Off the Emotional Sobriety Wagon

In the past month, since my father-in-law passed away on June 19th, 2021, it has been a whirlwind. We spent a few days in Vegas when he passed, came home, and I left 3 days later for a work trip in South Carolina. A week after I returned, we left for a memorial service in Arkansas. We came home for 10 days, during which time my mom visited from California (which I absolutely loved, but is a steady stream of play-time). We then flew back to Vegas for a second memorial for the west coast crowd. This all took place in a little over a month’s time.

I tell you this prepare you for the insanity and dare I confess, idiocy, of what I am about to tell you.

Ya know how they say (or maybe my family just made this up last month) that you have to forgive/forget anything that is said at a funeral? Well, regardless of who said it, it holds true.

Emotions are high and the motions you force yourself to go through in order to honor and memorialize a loved one cause you to postpone the processing of what has been lost. The grief is hovering—sometimes threatening—awaiting the unpacking of it after all the hugging, hand shaking and smiling has been done with hundreds of people who also loved your lover or father/mother or friend.

All of this can contribute to rash, harsh or ugly words said to perfect strangers, or regrettably, those you love as much as the one you just lost. During this time, it is natural and normal for us to fall off the wagon and lose our emotional sobriety. Rational thought flies out the window and reactive juices are bubbling and bubbling until they burst through the surface of it all, often without ample warning to those around us.

What happens when we fall off said wagon, is that any work we have done on ourselves in the past to become more mature, wise, and gracious and less egocentric, selfish, and defensive gets overshadowed by our grief. Our old default settings come raging back and we react as we used to. These reactions are embarrassing in hindsight but at the time feel appropriate, legitimate and honestly, pretty darn satisfying.

Until the moment passes and we step away, letting our adrenaline come back down to normal levels and maybe run or scream or, in my particular case, ride a terrifying roller coaster at Silver Dollar City approximately 4 times in 20 minutes (I really need one of those nearby for future freak-out-therapy).

I won’t bore you (or embarrass myself) with every ridiculous encounter that took place during this stressful month, but hopefully the confession of this specific one will be a hardy example of why it is imperative to protect your emotional sobriety (through solitude, prayer, phone calls, and more prayer) during any intense or heartbreaking time of your life.

While we were in Arkansas for one of the memorials, we went to Silver Dollar City. We all love that place but my father-in-law, Ron, really loved it. He loved the funnel cakes and watching people blow glass and make horseshoes at the blacksmith shop. We always hand-dipped candles at the candle store and then he would go next door to the bakery and have a loaf of fresh-baked bread and some apple butter sent to the front of the park for pick-up. We went to Silver Dollar City to honor his memory and enjoy it together as a family.

In the middle of a lovely day, my husband and I got into a scuffle over a water bottle. There were more details and actions that triggered several core issues we tend to battle like anyone married 29 years might, but the root of it was a lost water bottle.

woman and man sitting on brown wooden bench
Photo by Vera Arsic on

We proceeded to stand face-to-face screaming (in that subdued but dramatic way one would when in a public venue) at each other about how this misplaced water bottle represented everything wrong in our marriage. We were like Frank and Estelle Costanza in Seinfeld who regularly flipped out on each other declaring, “You want a divorce???? You got a divorce!!!!!!” and then went calmly back to whatever they were doing before the outburst.

There we were, two grown-ups (which is debatable) having a colorful yelling match in the middle of sweet, innocent children at a family-friendly theme part. Not one of our finest moments.

But, and I can only speak for myself and my personal conclusion (my husband may very well think I am a lunatic still), but I know that at its core that fight was not about a water bottle. I don’t even believe it was about my marriage at all (not that it’s perfect).

I believe it was a result of the sadness and grief combined with a pretty long stint of deprivation —deprivation (some self-induced and some unavoidable) of solitude, regular time with friends who can give us perspective, routine (bed-time, workout-time, prayer-time, reflection-time, healthy-eating-time, rest-time) and maybe even a twinge of anger or resentment at God for letting this kind of thing happen to us—to our loved ones.

Maybe we were subtly ignoring God or pretending we didn’t realize He was standing right there while we kept our back to Him.

Emotional sobriety is the best term I can think of to describe what is essential, yet excruciatingly hard to hold on to, when times are tough. I wish I would have done a better job of it. Some days I felt like I was a 2-yr-old, just trying to get what I want out of life and throwing a tantrum when it doesn’t work out the way I want it. Sometimes I felt as if I had no other solution, even though deep down I know better.

So, even though I clearly have not mastered the art of handling myself maturely and graciously in crisis, I am grateful that God has given me some insight so that maybe next time I can be more intentional about protecting the practices that might prevent future flip-outs at the next family theme park.

One thought on “Off the Emotional Sobriety Wagon

  1. I just sent this to my sister with whom I had a similarly harsh/angry interaction in the days after my Mom passed. Your writing here captures a perfect balance of taking responsibility for our actions while practicing forgiveness and compassion for ourselves and others. You put into words what I’ve been wanting to say to my sister (along with “I’m sorry “). Thanks for sharing. It made me feel a little less crazy.

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