Patience is something I have always struggled with. When I want something, I want it now. I have always been that way. I wanted to fast forward through childhood and be a teenager. Once I was a teenager, I could not wait to get to college. I spent a great deal of my life anxiously awaiting the next great thing and completely ignoring the beauty of my present life.
Motherhood made me even less patient. When pregnant, I wanted my girls born. Once they were born, I wanted them potty-trained. I wanted all of the stages to move through in quick order: learn to walk, get self dressed, start school.
Drinking helped ease some of my anxiety of wanting everything to “get on with it.” And it also helped time pass more quickly. (Ever notice how you could lose a whole evening or day or weekend to the slow routine of open, drink, repeat?)
So when I decided to quit drinking, my impatience became very pronounced. I wanted Hour One to move to Day One and from there I wanted Day 30, 90, 180, and the coveted Day 365 to GET HERE NOW. While being alcohol-free helped some aspects of my anxiety, this living for the future felt almost overwhelming at times. As I sat in my therapist’s office and began talking through this, I remember telling him, “I just wish I could be more patient!” He asked what I meant by being patient.
I said, “Oh you know, like Zen. I just wish I could breathe deeply and smile softly and things didn’t get under my skin the way they do.”
“That’s not patience,” he said.
I was confused. Yes it was, right? When I thought of patient people, I thought of preschool teachers and yoga instructors. The unflappable.
“What do you mean?” I asked him.
“That’s just some people’s personalities. Patience is nothing more than the ability to endure suffering. So if you are making it through this suffering, which so much of early sobriety is suffering, then you’re patient. I think what you want is some better strategies to help you feel calm and present, but I think you are incredibly patient.”
Well la-de-dah for me! Here was a trained professional telling me I was mastering a virtue I thought was close to unattainable for me.
“I do think you can find greater joy in your patience through some techniques, though. Because it doesn’t sound like you ENJOY being patient all that much. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have it.”
He told me that drinking helped me be present because it quieted all the thoughts in my head that were rehashing the past and anticipating the future. Now that my “medicine” was gone, I needed to work on rewiring my brain through a practice of mindfulness.
In my 2nd year sober, I still consider myself a work in progress when it comes to enjoying the suffering of life. Parenting an almost 12-year-old pushes me right to the brink most days. But many of the skills I learned as I powered through those early AF days: breathing, taking a hot shower, having an escape plan, have proven to be life-long coping mechanisms for dealing with suffering – whether it be drinking-related or just life-related.
So today I will focus on patience. Which for me, means creating space between my trigger and my reaction. It might be seeing the ads for a new artisanal beer (which was always my favorite), or it might be hearing, “oh my God, Mom, can you just CHILL?” (which makes my blood boil). But as I continue to work on lengthening my fuse, I am learning that I have time between that spark and the explosion to think through how I want to proceed.
It might not be easy, but every time we are able to create that space, we are one step closer to living a life over which we have more control.
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