Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Imagination and memory: some thoughts at day 60

Lately I've been thinking about how memory and imagination are intertwined, and how they both play an important role in my new sobriety. I'm still trying to practice mindfulness, slowing down and noticing my thoughts, and I keep on seeing how little memories crop up when I'm not expecting them. Every bus ride contains traces of every other bus ride I've ever been on. Same for bike rides, cups of tea, mornings at work, and on and on. And with every memory, imagined future moments are all tangled up with the memories, so it's hard to know whether I'm looking back fondly at some past event or looking forward longingly at something that might happen. Reminds me of the great Kenneth Koch poem, One Train May Hide Another. (I'll link to it at the end so you can read it if you like poetry but don't already know it.)

Yesterday I started classes again, and already I have a taste of the busy months ahead. On the way home today, I realized I had a free afternoon, and no early plans tomorrow. Lots to read but no pressing deadlines. I had spent an hour at the library after class, so I was late coming home for my lunch, and therefore very hungry. In short, this is the exact kind of afternoon when I would have taken myself out to a cafe, ordered up some wine along with lunch, and sipped away the day, reading and making notes. Sounds lovely, but by evening I would either have a headache and be cranky, or I'd just be drunk.

Why am I talking about this? Well, this afternoon, riding the bus home from class, I had a brief image of that sippy lunch. First it was like a little pang of longing. But I'm trying to pay attention to these instead of running from them, so I stayed with it, watching. And yes, I was reminded of the many previous times I'd stopped off for lunch. OK, memories. But those memories were also laced with a sense of anticipation, looking forward to doing the same thing again today. That's the imagination part. I always think of memory and imagination as separate, but it's interesting to see how tangled up together they really are when you really look.

Since I've decided, for absolutely sure, that I am not drinking, that winey lunch wasn't an option. But I thought, OK, if this is me imagining how lovely that lunch would be, imagine something else. First, I imagined the headache and fuzzy thinking I would have after the hypothetical wine. Not much fun that. Then I went in a different direction, imagining what I would make for lunch at home: a glass of sparkling water, tomato-pepper-parsley salad, a few slices of havarti. A slice of really good sourdough bread, buttered, because I do love the butter. Some plums and yoghurt for dessert. An espresso and 2 small squares of my new favourite chocolate. (It's an 85% dark chocolate called AlterEco "Blackout." I know. I guess some blackouts are better than others!) With all that detail, the late afternoon lunch at home sounded better, as well as better for me.

The other night, I was talking to my partner about missing wine sometimes, and he said, "That sounds like nostalgia. What you're missing wasn't really what you had in the first place." He's not given to saying this sort of thing, and I was struck by how right he was. I think memories are tricky. For me, I'm reminded of things that happened before, and it's easy to confuse memory and longing. Habits are strong, we know that. But I can remind myself how some of those apparently lovely things really play out, and then put some effort into imagining another, better choice. Right at the point when I'm caught up in the loops of memory and imagination, I haven't made any choice yet. Lots of this remembering, imagining and longing is passive. It just happens, and I can be swept along. But it doesn't have to stay passive. I can engage with it, and switch it to something different. I think it might work like weeding the garden. Every time I notice myself easing towards wanting wine, I try to slow down the automatic thinking and switch to some better version of what I might do. What am I remembering? What do I really want?

I'm starting to see how this is a part of the work I have to do, over and over: paying attention, untangling memory and imagination, looking to see the better plan that remains hidden behind the first one. It really is like Koch says in his fine poem:

      It can be important
      To have waited at least a moment to see what was already there.

Anyway, that's me today. 60 days without wine, and mostly I don't miss it. I am sober. Sometimes clear and sometimes not. Emotionally up and down, but that's getting more manageable. Strange as it might sound, I'm loving noticing how some of these pangs and longings work, and staying with them until they shift. It kind of takes the power from them, makes them all less scary somehow.

OK, now I had better go get some of that reading done.

Happy sober days all, and thanks for reading! (And for those who are curious, here's that poem. Enjoy.)

Addendum: Oops. Today is actually day 61. 60 was yesterday, but it's a nice round number so I'll leave the title of the post as is!


  1. Happy 64, 65 days!

    Wow, I really like that Koch poem, thank you very much for sharing.

    Good luck with your classes--keep up the awesome progress,

  2. Thanks, Christy. I'm really glad you like the poem!