I quit drinking a little more than a year ago, and around that time I wrote about how my cats help keep me sober. Over the last 476 days, things have gotten real -ÔÇô that is, colors are brighter, morning exists, and feelings are intense, prolonged, and often uncomfortable. When life gets hard, it often seems like falling back into old patterns would suit me just fine. Luckily, I’ve got Bubba Lee Kinsey and Phoenix in my corner to keep me grounded. Here are five ways my cats help me stay on the wagon when I want nothing more than to leap off.
Sometimes things don’t go according to plan. Maybe that job I’d been hoping to get fell through, or maybe through my own laziness and ill-preparedness I blew a perfectly good opportunity. Maybe I did a lousy job of being there for a friend in need, because let’s be honest ÔÇô- when I was drinking I did not get much practice. Maybe someone wronged me through no fault of my own.
In any case, the world is a tough place, and dealing with the other humans can be challenging. That’s why I’m grateful that no matter how bad it gets out there, I can always come home and bury my face in some soft, warm belly floof. Whether or not they know it, Bubba Lee Kinsey and Phoenix regularly save my ass.
A big part of my drinking career involved throwing up my hands and saying SCREW IT. I have to work today? SCREW IT. Brunch with friends? SCREW IT. Returning a difficult phone call ÔÇô- or really, any phone call? SCREW IT. The daily grind has a way of wearing me down without my go-to escape plan of saying SCREW IT.
Because I don’t have a family to provide for, my cats give me a reason to venture out into the world on those days when it’s 10 below zero and probably going to snow again and seriously, spring is never going to come, and I really just want to stay in bed and say SCREW IT. Many people (the ones with actual human babies) might say they’re "just cats," but to me they’re family. I’m responsible for making sure they’re fed and happy, and I can’t do that while I’m hiding in my room.
Like many people I know, I drank because I felt like an outsider. I wanted nothing more than to fit in, and alcohol provided the release I needed to get over my shyness and participate in social occasions. Even something as small as playing a game of pool was daunting to me, but after a couple of beers I was talking trash and running the table.
Without alcohol, I’ve been forced to accept my inherent awkwardness. Sometimes I still say things that provoke stunned silence or genuine confusion from the other humans, and instead of getting upset over it I’m learning to laugh at myself. In this regard, my cats have been my mentors. After all, there’s nothing weirder than Bubba Lee Kinsey’s unhealthy obsessions with dirty gym shoes, twist ties, and granola bars, and I love him anyway. Maybe the world will work the same way with me, despite my quirks.
I used to respond to any event, positive or negative, by pouring a drink, so I never learned how to have feelings or deal with them. Turns out there are a lot of feelings, and many of them are confusing. They also arise unexpectedly, prompting me to stop in the middle of conversations with my boyfriend and say, “Hold on, I’m having feelings right now.” Some days, they sound like someone shouting at me in a foreign language; they’re an unintelligible roar in my brain. The most frustrating part is that I know someone somewhere understands this language, but to me it remains elusive.
I think my kitties have a sixth sense for knowing when I’m feeling overwhelmed. When stress and anxiety are closing in around me, my cats know to make their entrance. Purring, Phoenix burrows under the blankets to sleep by my feet, and Bubba Lee Kinsey chirps gently and waits for chin scritchies. This unconditional love is the best part of allowing these weird, gross, awkward, beautiful, wonderful creatures to live with me.
When I was drinking, my life was characterized by chaos. It was normal to wake up in unfamiliar surroundings, unsure of the whereabouts of my car, wallet, and cell phone. Depending on how hungover I was, I rearranged my plans on the fly. Maybe I was going to clean my apartment and get a haircut on a Saturday afternoon, but that could quickly turn into watching reruns of Family Guy while eating my weight in tacos. “Who wants a routine, anyway?” I thought. “Routines are boring.”
Phoenix would beg to differ. Each morning, she does the same things: She screams at me for 20 minutes straight until I get up to feed her, she eats her breakfast and drinks some water, she takes a bath, and she watches the birds in the window. Then it’s nap time, either on my lap if I’m at home (in fact, she’s there right now) or on the corner of the bed by the heater. She finds comfort in this daily routine, and slowly but surely, I’m learning to do the same.
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About Angela: This not-crazy-at-all cat lady loves to lint-roll her favorite dress and go out dancing. She also frequents the gym, the vegan coffee joint, and the warm patch of sunlight on the living room floor. She enjoys a good cat rescue story about kindness and decency overcoming the odds, and she’s an enthusiastic recipient of headbutts and purrs from her two cats, Bubba Lee Kinsey and Phoenix.
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