When I write from the heart, people resonate. No goal or desired result – just a whole lot of virtual head nodding.
Here’s what I think is the point. As I’ve said a million times before, sobriety doesn’t fix anything. It mostly feels better than addiction (mostly way better), but the underlying shit that made us drink is still there. For some, it is tragic, awful, abusive memories. But for people like me, it is just a gnawing feeling that something’s not quite right.
If you’re like me, you have two choices. You can drink to make that feeling go temporarily away (and you can, most definitely, drink it away – until it comes raging back 100% stronger and more deadly), or you can acknowledge it and start trying to build momentum again. I choose momentum.
I’m sure some will tell me I need to become more comfortable being idle. Theoretically, I agree. But like I said, I feel like God keeps poking me in the ribs and telling me to keep going. I wish I could have both. I wish I could feel motivated and peacefully relaxed at the same time. Maybe that should be a goal for me. I’ll think about it. I’ll listen eagerly if you share your opinion.
Here’s the one definitive thing I know about the uneasiness of idleness – drinking will never solve the problem. Never. It will only make things worse. If you’re in early sobriety, and facing temptations to drink in the lingering downtimes of the holidays, I hope you’ll trust me.
So I wrote this whole post in about 15 minutes. It happens like that sometimes when the topic is from the heart. I guess I should feel satisfied that the words are flowing, but it just makes me feel pressure to keep writing. Checking this task off my list brings no happiness. It just frees-up some time to get something else done. Do you know what I mean? Do you ever feel this way?
Whether you drank because of trauma, or you drank to medicate uneasiness – no matter how different the reasons – the solution is the same. You need to become an active participant in your sobriety in order to keep your sobriety rolling. For some, that means the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. For others like me, an alternative recovery plan is in order. For others still, all of the above is the correct answer. We have a lot of people in the SHOUT Sobriety program who also attend AA meetings. They get some things they need there, and other things they need in our group. Sitting idly by and hoping for sobriety to stick, however, is not an option. You’ve got to get motivated about your sobriety. I understand. I am over 1,500 words into my understanding.
We’d love to welcome you into our SHOUT Sobriety group, if you are so motivated. Check us out. We are a non-profit that relies on donations from participants and other believers to keep going and be here for the next person who needs us. We ask participants for a $25 per month ongoing, recurring donation to keep the mission alive. For more information, to enroll or to make a donation, please click the button below. I didn’t write this as an enticement to join my program, but if you’re like me, maybe we should be working together.