I have been roaming around the house. Aimlessly cleaning, wiping surfaces and loading dishes in the dishwasher. I ate two paleo truffles, dark chocolate and with maca and cardamom, and six pieces of bacon. Dinner. I was full but still searching for something to fill me. I came home from work on the late side today. It’s dark and rainy. My dog still wants to walk but I don’t. I am all stirred up. Restless, irritable and discontent. I know this place too well, it should feel friendly by now but it does not. These feelings are not welcome, but still, they are here. My ghosts are hungry.
Gabor Mate, in his incredible book In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, tells of a Tibetan Buddhist story. Of ghosts with small throats and large swollen bellies. Their throats so small that never enough food can pass through to alleviate their great hunger. They can never be filled, are always hungry, always craving, longing, wanting. This is a perfect analogy for addiction. The hunger that never stops, can not be filled, and takes many forms.
I haven’t had a drink in two years, two years, it feels like a along time to say it. In reality it feel like no time at all, its just my life now. The first two months of sobriety felt like a way bigger deal than the two year mark. I was like a baby those first months, everything was new. How did people do life without alcohol? So many firsts. My first sober dinner out with my husband, his martini was painfully distracting. My first sober beach trip, who knew, you can actually have fun at the beach without wine, and yet still long for it with a gut level ache that words cannot due justice. Every new experience felt like a big deal, yardwork (look at me working in my garden, sober!) hiking, hanging with friends. A hundred firsts. Learning a new way of being in the world.
Somehow, quite sneakily if you ask me. Alcohol had woven itself into nearly every area of my life, settled in and made a home in me. So cunning that I did not see it taking up occupancy until it had become so deeply entrenched in my daily life that I felt I needed it to survive. Can people really do laundry sober? Boring. I had somehow come to believe that in order for life to be fun or fulfilling that I had to have a glass of something in my hand, better yet a bottle of something. A glass didn’t last nearly long enough.
Addiction is such that once seen it cannot be unseen, you can hide from it for a while. Most of us do, but the knowledge that something is not quite right will not ever really go away. I tried to hide for a long time. I tried everything under the sun to get away from the fact that I was dependent on alcohol, that I had lost control. But truth is persistent, and usually wins in the end. For me the truth was, I could no longer drink alcohol. I still cannot drink alcohol. It is a hard truth to see, especially when we live in a culture where it is the common currency of social bonding, the sweet lubricant of conversation, the easiest way to connect with other humans. To not drink is to choose to learn a new way of living and connecting. Not an easy task, but truly a worthwhile and rewarding endeavor. I may write more about my process of choosing and working for sobriety in another post. Today this feels like enough. I have never spoken so openly about my recovery before and I feel vulnerable in doing so here, but it feels right as well, and most importantly, true.
So here I find myself, sober, having learned so many new ways to be. Yet still suffering. My ghosts are still hungry. They still will not let me rest . Some days I am tormented by longing. I just want something to make me feel better. I don’t always even know what it is that is hurting, what I am running away from. It can manifest as this aimless restlessness, almost a feeling of being lost, of despair. This is where I found myself today. In the realm of my hungry ghosts. I want to put things in my mouth, just for the sensation of tasting. I can get away from me for as long as I am consuming something else. I can fill myself up, if only for a moment… food never really fills the hole. There simply is no physical solution to a spiritual problem. Addiction doesn’t go away because you sober up. It still lives here. I still have all the pathology living inside of me that lead me to drink. Yes, it is better. Much healing has happened here for me. Still, there is a lot of healing yet to come. Maybe it will never be completely over. Maybe I will always have days where the ghosts roam through me, hungry and longing. I don’t know, but I imagine this is so.
I do know that I can survive this. I have survived much worse. I do know that I can sit right in the seat of my own discomfort and still find a way to smile. I have learned that I do not have to be perfect or happy all the time to have value. I have value simply by the virtue of being born here in this human form. And maybe some of that value truly comes from weathering the storms of this messy imperfect life. The perfection of my imperfection.
I can let go of any ideal of what my life needs to look like. I can rest, I can surrender my need to control, I can eat bacon, I can let the ghosts howl hungry all night long….