Folks, at four weeks into this blog, I believe I have stumbled onto a great truth. Writing. Is. Hard. I never claimed this to be an intellectual and mind-blowing truth. But it’s really hard. I almost didn’t write a post today, and was ready to give up on my last three entries. I’m pretty sure the internet would continue on without me. As I sat in front of my computer, huffing loudly in frustration, my wife suggested writing about the difficulties of writing. So, I am going to take her advice.
The truth is, it is hard to stay motivated. I was initially excited to start this blog, writing two posts on my first day and publishing them right away. I tried to slip the fact that I had started a blog into every conversation with my friends, colleagues, and family. I posted everywhere I could. And I got a lot of instant feedback, which is a nice dose of dopamine that made me crave more. A mentor of mine once told me that dopamine is the neurotransmitter in your brain that says “Remember me! I feel good!” But as the weeks went by, the instant gratification pivoted to, “Oh shit, I have to write another 18 of these posts.” I spent the next two weeks anxious that I would never come up with another idea to share with the internet to get my 50 clicks. Running on anxiety is a good motivator, but it's exhausting. At last, I have entered my last week of daily blog posts (my goal was 20) and I am a little burnt out and frustrated. I keep having to reach for inspiration.
My first year of sobriety saw a similar trajectory. My first three months, I told everyone I knew that I was sober. I told my mom (not a light conversation), I told my professors, and I stood up in front of my entire fraternity declaring “I am an alcoholic!” and then took a medical leave. That excitement mutated into a crippling anxiety. “Am I going to stay sober forever?” kept me up for nights on end. Around seven months after I was kicked out of school and doing everything I could to make ends meet, I started to grow frustrated. It was difficult to accept that showing up consistently to my job for three months and not stealing from them did not equal the $5 raise I thought I deserved.
The truth is, I was still learning to walk in sobriety. The tools my sponsor had given me were not sharpened very well. It wasn’t until a few months later that I heard a speaker at the VRC say “I am an expert at running the first 50 yards of a marathon.” I wanted to sprint but found I was in a rush to go nowhere. I wanted things done now. I was addicted to instant gratification and I was not receiving it. My understanding of a need vs. a want vs. a crisis were the same thing. The sad truth is that sobriety is not a sprint. I have seen many clients in treatment rush to get everything back on track before getting burnt out and frustrated. 7 times out of 10, they get high. Marathons are 26.2 miles, not 50 yards. It takes time. It takes training. And most people don’t do it alone.
Around the same time I got a year in sobriety, I heard another important truth. A speaker said, “I wish you a slow sobriety.” At this time, I was still feeling frustrated that I had not landed that “well-deserved” promotion. On more than one occasion an old college friend would come into the Coffee Bean. We would chat. They would tell me about their entry-level job or film set that they had been a PA on. They knew I had not graduated, but politely never asked why. I always ended up feeling left behind. And so when I heard this speaker talk about wishing me a slow sobriety, I was not too keen on hearing it. It felt like a personal attack for my failures.
Luckily, my homegroup on Wednesday nights is a crosstalk meeting. The men there taught me a lot about the process of sobriety through their own experiences. They pointed out to me that the process was still unfolding. “More will be revealed,” they would tell me over and over again. But I didn’t understand this until I read a passage in the Big Book (on page 420--my favorite page in the book). It states, “Perhaps the best thing of all for me is to remember that my serenity is inversely proportional to my expectations… I can watch my serenity level rise when I discard my expectations. But then my “rights” try to move in, and they too can force my serenity level down.” My “rights” or what I think I deserve is a breeding ground for frustration and apathy. When my “rights” become more important than my needs, I have no serenity.
Writing fulfills my need for creativity and fun. But it can be difficult when I try to make my writing proportional to how many clicks my blog posts get. I will always be disappointed, because I want more. It is being influenced by something outside of myself, and that always leaves my writing inauthentic. It’s a good reminder that I never started writing to be well-liked. I did it because it was the best way I could express myself. The same thing happened in early sobriety. My “rights” became more important. Instead of being satisfied with a bed to sleep in, food to eat, and being financially independent, I was frustrated and bitter I wasn’t farther along. In other words I was never present or grateful for what I had. I didn’t get sober to be right and demanding. I got sober because I had lost myself and was willing to do the work to find out who I am. Today, I can see the profound wisdom in wishing one a slow sobriety. Sobriety, writing, and marathons are similar. They all take a long time. They all take training and repetition. All three are empowering for the individual. And most importantly, none of them are done alone.
This Article was written by Jack Shain, CADC-II and founder of Keep Left Recovery. KLR is a private drug and alcohol counseling service located in West Los Angeles. Jack is also certified Recovery Playbook Coach.
Carton above was drawn by Gary Larson, creator of The Far Side Comic Strip