On the urge to "get productive" in quarantine

Lately I've been posting here a little less. The reason is not that I haven't been writing. Rather, I simply haven't been writing the types of things I can post. Believe it or not, my thoughts wait in a lengthy security line before exiting my brain.


Perhaps that prompted nostalgia: What I wouldn't give to wait in a security line about now. That would mean that the world is safe for exploration. While I'm not quite at the point of pining after pat-downs, I understand the sentiment. This is getting hard.


Towards the end of my drinking, things looked the same every time. Yes, I saw different people and said different things. But the monotonous part, the part that makes my drinking and therefore my life at that time quite forgettable, is that I didn't care who I saw, what I said. I didn't remember - not because I was blacked out (I typically wasn't), but because it didn't matter.


Important memories crystalize in our brain. We encode in more vivid detail when we're in heightened emotional states. Our environments, what we were wearing, who we were with -- these things are often captured indefinitely. For me, drunk memories blur into one.


Will we remember COVID like 9/11, or will we remember it like we were drunk? On one hand, this is a time in history unlike anything we've seen. My children will likely ask what it was like to be there for it. On the other hand, what it was like - so far, anyway - is pretty much the same every day. The days thrum by with a resounding sameness. Wake write work walk repeat. Will I remember?


The product-driven perfectionist in me is obsessed with having "something to show for this." I better emerge from quarantine an expert in existentialism or clutching my personal training certificate. I ought to learn to play guitar, to meditate. A new appreciation for life wouldn't hurt.


Another part of me says No. She says Retreat. Another part of me spent much of the week feeling sad, unruly, restless, guilty, tired. It's like I'm glaring at a large box of lessons I have yet to unpack, and some days I can't quite muster up the courage to lift the lid. On other days, I dig through the box the way my cat digs furiously through his litter box. I'm looking desperately for something more real, something more true than I knew before all this happened. When I find something, I give it a sniff. I can't quite tell if it's shit.


In my own history of learning, I've been consistently wrong about what mattered. I've never entered into a new situation and rightly thought, This is when I'll learn something. I've learned a lot through loving and stopping loving, trying and retreating, giving in and giving up. Never once did I plan for it. Never once did I think, time to get productive. It just happened.


Of everything I've learned, there are several things I had to learn twice. I learned confidence drunk, so I had to learn it sober too. I learned that a certain type of relationship wasn't for me - but, because I was drunk, I had to learn it again when I was three years sober. I learned to forget my body drinking; now sober, I must learn to forgive it.


Right now, I don't know how you can be more productive. How you can feel better. How you can make the most of this, how you can emerge with something to show for it. What I do know is this: the biggest gift you can give yourself right now is the gift of staying sober. Not just sober from alcohol, because I know that isn't everyone's thing. Sober from whatever it is you do to forget, to numb out. Sober from whatever it is that makes your memories blur into one.


None of us have any idea what we're supposed to learn from this. But if we're awake, we might just learn it the first time.


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