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  • Writer's pictureJack Shain

Make Peace With Dishes

It’s now been a week since we Californians have been ordered to stay home. This means we're only been a quarter of the way through, if the order is not extended (spoiler alert: it probably will). But it has also marked the first 24 hours that I have not looked at the news. Okay, I peaked at two tiny notifications on my phone, but it was only 2! Apparently Nancy Pelosi turned 80 - well done there. Oh, and the United States is now officially number one in the world for coronavirus cases. We just had to be the best at one more thing.

With these two wonderful tidbits of news, I just don't have it in me today for heavy topics. So for my own sanity, I'm going to keep it light today.

My wife-of-one-week and I have begun to feel the walls of our one bedroom apartment in West LA become a bit more cramped. From non stop and simultaneous Zoom calls, to our three-legged cat screaming (he does not meow) to go outside every hour, we have been doing our best not to cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war. I can only imagine what parents with young children are experiencing -- they are the unsung heroes of this virus. To keep my sanity in check I have begun to implement some structure, and it started with something unexpected: washing dishes.

One nice silver lining is that I get to spend time in the kitchen every day. Although ours is small and can only fit one person, the one time I can feel in control is cooking. But cooking upwards of 3 meals a day, plus a dessert, leaves an ungodly amount of dishes. Every time I go to turn on the burners, our two-foot-by-two-foot counter space is taken up by dirty dishes. To combat becoming overwhelmed, I have to wash every dirty dish and put away any clean dish before I attempt to cook. Yes, I know what many of you are thinking. That this is how normal adults live their lives with dishes. It wasn’t always that simple for me.

When I was getting sober a typical day looked like this. I would wake up at 4 AM. I would then ride my bike six miles to Culver City to open a Coffee Bean at 5 AM. My shift would last until 11 AM or Noon. I would ride six miles back. Take a nap. Attend an evening IOP for two hours. Leave straight for an 8 PM AA meeting. Come home and begin going straight to bed but was always interrupted by Bryce, a tech that worked at my sober living. Now, I love Bryce but the request he made every night still haunts me. Bryce would say, “Hey Jack, I need you to do the dishes.” And I would respond verbatim with all of the above. He would then repeat his request with the icy tone of an angry NRA member worried that the government was coming to take his guns.

The problem was that I lived with 3 other guys and we were all under the age of 23. Dishes were just not on our to-do list. After this request, I would scream and holler and throw a tantrum. I would argue that I never used the kitchen (which was true at the time) and swore on my mother’s grave that I didn’t have a single dish in that sink. And then eventually I washed the damn dishes because I was sober. I took the contrary action my sponsor always spoke of. And inevitably, I would find a fork, a mug, and even sometimes a plate that I had used that very day. It was like I was living in a fourth step* metaphor every night. My ego was getting squashed, and it didn't feel good. It forced me to see my part and admit I was wrong (Never told Bryce that though).

In the last week, my days somehow always start and end with dishes. I’m not really sure how that works since I do 95% of the cooking in my house. But it has become the crux of my structure. Before I even make my pretentious Sprouts' French-pressed coffee to start my day, the sink needs to be empty. My days are now averaging 10 hours in front of a computer. This includes writing, 4 to 5 hour long zoom calls a day, and research for new material for groups (most of my curriculum doesn’t work on a video format). I am not used to this.

Washing the dishes provides a moment of mindless mindfulness that brings me to the present moment. It provides me structure of the beginning, middle, and end of my quarantined days. I also enjoy the small moments of being present and I make use of what they have to offer. Applying the principals of the fourth step gives me structure by providing me insight. Washing dishes allows me to pause and reflect and maybe realize trying to do yoga while my wife is yelling about a trivia game with her parents on Zoom doesn’t need to bother me. My sanity and my relationship with my wife are more important than that.

*4th step - Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves

This article was written by Jack Shain, CADC - II and founder of Keep Left Recovery.

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