on 17 years of sobriety

I’m 17 years sober! And have been, in fact, for a couple of months — my sober birthday was 6/20/21. And I have some thoughts.

People who have been connected online with me for a while know that usually I write a longer reflection on or right around my sober anniversary. And it’s very much been on my mind to do so most days since the end of June. But I’ve kept putting it off; it never felt like quite the right time.

We have a little time off this week, and part of what I’m doing with my time is I’m doing some intentional inside work, to unpack some emotional baggage that I think I’ve been carrying. To do a personal inventory, and to get a sense of where my head is at. It’s not a simple topic! Someone asked me just today how I was doing — typically a straightforward question — and I found myself taken aback at how complicated it felt.

On the merits, Shannon and I are unbelievably fortunate. We’re healthy, we’re safe, we’re remarkably stable financially for not having been able to tour for two years now (!), and we have work we love. So that’s on one hand. So much to be grateful for.

On the other hand, I’ve been dealing with a fair amount of anxiety and agitation and some occasional low-grade depression. The signals my antennae are picking up from the world feel uniformly scary, and I think the empath in me has been really taking that on board!

Also, we’re at the center of a fairly large community of freaked-out people, and we view our work through a lens of service, and there have been times where that’s felt pretty overwhelming. My compassion fatigue has progressed into empathy fatigue, which feels unfamiliar, uncharitable, and uncomfortable. Contemplating another winter indoors with no friends, doing our lonely part to help keep ICU beds available, even as a sizable portion of the population has apparently decided the pandemic is over, feels both bleak and infuriating. I haven’t seen my family in a year and a half and I miss them terribly.

Also, I love hanging out with Shannon, and we love our little house, and we’re most likely going to be okay in terms of our ongoing stability and ability to remain here. So I know objectively and with a reasonable degree of confidence that, in terms of basics, we should hopefully be fine, knock on wood.

And indeed I think that’s my essential tension in this time: an existential-feeling standoff between abstract feelings and empirical objectivity. Or, to frame it a different way: I can’t always intellectualize what at times comes down to pure, raw emotion and instinct. I am by nature optimistic. I’m also, like many of you, often completely overwhelmed and pretty far past the end of my rope. Which feeling wins out is seemingly random, not necessarily correlated to any specific triggers, and can change on a dime. My inner life feels turbulent a lot of the time lately.

The primary reason for it not having felt ever quite like the right time to make a sobriety post over these last couple months is that, in a lot of ways, writing these posts feels like a “me” exercise. I can generally connect through a sobriety post with other people who might be experiencing sobriety-related issues, and that’s wonderful, and it’s why I do it; but, regardless, it always feels like an at least partially inward-looking exercise. And, in this time, I’m finding that I’m not interested in “me”; I’m much more interested in “us.”

What do I mean by “us”? In the way I’m thinking about it, I mean the interwoven fabric of humanity. “Me and all of you.” Community, perhaps, or society. People in relationship with one another, both friends and strangers, both individually and in the aggregate. And, looking through that lens, thinking about what “us” feels like — things feel fraught. Tense. Insular. That social fabric feels threadbare and frayed. Like it might run or tear at any slight provocation.

Social media is feeling assaultive, performative, and manicured, more so even than usual. I feel distrustful of people in this time who are like “I’m doing great!” and I see a whole lot of people in my stories trying to prove that to me, or perhaps, more likely, to themselves. And it all just feels like a mirage. I can see it, but when I try to grasp it I find my hands empty.

We’ve been experiencing friends dying from diseases of despair. A dear friend ended his life a couple months ago, violently. Another friend drank himself to death last month; his heart gave out on him at the ER. People are giving up, here and there. It’s hard to take. It makes me wonder what else is coming.

And, through all of this, I’ve remained sober for another year. It feels improbable. Has my sobriety been perfect over this last year? No, it has not. Frankly, it’s often felt far from it. I’m not always remembering all of my tools, and the ones I do happen to pick up I’m sometimes using poorly. They say that sobriety is an exercise in “progress, not perfection” — and I am feeling that imperfection keenly. The days that I feel I’ve done “right” are frequently in the minority. There’s been lots of “Well, tomorrow’s another day” in my life this year.

But, on the other hand … what is “right,” anyway? I wish I felt more peaceful and less generally stressed out, sure. It would be wonderful to feel more lighthearted. But, also, a whole lot of things are really messed up in the world at the moment! And feeling freaked out seems like a very sensible, reasonable, accurate response. I might not be feeling great a lot of the time … but at least I’m acknowledging and honoring my feelings, and giving myself a lot of grace. I might not be doing a lot that feels right, but I think I’m doing okay with that part. Which is maybe the most important part, even if it often doesn’t feel particularly good.

I spent all of 2020 and the first part of 2021 very online and very available, in a very intentional way; our work is after all service work, and this is a time for that. And then something kind of snapped a few months ago, and I let the pendulum swing very far in the other direction. I haven’t been on social media much; I’ve mostly just been spending my online time in our private social network. I thought this was self-care, and maybe it was. But, also, I’m connected with a ton of people online, and I’ve missed them. So, I’m back — and it’s my intention to be more around. We’ll see how it goes. (And if you’d like to connect with me on Facebook, I’m here.)

This year has been super rough for people with sobriety and mental wellness issues. If you’re among them, I want you to know that I see you, and I’m here for you (and I’m one of you!). More than ever, our world needs the sensitive people — and we sensitive people need to take care of one another. I’m not a mental wellness professional, but if you need someone to talk with, you can message me. I’m always happy to hear from people who are struggling, and I’m pretty good at getting people connected with resources if you need help with that.

And, most importantly: talking with one another — sharing the parts of our stories that are harder to talk about, maybe not so manicured or pretty — that’s how we not only lighten our loads, but also do personal healing and build productive, healthy community. I know there are still a lot of people on here who are looking for more meaningful connections. If that’s you, then let’s talk. I could use that too.

Love — jamie

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