So, I just got home from my first ever colonoscopy (four years late — I’m 54 and have been putting it off since the strike of 5-0).
Do you love how this post dives into TMI by the ninth word?
I’m not going to regale your with horror stories of the dreaded prep (two days, one gallon of laxative — and it really wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be) or the procedure (couldn’t anyway, I was blissfully out) or the recovery. Groggy but not too bad (light sedation, no narcotics, probably best because — unbelievably for someone with my appetites — they make me sick), no pain, some not too pretty bloating (you get pumped full of air — oops, TMI again). Results were great — no polyps, come back in ten years.
Wait, let me write that again — NO POLYPS or any signs of cancer or pre-cancer. I am a NORMIE as far as colons go (except for the aforementioned and hopefully temporary gas-filledness).
So what does this have to do with alcoholism (mine, maybe yours) and that sometimes-maddening-sometimes-life-saving adage: one day at a time?
First, some backstory: Like SoberMummy on the wonderful blog Mummy was a Secret Drinker, I had breast cancer (actually I had TWO separate, unrelated breast cancers, one in each breast, at the same time). Mine started as DCIS (pre-cancer) in one breast. My doctors suggested a bilateral mastectomy, because it was pretty wide spread, with a routine test of the lymph nodes on the left side. Only 1 % chance they would find anything there because this was, as I said, precancer.SO, just a quick surgery, new boobs (I did get those), and home in time to make it to parents’ day at my daughter’s camp
I woke up from the operation to the news that not only was there some cancer in three lymph nodes, but there was also invasive cancer in the left boob (supposed to be only DCIS) and invasive cancer in the right boob (suppose to be nothing). Not a lot in any of those places, but enough to buy me a half year of aggressive chemo.
I’m fine now, by the way. And did I mention — NO POLYPS?
Fine, except for a nasty case of PTSD. Which brings us to “one day at a time.”
I used all my latent scheming alcoholic skills, which have been a bit dormant the last year, to avoiding doing this colonoscopy because, as I had learned, SCREENING TESTS MAKE YOU HAVE CANCER. And, as I had learned, when they say, “Oh there is only a 1% chance we’ll find anything,” I AM THE ONE PERCENT. So with it scheduled this week, I was ready to go into full blown panic mode.
But you know what? I didn’t (I just heard my long-suffering husband faint dead away at that characterization). Okay, I didn’t as much as I usually would. And I think it is because of all the practice with “one day at a time” I have had in getting sober.
I tried to take the colonoscopy — or worrying about the colonoscopy — one day at a time. I didn’t allow myself to obsess (much) about how awful it would feel when they told me I had cancer, the operations I would endure, the chemo that would wreck another beautiful summer — the same way we alcoholics should not obsess about how we will be miserable at the next office happy hour, and how we will never get to have a lovely Pinot Gris on the porch in the summer, and how we will be miserable outsiders forever and ever and never have a moment of joy again. I wasn’t right about the colonoscopy, and I wasn’t right about what my non drinking life would be like.
Channeling my worry into “one day at a time” meant, on Monday, enjoying a mountain hike in the newly warm weather and making myself feel its beauty — and not sitting in a dark room, looking up colon cancer horror stories online and making plans for a horrible future I was inventing on the spot. Even if I HAD had cancer, how would living in that future make reliving it later any better — and I would have missed the hike.
In case my metaphor is too vague (or self-obsessed, sorry, haven’t shed all the alcoholic’s egotism yet), let me translate to my early sobriety experience. I was most unhappy with not drinking and most in danger of a relapse when I was existing in my head, spinning sad (and completely fictional, it turns out) tales of my even sadder, lonely existence without alcohol. When I put that aside and lived one day at a time, trying to experience what was in front of me right then — a pretty sunset, a nice pile of beans to snap, a funny movie — the anxiety disappeared, and it was so easy, even natural, not to drink.
One of my Buddhist heroes, Thich Nhat Hanh, put it more beautifully (and succinctly) than I ever could:
Fear keeps us focused on the past or worried about the future. If we can acknowledge our fear, we can realize that right now we are okay. Right now, today, we are still alive, and our bodies are working marvelously. Our eyes can still see the beautiful sky. Our ears can still hear the voices of our loved ones.
One day at a time.