I didn’t used to know how to stay calm and sober when things went wrong, and it caused endless distress. Let me explain and set the scene that inspired this piece...
Learning how to stay calm when things go wrong is essential for long-term sobriety
“Dammit! His tail just flicked my eye. Try again. Did you get it?” I stood in the main Kinkatopia room desperately posing with the kinkajous, as we tried to get a headshot. “Hang on, let me see if I can get TC down here. Wait … OK … there she goes…”
My boyfriend fired his camera, taking photos for dear life. We both knew we had a short window to get a good shot — if we could get one. Thirty minutes later, we had quite the compilation of kinkajou butt pictures, blurred brown streaks, and photos of my face contorted in various ways. We had maybe two viable options, neither of which included a kinkajou.
“We’ll go with this one for now and try to get one with a kinkajou some other time,” I settled. We tried, we had fun — for that we were victorious.
A couple years ago, I would have fought tooth and nail to get that shot. I would have irritated the animals and argued with my boyfriend the whole time, dragging it out. I would have created a miserable experience and probably concluded with just the same outcome. But today I have acceptance that I am in no control of the external world around me.
More than that, what better opportunity to learn I am powerless over most aspects of my life than when working with wild animals. I clean — they throw food and poop on my neat floors. I strategically hang tunnels and ropes from the ceiling for their enjoyment — they pull the hooks out of the ceiling that hold up these items. I let them out into the house for a good time — they clear off my bookshelves and steal food from the cabinets.
Life, like my animals, is wild, and maintaining my emotional sobriety within whatever happens is a gift of sobriety for me
It doesn’t matter how I prepare for the madness; they always trump me. Whether I line the floors with newspaper, enforce my wall hangings, or kink-proof my household. They always find a way.
Such is life. The only thing truly consistent in this world is change, and for the sake of this article — our inevitable meeting of circumstances out of our control.
So, what do I do when things don’t go the way I planned and I need to stay calm?
Foremost, I practice radical acceptance, and I pray. Easier said than done, but with time and repetition, these tools have become second nature. In the grand scheme of things, I don’t need to pray over a soiled floor. When I get an unexpected bill, impatient about life milestones, or bad news about a loved one — I use the skills I have acquired.
Second, I find solace in knowing there is something greater than me out there. Every hiccup is leading me to exactly where I am supposed to be. I don’t do this perfectly, but I at least have awareness and a great support system to point me in this direction, when I lead myself astray.
As I write this, I have a kinkajou gnawing on my hand. Kinkatopia’s most recent addition, Kinky, is struggling with biting when he is overstimulated. In a calm manner, he wraps his body tightly around my fist and starts chewing on me. It’s not the worst bite, but it’s certainly not pleasant. This is not how I saw his transition going by any means.
I can apply the same acceptance to this situation. Just like me, Kinky is right where he is supposed to be. I don’t get upset. And like a sponsor, I follow the directions given to me by my animal trainer. Just like with my sobriety, I have a team to help me with my sanctuary.
Lastly, I pray. I talk to my Higher Power and ask to be shown what I need to know. Sometimes it’s revealed quickly and sometimes slowly, but it’s always revealed. And hey, Kinky is really giving me an opportunity to practice patience, love, and tolerance — so there’s the bonus.
Things aren’t always going to go our way, and that’s OK. It’s how we handle ourselves in which we can find true empowerment and serenity. Now please excuse me, I have to go put this kinkajou on another time out.