Sobriety, Santa Clause, Depression & Quantum Physics

NORAD Santa Tracker
NORAD Santa Tracker

On Christmas Eve, Alma's dad and I were tracking Santa to see where he was, how many presents he's delivered, how many miles he's covered, etc. (The story behind NORAD is interesting if you're nerdy like that.)

The first time we checked he was in Chile and had delivered some 4 million bazillion presents and you can see the number ticking up faster and faster.

Alma is five so she doesn't question the viability of Santa making it to billions of houses across the world, or how he knows what all the kids want, or how he carries all that stuff, or anything. This is one of the best things about little kids -- they fully believe in magic. They don't even consider it magic -- they just don't see limitations yet. Life is wide open and vast and it's all possible. Anna and Elsa and Olaf live in Arendelle, which is an actual place you can visit, just like Maine. Santa knows all the kids' personal wish lists and can make it from Chile to Swampscott, MA in a matter of hours.

This makes kids really fun to hang out with (sometimes). It also makes them wonderful students of God.

After A went to bed I was looking out the window and thinking about the way magic like that seeps out of our lives as we grow up, and how sad that is.

A friend of mine said that when he was little, maybe 7 or 8, he had this period where he would be riding in the car with his parents and every time they stopped at a traffic light, he'd look at the people in the cars next to him. He'd see that there were other parents, maybe with kids in the back, maybe a dog. Some cars had just one person, some a whole family. But each time they'd stop at a light he'd look into the neighboring cars and think, when the light turns green, that car and those people are going to drive off to their home, in a different neighborhood, and a different street, where they live with their family, or whoever, and that every car had this intricate, complicated web of people in a story he knew nothing about and the largeness of all those possibilities broke his brain. He said it seemed impossible and too complicated and he couldn't wrap his head around all the infinite pieces of these lives he couldn't see but knew existed because there were those people, in the cars, everywhere.

Little Boy Looking Out the Window
Little Boy Looking Out the Window

Eventually, over time and as we get older, we stop questioning the magic of our own existence and our relationships to others. Not entirely, hopefully, but we never really see the world exactly as we did when we were children again. We can't.


One of the biggest gifts of being sober is that I am starting to see the world with brand new eyes again. I am able to take notice of the smallest details - the textures of the sidewalk or someone's voice, light catching different angles, the miraculous shape of my daughter's nose - as if I'm seeing things for the first time. It's not like this all the time. Hardly. But it is in the morning, in the "thin places" as Elizabeth Gilbert calls them, when we first wake up and our ego is down and we're not quite awake but not asleep and our senses haven't been arrested by the noises of life yet. It is like this then and at other times too, and I am continually surprised at how much I was missing  by being dulled out, dimmed down, either anesthetized by booze or smothered by the anxiety and exhaustion of a hangover. Even in the times I'd gone for brief stretches without drinking, the fog didn't lift - it takes a lot longer than a few days to clear up.

The last stretch of the year before Christmas I was struggling hard. Big, heavy depression type stuff that came out of seemingly nowhere and swallowed me whole for a couple of weeks. I've had plenty of experience with these dips, but the depth of this one surprised and scared me. I hated everyone who could move through the holiday season without thinking about avoiding alcohol. I hated my entire office for their bar crawls and yankee swaps with boozie apple cider. I hated my family and the fact that although all of them drink (some, a lot) I was the one with the big red A on my forehead, forever x-ed out of that type of time spent together. I hated AA and all their stupid fucking sayings. I even felt like Alma would be better off if she had a mom who wasn't so sad, so lonely, so loser-ish. I burst into tears at inopportune times, like when someone came into my office to ask me a question, or while sitting on a crowded train. My chest was clenched shut and all my usual methods for pulling in light were failing me: yoga, sun, baths, reading, meetings, food, sleep, meditation. Nothing worked. I was just stuck.


One evening I was lying in my bed again, in the dark, emptied of tears and energy and I thought: I can't do this. I didn't want to die, but I didn't want to really live, either. I didn't want to move to get a cup of water, or go pee, or take out the trash, or call my mom back, or whatever the next thing was. I didn't want to do anything except sleep forever.

A tiny whisper of a thought bubbled up to the surface of my conscious and it went something like this: You must believe in things you cannot see, think, feel or even imagine.

I remembered a talk I used to listen to by Wayne Dyer, where he recounts the time when he started to learn about quantum physics and Deepak Chopra said to him about the subject, it's not only strange to think about, it's stranger than you can think.

It's stranger than you can think.

Quantum Physics Blackboard
Quantum Physics Blackboard

Like Alma with Santa Claus or my friend considering the cars next to him. It occurred to me that the reality that existed in my mind might Narrow. A faulty perception. I thought about a conversation I had as a kid when I first read about God's creation of the world and I asked someone - I can't even recall who - how it was possible, how one person could create all this? They told me God doesn't operate under the same rules as people do; that He's infinitely more powerful than we can ever imagine. This made my head hurt, but it unlocked an entire realm of possibility that didn't exist just seconds prior.

This darkness carried on for more days still, but that little thread of a thought cracked a tiny hole in it and a hole was all I needed, I suppose. On Christmas day I felt more warmth and wholehearted hope than I had in some time. It was such a change from the drowning feeling I'd had for weeks prior - kind-of like the first day you're feeling well after a bad flu and simply not being sick is an incredible relief.

So, I don't know. So much of this journey has been about suspending disbelief. Magical thinking. Hanging on for a lot longer than I think I can, putting one foot in front of the other and trusting the universe to roll its tough-loving hands over me. Imagining the world as I did when I was a child: limitless, enchanting and full of Santa Claus magic.


P.S. If you've never seen Hyperbole and a Half's comics about depression, take a spin. They're brilliant and beautifully true.