The dog won’t walk this morning.
She won’t put weight on her right rear paw. I’m not a dog person, this is my first dog, I don’t know dogs well; I only know Flo and Ginger and Andy—big black dog, a year older than Flo, looks like her big brother, and her owner and I call them Greg and Cindy. I know my sponsor’s dogs. But this is the first one I’ve ever lived with.
She loves me.
In an hour we go to the vet.
Life is no longer normal when, first thing in the morning, the dog doesn’t climb all over me. In greeting, Flo does this wiggle, her own patented dance, a twist: her tail wags her hips, it charms everyone and it reminds me somehow of Marilyn Monroe in a very tight black dress.
Flo is childlike, and at the same time she reminds me that we’re all animals.
I’m sick this morning, I have a sore throat and a headache, and I think it’s because I read inventory yesterday. I took a fifth step for the first time with my sponsor of two years. Step 5: “Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another person the exact nature of our wrongs.”
I was keyed up about it. She had instructed me to write inventory about a particular set of problems, and unlike previous sponsors, she told me to write it stream-of-consciousness. By the time I was done writing two days ago, I thought I might throw up. I called her: I’m done writing inventory, I said, and I’m gonna be sick.
It’s just a feeling, she said.
She said, I find it interesting that you have feelings, and then you write stories around them. The feelings are just feelings. They pass. They don’t need your editorial commentary.
The post-nasal drip is oozing down in a sickening way. My larynx feels like sandpaper, and my throat feels packed with small marbles. My head hurts.
It’s just a feeling.
It was a relief to read inventory to her. Sometimes when I experience that kind of relief, I get sick, as though all my defenses relax and allow the bad stuff to come in—or else to come out.
We sat in her living room, on her couch with her dogs sprawled across our laps, and at her direction I read straight from what I’d written. She’d prayed first, an invocation about my being able to be with the truth and to heal. I can’t remember what she said, because I was nervous: I was telling her some stuff I’d never told anyone. I’d written two inventories with two other sponsors, and somehow this stuff had never been spoken. It was as though I were dragging it out of a dark box.
I think I’d always tried to fit my story into other women’s narrative structures. I can read Carolyn Knapp, I can go to speaker meetings and listen to other women tell their stories, and what I hear, by and large, is this: I slept around; I can’t even remember all the men I’ve been with; I used to wake up hung over in strangers’ beds; I feel terrible about all the nameless faceless sex-partners I’ve had in my life, I wish I could gain back my innocence, there’s no way I can get it back.
This isn’t my story. I sit in speaker meetings and think, This is not my story. Does anyone else who drank and used have my story?—I don’t think so. Terminally unique, as ever.
When I drank and used drugs, I kept myself in a box. I preserved my innocence in a dark crate, in formaldehyde. I prevented myself from having experience. I did what others expected of me, mostly.
Since age 17, when I first got drunk. Since age 25, when I first started using medication. (I mean drugs.) Until she got sober, G lived in a box. She chose to do it. And even after G got sober, in some essential ways G confined herself to her box until this year, 2012, when something happened, G glimpsed a slim but powerful sliver of light shining through the crate’s rough plywood slats.
This process was beyond her control, it was greater than herself. It happened. When something like this happens, you either accept it or reject it. G has been working to accept it.
Light is a powerful thing. It shows up the dark places. Shadows are an inevitable part of life, and the only time shadows cause real problems, in my experience, is when I protect them. When I shove stuff into the shadows so I can’t look at it, I don’t have to see what might be growing in there.
In fact I now realize that I’d thought that if I shoved certain thoughts and feelings (and dreams—remember dreams?) into the shadows, then, like plants, they’d just wither and die, and eventually in the dead of some night I’d just hire in some garbage collector or housecleaner to wipe out those spaces, delete all that memory, and I’d never have to worry about that stuff again.
That’s not how life works.
Instead the stuff grew, and in the shadows, in the darkness of the box, I couldn’t see what was growing. I could ignore it. Until I got more and more sober.
This all sounds like a Maurice Sendak or Quentin Blake story.
Maybe it could be a Guinevere story someday.
I’ve thought seriously about climbing back into the box again, you know. You know what I mean?—it would cause much less disturbance. Everything could stay the same. No one else would be impacted (I mean hurt) by G’s changes. No one could call G selfish or deluded or whatever.
You can’t climb back into that box again, my therapist said some weeks back.
If you do, you’ll die.
Her expression was baleful.
Die? I said doubtfully.
How soon we forget: G nearly jumped off a bridge in May. G, do you remember?
You’ll die, she said. You’ll either jump off a bridge, or you’ll start using again—or something else. The only way you could stay in that box was to use.
The only way you could stay in that box, my sponsor said yesterday, was to drink and use.
It’s a responsibility to live up to one’s potential, to discover what one was created to be and then to be that. It’s easier simply to remain a child and let someone else take care of you.
But guess what. Our Little G is growing up.
I looked up from the pavement and saw this sign on my run the other day: someone needlepointed it and posted it on a phone pole.
Some | All
Experience | Innocence
An invitation to choose.
Choosing the box is trying to have it all, make everyone happy, pretend I’m happy myself. Engage in denial. Preserve innocence. Be a child.
Choosing to come out, to be a Big Girl—to be a woman, to choose experience—is recognizing I can only have some.
I pick “some.”