That is Okay

I glare at the dishwasher, which needs to be unloaded AGAIN. I am living on some rung of hell in which I finish emptying the dishwasher, only to turn around and find it full again. I have a working theory that my family takes spoons out of the drawer, licks them once, and puts them into the dishwasher. That is the only reasonable explanation for the number of spoons that our family of three uses in a day. And why am I the only one who seems capable of emptying the dishwasher? Sure, one of the family members isn’t even 4 years old yet… but come ON. Self-sufficiency is a noble goal.

The dishwasher seems to be winning our staring contest, so I begrudgingly begin to unload it. On an intellectual level, I realize that my ire falls somewhere between petty and gross ingratitude. I can easily parse out that I should feel grateful to have enough plates to fill a dishwasher; to have a dishwasher at all; hell, even to have running water to operate the dishwasher. But I don’t feel grateful. I feel annoyed. And that is okay.

When I was newly sober, I sat in plenty of meetings in which people explained that they were alcoholics, so they were selfish and self-centered. It almost sounded immutable…and definitely sounded hopeless. Wasn’t the point of recovery to move past being selfish and self-centered? I didn’t want to sit in meetings, sip bad coffee and painstakingly examine my character defects so that ten years down the road I could look at my own behavior, shrug and note that I was simply a self-centered alcoholic.

After spending a bit more time being sober and actually participating in the world around me, I noticed something remarkable: alcoholics have not, in fact, cornered the market on these particular defects of character. Many people are, to a degree, selfish and self-centered. Some people find themselves completely stymied by their own inward gaze, too caught up in themselves to even grasp the magnitude of their astounding self-absorption. Other people gain a bit of perspective, acknowledge their tendency toward self-centeredness, and take steps to surmount it.

But when I was newly sober, I didn’t have a terrific grasp on human nature… or on anything really. But I did find a tremendous amount of comfort in knowing how I “should” feel. I envisioned a gold standard of emotional maturity, and I was determined to intellectualize my way into feeling “right.” Poor, misled, over-caffinated newly sober me. Shoving down feelings, needing to be right, and obsessing about my emotions (commonly known as mistaking feelings for facts) had already led me to a dark, lonely place where I needed to a drink simply to be around myself. I didn’t need that in sobriety.

A lot of talk about “rigorous honesty” flies around recovery circles; the most difficult part of honesty for me is simply acknowledging how I feel, even when it isn’t “right.” Even when I don’t look like a saint. Even when how I feel is ungrateful, angry, self-righteous. Acknowledging my not-perfect feelings is central to my sanity and my sobriety. Because as soon as I acknowledge them, they lose their power. And because, sometimes, I just need to bitch about the dishwasher.

I think about all of these things: the selfish, self-centered alcoholic; the newly sober self-righteous me; acknowledging and moving on as I empty the dishwasher. As I stretch to reach the top cabinet shelf, I notice the smooth finish on the plates and their newly-washed shine. I reach for another plate to put away, but I’ve already finished. My resentment about unloading the dishwasher seems to have magically dissipated.

I look over the kitchen counter to the family room, where books, toys, shoes and various and sundry items are strewn about the floor. I glare at the family room floor. And that is okay.

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