The other night I made a list of all the things that require my attention in any given day. It contained 53 things. Then, I made a list of which of those items I actually cared about and enjoy. That list had six bullet points. I made a third list of things I need to care about for my survival and that came to seven. All of this to say that in any given day my thoughts are consumed with 40 different things that I do not enjoy nor are necessary in keeping me alive. Nearly each of those 40 things that I think about each day can be linked back to letting others down or failing to meet someone else’s expectations.
One day this week I woke up early to write, but instead answered emails and recorded my volunteer hours until it was time to shower. Work was work, and by the end of the day my soul had little fight left in it, despite that it would be several more hours before I could crawl back into bed and leave everything behind. Before an event that night, I went to a coffee shop and wrote in my journal every thought I had, hoping giving them space on a page would loosen their grip on my throat. Several times, I wrote how much I hated the woman sitting next to me, working on some kind of presentation. I didn’t share a single word with her and I don’t think she ever looked my direction after I sat down, but I could tell by the diamond ring on her finger and perfectly tailored blazer that her life was better than mine and that her demons were less persistent, and so that made me hate her. The most happiness I felt all day up until that point was fantasizing about throwing my phone in the river and wandering through a part of the city where I knew I wouldn’t run into anyone I knew.
Later, I walked to the event several blocks away and noticed every single bar along the way. One themed fancy cocktails, another Irish beers. Each one became harder to walk past. I could skip everything, I thought, still throw my phone into the river, and hide in the bar, drink and drink until I couldn’t stand. Alcohol wouldn’t fix me, but goodness I would feel better.
Of course, I didn’t do that, though. I went to the event, reaffirmed my commitments, and fueled up on other’s reassurance. The person inside of me who felt her wants weren’t being heard had been silenced again and I could go on without her pounding on my chest. She’d come back, though, I knew. She’s been coming more frequently lately.
I am writing this on Saturday, when I have made no plans and have decided to keep my phone shut off for the entire day. It’s my sober hangover day, and I want to use it to really listen to what I want and what I need to take care of myself. And, I don’t know how to do it. The voice of should and must are too close in tone and it’s hard to decipher what would be self care and what would be fulfilling expectations. Should I go to a movie? Should I clean my bathroom? What about work on that short story or go to the gym?
I’ve thought a lot about priorities this week and how I have little skill in managing them. I never not want my debts and responsibilities to be settled, and so I am left frazzled trying to accommodate every request and every inclination. I want the house to sparkle, all friends to feel loved and tended to, and all of my projects and ambitions set in forward motion.
But I can’t keep doing this. I have to learn the language of my wants and make them a priority. I have to say no, I have to care less about letting someone day, I have to start giving into my dreams. Or, I am going to have more days when I want to throw my phone in the river and one day I may just do it.
This blog hasn’t been a real cheery place lately and I tend to forget that this is a public space and not the insides of my journal. Confessional bloggers aren’t real writers they say, and yet here I tell you things that I would never say to you if we were sitting at a table, face-to-face. I keep thinking about a comment someone left on a blog (different from this one) years and years ago about how I can’t call myself a writer if I make so many grammatical errors and I should be ashamed of myself to not take more care when posting. Earlier this week I thought about closing the blog down or at least posting something more upbeat. But, I’ve been working on this particular post for more than an hour and I feel much better than when I opened the browser. I need this time to work out the emotional kinks, to open my chest, to inch closer to my own peace. So, in knowing the difference between what I want and meeting expectations, I am going to post this very personal account. I want it in the world and so it will be.
The hardest part about being sober: To explain my sobriety project, I always justify how much I used to drink. Right after telling someone I am not drinking yesterday, I told a story about drinking 10 drinks in a hour during college, more than 10 years ago. I don’t know why I have to tell people I don’t know well that I used to be a heavier drink and now I don’t as if saying I don’t drink is not enough.
The best part about being sober: Not drinking and wanting one more makes it so much easier for me to leave places when I want to leave, instead of getting sucked into empty a glass that always seems to be full.