The Struggle

I’ve struggled all my life.

It’s just in my bones.

As far back as I can recall, my flesh has been in a restless revolt against the skin that holds it. Long before I took my first drink, life felt like a struggle. I struggled to fit in. I struggled to feel normal. Other people just said and did things. And I’d watch them and suffer from this longing to be able to just say and do things like them. It really didn’t matter what they were saying or doing. It was that they were saying or doing things without insecurity and doubt—like two hands—choking them out with every breath. People could just be without worrying how or why they were being.

I didn’t know any other way to feel about life. The best analogy I know to describe it is that life felt like a movie. The people in my life were the actors, the show, and I was the audience. I was an observer of life, not a participant. And I always struggled with exactly why I felt that way and what I could do to change it.

 

The world was a stage, all right.

 

Then I sipped some beer for the first time.

It was sensational, let me tell you. It subdued the stranglehold anxiety had on me, shushed that voice that was perpetually telling me I was doing it all wrong.

That warm, discarded can of Budweiser that I snuck into the bathroom was an elixir. My struggles melted away. Life felt, all of a sudden, like a worn-in tee-shirt on casual Friday.

Unfortunately, it never got better than that first buzz. No matter how deep into the research of the alcohol solution I went—including experimenting with mind-bending chemicals, sedatives, uppers, downers, and everywhere-in-betweeners—I couldn’t replicate the rush of that initial discovery. I reinvented the wheel in every way I could imagine, but I wasn’t going anywhere.

Instead of struggling with how I fit into the world, I was now struggling with drugs and alcohol. I eventually lived in a desperate state of mind, wistful for the ways substances used to make me feel, believing that if I found the right balance, they’d make me feel that way again.

I chased that illusion until it nearly killed me. 

 

Portrait of a struggler as a newly sober man.

 

To get sober took coffee, cigarettes, and a bunch of grown men’s shoulders to cry on; to stay sober required a return to that shell of a boy, riddled with anxiety and struggling to fit in. 

Treating my alcoholism means treating what made me so irritable and restless that my only solution was to drink alcohol in the first place.

But, what I’ve discovered in my new clean and sober life is that the struggle hasn’t ended. Being free from alcohol does not make me free from alcoholism; no more than being free from drugs makes me free from addiction. The struggle doesn’t leave; it only transforms.

What do I struggle with today?

The world.

Getting too comfortable makes me squirm.

My wife wanted to order this “the snuggle is real” pillow. It’s likely that the desire to snuggle is the biggest difference between me and her. She’s worked hard to convert me. But the truth is, I’m just too accustomed to discomfort to play along.

In my heart I know the world wants me comfortable so I can quietly go about my life, pay my taxes, and die ignorant of the fact that my death was a slow suffocation. Maybe I’m just being difficult, but I can’t shake the feeling that there are forces around us first-world dwellers that act like a hypnotist’s watch, lulling us into the acceptance of the status quo.

The difference between accepting the status quo and knowing true happiness is a radical one. It’s the difference between paying your mortgage and coming home to your wife and family every night. One is doing what you have to do because you have to do it; the other is wanting to do what you have to do out of love.

I wouldn’t know the miracle of the mundane without first struggling through all the ways that made everyday living miserable.

Just like there is no way out but through, there is no true happiness without struggle. It seems like mastering discomfort is the only way for me to become comfortable.

 

Do what makes you uncomfortable.

35 Responses to “The Struggle

  • This resonates with me in so many ways. Though my first taste of alcohol never led me to anything to do with alcohol (my body finds it repulsive), the feelings you describe….. They are intense and relatable. I grew to understand my struggles were part of my joys. And I don’t take either for granted.

  • I hope that you enjoyed writing this as much as I enjoyed reading it, thanks x

  • We should be supremely happy about now! This fellow struggler understands. Great and thoughtful post.

  • You too? I’ve always felt inherently wrong in my skin and assumed it was just me. Here’s to struggle and growth.

    • It turns out we’re not the unique little snowflakes we once thought we were! Incredible to see how most everybody can relate to some extent about that anxiety. And there I was, thinking I was the only one feeling that way.

  • I relate in multiple of ways with what you are stating here. I never turned to alcohol (seldom) even though I more and more feel that the life society expects of me is choking the life right out of me. My intuition is developed in a way to see what many can’t which can be a blessing as well as a curse as it allows to look through all the BS. I don’t compete, not because I don’t have ambition but because this is not all about me and I am truly happy for anyone’s accomplishments. Something people can’t often relate with me and don’t understand why I don’t only think about myself. Therefore I don’t fit in.
    I once heard that when you feel like you don’t fit into society, it is due to the fact that you were meant to help create a new one. Hope that helps and keep fighting the good fight.

    • Hi Rhapsody – I’ve never heard that bit about not fitting in as an indicator that you’d help create a new one. But I love it! Very empowering.

      I think part of the alcoholism and addiction thing, is we who suffer from it think we are the only one’s who have these problems. It’s really refreshing to read your comment. And I’m sure, for others reading the blog, appreciate that too. We’re not as unique in our struggles as we make ourselves out to be, I think.

