My husband and I met a friend last night. We look forward to our visits with her. She and my husband were drinking beers and I was loving my spinach/ginger smoothie when she launched into an animated rant about how much homeless people disturb her life. They rifle through the Dumpster behind her high-end condo and they sleep in the alleys and doorways of her posh downtown neighborhood. Trash is dirty, and they just don’t have any self-respect, she said.
My husband and I tried to inject compassion into the conversation. How hard would it be if your only option for the night was to sleep on cardboard in an alley? How desperate would you feel if you had to search other people’s trash hoping to find some food or a half-full bottle of shampoo? “I get that,” she shot back. “But I’m not backing down on the fact that they aren’t hungry. I don’t think anybody is hungry in my city; there are so many soup kitchens and programs.”
Now, when I quit drinking, there wasn’t any drama or monumental dysfunction driving my choice. I had never had a brush with the law or embarrassed myself or become someone other than myself. I simply realized that I relied too much on alcohol as a coping mechanism. If I’d had a stressful day, or I was angry, or anxious, or bored, I’d soothe the feelings with alcohol – which, let’s be honest, is how most people use alcohol. I simply realized I was doing this on a regular basis and I was playing Russian roulette with my genetics.
So I quit.
Mostly it’s been a happy change. Until last night. We were at a restaurant that’s hippy enough to serve smoothies and bowls of veggies and quinoa, but it also has a full bar. There was whiskey over there. Probably good Irish whiskey. It was so close, and it would help me swallow down this lump of bitterness and disappointment that was caught in my throat as I listened to my friend sound so mean-spirited.
But I can’t let people drive me to drink. What I really want is to live in a kinder world. A shot of Jameson in my belly won’t make the world any nicer; it will only result in me breaking a promise to myself. So I breathed.
In for the count of four; out for the count of eight. Repeat.
Breathing won’t make the world any nicer, either. I couldn’t do anything at that table in that moment that would heal the world. So I could only say to my friend, “I’ll be curious to hear how you feel about this issue after you’ve thought about it. What I’m hearing from you is uncharacteristic of you. You’ve lost your compassion.” She agreed. And then she changed the subject.
And then I breathed. In for the count of four; out for the count of eight. In for the count of four; out for the count of eight. It’s a calming Yogic breath that has never failed me. Maybe I’ll nickname it Jameson.
My husband and I left and laughed at how stressful that conversation was. And then we noticed the beautiful bright moon.