Fighting the Deluge
I have told my story more times than I care to count. It is a staple of rehab: you start at childhood and narrate through your addiction. You tell the sordid story of your suffering until you reach the heartwarming conclusion where everyone hears what you learned and how you are all better now. Except it was always tricky for me because I never knew where to start, and there’s not really an end. Anxiety and depression were precursors and catalysts for my drinking. And even though I don’t drink anymore, the maladies linger. So I won’t bore you with some chronological recounting of my life that has no resolution; I’ll just start in the middle.
Years ago I was diagnosed with dysthymia and generalized anxiety disorder. I was told that I have mild versions of both, which means I am incredibly functional yet often quite uncomfortable. Like I’m wearing sunglasses indoors, I can see everything clearly but it is all a bit dull. Or sometimes, there is buzzing anxiety right underneath the surface of things, scratching in my ears and making me want to come out of my skin.
Symptoms first surfaced in my teenage years but they were quickly eclipsed by various coping distractions. First eating disorder, then alcohol addiction then codependency, I was a good mess for eight or nine years until it was clear I needed to permanently detox from alcohol.
Rehab was torture – I had to listen to my thoughts and learn to sit in my feelings. I railed and cried and whined until slowly the desire to drink faded into the background – the way busy wallpaper in a waiting room hurts your eyes less and less the longer you sit in the hard plastic chair. Eventually the obnoxious hum of visual activity is just a part of the room’s reality, inseparable from the 5 year old magazines and beige mini-blinds. My anxiety and depression retreated too. For the most part they remain in the background, an unpleasant pattern on the walls.
I do best when I immerse myself in the moment and focus on specific tasks. Often when I am down or anxious that means throwing shoes on the kids and going for a walk, but that’s been hard in the recent rain. So I am trying to compensate. Which brings me to this morning.
Dark clouds hang heavy in the sky, and although it is dawn the world is still dark. The last month in Houston has felt like monsoon season – the rain is relentless. I am starting to feel tense and moldy from all of the water – water everywhere. I pour my coffee and turn on every light in the house. I need to see – I need the light to shake the cobwebs from my brain so I can start my day. I turn on the TV for background noise and I peck out the mere seed of an essay on my smartphone. Saturday mornings with two young children don’t offer time to sit at the computer and ponder words. But I write what I can: snippets and nuggets scrawled on scratch paper or typed into a phone. Words exorcised have less power than words careening around my brain and nervously whispering into my ear.
I didn’t sleep well last night. It’s been 2 months since my husband was laid off and for over 1 month he’s been working every day at his new job. We are stable and secure and have a lot to be grateful for, which my rational mind understands. My normal variety of slightly anxious, prickly skin feelings during the day are pretty manageable. What was unleashed by this unexpected life change was something more intense and sinister.
Mild anxiety gave way to an avalanche of panic and intrusive worry, and I’m fighting the thoughts. For a week I had no appetite and felt terrified, despite our less than dire reality. My desire to eat came back, but the deep underlying hum of tension remains, vibrating throughout my days.
I wake up in the middle of the night sometimes, gasping for breath. These dark hours are when anxiety tastes like fear and fear tastes like shame and shame tastes like relapse. They are all snarled up in one messy ball of wires and I can’t untangle them. Greedy shame grabs hold of my brain and the intense worry claws at my soul and I am consumed with irrational thoughts of impending disaster. To be clear: there was no relapse in drinking. But waking in the middle of the night, paralyzed by panic, unease and remorse is reminiscent of that feeling. It’s a PTSD of sorts, the kind of scars that never really go away.
I look around our house with all of our carefully accumulated belongings. I stare at our two lovely children who have never seen us drink, and I see the beautiful life we have built. But depression lies and says that I am not worth any of this, and anxiety whispers that I don’t deserve it and it will all be taken away. I keep watch over my sweet babies, locking doors and wiping hair out of eyes. I am vigilant in fighting these irrational thoughts, but I stand guard nonetheless.
And now morning has come – it’s time to snap myself out of indulging in these feelings. I force myself to act. I write, I straighten up the kitchen table, I dust the living room and I go to check on the baby. He is sleeping peacefully with a blissful smile on his face. I hope he is always this happy.
And as I look at him I feel a wash of calm and love. I smile, holding out hope that this means today will be a good day. Everything is okay – it really is. I sit watching him, with tears on my cheeks. I don’t know why I’m crying – sometimes sad tears and happy tears feel the same. But I hold out hope that maybe today the clouds will clear and we will see just a little sunshine. It’s about time.
I am a mom, wife, employee, and writer. I am in recovery from alcohol addiction, depression, anxiety and general malaise. I’m just trying to make each day better than the last.