Tuesday, July 5, 2011
Down The Rabbit Hole
People ask me a lot "How are you doing? You okay?" I give them a smile and say that yes, I am okay, that I'm muddling through.
But the reality is that I'm struggling. I am functioning - I shuttle the kids to their activities, go to play dates, the gym, out with friends. I smile and sometimes even laugh, but underneath it all there is a kind of flatness, a bewildered feeling that I can't shake.
I'm forgetful. I lose my train of thought all the time; I grope for words and mix up my kids' names. If it weren't for the reminder alarm on my phone I would forget about Finn's karate or Greta's soccer camp. I can't hold a thought for very long. Things that used to light a fire inside me, like making jewelry or writing, barely produce a spark of interest.
It is way more than sad. It feels more like lost.
I spend as much time as I can with my Mom, who is teaching me so much about grace and gratitude, even as she navigates her grief, takes tentative steps into her new life without my Dad. They were married for forty-six years. I am in awe of her ability to be vulnerable and strong at the same time.
I go about my day, groping my way from one moment to the next. I am not curling up into a ball. I am functioning. But sometimes, just barely. Every now and then, without warning, the world in front of me seems to shimmy and shift, reality slides off the page, and I fall apart. But I always pick up the pieces, take a deep breath and keep on moving.
The thing I notice the most is that my old nemesis, Anxiety, has come home to roost. She perches on my shoulder, a dead weight, and whispers into my ear a constant stream of unwelcome thoughts.
I have always been an anxious person. I know now that it was likely at the root of my drinking. I would self-medicate, drown out the whispering voice of fear.
But now, of course, I don't have that particular rip cord to pull; I can't simply drop away from myself, numb the sharp edges.
I don't drink anymore, but I have my own private rabbit hole, a tiny place in my head where I can slip away, even as I robotically go about my day. I lived here a lot in new sobriety, as I tried to get from one end of the day to the other without a drink. In my rabbit hole I am safe from the whispering voices of fear. I know I'm not fun to be around when I'm there; I'm mechanical and flat, going through the motions, phoning it in. But I'm upright, I'm putting one front in front of the other, and sometimes that has to be enough. I'm simply not capable of feeling it all.
My rabbit hole provides temporary relief from the anxiety. I haven't felt anxiety like this in a long time.
There is something wrong with my back. Perhaps I twisted it or strained it, but I don't recall anything specific. Maybe it is stress, maybe a combination of both. When I'm on my game, when I'm not hobbled by grief, an injured back is simply a call to the doctor to make an appointment; something to check off my To-Do list.
But my brain isn't functioning on all cylinders, and instead of coping I'm paralyzed with fear. It has to be something awful, it tells me, something incurable. Instead of picking up the phone to call the doctor, I obsess about all the symptoms, adding brick after brick to my monument of fear.
My stomach churns when my kids aren't with me; I'm convinced - with a lot of help from the whispering voices in my ear - that something tragic is going to happen.
Now I know that someone healthy, vibrant and alive can just be gone in the blink of an eye. I always knew that, of course, but now I feel it in my bones, how fragile it all is, and it makes me very, very afraid.
There is a ray of hope, I guess, because I can observe all this, as if from afar. I understand what my brain is doing; it doesn't want to process my Dad's death, so it is occupying itself by worrying over other things I can't control, like my health, or what happens to my kids when I'm not around. My brain is like a cat batting around a crippled mouse before going in for the kill. Needless torture and pain, but it's something to do.
This ability to observe myself, even with my neuroses clanging away, ensures that I will be okay. I can talk about it, work it through. On the other side of this is growth and enlightenment. I know that is true.
I have to do all the things I did in early sobriety. I have to keep talking, be gentle on myself, not succumb to guilt that I'm not the best mom to my kids when I'm hiding in my rabbit hole. I have to put faith in front of fear. I have to do the next right thing - like call the doctor - instead of allowing my anxiety to grab the wheel and steer the bus off the cliff.
I have to surrender, let the current take me where I'm meant to go. My job is simply to keep my head above the water, and let time do what time does best: heal.