Three and half years in West and Southern Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer left its mark on my body. Tan sun spots are tattooed on the top of my cheek bones, shallow lines explode from the corners of my eyes and my nose is more freckled, all thanks to long afternoons under the sub-Saharan sun. My stomach will also never be the same after giardia, dysentery and amoebas. All patience my intestines may have had was eaten away by parasites that somehow made their way into my stomach, and when it is time to go it is time to gooooooooo.
Additionally, I developed stress-induced nausea during my second year in Lesotho, and it got so bad that I was medically evacuated to South Africa for testing. The worst bout of it occurred when I had to leave my village for a week because the students at the school where I worked phsyically attacked the principal.
Since returning back to the U.S. three years ago (nearly to the day), the nausea has popped up from time to time, like when I was making the decision to leave Washington D.C. four months after I had moved there and go to Chicago. The nausea came back pretty strong this spring with some foundational changes at work and I took it as a signal that maybe it was time to leave that job.
When the nausea comes, it can be crippling. I try to tame it with crackers, carbonated drinks or a nap, but sometimes its strength forces me to stop, to examine why I am so stressed that my body is revolting.
Right now I am supposed to be at the monthly meet up of a writing group, but the nausea has kept me home. It started this morning at the gym when I was in the pool, and I assumed I just needed some water. Or coffee. Or food. I went on with my day, but the feeling of wanting to vomit stuck like a piece of tape that I had thought I had gotten rid of. Before I was to leave for the writing group, my mouth began to salivate and my forehead sweat. Nothing came out, but my body went through the motions as if it was trying to dispel some kind of evil.
What stress is inducing this nausea? Well, it could be anything. The holidays, work, money, a busy schedule, the constant struggle of not being enough. But, I have a feeling that it’s not so much the stress that is poisoning my body, rather than the lack of relief from stress.
Alcohol had always been a way for me to release stress, like the air valve of a tire and letting pressure escape enough to make the rubber flexible again. It wasn’t as calming as running or as healthy as a bubble bath, but it was effective. One beer in and I could feel my shoulders release and my breath deepened, and then I would want another drink and another, chasing that feeling of relaxation. A glass of wine or a beer with dinner has always been my solution to stress, and a night out with a hefty bar tab was deemed a perfectly reasonable reaction to a hectic week.
Running was often my other go-to for stress relief, but I began having knee issues in late 2015 while training for the Chicago Marathon, and those knee issues worsened this year and I was forced to take some time off from running. Alcohol filled its place, drinking 3/4 of a bottle of wine by myself (only stopping because of guilt) and picking up an extra tall boy on the way home after having three or four beers with friends.
When I removed alcohol from my life, though, I hadn’t designated a plan for the stress. Sure, I can do yoga or spend time with an adult coloring book and sometimes I write (but also writing is many times the reason for my anxiety), but I don’t have that easy fix anymore. I am slowly getting back into running (now that I know my injury is not a tear or sprain) but I am not to that point where I can log five miles because I am worried that a friend is mad at me. Stress relief is more of practice and I am used to a quick hit.
Today when the anxious thoughts piled up, there was no release and likely hadn’t been for a while, so my body set off the alarm to tell me that I needed to pay attention, now. I decided to stay in to write (the less stressful kind), bake and read a book. This is a big step for me, listening to my own needs and acting in my best interest and not to that greater “I should.”
Sobriety is more complex than just not drinking, it’s about rerouting patterns and finding a new journey in what’s left. I still don’t know what that looks like, but I am learning to trust that I do know how to find it. My body told me to stop today, and I knew enough to listen.
The hardest part of being sober: Ordering tea at Wine Wednesday. Everyone was incredibly sweet and accommodating, but it has never been fun, in any context, to be the odd woman out.
The best part of being sober: Every week, I am going to say the supportive people in my life. I am in awe of how amazing some friends have been as I go through this journey. After my last post, one incredible individual sent me boxes of hot cocoa and cider mixes. I cried when I opened the package. Another added bonus: I got into the 2017 Chicago Marathon! Like I mentioned, my knee is getting better but I am going to spend most of the winter building strength so that I am healthy to start training in June. I feel fairly confident I can get there and I’m eager to train again. Plus, I’ve missed running in Chicago so much it makes my heart ache, and I can’t wait to spend hours on the Lake Shore Trail this summer.