      I hope Paul Silva reads this. He’s always the guy pointing this fact out to me in his writing.

      • Hi Mark, I think in the end we all just try to find our way. It’s not always easy on this path we call life and with outside influences of our society that grows more and more into a selfish, in compassionate generation. There is so much pressure to fit in, to be accepted, to compete and what not, it seldom allows a person to be who they really want to be. The stress catches up and it’s no wonder many drink, do other drugs or snap all together.
        No you are not alone, we all just have different ways of dealing with it. Some tolerate more than others as we all try to make the best choice possible for us.
        I do hope the little saying can help you and that when you feel that you don’t belong into this world, remember it is because you were choose to hell create a new world. You are very important. Hugs

  • I’ve felt defective my whole life. And I really do think something is inherently wrong with me. I say that for attention. It’s more of a curiosity. It’s not normal to deal with life as I do.

  • I meant to say that I DON’T say that for attention. I don’t even talk about that feeling with anyone.

    • Birdie, I respect you for saying that. And I don’t that there is a difference between how you experience the world and others. Thanks for commenting!

  • I still find I don’t fit in many places, but I am finally figuring out that as long as I fit in somewhere, with even a few people, I am happy.
    And the more I try to fit in, the less I do.
    I end up acting strange, and then people look at me like I am a little kid or something.
    I sure have found a lot of things to work on now that I am sober!!
    YIKES!
    xo
    Wendy
    Body issues, Loneliness, and 31 Months!
    http://tipsynomore.blogspot.com

  • I’m only recently becoming more comfortable in my own skin. I can relate very much to ‘my flesh has been in a restless revolt against the skin that holds it’
    The anxiety is so real and so debilitating. One thing I know for sure is that everyone struggles with something. I always thought it was just me, that I am defective in some way. Even with booze I thought I was the worst of the worst and that no one in the world could be such a delinquent.
    Even people that aren’t addicts (drug and alcohol) are struggling with something. Shopping, food, sex, tv ,whatever.
    It’s the human condition. These stressful thoughts are all recycled. As soon as I realised that there is anything unique about this way of being, it’s human and everyone is more alike than they are different- this opened me up in a way to accept and love myself, even get really comfortable (not all the time, but sometimes). The surrendering to the impermanence and suffering in life is what I working really hard on. As soon as that struggle ceases there is peace. But peace may not mean ‘comfort’ in the traditional sense.
    xxx

    • Your road to acceptance is really nicely described in the comment. Thanks Hurrah for elaborating your thoughts on that feeling we ALL share at one point or another.

      I think you’re right. About everybody having that outlet that sort of distracts them or whatever. We have so many distractions around us. Particularly with new technologies that compete for our attention. And the peace! I don’t think it should be associated with comfort. Great point! It is something earned or worked for…not given.

  • In my experience , it has often turned out that when I’ve come to terms with thinking like this the ” struggle” gets easier. Maybe it’s something to do with powerlessness? You deserves happiness,and peace of mind just like I do. I totally understand where you are coming from but it doesn’t meant that it’s impossible to feel differently eventually ( I never thought it would be possible to stay sober), I believe you only have to start with feeling comfortable with yourself first. From where I’m standing you seem like a pretty decent bloke. 🙂

    • Haha. Well, I appreciate that. Yeah, I think the struggle does get easier. For some reason, though, I keep finding new reasons to swim against the stream. Part of my acceptance is just accepting that I will always be hustling, in one or another, to prove something or make a difference or whatever the hell else you can call this blog and my writings.

  • The universe tends to send me the same message over and over again, through different sources, until I listen to what it’s saying. And now you! You have been used by the universe to send me this blog, just so you know. ; )

    Somewhere I was reading about the great temptations, being described by a yogi or something (sorry I’m so vague here — I read a lot and can’t always remember my sources), but after listing things like poverty, illness, etc., he said the final and most difficult temptation was prosperity. That hit me right between the eyes. For me, that means comfort. I am comfortable for the first time in a very long time. But I feel that restlessness you’re talking about. I should be out combing the streets for people to save, or something like that. Instead, I am snuggling and paying my mortgage.

    It’s more like I miss adventure. For all of the shitty consequences of drinking, it was an adventure. You never knew what would happen and where you might end up. I need to channel that into a life that really means something, that serves people somehow. I know it involves writing, as does yours. What about your book? That will get you on the travel/writing circuit, and that’s an adventure in itself.

    Due to my great sober insightfulness, I see that this advice was actually meant for me. I so love giving advice over taking my own. I am anxious to see how this works out for you. What will you do with this restless energy? It’s a call to something, I know. I’m just not sure what.
    xoxo

    • Hooray! I have been “channeled!”

      That’s great. Well, I think your on to something. This energy needs to go somewhere. What else interests you? For me, I have to write. Like, I’m up at 4:30 in the morning to write until the kids wake up. If I lead my day like that, I find everything else sort of falls in to place (as long as I stay sober that is.)

