As I watched a “pandemic-purchased” snail slurp its way up the side of our fish tank last night, I realized it was the first time in a while that I had had sustained attention on something without thinking once about work, or chaos, or my phone, or dinner, or dishes, or all the things. Instead, I was just 100% involved in trying to figure out what is what on the creature’s anatomy. Is that his/her mouth? Wait, are those the eyes? But, what is that part? And then I just got lost in watching this velvety, amorphous living thing and started imagining its tiny heart and its tiny brain and wait does it have a heart? I don’t know.
According to Google, it does. And not only that, once you discover snail anatomy, you will be where I was that night by the side of the tank: Utterly in awe. So tiny. So slippery. So fragile. So protected. So much purpose. So not dependent on wifi and gadgets. Hahaha. I walked away from the tank and took a deep breath. I felt calm and inspired, the combination of which made me feel a tinge of sleep-deprived joy. I need more snail watching in my life, I thought.
The truth is that I’ve come so far away from snail watching or anything idle. Sure, there’s a lot to be done in work and in life. But, how long did that really take me to stop and contemplate snail anatomy? Answer: Like 2 minutes. That is doable, it’s just that I have absolutely wrecked my brain and my attention span, which also means that my tolerance for dopamine surges is now at an unmanageable level. And I know I’m not alone. I watch my kids and my friends and even strangers. We are a restless bunch right now, yeah?
I know about restlessness. I am a person with a substance abuse disorder. That means that when I use something—anything—that changes the way I feel, my brain and my body say MORE. And, yes, there is a chemical component to this. But, for me—and this is solely my experience—there is also a spiritual component. I never knew that using any sort of substance was my misdirected way of trying to feel what I felt while watching snails that night: Connection. Connection to the mystery of life, which is also connection to the warm, outer space-like, expansive, possible, inspiring thing we all feel in our tender human moments.
I was told early in my recovery that connection is the opposite of addiction. I didn’t understand at the time, but now I do. Now I get that even in the darkest of my days when my shadow was running the show, I was chasing joy then too. I was trying to hold and contain the surge of the Feel Good, the tether to the pulse of something-anything-yes-that, and the release from pain and heartbreak. I’ll admit that there is ton more to addiction than this one component, from trauma to mental illness to genetics to environment, but this one part feels important to me right now, this December.
Why? Because I’m tired. I’m a slashed tire. I’m running out of air. We all are. I want to feel something that I know—as a person in recovery—takes work. It’s not a drink away like it used to be. It’s a long, still look at a snail slurping its way up the side of a fish tank. It’s a stopping of a wheel that is spinning so fast towards burnout and depletion and then a spinning back in the opposite direction towards health. I know how to do this. And I’m here for it. But it takes work. Don’t listen to anyone who says it’s just a spa day away. I mean, that might be a good supporting tool, but it’s just not the full scoop.
So, this is what December is going to be about for me: Connection. Doing the hard work of resisting the “attention economy” during a month that begs for me to indulge in it. Doing the hard work of being still. Doing the hard work of taking a breath. Doing the hard work of feeling actual feelings. Doing the hard work of listening to myself and even my shadow self. Doing the hard work of just listening to my kids and lending them some modeling of a different way to deal with restlessness. Doing the things that bring earned joy.
I don’t feel like doing it alone and, thankfully, this month, I get to be a student too. One of our own members, Viki Kelly-Quirk , will be guiding us through a structured swim in the lake? river? pond? of Connection. Here’s the outline:
Week 1 (Dec 7-Dec 13) Theme: What is connection?
Dig a little deeper into what connection is beyond just the obvious. Try not to get too “out there” and provide evidence-based research into the science of connection, etc.
Week 2 (Dec 14-Dec 20) Theme: Self-awareness
How do we know physically and emotionally that we are connected? How do we know we are not?
Week 3 (Dec 21-Dec 27) Theme: Inconvenient Connecting
How do we stay connected even when it is inconvenient, even when it would feel better to check out … like, say, for instance, during the holidaysssssssss?
Week 4 (Dec 28-Dec 31) Theme: Connecting for the Long Haul
How do we create a feasible, sustainable relationship to connecting? Instead of this becoming a resolution or a goal, how does this become a life style and a non-negotiable? What is the benefit?
Come hang with me. And the snails. The challenge started today and you’ve got a few more hours to register! Click the “Challenges” link in the navigation menu once logged in at mommastrong.com, and make sure you are signed up. If you need help or are unsure of your registration status, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.