This Is What We've Been Training For
I was texting with a single-mom friend yesterday, who told me she has had a big bowl of ice cream every day since she and her three girls started social isolation.
“I gave up sweets for Lent,” I wrote back. “It’s literally saving my butt.”
“Isn’t Lent postponed?” she quipped back.
Lent, rather, is in full-force. I saw this on Facebook last night and cracked up about it.
In all seriousness, I’m very grateful I was already in self-denial and discipline mode when my kids’ schools shut down and we went into social isolation mode. Not eating all these sugary goodies is better for my bootie and the rest of my body, but more importantly it keeps me out of a shame cycle in which I use something not good for me to make me feel better and then end up feeling worse. Being sequestered with my kids in gloomy weather, surrounded by anxiety-provoking news and with a cleared calendar is a perfect recipe to make this accomplish-aholic and extreme extrovert dive into the dark chocolate with abandon.
What I’m even more grateful for at the moment is that it will be two years this May since I have had an alcoholic beverage. I admit, I have taken a sip of my husband’s boutique-brewery’s Hefeweizen a couple of times, which, if I were in AA would constitute breaking sobriety. But one sip verses a daily drink means I don’t drink as a coping mechanism anymore. I don’t drink for the lift at five o’clock, or to settle anxiety, or to take the edge off my irritation when my kids get loud in the house, or to make me nicer when my husband gets home from work. All of which I used to do.
My original reason to stop drinking was this realization: After teaching my daughters that God loves them, the most important thing I can arm them with in this world is the ability to process their “negative” feelings. And processing mine with Pinot Grigio was bad modeling.
Sobriety has forced me into a new kind of spiritual formation: the ability to feel ALL my feelings and neither squash nor react to them immediately. Instead, I can process them. I’ve found healthy ways to mourn and be encouraged; moved away highs of conflict and chaos; learned how to sit still, move slowly, and do repetitive and sometimes boring tasks like a meditation; practice gratitude for small pleasures; and pray as a source of power. And as a writer on friendship, it’s important to note that I’ve learned who to call when I need to lose my crap completely so I can receive comfort, counseling, and accountability. Prayer falls into this category as well, as my empathetic High Priest (Hebrews 4:15) is totally in tune with my weaknesses.
So, I’m feeling equipped for what these next weeks are asking of me. All along, this is what I’ve been training for! And friends, I feel pretty freaking strong! Through the grace of God and years of training, I have the skills I need to be what I really want to be for my family: a safe, warm, sober anchor.
Tomorrow I’m teaching a Facebook Live lesson from my upcoming video series, the filming of which was halted while 5/8 of the way through. The lesson is on encouraging and holding accountable other believers to act as “children of the day” as Paul calls us. But the text I chose months ago seems particularly relevant today.
You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. 1 Thessalonians 5:4-8
The passage refers specifically to remain alert for the day when Christ comes back to earth and some tough stuff might go down. But the principles of preparedness are true for any crisis or day of trouble: Be alert, awake, sober, faithful, loving and hopeful. These are the character qualities/behaviors/tools necessary to weather crisis well. And for me, I embody them better when I’m literally sober and not hopped up on sugar.
I’ve seen lots on social media – particularly from moms – about having lots of wine in the shopping cart to help you get through. And if that’s what’s working for you, no shame or condemnation from me. Truly. This might not be the moment that you go cold turkey from Chardonnay and cheesecake. And I'm all for letting some things go and doing something with abandon -- or at least something completely silly. I taught half my last Bible study online wearing my wedding veil, and idea I got from "Friends."
But if you’re interested in trying sobriety for a season, sober social isolation isn’t such a bad idea. There's no pressure to drink from peers! Almost everyone is trying to surrender to a slower pace and practice gratitude. This season is ripe for putting down “mommy’s sippy cup” and learning some new coping skills.
In case you’re interested, I've made a list of some of my healthy coping mechanisms when I want to reach for a drink or a doughnut. Honestly, they’re pretty obvious! But I’m writing them down anyway. Even if you aren’t interested in total sobriety, these are still good, simple exercises to keep us from reaching for sugar, alcohol, or social media when something else might work better.
I’ll sign off will love to you and final words of encouragement, my dearests. Your practices might be different than mine, but this is the moment you been training for. Or one of the moments at least. In crisis we often become the best version of the selves God made – feeling our real feelings but choosing to act on our highest instincts. Stand strong for one another, lean on God, and if you need to lose your crap completely, give me a call.
A sober anxiety-combatting list…
1. Go outside. When I want to stuff my face with cookies or pour a glass of wine or scroll AGAIN on Instagram, instead, I go to my patio and fill my bird feeders, water my plants, trim dead blooms from my flowers and make a bouquet of the flourishing ones to brighten up my house.
2. Call or text a good friend. Tell them how you really feel. Listen to how they really feel. Find something to be grateful for together.
3. Get a little exercise. A walk, or three sets of 21’s with light weights, or Downward Dog for two minutes. Just something to connect you with your body and help you breathe.
4. Listen to music. Music helps me connect to my feelings like nothing else. And not just worship music – in fact usually notworship music. I checked with Jesus, he’s okay with this. I listen to something beautiful and melancholy when I need to connect with my humanity or need a good cry. I love Mary Chapin Carpenter, Ryan Adams, Bon Iver, Joni Mitchell, War on Drugs, Lord Heron, The Dixie Chicks (Seriously, “Taking the Long Way Around” is a great album if you need to get your angst out). Or I listen to something cheerful and up-tempo: Van Morrison, Elton John, Dione Warwick (excellent for house cleaning), ABBA. For worship, I’m old school in my CD collection. I have Travis Cotrel, Amy Grant and Caedman’s Call.
5. Tidy a corner of your house and make it pretty. Square up the pillows on the couch. Line up the mugs in the cabinet. Arrange a centerpiece on the kitchen table. Light a candle to remind you of the presence of God. Simple pleasures like this promote gratitude.
6. Sew something. I realize this won’t work for most of you. But creativity/productivity is a great mood lifter. Find a non-essential, fun task to complete.
7. Make tea. The ritual of making it, drinking it, sitting with it helps me slow down.
8. Read a chapter in an actual book. So much more soul-sustaining than watching an episode of “Friends.”
9. Watch an episode of “Friends.” When I was struggling with depression 12 years ago, my psychologist told me to watch things that made me laugh to increase serotonin. It works. Any sitcom or standup comedian you like can be substituted. I am currently obsessed with John Mulaney, Seth Meyers “Lobby Baby,” and Tom Papa “You’re Doing Great” Netflix specials.
10. Hug someone. Give someone a back rub or scratch. If you have kids, they are usually down for this. If you have a spouse, hopefully they are. If neither, hopefully you have a dog. And if none of the above, virtual hugs from me, my friend.