On October 6th, I decided to enter into a challenge I saw floating around on my Facebook newsfeed sponsored by CBS called “14 Days on the Wagon.”
The premise of the challenge was fairly simple: take 14 days and abstain from alcohol and other addictions (i.e. nicotine, drugs, etc.). I actually wish this would’ve gotten a bit more traction and hoopla. Perhaps it did, and my social media just wasn’t linked into it, but never mind that. I did it, and I succeeded. Sort of.
I almost feel like a bit of a cheat because on the very first day of the challenge, I was deathly ill. As it turns out, I had/have (hopefully it’s out of my system) pneumonia thus making it incredibly easy to abstain from alcohol or nicotine use for the first week. The thought of either made both my stomach and my infected lungs tighten and wretch (if lungs could wretch that is).
But here I am, fourteen days later, and I have some thoughts.
It’s curious because as I sat down to write this piece, I had a clear vision in mind for how I felt throughout most of today, the last day of the challenge. But then, quite randomly mind you as I was searching for the link to post in the first paragraph, I happened upon Gabrielle Bernstein’s article and video for the challenge. Her words have forced me to take pause and re-evaluate everything I’ve felt about quitting, addiction, and my own struggles to live a healthier lifestyle.
She said this:
“ Sobriety is a surrender, a release. It’s not something that can be white knuckled. It’s not something that can be done because we are forcing ourselves to do it. In that forceful nature we will always fall back.”
And, quoting A Course in Miracles:
“The presence of fear is a sure sign that you’re relying on your own strength.”
I was taken aback when I read that. I’ve always felt the opposite way. I thought strength was precisely what I needed to be better. Will power. The strength to make good choices. The wherewithal to choose the gym over happy hour. These are the things I have always felt I lacked, and in that lacking, shaped an image of my own weakness. Every failure to do better, to drink less, to not smoke, has always boiled down, in my mind at least, to some innate flaw I must be carrying. Simply put – I’m not strong enough. There is something both terrifying and hopeless in feeling this way, and the “falling back” that Gabby speaks about has become my new normal.
I want to say, “that is until now,” but the truth is, I haven’t surrendered. Not yet.
Here is what I wrote earlier today about my feelings on finishing the fourteen days while a moment of inspiration hit me at work:
“…And yet there’s something about this new me that doesn’t quite fit. It’s almost as if I have emerged from an extreme makeover, going from 0-60 in fourteen days, shaped by the hands of Gabby Bernstein and Kimberly Snyder, two women I completely admire by the way. I look and feel better than I did two weeks ago. Things ARE better, but they also feel slightly false, as if this lifestyle is something I’m supposed to want because beautiful, happy, successful people told me so. I feel like an imposter, someone who merely pretends to be well. It is this identity crisis that worries me most. It is the reason these things never “stick” with me.
I know how to be a mess. I can navigate that world with some level of functionality. I understand how to suffer in that mode. I understand what to do with my joy. When the booze and the smokes are tossed away, I am suddenly naked and exposed. There are no crutches anymore. Every emotion is raw, different, and too clear for my comfort. Dealing with life’s inevitable swings becomes a skill I have to rework and relearn. It is a frightening endeavor.
I’ve always attempted to emulate and define my wellness based on today’s health gurus, a la Kimberly Snyder, Deepak Chopra, Gabby Bernstein, etc. – essentially Oprah’s entire “Soul Sunday” line up. I read their books, I do their guided meditations, I cook their food, and I never seem to stay better. I’ve tried to read A Course in Miracles and it gives me a headache. I make dishes from Kimberly’s books, but I don’t want to eat like that 24-7, and I don’t really give a shit if there are parabens in my shampoo. I need a vision for what wellness looks like for me, because when I try to become who these people are, I fail, or I feel unnatural, fake. There’s no joy in it.”
As you can see, these fourteen days have been a bit of a mixed bag. I feel more stable and balanced, but I also know that my brain battles with going back to old habits several times per day, flirting with the idea that I can somehow control them better and have the best of both worlds.
For what it’s worth, I can say that I am ready to explore this notion of surrender. To Gabby’s earlier point, I have been white knuckling every attempt to be a better “me” and that hasn’t worked. I’m also moving away from idealizing people who’ve overcome their addictions/hang-ups/what-have-you and beating myself up over not being able to replicate their transformations. Their journey is different from mine. Gabby Bernstein woke up one day and heard a voice tell her that she’d have everything she dreamed about if she got sober and from that day on didn’t touch a drop or snort of anything. That’s awesome for her, but maybe I don’t have some revolutionary light bulb moment where I am changed overnight. Maybe I’m downplaying how hard it was for her to do that. Maybe I just want it to be easy. Maybe I just want to feel like I’m not trying to change constantly.
For now, I am considering going for fourteen more days to sort some of these questions out and to see what wellness will look like for me. There is a vision for it that I’ve been slowly piecing together, one that I need to make uniquely my own, as I believe we all should try to do. And maybe that vision constantly shifts and changes. Maybe we do too. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Life is a journey, not a destination.”
Here’s to whatever comes next.