When the days get long and hard, my mind clicks off.
I go into a kind of suspended animation, a mental purgatory. The hyperactive squirrel in my brain curls up, tucks his head under his tail, and dozes.
There are several reasons why the past couple of weeks have been harder than usual: a husband working late most nights. Cold, bitter, unwelcoming weather. Financial strain. Restless kids deprived of the invigorating outdoors.
Typing those reasons down, looking at them in print, makes them seem small, insignificant. Sounds a lot like life, Ellie, my mind admonishes me.
It doesn't matter that individually these things seem manageable. Add them all up, combine them with my own deep restlessness, profound boredom and cabin fever induced sadness, and you have a recipe for disaster.
At least it would have been a recipe for disaster, in the past.
Any one of those five things used to be a huge trigger for me. When I was drinking, the days seemed more survivable, somehow, because eventually the clock would roll around to 5pm and I could have that first drink. Just the anticipation of a numbing escape would put a little spring in my step in the afternoon.
In early sobriety (and by early sobriety I'm talking about the whole first year) stretches of time like the past couple of weeks were excruciating, as I adjusted to life without my escape hatch. The hours of 4-7pm seemed to take forever. I was angry, anxious, and grieving the loss of the friend who had become my worst enemy.
By 3pm most days I feel like I'm moving underwater, my limbs sluggish, my words slow, measured and flat.
Yesterday afternoon I was watching the clock again, but not in anticipation of a drink. I was patiently waiting out the minutes until the kids would go to bed and the house would finally be bathed in silence.
My mind was full of white noise. Putting one foot in front of the other was all I could manage. I plugged the kids into a movie, lay down on the couch, and closed my eyes. I wasn't thinking about anything. I wasn't sleepy.
I stepped into my mental waiting room, and I waited.
I wait a lot these days. I'm waiting for warm, sunny days. I'm waiting for my husband's work schedule to calm down. I'm waiting for the kids' spring activities to start up and fill our days. I'm waiting to feel.
At three and a half years sober, sometimes I think that I should be able to cope better. Fingers of guilt tickle at my subconscious mind.
I know those fingers. They are my disease sneaking up on me, creeping through a back door left ajar.
I squash the guilt by remembering that my mental waiting room is a safe place. It is here where I perfect the art of the non-reaction, the ability to pause when agitated, to breathe through the hard stuff.
Even though it doesn't feel like it, I have made progress. Suspended animation is an improvement over anger, anxiety and grief.
Waiting is a form of healing, a nod to life on life's terms, a growing understanding that negative emotions are only as dangerous as I let them become.
Instead of letting the guilt gain a foothold, I hang posters on the wall of my mental waiting room, and as I sit in suspended animation I read them over and over:
I am okay.
I am sober.
I am worthy.
When I was drinking - even before drinking became a problem for me - negative emotions like boredom, anger or sadness provoked a fight or flight response in me, and I chose flight almost every time. I didn't know how to wait, because I was accustomed to altering my mood at will. I couldn't wait out a hard thought, let alone a long stretch of days.
Spring will come. The dark, flat days will pass. Color will return to my internal and external world. That first warm day, as we play outside with the sun on our face and the first flower buds bursting forth, these long days will seem far away indeed.
And I? I can wait. Finally.