I had a piece all planned out and half-drafted about David Foster Wallace’s addiction and the reasons he could not escape his depression; also another piece about a new magazine about recovery called Renew, whose editor has asked me to be the book and media reviewer; and I still plan to write those pieces, but I’ve wandered into a bad neighborhood this week. You know you’ve wandered into a bad neighborhood when it’s 9 in the morning and you’ve just dropped the kids off for camp and you’ve cranked up Lyle Lovett singing Townes Van Zandt, and you’re crying in the car.
Driving home and leaking a few scalding tears of self-pity, I was thinking how sick I am of being in early sobriety: that I’d like very much, thank you, to be one of those people you see at meetings who has 30 or 40 years (will I ever have 30 or 40 years?—I cleaned up pretty late, I might be dead before then) and who can stay sober seemingly without trying. One of those people who says they no longer need to go to meetings—that they just come to “give the message to the newcomer” (me). You ever run into those people?
Me, I have to try real hard sometimes. And then I try too hard. I can’t get the balance right. I can go a long time doing tricks on the bar, then I fall off, and it hurts.
I’ve been restless, irritable and discontent. My behavior yesterday pointed this out to me. Went to the library to pick up some books that were being held for me, and the hold on one of them had been cancelled because I was a day too late. One day. The book was sitting right there in front of her. I said, “Can’t I still take it out?” I take books out of the library to save money. If I were rich as Croesus, I would be buying all these books and supporting their authors, but I can’t afford to do that (poor me), so I support the public library instead. And the librarian checked the screen and said, “No, there’s another hold on this book.”
I said: “Isn’t there another copy in the system?”
She checked the screen and said: “No—this is the ONLY COPY in the entire system.” The entire frigging system, I thought, has only one copy of this title, and I can’t have it because I was 12 hours too late. If I’d been in the right frame of mind (i.e., sober) I would have thanked the librarian for her help, but as it was, I snatched the two books she allowed me to take and slammed the door on my way out.
On the curb, I thought, What the hell are you doing, slamming doors? You don’t behave like this anymore.
But yes, it turns out, I do behave like this. When I resent my own failings, I blame other people for it and slam doors.
Went home, opened my computer and saw that my battery had drained to 20 percent. Checked the cable and found the transformer had burned out on me. Looked for the spare and couldn’t find it anywhere. Called my husband, who is overseas, taking care of his family—but yesterday, he was by himself in the countryside, staying at a pub, having a sweet little holiday in the mild Yorkshire sunshine. And there I was, I thought, in this infernal heat, dealing with his inability to leave the spare charger where I could see it.
And in the back of my mind was the thought that, the last time I had a little tiny holiday by myself—exactly 72 hours away from home—I caught hell about it for a week. Resentment.
“I gave the spare to my sister,” he said. So he’d secretly taken it with him, and there was no spare in the house, and my computer was ready to die.
I let him hear about it, for 30 seconds, then told him to “have fun” in the country and hung up on him. Total bitch.
I mean yeah, it would have been nice if he’d told me he was giving away our spare charger. But would it have changed things in the least?—no. The reality is, I have money enough to buy a charger. Thank goodness.
Gratitude, man. It’s a choice.
Yesterday’s meeting wound up being about gratitude. Trudged through the 96-degree heat to the meeting and nobody had a topic, and my friend Benedick who was chairing said he wanted to talk about Step 4 and character defects—whether they actually get “removed,” whether we can truly change and become better people, or whether the defects stick around and we remain big bad addicts and have to struggle against them forever. He opened it up and a woman said, “What I really wanted to talk about is gratitude,” and this little moan went around the room—the way it quite often does, I notice, outside of Thanksgiving-Time Gratitude Meetings. Even at Thanksgiving you sometimes hear people mumble, “I fucking HATE gratitude meetings.” I’ve said it myself.
I hate gratitude meetings. Because they have a way of pointing out my weaknesses.
I want life to be easy. When it’s easy I think I’m safe.
Gratitude is the antidote to all this… even active drunks and addicts can understand this. Townes wrote:
You will miss sunrise if you close your eyes
That would break my heart in two
He wrote this while he was killing himself drinking. Beautiful things can come out of suffering and devastation.
At the meeting yesterday I confessed that during these 96-degree days I sometimes wish I could have a cold beer. Drugs, I said, were for serious medication of suffering and pain; beer was for kicking back and having fun, cooling off, and having a laugh like everybody else. I remember the taste: a bit sweet at the front and bitter at the back, with the bubbles prickling my tongue and making my mouth water. And then the hit, first in my belly, which is also where the drugs always hit, but in a different way. I liked pale ale, or bitter. Fuller’s is (was) nice. … There is beer in the house, and a distributor up the block, a specialty pub two blocks away, and I am the only adult here, no one would know, but I haven’t had a drink.
My friend Benedick, a 30-year-alcoholic who just passed a year, talked at the meeting yesterday about how he’d been outside the day before from noon to 11 at night, and he’d gone through three shirts and after he knocked off work at 11, his colleagues all said, “Let’s go get a beer!”
“This sounded like the best idea that anyone had ever proposed in the history of civilization,” he said. “It didn’t sound like temptation. It sounded like a reasonable and intelligent response to a long day in the heat. I would pound the beer and I would go to Heaven, and Jesus would be there to meet me at the bar.”
If that ain’t temptation, I thought. “I will turn these desert stones into bread… all you have to do is Ask.”
“Except after the beer, I would have a shot, and then another few shots and a beer, and then a shot and a beer and a shot,” he said, and then he would be wasted and wake up with a hangover.
He told his friends this. He said it helped him to be honest. Thinking it through, surrendering to the reality of his alcoholism, helped him to stay sober that night.
So I tell you, my friends, today: I am in a bad neighborhood. I’m not obsessed with drinking or using but I am obsessed with worry—getting everything done, perfectly; proving I’m a Good Girl so I can be Safe Forever. Called Benedick last night and told him that I believe what my friend Sluggo has told me a lot of times: that addiction and character defects just cover up the divine beauty that is inside us; that it’s not up to us to Fix Ourselves but to allow that beauty to be revealed. God doesn’t come in, God comes out. Steps 6 and 7.
So, rest easy. I used to sing this song to my son to lull him to sleep.
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