Most mornings I wake up with my head and chest radiating heat, my skin sizzling, and my emotions pummeled by a horrid feeling of doom. The hot flash, as they are want to do, is gone within a couple of minutes. But it gives me an opportunity to come to myself, rescue, sit there with a self dwelling in a burning hell. Since I know it’s transient and I know the cause, that helps lighten the hell somewhat and give me a tiny bit of breathing room within which to practice … care. Love. Sympathy. Actions that I don’t come by easily when it comes to directing them toward myself. And from what I read, this situation is pretty damn common among drinkers.
These brief, regular bits of morning hell show me things. (The mornings are noteworthy now because the daytime flashes are dramatically reduced compared to five-six-seven years ago.) I’ve noticed that the whole idea of being present with myself has layers. The first, which for quite some time I thought was all there was, was simply not running away or tensing up / resisting. Running away with sugar, alcohol, compulsive email checking. (Which are admittedly difficult to implement while lying in bed in the morning. Maybe that’s also why these morning moments are instructive.)
Involved in this seem to be three actors — the me who’s writing this (logical, adult, strategizing, making a decision to be compassionate), a tiny inner me who’s the one directly experiencing the depression/doom and feeling utterly alone and unprotected/defended, and the impacting feeling of doom itself. The doom descends, the tiny inner feeling me gets pummeled, and the bigger logical me compassionately tries to “be present.” A few months ago I realized that what was happening was bigger-logical is sitting compassionately next to tiny-pummeled as tiny gets pummeled. “I know, it’s really hard. It sucks to have these waves of depression and anxiety and doom crashing over you. It’s just physiological and we know that it always passes. Sit with it and it will eventually melt.”
What I realized about this scenario is that tiny-pummeled is still abandoned. It is a step in the right direction, for my internal healing/happiness, but he/she is still having terror poured down upon her with no actual help. Still all alone in a terrifying environment.
So, I stepped inside the wall of doom with her. “I’m sorry. This sucks but I’m here with you holding you. It’ll be okay.” I stopped sitting analytically next to her and moved closer and gave her an embrace. I’m sure there are more layers remaining to be discovered. But this is big.
Resisting and abandoning of myself are automatic for me. Alcohol is a powerful resistance tool — the most powerful I’ve known, and I have no intention of learning about any others. Leaving alcohol behind and growing into a new shape involves, for me, not resisting. But the next step after not resisting is embracing. Come to the neutral center and then start to reverse direction. Abandonment turns into standing neutrally by, turns into approval. Of self. Approval of self. How’s that for an underappreciated and under-supported instinct?
Several years ago I noticed a weird voice in my head while I was feeding or coddling my cat. I am deeply bonded to cats and got my first one, a darling orange tabby, as soon as I settled in one place for graduate school at age 28, and she was with me until age 52. (She died two years ago and her unintended successor (I thought I was too busy and traveling for a cat at this stage of life) is sleeping on my lap.) As I was feeding and talking to my cat I felt like someone was watching me; it was assuming that I was only feigning niceness to the cat to get her to trust me and was going to then be mean to her since that was my true character. I was horrified and confused. Horrified for obvious reasons and confused because I had no idea where this was coming from. Not only was I not abusive, but I, as far as I am aware, have never been around people who abuse animals. We all either like or hysterically love animals.
What I think was going on was that I had had revealed to me an instinct inside of myself (“instinct” is the wrong word — tendency?). The kitty represented a sweet vulnerable part of me toward which I DID have a false relationship; it looked like love and trust on the surface but wasn’t all the way through. Go deeply enough within and what I trusted actually betrayed me. I think my own insticts (I’ll work on a better word for this) mirrored stuff outside me — as I wrote above about the tiny-pummeled sitting alone in a shower of doom, I started getting memories of childhood. Memory of a parent who had no earthly idea how to connect with or help a child who was sensitive and probably had some depression (understandable) and was herself utterly terrified of negative emotions (also understandable but would have been nice if she’d take steps to confront that in herself). I had an overall lovely childhood, but some emotional blockages definitely hurt me.
Off to the day… Where this meandering musings have led me is, my sense of ‘being present’ has gone from sitting next to a suffering self while still unwittingly leaving her abandoned in pain, to actually being close and comforting her in her pain. Having her not abandoned. No wicked trick this time, you can trust me and trust that you’re not alone and that you are being cared for (yum! cat food!!). How is this related to walking away from alcohol? The absence of the World’s Best Tool for Resisting Yourself has left me in a place where there’s a lot of unresisted stuff now, lying around everywhere, and it’s uncomfortable. If I can also avoid picking up another one of the Next-in-Line Tools for Resistance (which I’m solidly mediocre at), I am in a position to allow healing and presence to happen. And be a fuller, more open, more complex, more real, more free person.
Have a good one! Don’t forget to coddle your cat.