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Remembering What I Need


When I quit drinking six years ago, one of the hardest parts of the process was not so much missing alcohol, but doing without the early evening ritual of sitting down and relaxing. Once I discovered that Fresca in a wine glass still gave me a chance to just sit down and relax, I felt much better. Still, it made me realize how much certain elements in my life comfort me and help me to function like a normal human. Unfortunately, I frequently forget this when I’m out of sync with myself.

In the face of stress, change, and way too much going on, I might be able to tell you that I crave comfort, but it never occurs to me what, exactly, that comfort might look like. I just become an anxious, pacing, annoying wreck until it's all too much for me, and everyone around me, and then I do what I can to get my circumstances back to normal. I was thinking about this earlier this week when my to-do list moved onto a second page and all I could think about was being at home, lying on my couch, reading a good book.

That scene on the couch represents one of my basic needs: open time. It’s taken me years to take it in fully, but having a little bit of time each day that is just mine softens everything, no matter what’s going on. If open time is missing for a couple of days, I start getting jittery. If a week goes by, and my hours are scheduled back to back, I’m really no fun at all, particularly to myself.

In a long meeting the other day, I decided to make a list of what I do need to keep me comfortable and sane. This, of course, is separate from basic requirements, like food and shelter and love, but they’re still important. Some are concrete and others are nebulous, yet they have all become essential parts of me when I'm at my best. One thing I need is to remember who I am as often as I can—what is my role in the world and where do I find meaning? If I am in enough crazy-making situations, this sense of meaning and worth is hard to pinpoint and I discover I’m on the outs with myself. The same is true with acknowledgement. I feel better about what I’m doing and how I’m doing it if somebody I respect and admire gives me a thumbs-up from time to time. We’ve all found ourselves in enough settings without recognition to know that it can shake our foundations a little and make us question what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. Of course we can't make people recognize our efforts, but we can make a point to spend time with people who remind us what a good job we're doing in our lives.

If a week goes by, and my hours are scheduled back to back, I’m really no fun at all, particularly to myself.

I realize I also need some things that are just mine—at least a slice of my day that follows my preferred structure, a modicum of control over my life, and a community of people I choose for myself. If I’m working for someone else, it’s easy to let go of my own stuff for a while, but I always suffer for it in the end. In the midst of a stressful, externally driven project, for example, I might feel exhausted and unsure about the potential success of what we’re doing. My insecurities are usually made worse because I’ve forgotten to grab hold of a few of my own fundamentals, a kind of grounding that almost always pays off.

When I do a personal inventory of what I require to feel strong, balanced, and useful, these are the things that come to mind. I also need creativity, financial comfort, fitness, travel, and to be outside. I don’t need each of them every single day, but often enough that those parts of me get fed, at least periodically.

The problem, of course, is that it often doesn’t occur to me that something is missing until I’m already a wreck. So my goal is to remember to keep a few of these basics in my pocket on a regular basis so that I don’t feel quite so much at the mercy of the outside world. An hour with a cup of coffee in the morning and another with a good book at night, a chance to be creative, to spend time with the people I love, a walk outside, a glance at something beautiful, and a few minutes every day to remember my purpose and identity in the world can make all the difference. It’s like that half hour with the wine glass of Fresca. It's all just a little chance to reset myself and remember what’s important to me.

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