Week 5: A deep breath


Right off the Morse red line stop in Northern Chicago is a string of bars along Glenwood Ave in in Rogers Park. This area of the city doesn’t have the chic of Lincoln Park or the cool of Wicker Park or the bro of Boystown. It’s a neighborhood of students and minorities, it’s simple and earnest. The bars there reflect that. They are dark with flickering lights from the TVs that hang above the bar or the candle-lit lamp on the old tables that separate friends engrossed in conversation. Their windows looking in invite me to come inside and rest, the warmth of the bar and the booze would heal my troubles of the day.

During my first winter in Chicago, I walked by these bars once a week on my way to visit J, an 18-year-old refugee that I mentor. It felt like Midnight on those cold Wednesday and Tuesday nights, the sky orange and pregnant with snow. I often daydreamed about ducking into one of the bars, ordering something dark that came in a short glass, and sitting in a worn leather chair in the corner. I could read or write or watch the other patrons. Something about those bars felt safe and reassuring.

I did stop once, ordered a beer and read “The Bell Jar.” It was a fantastical evening, a moment picked out of my dreams, but I never did it again.

Nowadays, I take the bus to J’s house and am not up near the Morse stop very often. On Friday, though, a friend invited me to a little cafe in the neighborhood for tea and conversation. Walking out of the train state and into the brisk November air, those bars greeted me. They begged me to join them for a drink. Their interior lights promised rest and rejuvenation. They promised me healing.

It’s been a rough week, the kind when friends and strangers suggest you douse your feelings in wine or gin. Numerous times this week I’ve heard comments about drinking away your pains, numbing the hurt with booze.

On Sunday, the week started emotional. Insecurities and worries got the best of me and I found myself tearing up on an empty bus. Monday brought an intense, but productive, conversation with a loved one. And then there was Tuesday.

Tuesday, when my partner and I had to leave a party because there was a lump in my throat and I didn’t know enough people at that party to let it out. We walked home, my hand grabbing his as tight as it could, and then we both broke down inside our home. I cried for the struggles ahead. I cried for my friends whose rights were soon to be in question. I cried for how ignorant I had been, how I hadn’t listened to the other half of the story.

A dark cloud hung around Wednesday. All the joy from the World Series had been vacuumed out. There was more pain-fueled anger and many heads bowed down. A woman on the street was offering free hugs, so I took one. We both cried and thanked each other.

It got better though. I told a lot of people that I loved them. I used that would liberally and to anyone who I thought needed to hear it. I made a decision to turn to love and listening and learning. It’s not everyone’s plan, but it’s mine.

At the end of the week, a looong week, I did want a drink, I did want to say screw it to this sobriety thing and drink in commiseration. In those dark, magical looking bars in Rogers Park. I don’t think many people could blame me for that. But, I didn’t. I walked past those bars and into the cafe, where my friend was sitting, and I ordered Kombucha. I used to drink my problems away, to let the alcohol be the thing that makes it all better. I can’t say that something won’t happen this year that will be too difficult for me to endure without alcohol, but at this emotional bump in the road, I could stay on course. I could hurt and cry and find other ways to sooth my aching heart. I didn’t need alcohol, not this time.

I wrote the above on Friday night after tea with my friend, who when I said what a terrible week it had been responded with kindness and empathy and the proceeded to tell me one of her family member’s died and about her heartbreaking work with refugees. I felt a little pathetic next to her unending heart.

I want to say that I am OK, that I can love through this, but I am not sure I can. All week I’ve seen the hate, on both sides, erupt out of people, most of it online. When did it become acceptable to tell people how they should feel? When did it become acceptable to write any hurtful, triggering thing you wanted on a social media page or comment box? When did it become OK to stop treating people like people, but rather as generalizations? I can’t log onto social media without seeing one awful, hateful post. Even one of my own family members was trolling me on social media this week. Our fears have turned us into monsters. I don’t know if I am strong enough to love through that.

This post is chaotic and far from the eloquent piece I had hoped to write, but I am going to publish it that way. Maybe it’s my first step in loving things that I want to turn away from.

I hurt and I fall and I mess up, but I don’t drink. I embrace it sober and let all the feelings swim through me. It’s a little, but it’s a step forward.

The hardest part of sobriety this week: My partner and I had dinner Wednesday night and I could smell the wine being poured at the bar. It was the closest I have come to ordering a drink in the last month.

The best part about sobriety this week: Thank you, thank you, thank you. All of your support and love on my last post has helped me stay true to this mission. To be honest, I had wrote pieces of that post with the intention of taking them out – they were a bit raw for the whole world to see – but I didn’t before the piece was published. The comments and messages I received about that post made me understand why we need vulnerability in our world, a chance for us to look at the hard parts and say, “Yeah, me too.” Thank you for all of your encouragement and guidance.


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