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The 10 Second Rule

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Photo Credit: Raw Pixel

Take the next 10 seconds and breathe. Count the seconds out loud if you can:

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Do you feel any different from the way you did before? How’s your heart, baby? Are you stewing in something, working it over between your back teeth, like a tough piece of meat? Are you smiling for no reason, other than that you’re alive, right now, reading these words, and that is everything and nothing at once? Look to your left. Who’s there? To your right? Can you feel your pulse? Your heartbeat measured out? Do you have music in your ears or memories on your mind? Are you giving life your best shot, right here, right now?

I spent 30 minutes angrily typing into the keyboard, before breathing for ten seconds. Albeit, maybe it was more than ten seconds, but ten feels like a nice round number, enough seconds to re-center. I wanted to talk about something else, but I found myself trying to filter things, make me seem softer, make them seem better. It didn’t feel real to me. This space is meant to be a safe space, a space for community, a space for the misfits, and the wannabes, and the cool kids. This is my story and not theirs. Thus, the ten second rule. Taking ten seconds to reassess what I wanted to put up here today.

Today was a hard, very bad day. Circumstances happened and, I ended up having to fight for my integrity. I felt crazy and like my version of the truth was perhaps just a bad dream. I felt similar feelings as an adolescent growing-up in an alcoholic household. I drank, in part, to deal with those feelings. Drinking made me feel less crazy, made everything seem less bad. With a few glasses of wine or a bottle of beer I could be satisfied with kicking a situation under the carpet or ignoring how my heart-felt. Forget about breathing, or ten seconds— time seemed irrelevant. Drinking made my world a little more perfect, my eyes glassier, and my needs less urgent. I could ride this out. I could push down how I felt. I didn’t need to ‘fess up or say no. I didn’t need to make space for myself. Drinking calmed the urge I’ve had ever since I can remember, to get to the bottom of the story, to acknowledge the truth for what it was, (especially if it was ugly). Drinking normalized so much for me because just the act of ordering a beverage at the bar and sharing in this well-accepted and celebrated social experience felt like a breath of fresh air. Meanwhile, the anxiety in my chest stopped expanding so much. Usually a perfectionist, I didn’t need to be one. I didn’t need to be so focused in. It was easy to be social, to say “hi” to someone I usually felt awkward around or even act out in away that went against everything I stood for.

When I wasn’t drinking, I was thinking about the soothing first sip of a drink, craving the cool touch of the glass, already arguing with myself that one is normal and this behavior is fine. When I wasn’t drinking, I was thinking about drinking and acknowledging that there was in fact a substance that could take me out of this space if I needed it to. It was an out.

There is a line from Hourglass, Dani Shapiro’s latest, beautiful memoir, that comes to mind, something about how during her previous weddings, every time she got to the altar she thought, “well, I can leave if I need to.” For me, it has always been despite numerous 24-hour chips and sponsors and conversations and blog posts just like this one, I can always go back to drinking and probably will when I get bored with this. I’ve never admitted to the pattern, although I’m sure it’s an obvious one. Girl gets sober, girl goes to meetings, copies X’s sober toolbox, buys the books Y reads, confesses to Z, and 30 days later she’s out. Done.

I don’t have a drinking problem, I’ve said so many times, the words feel like well-worn rocks, worn thin by time, but in my case untruths, lies. It’s possible to lie and not know it. Like, the first time I said I enjoyed losing my virginity, not realizing I’d been raped. I meant it as much as I did in that moment when I told my best friend, “it felt great,” as I did confessing to my first girlfriend, “she hurt me.” What I mean to say is you can hold two truths and both can feel the most honest, the most urgent. Just because one ends up being the story you stick with, doesn’t make the other one nonexistent.

As a writer, especially a writer of nonfiction, I find myself constantly going over moments, conversations, dialogue, asking myself, “did that actually happen the way I think it did?”I know my past trauma hinders me in this respect because sometimes in moments of grave anger and yelling I’ll fail to hear anything. I can remember what I was wearing, what I was looking at, and where I was, but I have no idea what was said for minutes of time. Other times, I hear things crisply, certain phrases or words stand out, and I know that I’ll be pulled to write about this moment eventually.

I’m reading a YA novel right now called The Astonishing Color of After, where the protagonist gives her emotions colors. In 10 seconds I went from red to blue, a color that to me stands for hope and redemption; peace and prosperity; the truth.

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The 10 Second Rule is all it takes to change colors, move mindsets, breathe out scenarios. Or, it’s just 10 seconds of breath, 10 seconds of not feeling or thinking or doing anything, but counting. Imagine if we all took 10 seconds before acting out, or texting back, or yelling.

Imagine, if we gave ourselves 10 seconds to tell the truth.

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