It’s 5:24 am, and the timer on my ‘70s mustard-yellow electric oven has sounded. It’s the wake-up sentinel that tells me the mixture in my french press is about to be ready to revive me for another start of the day. It’s time for the daily rituals, and what I call the lonely work: The habits and practices that are personal and mostly private, that I do every day. The things that are rarely seen or shared with others, but shape who and what I am.
The first task on my list is to pause in gratitude for another day. No matter what happened the day before, I am breathing, so I am still here. Yay, and amen. I did not wake up with a hangover, nor a deep feeling of dread because I cannot remember last night, nor a wicked sense of regret that I had done it again, even though I had made a solemn promise not to.
It may not seem like much, but to this alcoholic in recovery, this moment of gratitude is everything. I am so thankful to be sober, down on my knees, grateful.
Next up are morning meditations and spiritual readings by cherished teachers, a refreshing drink of water for my spiritually thirsty soul. Then some guitar warms ups or scales, a habit that, for many years, has centered and comforted me. Something timeless about this practice that has lasted for decades is those familiar patterns and sequences that remind me that what I love is quite simple. I love music and making it makes me happy.
Once I reach my caffeine threshold, it’s on to the day. Planning my work and working my plan. I start by writing the date and highlighting it in a bright blue box in my hardbound black square ruled Moleskine notebook. This little device reminds me that today is the only today I will get, and I pause to ponder the number’s wondering. How can it be that we are so deep into 2020? Where does the time go? I start with two columns of tasks: Work and Life. (Sometimes these get different names and even get expletives attached, but this is the basic idea.)
Lists are one way to stay on track to ensure that the lonely work, which makes me able to be a better me, can get done. These days, the art of working alone, working at home, and self-supervising is all about discipline. Some days flow differently than others, but I have found that if I let myself just do the work on that morning list with the pacing that it naturally gets done, I will hit the pillow with the satisfaction of knowing that the rock has been pushed up the hill a bit that day. Boxes ticked = Satisfaction.
After some writing and schedule tuning, it’s out with Martin the Dog for our “most every morning” walk. Some days, taking 10,000 steps is the last thing I want to do. Just do it. Nike Swoosh. Ugh and grimace.
Back and after breakfast, it’s communication and connection time. There are student lessons to prep, podcast scheduling, Every Thursday at 7:30 live stream prep, emails, and texts, real gigs (if any these days) to confirm and rehearse for.
All alone, and without fanfare, one pandemic damn day after another.
The lonely work is what happens when I am sitting at my desk or on my back patio staring at the tomatoes growing. The silence is sometimes deafening. I’m working at home, self-employed, self-regulated, self-motivated, and mostly on my own to chart the path to staying solvent. I know that we are all together in this, but why does it feel like I am the only one in this cramped little world?
It doesn’t help that there is STILL that voice inside my head that whispers on a dark day and tempts the addiction trigger, even though there is not much chance I will pull it. Not today. No way.
Sometime after an evening meal, a group of the faithful will gather around the altar of our computers and phones to softly speak the familiar words that help us stay sober today together. When I first started this journey, there was a saying that resonated: “I get drunk; we stay sober.” True, without question. But getting through the daily drudgery to those genuflecting, Hollywood Square Zoom moments can be the real work. That’s that lonely work for me, the common spaces of in-between times when I am not anywhere but alone, with myself and my head.
In the end, the lonely work consists of the things we do when no one is watching that make us one notch better every day. It’s the struggle to overcome the problems in my day — and the discipline to use the tools that every alcoholic and, for that matter, all of us must put in our toolboxes to roll up our sleeves and get the work done.
Knowing what needs to be done is one thing. Doing it, though, isn’t exactly straightforward. Not wanting to, but doing it anyway is the simple act of kindness we show to ourselves — in recovery and life.
Reach Marc Lee Shannon at firstname.lastname@example.org. And stay tuned for the forthcoming “Recovery Talks: The Podcast” from 91.3 The Summit, which Marc will host. Photo: Angelo Merendino. Used with permission from Marc Lee Shannon.