  • I can’t stay away from the Miracle of the Mundane for to long. I’ve been writing more consistently, and I’ve found it much easier to write about the good times, than to reflect on the nightmares. I appreciate the way you are able to dig deep, sift through the muck with style, and arrive at points that need shared. Not easy, very powerful – thank you!

    • Well I appreciate that Tate. I really do man. I find writing a major tool in my recovery. I can’t seem to go too long without it. It’s the good kind of habit forming! Can you direct me to something you wrote that I can read?

  • Your writing is very powerful Mark. Your story has resonated with many – me included. Whilst it’s still tough, your journey really inspires me. Thank you for sharing your story.
    Love and sober hugs
    From New Zealand

    • I appreciate you visiting and reading and commenting. Amazing to be across the world, and of one mind. Thank you.

  • stepsherpa
    2 months ago

    Something happened to me while writing my fearless and thorough moral Big Book 4th Step inventory. Another great effect gone unnoticed as I stomp on the 3rd Step tread preparing for the climb? Over run by my extreme self centeredness? No, not this time. I had slowed down. Hit square by the mother of all F bombs…FAITH. I could see myself clearly. I was for a time more than a passing profile on a store front window. I could not live as a reflection of my surroundings. Always on the defensive. Don’t let me down. Don’t hurt me. Let me see myself. Let me change. Like me so I can like myself.

    I’m an Adult Child.. Beyond repair really. I’m get it now. A practicing self imposed crisis turned hopeless Alcoholic. A lifer. So, what? What comes after hopeless Alcoholic? What are you in for? Well? Apparently I’ve been cheating myself, a stow away on the over booked flight from reality. Take a left at high school, attempt to go straight, side swipe intimacy, do not stop. Get married with children, past the woulda shoulda. suffer the open wounds of regret. Stay on 95 until the Siberia exit. Enter the void. Get caught, run! Mix it up with new arrangements? Replenish blame, validation, create courage. Buy more chips, do it again.

    New people? Lets pick up the pace. Don’t hurt me. Don’t let me down. Let me change. Let me see myself. Siberia…Faster! Don’t hurt down change Siberia! The harder I try? The faster I fail. It was clearly a lose lose situation. Unfortunately simply knowing this did not help. It just made for more drinking. I began to accept Soberia as my final destination. My life. Maybe driving drunk I’ll take a different exit? Fly toward reality? Nope. Cold alone and afraid. North Polar syndrome. Always on the outside looking in.

    The whole “faith in a Higher Spiritual Power” thing. I have to admit here and now. If not for the Big Book 12 Steps? I would not be here writing this alphabet stew this morning. No, I would be long gone. Another scary face in the ice looking up at the world skating by.

    Today, this am, right now? I have seen myself moment by moment, felt understanding in my brief morning meditation. I have surrendered, painted the emotional fence I am bound by with colors of acceptance pleasing to my eyes to cover the blood stained barbed wire of my past. The suggested reconstruction. I like it really. I don’t mind who I am at all.

    If I remember one thing today? Which sounds easy right? One thing? I hope it is that when I struggle, I am the one struggling. Me. I am responsible for my struggle. I can’t get drunk on a bottle full of struggle, alcohol gets me drunk. I have found a way out of myself. I surrender my struggle. I have entered the world of the Spirit. It’s good. It’s a good thing for me.

    • Sherpa! This is progress my friend. It is absolute progress, no doubt. I’m sure you’ve heard “progress not perfection” and its because we’re never f*cking perfect, but this is our way of progressing toward perfection! Seriously.

      It’s so difficult to see yourself like that. I never could until I worked a program. And third step was a big one for me. I shared on this blog before (can’t remember title but it’s in there) about how when the 3rd step hit me it was like a foreign voice speaking through my skin. I had never heard THAT dude before. It was radical. The smallest tinniest voice in me finally got to speak for the first time in my life. My dominant dumb voice had control all that time. All my life! Then came this small puppyish whimper voice that was telling me to DO THE RIGHT THING. Listen to it! It wants the best for you.

  • Life is a journey. The roads are not difficult because of the rivers and mountains but difficult because we deem them to be. I struggle and is still struggling .

  • I get it, man. Well said. Also, “the snuggle is real” made me burst out laughing. I may have to get that for my wife. Hope you’re well.

    • Great to hear from you Robert. I think my wife ordered them, especially after I wrote this–haha. I’ll let you know if they’re good pillows.

      Thanks for reading. Hope you’re doing well too!

  • What you wrote resonated so strongly with me. Your story is my story. I wrote a similar piece the other day. Thank you so much for sharing!

  • Hi I can identify with your story so much. I’m telling my story a bit at a time on my blog. it took me 10 years of struggle from knowing I had a problem to actually stop. I couldn’t handle the pain deep down in who I was. I couldn’t cope with it.

    Richard

  • A mother
    2 months ago

    You are my son. At 16 he had panic attacks. He has needed a substance ever since to cope with being him and just socialising. He still does. I am so happy you found a way out. I hope and pray he does.

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