I had an appointment with my eye doctor yesterday; routine maintenance, nothing serious (and the good news is I’m not blind, which would be a serious impediment as a photographer). The last few days, for whatever reason, my cravings have been knocking at my door – you know, that Big Bad Wolf who has been trying to huff and puff and blow my house down.
He’s been lurking.
I’ve been confident in the craftsmanship of my new brick house; the kind he can’t blow down anymore, held fast together with the glue of endless reasons why my sobriety is stronger than the feeble straw house of my addiction. But I wonder if he has a hidden key, stowed away so he can sneak in while I’m sleeping.
I guess it’s time to change the locks.
That’s the thing with things and stuff – they fall apart and need repair. They need paint jobs and oil changes, tune-ups and regularly scheduled maintenance. It’s the certainty of impermanence that things will fall apart: houses, cars, bodies, resilience.
Time refuses to pass without taking souvenirs along her way.
If only I could keep my cup of self-will as full as I was able to keep my wine glass all the time; a little dipstick to ensure my oil is topped up so things will keep running smoothly. So I don’t find myself stranded on the side of a road, smoke billowing and broke down. A gauge to measure my tire pressure so one doesn’t fall flat, pulling me from the road and into the ditch. An alarm that sounds when my gas is low so I know to pull over and fill up before I come to a sputtering stop.
And I do. We all do. We all have a messy box of memories and nightmares, goals and ideas that we can pour into our tanks to ensure we keep going. I have this blog and all my ramblings; myself turned inside out into words, spilling my secrets like snapshots I can flip through, as though they’re an album of all my successes and struggles. So I can always measure myself now again where I came from. All of my at one time “now’s” left on a shelf for a time when my new “now” needs a little jump start.
I’m not tempted, but I’m tired. I’m tired of boarding my doors against the Big Bad Wolf, of explaining over and again to myself the life-and-death importance of my sobriety like I’m explaining to a child why they need to chew their food.
So they don’t choke. So they can be nourished instead of injured. So they can enjoy their meal and make it to dessert.
Sobriety feels a lot like driving an old car that’s been parked for years; oxidized and rusty with all the gears seized up, badly needing maintenance and some highway miles to clear all the dust and cobwebs from the engine. A little wax, a little oil, a lot of rebuilding and cautious, gentle care and one day, it can drive like new again.
But it takes more than that.
It takes checking in. It takes topping up. It takes keeping your tires in balance and your levels in check. It takes routine maintenance to keep it fired up and flying down the highway like a beautifully restored piece of art. What was once written off as scrap on it’s way to the junkyard is now more impressive for it’s story of being restored.
Of being revived through the rust and resurrected through the rubble.
Self care is not self indulgence. Self care is self respect.
It’s in that regular self care, the routine maintenance, that can help ensure smooth sailing without ending up in a ditch or stuck on the side of the road. My uncle, dead of a heart attack in his 50’s, had two prized classic cars – a ’55 Chevy and a ’67 Corvette. Both win awards to this day at car shows that my Aunt still takes them to. If he had given himself the same attention he did those cars, he’d still be here today. He was also an alcoholic. Those cars were and continue to be cared for because they’re valuable and rare.
Just like sobriety. Just like ourselves.
I think I’ve been driving as though I’ll never run out of gas; as though the rebuilt machine of my now-sober-life is self-propelled, as if just getting it back on the road is enough. It isn’t. I need to keep my oil can close, a spare jug of fuel in the trunk, and a toolbox on the passenger seat. Keeping it washed and waxed only keeps it pretty on the outside.
It’s what’s under the hood that counts.
You can’t pour from an empty cup. Take care of yourself first.
Sometimes, that maintenance comes in the form of just resting and regrouping. Flipping through those old albums full of your “why’s” and “never agains”, like you’ve pulled over at a rest top to just be idle for awhile and let your engine cool off.
Sometimes, it’s body work, smoothing out all your dings and dents. I’ve been finding my body shop at yoga and by eating healthy, plus the occasional tan (because winter in Canada). I can’t expect everything under the hood to work well if the hood itself is full of holes, rusted away from years of neglect, letting all the rain pour in and flood my engine.
Sometimes, it’s checking my headlights, to ensure I can see where I’m headed; it’s often found in the pages of books and the stories of others well on their road of recovery.
And sometimes, it’s in the company: picking up strangers along the way so you aren’t driving the long road alone. It’s amazing what can be learned and shared by others on the same path as you – sometimes you are the one that picks up the hitchhiker, and sometimes you’re the one that needs the ride.
So here I am, ready for a little maintenance; needing to ensure that my tank is full so I can keep on keeping on, with a polaroid of the rusted mess I used to be taped to my rearview mirror.
I can’t pick anyone up if I’m driving on empty,
and it’s a long walk alone if I stall.
There’s no room in sobriety for complacency; it’s the nail that will puncture your tires, leaving you flat and deflated. There’s no room for assumptions that now that you have, you always will, or that the road ahead is straight as an arrow and not actually a dead end or a cul-de-sac.
Pull over when you need to, and pull out a map if you must, so you can keep sailing the sober highway full of pride for driving what took so much work to get back on the road.
And when you hear the inevitable rattles, or the road gets bumpy and rough, it’s often something that just a little routine maintenance can repair, and once again you’ll be hanging out the window like a dog drunk on all the new scents and sensations of finally flying free.