Cornered – physical boundaries and confrontational conversation styles.

One of the worst things you can do is make someone feel threatened when you talk with them. It is important to be mindful of the physical space between you and another person. A safe rule is to put out your arm, fingers extended, at a 90 degree angle away from your body. Don’t stand any closer than that to a person you don’t know unless they have given you permission. If you want to make them feel even more comfortable, stand even further away.

Just because you work with someone doesn’t mean you have permission. The boundaries are even more important if you are a manager, or of the opposite gender. Physical space is the same as people’s homes. In the same way that you wouldn’t invite yourself over to someone’s home you don’t know, you shouldn’t stand right next to someone you don’t know.

Cornering is another thing to think about. You may not be close to them, but they may not be able to leave. Your conversation will go much more smoothly if you pay attention to their physical comfort. If you are mindful of their physical comfort, they will mentally feel more comfortable as well. A simple conversation can become a confrontation if someone feels physically threatened.

Consider whether they are literally up against the wall. Are they able to physically back away from where you are when you’re having a conversation? Even if they’re not up against the wall are you blocking their method of escape? They may not want to escape but if you physically block them then they will feel like they need too. If you are essentially trapping them in a room it is very threatening.

If you need to talk to a person who is sitting in a chair at a desk, be mindful of cornering them there. They are blocked on their front and back, and depending on the chair they are blocked on their sides as well. If you are within an arm’s length of them at the same time, you’ve just doubled their discomfort. If they have to look up into a light to talk to you, and at an angle, you’ve achieved the trifecta of terrible communication styles.

Having a conversation while standing up is also a bad idea. It will make the conversation more confrontational. Sit down if at all possible, and make sure you are both at eye level. Having a table between you can make the other person feel more comfortable. Be mindful though that it might establish a sense of hierarchy. If you are a manager and the conversation is at your desk, it will not be an equal conversation.

Also it is important for you to consider your body posture. Is it open or closed? Do you have your arms crossed in front of you? Do you have your legs crossed? Are you looking away from them? All of these are “closed” body postures and indicate to the listener that you aren’t listening to them. Do the opposite to let them know you are fully present.

If you want them to listen to you, then you have to make it look like you are listening to them by altering your body posture. But you have to get some sort of middle ground. It is important not to fling your arms around a lot. It is important not to open your legs up wide and scoot your pelvis towards them. Both of those are very aggressive moves. They are too open. Look for a balance and remain neutral, not too forward, not too far back.

Sobriety sucks

I hate being sober. The lights are too bright, the music is too loud. Everything is too much, too fast, too close. I feel too much.

When I’m sober, I feel everything without a filter. Perhaps I have Asperger’s. Perhaps I have sensory processing disorder. Perhaps I’m empathic. Perhaps I’m just human. Perhaps this is normal, and I’d spent so long being altered that I don’t know what normal feels like.

Being sober means that my normal coping mechanism is gone. It was my teddy bear and my security blanket. It was my shield against the onslaught of the world. It was my go-to-thing for everything. If I was happy, I was stoned. If I was sad, I was stoned. If I was with friends, I was stoned. If I was lonely, I was stoned.

I started using it to enhance life. If food tasted good while I was sober, it tasted even better stoned. If a movie was cool sober, it was even more interesting stoned. But then it got to the point that the average everyday wasn’t good enough, and I had to be stoned to do everything. Life was vanilla, and stoned was 31 flavors. Who wants to have vanilla when you’ve had it all?

I don’t like myself sober. I’ve discovered I’m a very angry person. I don’t like being angry. I don’t think it is very ladylike.

So I write, and exercise, and do yoga, and paint, and collage, and bead, and drum. I fill my time with different ways to process my feelings, because I’ve got a lot of processing that has backed up. Instead of having the normal process of feelings go in, get dealt with, and then they go out, I shoved them deep down. I shoved feelings into myself the same way that people shove broken and unwanted things into their basement or attic or storage unit. Eventually, the reckoning time comes and you have to do the work to get all that stuff out of there so you can have room to breathe. It is like poop – if poop doesn’t get out in a timely manner, it backs up and you get sick.

I’ve been sober for four years this time. I say “this time” because I was sober for about the same time, about fourteen years ago. Sobriety, like being messed up, comes in waves. You think the high is going to last forever and it doesn’t. You think being sober is going to last forever, and it might. I’ve given it up, and walked right back. Just like a person in an abusive relationship, I keep going back until I put enough value on myself to stay away, or I find someone new. With sobriety, “finding someone new” just means finding another high – trading alcohol for cigarettes, for instance.

Being sober longer is seen as better, but in a way it is worse. You forget why you left in the first place. You forget how bad it was. You’re tempted to go back, just for a taste. Except a taste is never good enough when you are an addict. One bite becomes a bunch. Next thing you know you are right back where you were, stoned, sick, and stupid.

I don’t want to find another addiction to fill this hole. I just don’t want it to be so big, or gaping. I can feel the wind whistling through me.

The bead poem at Bead Box in Boone, NC.

bead box

alone and complete is a prayer.
A strand of beads or fringe is a reminder to pray.
The hole in the center, a negative space
is to make us aware.
It is a balance of positive and negative
that sustains our lives each day.
To know the bead
is to understand the apex of creation.
To wear the bead
is to acknowledge the gift of life.

(This poem was behind the cash register, painted as a huge mural, at a bead store in Boone, North Carolina on King Street. The store has changed hands and the mural is now gone. I’m grateful I took a picture of it when I did, so I could share it here. I do not know the author.)

Before and after

There is a Zen saying – “Before enlightenment, chopping wood and carrying water. After enlightenment, chopping wood and carrying water.”

Sobriety is much the same way. After you become sober, the problems are still there, but your coping mechanism isn’t. The troubles just trouble you more. You safe cocoon that you spun around yourself is gone. You realize that you got stuck in your own web of lies and avoidances. You realize that you were cramped by that cocoon, not comforted.

But those daily things are still there, those annoyances. You’ve spent years not learning how to deal with them in a healthy way. You are at least a decade behind the curve. Even though chronologically you are an adult, you are a child when it comes to dealing with life.

It sucks. It’s hard. It makes you want to start using again. Dependency groups seem to focus on the disease, not on how to live life. They seem to glorify the illness of addiction, rather than teach new and healthy ways of dealing with everyday and extraordinary stresses.

Sometimes just getting out of bed is a stressor. Sometimes coming home is one too. Sometimes the people you used to hang out with when you used were the only friends you had – and they still use.

So how do create this new life, this life without using? Plenty of people just trade one addiction for another. A lot of ex-drinkers become smokers. I remember one year I gave up smoking pot for Lent, and ended up drinking every day instead. I know a guy whose parents were recovering alcoholics. He loudly proclaimed that drinking was evil, but then every Tuesday when they would go to AA meetings, he would get stoned at home.

Addiction is addiction is addiction.

It isn’t about being a recovering former user. It isn’t about counting the number of days you’ve been without your intoxicant of choice. It is about every day forward and what now.

Back to chopping wood and carrying water.

Sometimes the only way to learn is to just do it, painful though it is. Nobody can tell you how to best live your life. They can tell you how they did it, how they got over the hump. They can offer suggestions. But for you, you just have to do it, step by fumbling step.