April was a bitch, and so was I. For much of it I felt as if I was in a communication black hole and this was intensely distressing. A glimpse into the last few weeks:
- Text messages and emails from friends were never received
- Posts on professional and personal Facebook pages vanished without a trace
- I received some surprisingly harsh criticism of my book – was called cruel and inhumane – and could honestly not understand why
- I anticipated giving a much-dreaded talk to an audience of my peers, for which there were many unknowns
- We had house guests for 3 weeks, all of whom spoke a language I’m studying but in which I am not fluent, meaning it was never 100% clear if we were understanding one another
- A friend with whom I was developing a workshop severed our relationship with nary an explanation, just a pseudo-spiritual quip
At the same time, wonderful things happened:
- Those same house guests were people I love deeply and felt lucky to spend time with; I enjoyed sharing many quintessential New York and American experiences with them
- I began working with a wonderful business coach and started to take the next steps in building my business, one of which is getting comfortable with public speaking (oh, and the talk went fine)
- Several clients experienced important breakthroughs in their work with me
- I received an email from someone who had read Drinking to Distraction and was helped by it
- A woman I met at another nutrition talk I gave decided to stop drinking as the result of a conversation we had (and now has several weeks sober!)
- My parents spent an enviable 10 days in Paris and had the time of their lives
- I spent a weekend with my beautiful sister and nieces, who just adopted a 10-year-old miniature poodle
- I made a wonderful new friend of the no-BS variety
- A friend with whom I was developing a workshop severed our relationship with nary an explanation, just a pseudo-spiritual quip (think I dodged a bullet here)
Though my formal meditation practice waned during the month of April – all of the “not knowing” drove me away from my practice rather than toward it – I was intensely aware of the ups and downs as they occurred. But I felt a greater allegiance to the stressful aspects of that time – the ways in which I, ME, MYSELF was suffering. I experienced a form of anxiety that was deeply physical – feet feeling as if they weren’t touching the ground, stomach in knots, zero appetite (beyond rare for me), a light-headedness that at times felt as if I might just lose it altogether.
Uncertainty is something I continue to grapple with. Intellectually, I get the concept – I might even be able to speak on the topic with an air of confidence and comprehension. But the actual experience of uncertainty – not being sure if someone has understood me, not knowing whether I did something to bring about a negative outcome, not having exclusive access to the cocoon in which I hide – can be distressing to the degree of questioning my sanity.
I heard myself say more times than I’d like to admit (using both my inside voice and my outside voice), “I could really go for a drink right now.” The degree of discomfort uncertainty provoked created a deep desire to obliterate myself and completely disconnect. One morning I even found myself chugging a kombucha (something I already had mixed feelings about due to it’s 0.5% alcohol content) wishing it were a fizzy cocktail.
I went to a handful of AA meetings and couldn’t stop crying. I felt drawn in by the copious one-liners and promises of peace. I have always left the door to “the rooms” open. Though it has not been part of my recovery so far, as I approach 7 years, I am more than willing to incorporate the fellowship if that is what I need to maintain my sobriety.
But while I feel desperate for that level of certainty, I’m also suspicious. I wonder if the solution is finding more certainty or becoming better at tolerating the uncertainty. This is a question for anyone who regularly attends meetings, particularly those who have also used meditation to support their recovery.
As I have settled back into my practice, I have also been rereading some of my favorite dharma books. Not surprisingly Pema Chodron’s Comfortable with Uncertainty was my first stop. On turning arrows into flowers, she writes:
Devaputra mara involves seeking pleasure. Any obstacle we encounter has the power to pop the bubble of reality that we have come to regard as secure and certain. When we’re threatened that way, we can’t stand to feel the edginess, the anxiety, the heat of anger rising, the bitter taste of resentment. Therefore, we reach for whatever we think will blot it out. We try to grasp something pleasant. The way to turn this arrow into a flower is to open our hearts and look at how we try to escape. We can use the pleasure-seeking as an opportunity to observe what we do in the face of pain.
Where I go from here I don’t know yet…cue the uncertainty-related anxiety. Do I begin to incorporate the AA fellowship into my sobriety? To try to find like-minded others on that ill-defined path of recovery, meditation, and meetings? Trust that there is so much more to the program than the catchy phrases and free coffee?
Will the pain of not knowing drive me to wake up or go to sleep?
This is so beautiful:
But the actual experience of uncertainty – not being sure if someone has understood me, not knowing whether I did something to bring about a negative outcome, not having exclusive access to the cocoon in which I hide – can be distressing to the degree of questioning my sanity.
I have had a very similar April to you and I am grateful that you have put all my messy feelings into words. Thank you:)
Congratulations on 7 years. Wow! Huge milestone. Sending you lots of love and comfort. I think that the answer lies not in certainty but in (to steal from Rilke) “living into the questions.” Tolerating uncertainty. Getting comfortable with discomfort.
Thank you Pamela, for your kind words and for sending love and comfort! You are so right about the path. It’s counterintuitive at best, but the only way to go (if we are to be honest with ourselves). All my best! ~Jenna
Jenna I love reading your blog, SO much. April was the pits, huh? So it wasn’t just me? I had a terrible April.
I love an alcoholic.The pain of the uncertainty of my life is often more than I can bear. The anxiety it creates in me is of a variety that debilitates my most cherished notions of what I can accomplish. And I question my sanity numerous times over. So to hear your struggle with this is very healing and helpful for me.
I’ve joined Al-Anon to get me through this time of my loved one’s drinking and while it’s a predictable program, with timless readings and encouraging members, it is dropping me right into the center of uncertainty, the more I learn what it really means to accept the unmanageability of my life.
For me, there’s nothing soothing about the catchy slogans: it’s a temporary “oh whew” and then a free-fall into the uncertainty again. “One Day At a Time” – how about one minute at a time? “Let Go and Let God” – what if I can’t?
Tolerating uncertainty and getting comfortable with being uncomfortable are brought to a whole new level when it’s relationship based. The fabric of my existence feels threatened. And yet – just like you so poignantly outlined – there are so many *good* things that can come when so much else is falling apart all around us, and so much hurts. “It feels like death,” writes Richard Rohr. Yes, it not only feels like death, it IS death…a small one on the way to the bigger one.
i suppose you could say that you and I and everyone else who is sitting around suffering (& then not suffering) with the reality of our lives (both painful and profound) are getting the point of being here. Good for us. May we have the exact support and courage we need, as we do battle.
(i’ve chugged kombucha too!! :)
Thanks so much for this sweet comment. I’m glad I’m not the only one chugging kombucha or having a crappy April! Amazing what a relief it can be to know that someone else feels the same way I do. That’s part of why I’ve kept going to meetings. I still bristle at some of the shared language but perhaps it will grow on me. Someone pointed out that perhaps those sayings capture in just a few words something you’d otherwise need an afternoon and three cups of coffee to explain. In that way, I might even see the bright side of what I otherwise find a bit tiresome! Nevertheless, the uncertainty continues to tug at my sense of security. I have learned through some of the Buddhist teachings I can only begin to understand, the most important thing is how I relate to the uncertainty. Things have a way of resolving themselves (or not), but in the meanwhile I can choose how I respond to them, right? We all have this choice. Anyway, I so appreciate your reaching out.
Thanks for your inspirational writing. I wanted to send you this link to a recovery blog I am writing; it is a set of daily meditations based on inspirational movie quotes.
Thanks for letting me be of service.
Recovery on Film: http://recoveryonfilm.blogspot.com/
I really enjoy your blog and your writings. I hope april wasnt the last entry. You have helped me so much