All the Zero Days

Embrace the Brutality

Last night at about 4 am I found myself sobbing. Ten days ago I gave up Facebook. Not permanently, but a 30-day fast. (I could write pages on why, but that’s not what this post is about.) I’m pretty sure the sobbing is part of the withdrawal process from what I must admit was, is, an addiction.

Being away from Facebook has shown me I turned to that social media platform almost constantly throughout the day when I had feelings of disconnection and loneliness. Whenever I felt alone, I’d check the feed for updates on what was going on with friends and acquaintances. This didn’t take care of the loneliness itself, just the fleeting feeling of loneliness, which of course always returned, sometimes only moments after logging off.

To a lesser extent, I was triggered to use Facebook when I had the desire to share a thought, insight, frustration. I was a prolific poster and reposter of stories and memes. I wanted attention. I wanted to be relevant.

The irony is that using Facebook, the great global village predicted by my media theory classes 20 years ago, has not solved my loneliness problem, but has made it worse. It’s been nine years and I must honestly say my relationships (except with my parents) are more superficial than they have ever been. I have a lot more friends than I did nine years ago, but fewer friendships.

Is it any wonder, then, that after I stopped using my loneliness “crutch” I’d end up sobbing at 4 am? I’m surprised it took ten days.

Fortunately I instinctively knew that doing something creative, like writing, would help. So here’s what I wrote:

It is about 4 am as I type this, and I’m feeling desperately lonely with no end in sight. I have heard of this being a pretty common hazard of the trail, and one of the main reason thru hikers quit even after making it more than half way to Katadin. The way I feel right now, I would quit in a heartbeat if that would end the hurting.

But I’m not on the trail.

I’m in my bed. In my house. With air conditioning and the promise of a hot shower and fresh eggs for breakfast. With my children sleeping in their rooms down the hall, my boyfriend a phone call away, my parents planning dinner tomorrow night. There is nothing to ‘quit.’ No escape from loneliness.”

After that, I slept a deep, restorative until 7:30.

This morning I googled “combating loneliness as a thru hiker” and the first hit was a post by CDT and PCT thru hiker Russell Mease:

http://www.unconventionallife.net/fear-of-loneliness-the-1-killer-of-thru-hiker-dreams/

According to Mease, hikers on the CDT have spawned a catch phrase, “Embrace the brutality!” That applies to the physical challenges, as well as the mental ones.

That phrase cuts through my hopelessness.

It is not, “Give in to the brutality.”

It is not, “Get over the brutality.”

It is not, “It’s not THAT brutal.”

“Embrace the brutality” is the ultimate declaration of acceptance. And my time spent with alcoholics working a 12-step program of recovery has taught me that acceptance, not resignation, is the key to all our problems.

Loneliness is brutal. It registers as actual physical pain in our brains. It triggers primal fears related to survival, because humans through anthropological and biological adaptation are social animals. It is also a universal experience; we are not alone in our loneliness. And research is showing social media is making the problem worse.

Last night I made the mistake of googling “loneliness” and what I read gave no practical solutions, other than to find people with similar interests, or join a bridge club. Like I have time for a bridge club. I have three school aged children in three different schools with three different sets of after school activities on every single day of the week. And I am not the only parent, or single parent, in this situation. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who was sobbing at 4 am last night.

Loneliness is not something we can just wish away. It’s not something we can just “get over,” or “give in to,” or minimize. Before I went to sleep, I prayed. I surrendered the loneliness to God. I said, “Please help me, because I am powerless over this.”

Today I recommit to embracing the brutality. If I were out on the trail, I would give myself short goals and then celebrate when I achieve them. I would take time to talk with other hikers I meet on the trail, and practice unconditional love and curiosity and openness. I would wake up early and go to bed early. I would regularly refuel my body, and I would savor every piece of food I put in my mouth. I would take brief rests every few miles. I would sometimes curse and swear and cry. I would pray. I would take zero days.

I can do all of those things as I embrace the brutality of everyday living, including the loneliness. Simply being able to call it what it is and admit my feelings is a huge step.

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Musical Meditations

Come and See What God Has Done

One of my favorite aspects of the pre-Christmas season is listening to holiday music on the radio. My car radio is tuned almost exclusively to a local Christian music station, so my Christmas tunes are not your typical over-played melodies by today’s pop stars. 80% of it is spiritually inspired, and much of it is original, not just remakes of classic church carols. Every year an artist will introduce a song that really moves me, and this year, that song was Noel, written by Chris Tomlin and performed by Lauren Daigle.

What I love most about this song, beyond the haunting echo of the piano, smooth enveloping of the cello line, and raw power of Daigle’s vocals (my musical goal is to be able to sing like that) is the understanding that Christmas is not all joy and candy canes. We Christians just love to say, “Jesus is the reason for the season,” but how often do we stop to consider the reason for Jesus?

“Born to suffer, born to save, born to save us from the grave.”

Christ came to show us how to live, but he also came to die, and to show us how to die. Whether living or dying, it’s all about setting aside my ego (my Edging God Out). Without understanding at heart level my desperate need to be saved, Christmas is just the celebration of another baby being born. It makes about as much sense as needing a commercial holiday in order to give gifts to the people I love.

The “Noel” invites us to see what God has done. He was born into human likeness, and sacrificed himself as a perpetual and lasting sin offering. Our culture may not have a deep appreciation for this concept, as it’s been thousands of years since we routinely made blood sacrifices to any kind of god. But we certainly know a thing or two about punishing ourselves. New Years is often the season of self-imposed fasting in the name of health, to atone for our holiday binging. Young people cut themselves in an attempt to relieve their anxiety over not achieving perfection. Many of us endure abusive behavior from destructive people in our lives because some part of us believes we deserve it. Guilt and shame, whether rational or distorted out of proportion, is a heavy weight to bear, and many of us turn to prescriptions, alcohol, food, sex, gambling, excessive and obsessive behaviors to help us manage the burden. The Noel is that we don’t have to turn to those things, which will always fall short and ultimately bring death to us and our relationships. We can turn to the one who was born to carry our burden for us.

