Sadness and loneliness: things we think we must fix, things we believe we should not be.
I had a sad and lonely day yesterday. Not because I have been alone too much, or because I am unloved or have a bad life. No big, sad things have happened to me lately—I am one of the lucky ones. Good things are happening for me amid of all this 2020 chaos.
But I started feeling the weight of all that is going on. All that we are missing in this Christmas of COVID-19. All that I am missing because choices have consequences.
I don’t think the story of why I was feeling this way is the important part. We all have off days. This story is about how I handled it.
But first, a look at how it would have gone two years ago when I was still drinking. On a Sunday morning at home, I would have had a slight headache from last night’s wine. I would have been sluggishly sipping my coffee, probably lamenting that extra glass or two of wine that I never needed, but always had.
Sadness and loneliness would be sparked by a message of canceled plans—by missing someone. But those feelings would be fleeting. I would have turned them to anger, which was always my emotion of choice. Anger is so much easier to feel than sadness—it feels stronger and more in control. And then, as much as I would have tried to be mad, sadness would creep back through, making me vulnerable to other feelings I normally ran from. Feelings about someone I missed, and how my life wasn’t the same without him. Wondering why I had bothered putting up a Christmas tree if I did not have him here to decorate it with or to have hot chocolate with by the lights. Is it even worth having a tree if there is no one to open presents under it Christmas morning?
By that point, all of the uncomfortable emotions would be rolling in. Then, the question would become how to hide from them.
A sad Sunday morning would have morphed into forcing a “Sunday Funday,” fueled by friends and champagne. I always had people who were willing to help me avoid feelings. They weren’t aware of this—I’m not sure I was aware of it either.
They were just there to join in the fun: a mimosa party next to the Christmas lights, a walk to other friends’ houses, and then finishing sometime in the evening at one of our favorite bars in town. Everyone laughing. Drunk. And me, still feeling sad and lonely, but now sad, lonely, and drunk—trying not to feel anything, fake-smiling. Eventually crawling into bed. Passing out. Numb.
It would be so successful day of distraction. But was it a success? Or was it a waste?
Yes. A waste of a day. A waste of money. A waste of good friendships. A waste of connection.
So, that would have been two years ago. But what about now?
I have been sober for a year. Three hundred seventy-nine days, to be exact. Over a year of learning to face my feelings. A year of nowhere to run. A year of one hundred percent me.
Drinking did not change me. It just made me less of me. Less bright, less quick-witted, less present.
Now, I am so much. My body and mind actually buzz from excitement and ideas, not wine. Sometimes, I feel like I shine too brightly and that I should dim a bit, because I don’t want to be too much for people. I have dimmed myself for so long. Now, because I am fully present, I feel it all. The insecurities, the sadness, and the uncertainties. But also the joy, the connection, and the love is so big.
I cannot believe I spent 15 years hiding from this.
So yesterday, when I was lonely and sad, what did sober, present me do?
I felt it.
I felt it all.
I cried. I sat with the pain in my chest—the very pain that I’d done so much running from. I felt the consequences of my choices, which now make me sad. I let myself feel lonely, knowing that just because I felt lonely in that moment, I am not a lonely person. I was able to feel, to acknowledge those feelings, and I also understood that sad feelings pass. They do not define me. I felt the sadness of missing someone but knew I was not a sad person.
I called to let him know I love him and miss him—it seems like such a simple solution, but before, I was afraid to say I love you. By thinking of how much I miss him, I got to remember all the Christmases we spent together. All the fun traditions we created. My sadness reminded me to love him bigger.
I did not seek out distractions. I did not numb. I did not run.
Sobriety is magic. It has given me so many gifts. Many of these gifts I already had, but it took clarity to find them again. Mostly it is the gift of being a whole person. Happy and sad sometimes. Ecstatic and bored. Proud and humble. Patient and peeved. Grateful and selfish. Joyful and discouraged. All these feelings are the gifts of sobriety. The gifts of living a whole life.
I don’t have to fix sadness. I don’t have to not be lonely. I just have to be. To feel. Feeling is a gift.