I have a small framed quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson on my mantle at home:
"What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us."
This little framed quote was a gift to me by my counselor as I left my final addiction rehab. I placed it on my mantle when I returned home, high up where I could see it and read it often. In early sobriety it was a reminder of my internal strength, my ability to reach within and find the courage to do what I needed to do - what I would eventually want to do - every day. Stay sober. That the troubling days are behind me, and can stay there, and that I don't have to worry about the future, because it is headed my way no matter what.
As I progress further down the road of recovery, the concept of what lies within us, within me, takes on deeper meaning. Within all of us are swirling eddys of strength, fear, joy, weakness, desire, regret and wonder.
What I notice most about what lies inside me now is my thinking. I don't think alcoholics or addicts are unique in this regard: all of us think all the time. But for us, thinking can be dangerous.
The past six days on vacation have been a whirlwind of activity: beaches, games, staying up late, giggling, whiffle ball games, shopping, snorkeling. Today I jumped at the opportunity to stay home at the beach house while the rest of the gang went out for a little shopping and dinner. I haven't been by myself in a long, long time, and I couldn't wait to kick up my feet and read my book.
As the car doors slammed and the muffled voices of the kids giggling in the cars receded down the driveway, I let out a long breath of relief. Silence.
I grabbed my book and headed up to a pretty upper porch with views of the ocean, intent on finishing the last few chapters. I read about two paragraphs, and the thinking started. I pondered over my daughter's extreme sensitivity today, even anger - is she just overtired? I worried about our animals at home, watched over by a friend - are they okay? Do they miss us? I was edgy, nervous, jumpy. I knew I had to just stop - enjoy this time, soak it in - and instead my brain went into overdrive. How much, or how little, can I do with this unexpected gift of free time? Am I utilizing it the right way? I thought about how much I miss my friends, my support system, my meetings. I felt discombobulated, disconnected. Then I worry that I'm in this beautiful, serene place and I can't even find peace.
Then I find myself thinking about the fact that I'm actively trying not to think about the cold bottle of vodka in the freezer (not ours, left by the owners of the house we're renting). I just want silence. I just want peace. I don't want to drink.
The gift I have now, that I didn't have early on, is that I know this voice. It is the sick alcoholic part of my brain that will never die. Now, however, I have a whole healthy side to my thinking, side to my brain, that knows exactly what to do. If I were home, I'd call another alcoholic and we'd talk it through together, until the bad thinking stopped. But I don't have cell phone coverage here - I'm on my own.
I avoid the kitchen and head straight for the large bathroom with a deep, luxurious jacuzzi tub. I fill it to the top with the hottest water I can stand. I slip down into the water and turn on the jets. I'm still thinking: here's me trying not to think.
I slip down further into the tub - it is so big I can float - until the roar of the jacuzzi jets fills my ears. I close my eyes. Eventually, I turn off the jets, most of my head and my ears still underwater. All I can hear is the beating of my own heart and my steady breathing. I am okay.
That is the thing about the world - it spins madly on taking you in unpredictable directions every day, every minute. I no longer expect the world to cater to my needs - to keep me safe. I'm not resentful or angry about the vodka left in the freezer where it could be dangerous to me. It is up to me to keep myself safe. To remember the gifts I have been given, the people who have believed in me, and most importantly my new-found ability to believe in myself.
I bought myself a ring today. It is a simple silver band with one message stamped into it: Enjoy The Moment. The message here is not: every moment should be enjoyable. The way I interpret this is: appreciate every moment, even the tough ones, the scary ones. Because that is when we learn.