See what God has done. It is a story of amazing love.

Single On Saturday

Hope & Help

It’s Saturday and I’m saddened and inspired. A week ago my community was shaken by a horrible tragedy. A well-known and well-loved mom of three was struck and killed by a drunk driver while she was jogging. In the days that have followed, my friends and neighbors have grieved her passing and celebrated her love of life by wearing blue and running in her honor this weekend.

There’s an excellent reflection on it here: http://www.alifeofgratitude.com/4/post/2014/01/meg-menzies.html

There has been a lot of talk this week about drunk driving. To a lesser degree, there has been talk of road safety, not only for those behind the wheel, but also those who share the road on foot or on a bike.

There has been very little talk about the deadly disease that may have been behind Meg’s death. Yes. The disease.

The driver was drunk at 8 in the morning. I think it’s pretty safe to say that someone who is that intoxicated that early in the morning has a drinking problem.

I hesitate to use that word “alcoholic.” I don’t know if he is or he isn’t. I struggle with that word because it conjures up images of a ragged street person, not a well-respected medical doctor who seems to be functioning well in society. And then there’s this idea of alcoholism being a disease, as if his lack of control somehow excuses him of the consequences of his behavior. It doesn’t, nor should it.

Most of us are aware that alcoholism is a recognized disease, but we probably don’t understand exactly what that means, even if we know people whom we think could be alcoholic. I’ve come to learn that it’s a disease that affects not only the problem drinker, but also everyone with whom that person comes in contact. Whether the drinker is a spouse, a child, a parent, a sibling, an employer, an employee, a friend, a neighbor, a complete stranger behind the wheel of a car in the oncoming lane of traffic, there is someone else who cares about that person and who also must live (or die) not only with the consequences of the alcoholic’s behavior, but with the fear that relationship generates.

In a special way, I think of that drunk driver’s own children. Did they worry about how much their dad drank? Did they even know? Did they make excuses for him thinking it was the kind and merciful thing to do? Are they carrying around guilt and shame for their dad’s actions? Do they feel somehow responsible for his behavior? Is their rage turned inward, or outward? Do they believe there is no one else in the world who could ever understand or give them unconditional love and compassion as they, too, grieve this tragedy?

I think of the people who love alcoholics in their own lives, who hear this story in the news and think, “That could have been my son, mom, sister, boyfriend …” The ones who feel a sick mixture of gratitude and relief and fear that today, it wasn’t my loved one, but it could have been. The ones who would be crushed if anyone found out.

I think of the countless children of children of alcoholics, who’ve grown up with non-drinking parents who suffered the consequences of growing up in an alcoholic home. Do you know what happens to the children of an alcoholic who don’t get help with living in that kind of hell? Sometimes they become rigid and controlling, or develop “socially acceptable” addictions to work, exercise, food, shopping, video games, romantic relationships, porn, anger, or self-pity.

They may not be distracted drivers, but they most certainly are distracted parents, distracted spouses, distracted employees. The children of these children of alcoholics often pick up the drink to cope, and the cycle continues. Or, maybe they don’t pick up the drink, but they scratch their head and wonder what’s wrong with themselves, especially since they had two functional parents, material needs met. Grandchildren of alcoholics may not even know there was a drinking problem in the family, because families of alcoholics often practice such rigid secret keeping.

Alcoholism is a family disease. It affects everyone who comes in contact with the problem drinker, in big and small ways. And with as many problem drinkers as there are out there, if you love one of them and are sick with worry about them or consumed with anger at them, I promise you this – YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

You are not alone. There are many people who have experienced the feelings of responsibility, guilt, shame, anger, fear, depression, anxiety, and hopelessness that you may be carrying. Perhaps you’ve done everything in your power to fight this disease and its effects. I know you haven’t won, because it is impossible. You didn’t cause it. You can’t control it, and you can’t cure it. You’re not that powerful, and trying to be will only kill you early or rob you of the joy of living.

However, we can contribute to the disease by our attitudes and actions. We can enable. We can give the drinker an “excuse” to drink when we argue with or belittle him. We can delay the natural consequences of her actions when we lie to her boss and say she’s sick with a stomach virus.

We can contribute to our own disease by throwing ourselves into our work, our volunteering, our romantic relationships, our candy crush games, our political action groups, our hobbies, our depression, our anxiety … Yes, “our” disease. We are just as sick as the alcoholics. We lash out unexpectedly at our children. We run around the house insanely searching for bottles to dump out, as if that will stop anything. We become compulsive about helping others, sometimes to our own detriment. We get so overwhelmed with living that we stop paying our bills or sleep until noon. And we get behind the wheel tired and distracted and most definitely impaired. And we haven’t put a single foreign substance into our bodies. We act like alcoholics, stone cold sober.

We can’t do anything to stop the alcoholic if she doesn’t want to stop. We cannot save him from his disease. But we can save ourselves from ours.

There is help and hope for families who’ve been affected by this disease. For Meg’s family. It can be found at Al-Anon.

Al-Anon is a program of recovery from the affects of drinking on the family and loved ones of an alcoholic. It is an anonymous fellowship of people who understand as perhaps no one else can. If anything I’ve written has sounded uncomfortably familiar to you, then you could undoubtedly benefit from learning more. There’s a wealth of information at the Al-Anon website:
http://www.al-anon.alateen.org