Week 19: How to relax?


E and I shared a romantic Valentine’s Day in bed, both of us sick. Actually, he was on the couch and I was in the bed.

Even though it was a sick day and I wasn’t feeling well, I couldn’t relax. I kept checking my work email, trying to put out little fires. Work plagued my thoughts for most of the day. This was my day away from the office, and I should’ve been away. I specifically took this time to heal so that I could fire back the next day, but I still was chained to my phone and my responsibilities.

In the U.S. we never fully take breaks. We bring our phones to dinner and our laptops on vacation. We hustle because it’s how we’re programmed, and we have this innate belief that something glorious is waiting for us at the finish line. We don’t really know what that is, but when we get there we are tired, stressed, a little unhealthier and lacking all the joy we surpassed to get that far.

I’m not a good relaxer – I can barely watch a movie without pausing it to wash the dishes or put away the mail. I’m addicted to lists and chores and goals and making everything perfect. People with that kind of nervous energy don’t have the skills to relax.

My two years in Lesotho aided my anxiety a bit, and I’ve maintained a pretty strict boundary about not bringing work home. I also take sick days when I needed them.

Yet, I’m hardwired with the idea that relaxing is being lazy and lazy is failure and failure is the worst thing you can be. So, I check my work email while drinking Emergence C and taking naps.

Drinking is how I used to relax. I am not alone in that, and I think the pressure put on us to do so much is why we have massive addiction rates, whether to alcohol, drugs, or prescription medication, in our country. My reward after a long hectic day was a bottle of wine. When things are going haywire, my instinct is to get a beer. It’s a relaxer and a treat. How many jokes do we make about someone who is stressed out “needing a drink?” It’s what we’ve defined as letting loose.

Things didn’t bother me when I am drunk. I could let everything roll off of me, just like I had hoped I could be when sober. I’d pay for that carefree attitude the next day, with sever guilt trips, but drinking was relaxing. It’s was a brief time when I traded aliments for ales. I’d have a beer after work and then decided I deserved another and then a third because it had been a really rough one. I could justify drinking based on all the stress building in my shoulders, and it was never questioned.

Now, I need to figure out how to relax without alcohol. Before I gave up drinking, I took baths, exercised, read books, treated myself. I can do all those things now, but I don’t drink. And I am not sure there is a way to fill that void with something else. Actually, nothing really matches drinking, so instead of replacing it I just do more of the other things.

Alcohol was a great relaxer, but only for a few hours. Eventually guilt about drinking too much, spending a lot of money, or doing something stupid would outright undo any comfort that the binge brought. And, essentially, that’s why I quit drinking. The calm drinking brought me wasn’t worth all the anxiety.

The hardest part about being sober this week: Those Friday night cravings for a beer after a long week just don’t go away. I can practically taste the beer sometimes.

The best part about being sober this week: Instead of drinking that beer, I ran eight miles after work – the longest I’ve run since the Chicago Marathon in 2015. My knees and hips  hurt, but my goodness did the city sparkle. So worth it. Plus, then I got to indulge at dinner.

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