Thursday, October 15, 2009

By the Old Sea

I am in an old motor inn, sitting in what was once a dining room for the restaurant. Now it looks more like a lounge: big comfy looking sofas, old leather chairs, tattered rugs partially covering the wooden floor; murals of sea shells, sea stars, sea horses, and, of course, mermaids peek out from beneath the rugs.

Everywhere I look I see signs of the ocean: lifeboats and sails hanging from the ceiling, fake (or real) stuffed fish, mermaids in various poses. I can hear the people upstairs in the workshop cheering and murmuring. For a moment I think I hear the ocean, but it is only the ringing in my ears. The pulse of silence. I've opened a side door and a dark breeze cools me.

I came here to the Oregon coast twelve days ago to support my husband during his two-week intensive writing workshop. I figured while he was writing, I would write, too. When he was in his workshop, I would wander the beach. Unfortunately, I fell about three days into the trip and hurt my left arm and hand: I couldn't type or write. I was still able to wander the beach, but I had a lot of time on my hands without a lot to do.

This left me with time to ruminate. As longtime readers know, I struggle with depression. Rumination is the enemy of anyone with chronic depression or anxiety. Oh, the mind is a terrible thing to waste, and rumination wastes it better than anything else.

The room we are staying in is right next to 101, which is the highway that runs south and north along most of the West coast. Four lanes of traffic are right outside our room. Did you know that traffic noises get worse when it rains? And it has been raining. I am extremely sensitive to sound, especially those kinds of sounds, and I kept trying to distract myself from the traffic sounds and I tried to distract myself from any rumination.

Fortunately, it only started raining a few days ago. For most of the first week, I was able to spend quite a lot of time at the beach. I also cooked three meals a day for us in the motel room. This was a challenge and an adventure. But I wanted Mario to have good nourishing meals to help fuel his creativity. This took some time in the beginning, too, until I had a system.

For the most part, I was fine during the day. I got bored at night with nothing to do. I was too antsy to read; the television reception and the cable here is awful, and the internet is spotty. Sometimes I just felt stir crazy, so I went out and bought crap I shouldn't eat.

Rumination plus sugar are ingredients for an addictive stew.

OK, let's stop here: I have an addictive personality. I've always known this. When I was eleven, I tried cigarettes. I didn't have any trouble smoking them. I didn't get sick. I knew that I could keep going and I would never stop. So I stopped.

In my twenties, I began drinking when I was lonely, and I was hiding my drinking from everyone. I realized these were not good things and if I didn't watch out, I'd become an alcoholic. So I quit drinking. In my twenties, I also realized that sugar made me crazy. It affected me exactly like alcohol, only I craved it; I got hangovers and my personality changed. If I stayed off of sugar, I was healthier, happier, and more like myself. If I ate sugar, I was a different person: depressed, sometime suicidal, and generally miserable.

Yet off and on over the last twenty years, I have had times when I will eat sugar. I know it's poison for me, but sometimes I can't seem to resist. It feels compulsive. It feels addictive. It feels out of control. It also feels stupid and embarrassing.

All the literature I read says that sugar is addictive. I don't know if this is for everyone or just people like me. Some scientists believe alcohol addiction and sugar addiction are essentially the same thing: the same drug getting into the body in different ways.

So here I was on the Oregon coast out of my safety zone (my home and my habits) and I began eating stuff with sugar in it.

I think I've been building up to this. I had a tough summer. I've had a tough time since my mother died. The last three years have been soul searing for me.

Lots of people have had worse times, of course. I'm not saying "woe is me." It's just a fact: I've had a rough time. I've tried lots of things to get better yet I often feel as though I am sinking, sinking, falling away. This sinking, this depression, is often caused—or at the very least exacerbated—by eating sugar. I know this, yet sometimes I just want that five minutes of pleasure. No matter what the logical part of my brain says.

Anyway, while I was here at this old motel, alone for the most part, in pain from my fall, stressed out from the constant noise on the street and in my mind, I felt like I couldn't stand this compulsive behavior any more. Nothing and nobody had been able to help me. I felt like I was going to go crazy or explode or curl up into a ball if I didn't do something to stop the behavior or to stop feeling so miserable.

So you'll never guess what I did.

I went to an AA meeting.


Haven't had a drink in twenty-five years (except for a sip of beer a year or more ago), and I went to an AA meeting. First I called a friend who is an recovering alcoholic and told her how I was feeling. (I don't overeat; so it doesn't feel like an overeaters things.) After I talked with her, I drove through the storm to a church tucked up under the trees off a side street, far from the madding traffic. I couldn't believe I was doing this. They were going to throw me out. It was silly. I'd looked at the twelve steps before. I didn't believe in that stuff. I certainly didn't believe in God or turning my life over to anyone or anything.

But I walked under the Doug firs shaking in the wind and I went into the building. I sat along the wall amongst the other people. It was an open meeting, which meant I didn't have to be an alcoholic to attend. I figured I could sit there and not say a word.

I listened to what everyone had to say. (It's confidential, so I certainly won't repeat what anyone said.) When it came around to me, I said, "My name is Kim and I'll pass." Everyone said who or what they were when they spoke: an alcoholic, an addict, etc. More than once during the hour, I thought I was crazy to be there. What right did I have to hear these stories or be in this room? And yet, their stories weren't so different from my own. I thought here was one group of people who wouldn't turn me away, who might be able to understand the struggle not to be ruled by compulsion or addictive behavior. Here was a group of people who wouldn't judge me.

Near the end of the hour, the facilitator asked me if I wanted to say anything. I had no intention of saying a word. How could I? I didn't struggle with alcohol. I'd never done drugs. And yet, I began talking. I said, "I'm Kim and I don't know what the fuck I am." And then it all spilled out. I told these complete strangers about my struggle, told these complete strangers things I hadn't told my husband, family, or friends.

They listened. When I was finished, they thanked me.

I felt momentarily healed.

I often crave community; just as often, I can barely stand to be around people. I feel separate. Specially wounded.

Of course, I'm not. Many of us walk around with hidden wounds. They remain unhealed. Maybe, sometimes, we need to unwrap the bandages, let the air in, and allow healing to begin.


One day at a time.


Will Shetterly said...

I so hear you. I heard someone say being in your '50s is the hardest decade. Makes me wish I could get to being 60 fast.

kerrdelune said...

Oh Kim honey - I so wish I was there with you. Perhaps we need more old mermaid sanctuaries, places where we can get together and sing what Clarissa Estes called "bone songs", our own deep truths.

Monica M. said...

I often crave community; just as often, I can barely stand to be around people.

You are not alone. There are at least two of us.

Anonymous said...

"I often crave community; just as often, I can barely stand to be around people."

Me too, I guess there are at least three of us.

Thanks for sharing this with us.


kerrdelune said...

No, there are four of us!

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