Cold Weather

The seasons have changed again, it seems. We’ve been plunged into winter overnight. My short-lived bike rides before yesterday were postcard-worthy – colorful leaves, a pace for contemplation, fashionable scarves, and other unpractical layers. Then out of the blue, my head was down, nose running, eyes watering, hands slapped red raw by the wind. My brain was shocked from the recreational wandering of the warmer months into the survival mode of winter – all I could think about was endurance, getting from point A to point B as soon as possible.

I feel vulnerable when the seasons change. Subconsciously, my body and mind go into a state of alert, so I operate perhaps on a higher level of underlying anxiety than usual (which is, apparently, already higher than your average normal person). Consciously, I start having creeping fears that I won’t be able to manage the cold weather – that I won’t have warm enough clothes, that the heating in my apartment won’t work, that I won’t be able to bike to work or get fresh produce to eat, that I will become and remain sick for a long time. In spite of the comfort and manageability of my current life, this particular change will still give rise to these seasonal fears.

In the past, my anxieties were more acute and would incrementally intensify as I mulled them over, which, of course, I bloody well did. I would go from worrying about a common cold to worrying about losing my job and ending up homeless. In fairness, back then, I genuinely thought that I was only a few wrong turns away from homelessness; even with my family close, I wasn’t one to ask for help, and when I moved to a different country, I truly felt as though I was skirting the edge. I was pissing off friends with my drunken antics and unreliability, and pissing away time with them – they were planning on leaving the country to go back home, and I wanted to stay. So I floated around a little bit, to another country, into the arms of another close friend. Then, on a whim, I floated back across the ocean to nestle in loft-bed of one of the most wonderful creatures that I’ve yet to meet. He brought me back to myself, as I knew he would when I first set eyes on him. Would I have ever ended up homeless? Not impossible, but not likely. In saying that, I shouldn’t pretend like addiction cares who I am or where I came from; in its grips, I had lost the ability to make rational decisions based on myself, my needs, my wants – how much of me was operating as me, anyway?

If I boil it down, all of the anxiety is contained within this – the fear of changing from one state into another. From hot to cold, outdoorsy to indoorsy, bare-legged to double-stockinged, well to unwell – I fear the transition more than the new state itself. I like the cold. I like winter clothes. I like hot spiced drinks, open fires, scarves.

Someone said to me yesterday, in the kitchen of my office, “You always look like you’re having the most fun at our office events”. It’s true – I usually am having fun, not in spite of sobriety, but because of this. They were saying it as a reminder to themselves that they don’t need to drink alcohol, but they were talking about the difficulty of quitting at this time of year. I have another friend who’s going through the same thought process, albeit a little more serious because they’re an alcoholic, without a doubt. Again, the same reasoning that there’s just “so much on” at this time of year. And, while I deeply understand the thought processes, having passed through dozens of seasons with the same old lines I can see how half a lifetime could easily be spent waiting for the perfect time. I have seen that, in other people, in the rooms. Life’s majesty’s rushing past our ears.

The thing that I was afraid of, as I mentioned, was changing from one state to the other. I would intellectually talk about healthy living, spiritual living, sober living, as something that I wanted for myself eventually. Depending on the day, and how I was feeling, I think I always theoretically knew that this was a path I was going to go down. But in terms of actualizing it, I was terrified. Because transitioning from my current state, my current lifestyle, into one that was purer, healthier, happier and sincerer- it sounded as traumatic and cataclysmic as being birthed again.

I don’t need to tell you that it wasn’t, of course. It was hard and uncomfortable for a hot second (relatively speaking), but so is plunging into a swimming pool. Once I was in it, in the new state, I was fine – better than fine.

There’s another niggling factor that hits me with the cold, though – I’m reminded of my former relationship with alcohol in the colder months. Like an intense but ill-begotten, self-destructive love affair, alcohol and I were inextricable, and I was in love and dependent. I drank a lot more to avoid dealing with the difficulties that winter presented. I drank away the cold and the discomfort. I had liquor-icicles hanging from my nose. I poured concentrated hot whiskeys down my throat under the guise of self-care – “They do wonders!” – at the first sniffle of October, but on account of my accursed good health, I administered them as ‘preventative medicine’ also. Red wine, I heard once from an unreliable source, might be good for killing cold and flu viruses, so I convinced myself to the point of superstition that it’d be madness to give up the drink.

And so the seasons all blended into one, a numbness, each one a rumored event happening elsewhere – something I’d read in the news. There was no ‘new state’ to fear but sobriety. As long as I was well-oiled, everything was the same, had the same hazy tonality, the same drunken ease.

As a result of this, winter has a mostly unfamiliar feel to it, but there’s something about it that I remember down to my bones, from a dream or childhood. These new winters stretch out in front of me, reminders that everything must die to be reborn – a finally-comprehended lesson missed for many years.

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