Believe it or not, math has played a big part in my recovery from alcohol.
In the beginning, I counted days and months. And now? I count years. I also count my lucky stars that I quit drinking when I did. I count on others when I need to ask for help. I can be counted on, too. In early sobriety, I counted myself out from dinner parties, hosting people in my home and attending holiday get-togethers. I counted on my husband to be okay with my anti-socializing for as long as it would take (which was almost two years). I counted on reliable 12-step meetings, four days a week. The people I had relationships with could count on me to keep my word and follow through on things I promised to do.
I can count on myself for the first time in what feels like way too many years.
About two months into my sobriety, I started to go a little stir-crazy. With all of the extra time I had accumulated from not drinking, not trekking out to wineries to pick up my monthly wine club shipments and not entertaining like a freaking mad-woman, there were hours upon hours in my day to fill.
The idea of going back to college quickly became a mild obsession, a worthy goal. I couldn't do the paperwork fast enough. Ordering my transcripts and navigating the administrative red-tape had stopped me thrice before, but not this time. This time? I was a woman on a mission.
The math assessment test is where my anxiety flared up and got the best of me. The last time I'd taken algebra was in 1984 and I was a freshman in high school. Old fears and self-doubt were creeping in, but I stayed with myself and worked through the anxiety, eventually ending up as the last person in the room to finish the standardized test. I would be placed into two semesters of pre-algebra and one semester of college-level algebra. And you know what? These classes wouldn't even count towards my college credits. Nope. These classes would just be a necessary evil to advance to college-level statistics so that I could transfer to Sonoma State University at some point in the future. Wait a minute...statistics would be the reward for all of my hard work and perseverance? Well, that didn't seem quite fair.
It ended up that algebra had a lot to teach me and was a great metaphor for my sobriety. I could face problems knowing there were solutions, and better yet, I could solve them. When I looked at my homework, I had a feeling of satisfaction knowing that the harder I worked, the easier it would become (just like sobriety). I would have to use tools (a calculator) and ask for help from my professor (and sometimes my husband or god-daughter). Doing math gave me some humility and I felt satisfied when I finally figured things out on my own. It was black and white. There was (usually) only one answer and during my early days of sobriety I really needed the simple, straightforward lesson that math would afford me. My self-confidence slowly started to grow.
I've learned to sit with my discomfort at being the oldest person in the classroom, even older than most of my professors. Initially, when these feelings would come up, they reminded me of why I used to drink in the first place (social anxiety) and then reminded me of the awkward feelings I experienced when I first quit drinking. Anxiety is a big part of my story and I've worked hard to reduce it over the years. I've clung hard to the saying no feeling is ever final and I push through. I no longer care about my age. I'm grateful to turn another year older. I sit in the front row. I ask questions. I take the best notes. I spend hours on my homework in order to fully understand what it is I'm supposed to be learning.
This is what I've done in sobriety, too. When I think about having a drink or if I have a shitty day, I have to sit with that uncomfortable feeling until it passes. I allow myself to feel agitated and work through it. I usually just need to get myself to a meeting and speak the truth out loud to another person. I sit in the seat I've earned by drinking my way into the rooms. I listen and take notes. I spend hours on my 12-step work, writing, listening to recovery podcasts and seeking outside help when I need it. I have a sponsor. I do the work.
I woke up in a cold sweat at 2:26 a.m. this morning and thought I was drunk. My sheets were soaked with sweat and I was disoriented. I tried to grasp on to any residual dream-like memories, but they evaporated pretty quickly. Remembering back to when I was drinking, I would wake up between 2:20 - 2:30 a.m. almost every single night. So when I looked at the time on my phone this morning, my body responded in kind. It was a muscle memory and I became irritated and restless. I wanted to either get up and start working (which would not bode well for me and the rest of the day ahead) or figure out how to get back to sleep. Instead, I sat with it. I practiced the no feeling is ever final mantra and eventually fell back to sleep 45 minutes later.
Driving to school earlier today, I was going through math formulas in my head and talking to myself about inequalities, domains, ranges and functions (See? So many metaphors - inequalities between me and people can drink normally, my wide range of emotions, how to function now that I'm sober, what's my domain like now that I'm sober? spoiler: pretty lovely.) I wasn't anxious about the algebra test that awaited me. Nope, I felt ready. I found it fitting and timely that on my 1,000th day of continuous sobriety that I would be tested. I embraced the task at hand, not because I loved it, but because I knew I could do it.
I no longer count days or months connected to my sobriety, but 1,000 days seems like a worthy milestone and time to reflect a little. My Quit That! app tells me I've saved a whopping $20,000 during my time of abstinence from wine and liquor. Can you believe that? Ugh. So gross. With a fraction (see more math!) of the money I've saved not drinking, I indulge in self-care a few times a month with a facial, massage, new books or lunch out with girlfriends. I sign up for creative classes and yoga workshops. I don't need to justify my self-care, I just need to do it.
With 1,000 days under my belt, I know how to sit with my feelings of discomfort until I can move through them and try hard not to marinate in fear or self-loathing.
I seek outside help in the form of therapy, texting with women in recovery and 12-step meetings.
I don't let my mind stray too far away from what lights me up.
I honor and respect myself now.
I practice rigorous honestly in all of my affairs.
I go to bed early and wake up early.
I drink a boatload of tea.
I take scalding hot showers to wash off the day.
I'm learning to walk towards what I resist and examine it, turn it over and see what it has to teach me.
I'm not only a math student, I'm a student of life. Everyone and everything is my teacher. I know this to be true will all of my being and I let this principle guide me every single day.
I looked into my math requirement today and learned that if I stick to the plan it will be fulfilled as of May 2018. I know I can count on myself to finish this goal because now that I'm sober, I truly believe that I can do anything.
Only 158 days left to prove it!