When Things Go Away

The other day, our tree fell down.

Not just any tree.

THE tree.

It was the Bette Davis of trees: bold, unsympathetic, beautiful, revered, iconic. It defined our yard and graced us and many others with it's unique shade and beauty for decades; perhaps more. It wrapped it's arms around our patio and we decorated it with twinkle lights and Edison bulbs, so we could soak in the hot tub beneath her massive branches and the sparkle of our manmade sky.

Until the storm.

The storm took her down. Not in one fell swoop, but in pieces and parts, one heavy limb at a time, until what was left standing was just one precarious massive trunk, ready to come down and take out our house, hot tub and all. It was a delicate race against time and the elements to keep it standing until the storm passed and daylight came with a team of professionals to haul her away, leaving a gaping, naked void where she once stood. 

Our yard would never be the same. Walking out the back door became blinding; where there was once cool shade, we now had to shield our eyes against the sun. Where I would look up to watch the robins build their nests and feed their young, I could now just see them flying over and away.

Gone.

It's how I felt in the early days of sobriety: blinded. Shocked. Sad. As though there was a massive void and something huge was missing from my life. Where I had always ran to (what I thought was) comfort, there was now...nothing.

Nothing but debris scattered all over the yard, left behind from when it all came crashing down in bits and pieces, some heavier than others, nearly taking down my whole house, my marriage, my friendships, my business, my sense of safety and weak grasp on sanity. It wasn't until later in recovery that I came to admit that alcohol never gave me one bit of lasting comfort; it only helped to create and perpetuate thoughts and situations for me to seek comfort and asylum from.

Drinking was never the escape I thought it was, it was the wolf in sheep's clothing that dazzled me with it's warmth only to bite me when I turned away.

Drinking was that tree in my backyard: alluringly beautiful, stunning to behold, but rotten on in the inside and ready to come crashing down at any moment in the slightest of storms.

I think it's human nature, when things go away, to sink ourselves into the void they leave behind. 

Loved ones, pets, jobs, routines, your favourite restaurant, your favourite drug or the drink you always reach for when the clock hits the same hour every day – when these things are uprooted we're left standing there blinded and lost.

Because we can't imagine life without it.

Because we weren't prepared.

Because our fear is bigger than our ability to let go and move on.

I stood there on the first day after they hauled away what I believed defined our landscape, heartbroken and disappointed. I loved our yard less, somehow. I thought our house would never be the same, that our nights in the hot tub under the sparkle of string lights would be wasted and stale. The same way I stood there at noon on my first day sober, imagining my life barren and dull without a drink in my hand and intoxicating weakness in my drunken knees.

It felt like nothing would ever, ever be the same again.

I expected worse, naturally. Because that's what we do. We anticipate all the things we'll go without, now that the constant we've always expected to be there has gone away. We list our losses like leaves on the branches that no longer stretch over my yard, too innumerable to count, because we believe they were everything.

Automatic negative thoughts come parading to you, filling your mind and trampling your soul like a festival in a field.

Camping sober will be impossible. I can never go camping again. So much for going to concerts, the fun is gone if I can't get wasted. How in the world am I going to lay by the pool or go to the beach without a cooler of chilled wine and case of backup beer? What am I supposed to do when I get home from work? I don't think I can go to restaurants anymore. And oh no...what about flying?

We give in to the fear that now that it's gone, part of our joy – part of ourselves – has gone with it.

It wasn't until I sank myself into what was left behind last night, instead of allowing myself to be caught up in the void of what's gone for a change. It was then that I came to realize that now that the tree is gone, I can sit back and look up – and see the stars.

The real stars.

Not the strings of store-bought lights we strung up in our tree to imitate the sparkle of galaxies and constellations, since it's branches were too wide and too vast to offer anything but darkness in an already dark night.

I sat in the hot tub in silence staring up. The big dipper. Orion. Saturn. The North star. They were all there, winking at me from lightyears away, as though they were all saying in unison: "Ok, do you get it, now?"

It was very much the same when things finally clicked after my last drink of wine. What I had been defining myself with for decades was now gone, and I was spiralling into a hole of poor-me's and what-if's, not yet realizing how much beauty all my drinking had been blocking from my life. Just like the how the tree I believed I needed to have a yard worthy of enjoying had been blocking the true beauty overhead, every empty bottle before me had been piling up and obscuring the incredible, breathtaking view of my wildly amazing sober life, just on the other side.

I've been given a clean slate.

I've been given the opportunity to create whatever I want, now that the tree is gone. Perhaps a new deck, a pergola with flowering vines, an outdoor kitchen, or a place to curl up outside by a fire and just be mesmerized by the stars that have always been there, just waiting to be seen.

And the same thing happened when my addiction came crashing down on me, leaving me blinded and lost, stuck in the void of wondering "what now" and "how can I go on without this?". When the shady false comfort I kept running to by drinking myself to indifference every day when things got too bright and blinding went away, I was finally able to stand in the sun.

I was finally able to see – and begin creating again – the beautiful life I not only always had, but have always deserved. I've come to embrace the perfect impermanence of our world and the short time we are given to enjoy it.

I've come to appreciate that sometimes, when things go away, they open up views and vistas you never imagined possible because you've grown too rooted to the familiar.

And, I've come to expect better things to arrive in place of what's gone, instead of dwelling on the void they've left behind.

Just look up.

The stars have always been there.

Sober, alcohol free recovery blogger.

Photographer. Writer. Ex-Blackout Artist.

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