"There is a great deal of pain in life and perhaps the only pain that can be avoided is the pain that comes from trying to avoid pain." -R.D. Laing
I turned thirty-one last month, in the middle of vacation from my job as an elementary school teacher. It was my birthday, I had wonderful friends and family surrounding me and I was leaving to Iceland the following morning with one of my very best friends. So...why wasn't I happy? Why was I plagued by this empty feeling in my gut?
I had a lot of time on Icelandic buses the following two and a half weeks to think about this. I reflected on my behaviors and lifestyle when I've felt the most "whole" and my behaviors and lifestyle when I'm feeling dangerously "empty" as I have been most of this last year. I noticed undeniable patterns. Stress in my life often results in my consumption of three mood-altering substances: alcohol, caffeine and sugar.
After hard breakups, stress at work, or a fight with a loved one, I often turn to food to make me feel better. For as long as I can remember, I've battled this ever descending spiral of salty-sweet-salty-sweet indulgences, each bite setting off intense cravings for more, and more, then even more. My relationship to alcohol is love-love. For the last decade, I have a beer when I'm happy, sad, angry, bored or stressed. I drink to celebrate or to de-stress and sometimes even to forget. I didn't drink coffee until I started teaching six years ago. The intense stress and little sleep I've experienced while teaching at a high needs school quickly led to a severe caffeine addiction. I drink coffee EVERY day during the school year, up to 3-4 cups a day during more stressful times.
I literally wear my stress and emotions on my body because of my reliance on these substances. My weight fluctuates, I break out on my face and body, I don't have energy, and my moods maintain at a much lower baseline than normal. My coping mechanisms are my "life crutches" and my defense system that allows me to avoid fully feeling and experiencing all the stress, pain and uncomfortable parts of life. However, avoidance takes a lot of work. And a lot of continued consumption. It's time to stop the cycles, to begin living life real and raw...life without crutches.
My challenge begins soon: one full year with no alcohol, no caffeine and no sugar. I feel excited and apprehensive, sensing that my life could change in amazing ways in those 365 days. I'm nervous I won't be strong enough to succeed, that the dependence I've built on these substances will be too strong for me to overcome. I'm petrified to strip away the walls that stand between me and a lot of pain and fear that I've been holding at bay with my "stress trifecta". What will happen when I have to face it for real?
I guess that's what this is about. After taking away my crutches and falling to the ground, seeing if I have it in me to get up and continue to walk.