1.

Day 15.

That’s where I’m sitting this morning, here in The Writing Room. Today’s mission — one given to me my new therapist — is to spend the next few weeks working through the gremlins running through my head. The big one — the one she identified about twenty minutes into our first session — was my (lack of) relationship with vulnerability.

Three weeks ago had she mentioned this to me, I’d have  pushed back against her. But three weeks is a long time, and two events had occurred in that timespan. The first is that I’d just returned to my sobriety after several months out after 8 1/2 years of sobriety, and so I’ve lost a great deal of my ability to say “no” to the people who are trying to help me. The second is that several people whom I love had — independently of each other — mentioned my inability to let people in as “maybe an issue I should deal with.”

And so here I am sitting in The Writing Room as I do each day, reading the homework I’ve been given, and pulling my thoughts together on the page (because that’s where I think best).

2.

My work began with this assignment: read Dr. Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Leada research book in which Brown examined how shame and fear of vulnerability impact the ways in which we interact with each other and how we interact with ourselves.

Two themes resonated deeply, and they were ideas that I carried with me when my sobriety was at my strongest.

The first is that we have to give ourselves the space to make mistakes without descending into angst-ridden fear at every misstep. The second is that we need to give ourselves the permission to create spaces where we can use our mistakes and inability to solve every problem as a way to build connections with other people.

I won’t summarize the book, but you can get the gist of it in her brilliant TEDTalk.

(One instructive story she did tell in the book is how she came to study — and understand — men, a group she initially didn’t examine because of a cultural bias. Thankfully she did begin to study us!)

3.

The last few weeks have been — as expected — a rollercoaster of emotions. There are moments in which I feel attuned to the world, and there are moments in which I’ve completely fallen apart for no reason other than I can’t quite hold back whatever it is that’s inside that’s trying to get out.

Most of the worst of those moments have come when I’ve been alone, but not all of them.

The first Saturday of my sobriety, I was lifting at Broad Ripple Fit Club like I do each week. I wasn’t ready to talk with anyone yet, but I needed to keep my body in motion. And so I slapped on my headphones and began my clean & jerk workout. The heavier the weights got, the more I found myself unable to control my emotions. With each increased weight increment, I began to lose control of both my emotions and my body.  A slight tremble in my hands at first, then a more pronounced shaking, and finally a full body quake that made it difficult for me to sit still.

But I continued to lift because I didn’t know what else to do. The idea of stopping was…unthinkable. The more my body shook, the angrier I got. And the angrier I got, the more I wanted to lift.

I wouldn’t stop. I didn’t know how to stop.

I reached the apex of my workout, which called for me to lift a weight that I’d only lifted a few times. Shaking, I pulled the weight off the floor and caught it in the clean. Rising up from the squat, I stood the weight up preparing to jerk it. Three times I caught and stood up the weight, and all three times I miss the jerk, the bar slamming down at my feet as I collapsed back into my chair.

The third time, I broke. Tears streamed down. I buried my head in my hands for a few seconds. Then I stood up, body violently shaking, and walked into the locker room where I sat in the corner, lost in the emotions.

I sat in the corner for ten minutes until the tears and the quakes subsided. And then I went back out on the platform, and continued to lift. Because I don’t know how to stop.

4.

The only time I feel normal right now is when I’m sitting in my meetings or sitting in The Writing Room. The rest of the days feel “itchy,” which is the best way I can describe it.

If you ever speak with an addict in recovery, ask them about “the elevator.” The metaphor is simple: When we used, we were on an elevator that was going down. And the longer we used, the faster it went. Some people ride it until it smashes into the ground. The lucky ones find a way off.

But getting off the elevator isn’t the fix. That’s just the first step because there’s not an elevator that goes back up. Just stairs. A very long, very steep, set of stairs that only goes up. And those stairs sit right next to the elevator.

Recovering is making the choice, every day, between the long, slow climb back or the easy ride down.

But here’s the real conundrum for people like me: The truth is that you only start making — and keep making — that long, slow climb if you have people around you who help you along the way. And you only have the people around to help if you are open to that help.

Which, of course, is the worst news someone like me can hear.

Until I stopped to think about the times I felt most normal in the past few weeks: when I was sharing with other men in the meetings, and when I was working through my own emotions on the page.

So today I’m doing the homework. And today I again decided to make my way back up the long, steep stairs.

And I’m working to be okay with my mistakes, to know that I am not entirely defined by the worst or best of my moments, to ask for help when I need it, and to sit down for a moment when I need to stop.

*The featured image, “Staircase,” was taken by Colin Tsoi and published under the Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0) Creative Commons License.

  • k8helwig

    Love Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly and her work on vulnerability. So so good. And esp poignant for men I think too. I had shared her Ted Talk with a certain someone too awhile back. Thinking of you every day. Xo

  • My therapist was adamant that I read her work before our next session. And so I did. Missing your face, and I have a new thing to come see too!