At least once a week I grumble to myself, “I wish I could make time stand still. Why can’t the world stop spinning for just one day?” Then, I picture people freezing in place while I get caught up on my errands, so that I can eventually unwind.
That word eventually is key. For some reason, my brain is convinced that I can’t truly enjoy relaxing or doing something fun unless I have nothing important hanging over my head. And my definition of important is generous, so it’s darn near impossible to achieve the state of tranquility I’m seeking.
I might even delay going to the bathroom in order to put on a load of laundry, answer a couple emails, and wash a few dishes—until my bladder is about to burst.
A couple weeks ago I was standing in the kitchen, agitated about something, when I said it again: “I wish I could stop time.”
Instead of bemoaning my lack of magical powers, I decided to explore that yearning.
For as long as I can remember, being responsible has felt like carrying a backpack full of bricks that I cannot put down. Those bricks represent all the things I need to do or think I should do, plus my concern with performing each task to a precise standard.
While I was pondering this self-oppressing sense of obligation, I remembered that I was about to celebrate four years of sobriety on May 12. Aha! The connection between the two emerged in a flash.
For decades, I used drinking to stop time. Not really, of course— I know alcohol doesn’t prevent time from moving forward. But consuming vast quantities of it puts you in a bubble of sorts where time marches on around you, but you stand blissfully still.
I thought about all the times that alcohol allowed me to switch off my brain and cast time aside. I might be out at a restaurant with my husband waiting for a table, but as long as we were having drinks at the bar, the time ticking away didn’t seem so bad.
Or, I might be hanging with friends, and as the booze took hold, we didn’t care that we had some place else to be (including bed). All that mattered was the alcohol-induced timeline we were inhabiting and the way it was slowing down and stretching out endlessly.
If I came home from a stressful day at work, sitting on the couch with a glass of wine that I kept refilling made the night feel longer, looser.
Stopping time with alcohol worked temporarily, but it introduced its own set of problems—not the least of which was a net increase in my anxiety rather than a decrease.
In the years since my last drink, I’ve found healthier ways to relieve my stress—I write a lot about those strategies here on my blog.
And without realizing it, I’ve also been experimenting with pausing the world. I discovered that Pilates, yoga, hiking, kayaking, and paddle boarding give the over-thinking part of my brain a breather. Engaging in these activities truly is the next best thing to stopping time.
Removing alcohol from your life is not the final answer. Being sober is for figuring things out. Every year or so, a new question or a new answer presents itself.
So, this year I’ve acknowledged that only I can grant myself permission to chill and have fun without running through a gauntlet of chores first. And finding healthy ways to slip from the mental bounds of time is critical to my well-being.