Sometimes I wish I weren't such a mess of complications.
Last week I had a few days of really (really really really a lot!!!) wanting to drink. I didn't drink, though. So that's the short version of this post.
Instead, I rode my bike, had coffee and tiramisu, and bought the perfect pair of summer walking sandals. Later I raged and cried and said--out loud, to my partner--that it wasn't fair, I didn't want to be an alcoholic or an addict or whatever the hell I called it, and if I was one I wasn't even really good at it because I'd never had big dramatic consequences because of drinking and now I don't have big dramatic life changes and maybe I'm just too self-absorbed and need to get over myself and get over all this sober bullshit. And I said I probably would have gone out and bought wine but I knew that I would not just drink a glass or so and sooner or later I would have too much too often and feel like crap and it just wouldn't work for me but dammit I just don't know what to do about it all. And then after a while I washed my face and pressed a cold cloth to my swollen red eyes, and I did the dishes because what a relief to do something practical after all that raging and crying. And then we had a cup of herbal tea and went to bed.
After a couple of days, I felt a bit better. Sort of. Saturday night after work, I rode my bike past the wine store and was amazed that I used to always stop for a bottle of rosé on the way home. I didn't want to do that anymore. I didn't see the appeal of spending the money and drinking too much and heading to work the next day with a headache and not enough sleep. But then the next day I had a headache anyway and a dull mind and I felt hungover, and I wondered what was so great about not having wine if I was already going to feel awful the next day.
The thing is, I don't really want wine anymore. But I don't know what it is I do want.
Sometimes I love reading all about how people feel better after getting sober, or looking at what they do to help themselves. But so much of it grates on me, and I just can't do a lot of the things these smart people seem able to do. I don't want to be told that I need to blow my ego to smithereens, because years ago I scraped myself back from a long depressive space and I had to build me an ego in order to cope with the world, and I have to pay attention somehow to what I feel and think, not just steamroller over that in taking up some collective wisdom, and trying to pay attention to that is what I mean by ego and I know it's no good for me to squash that down, despite the supposedly wise words of the addiction experts and meditation experts.
There are no answers.
Last week I read Drunk Mom by Jowita Bydlowska. It's a good book. Bydlowska writes well, and I was brought into the whole spiral of drinking along with her. I admire her honesty, because she's part of the stuffy Toronto lit scene that wonders (out loud in printed book reviews in national media) whether such personal stories are best hidden, especially when they involve the less than perfect accounts of their own. Having read her story, I love her, and I wish her well. I actually read the book in a sitting, if you can call going to bed early and reading till 2AM a sitting. (A lying?) But afterwards, I thought I probably shouldn't have read it just now. I felt oddly left out. I don't have kids, and I didn't do the awful things she writes so well about having done, and a day or so later, I was left thinking that there are "real addicts" with real problems and my alcoholic-lite problems were too petty to pay any attention to. At the same time, in a class I'm taking, I read about a guy who, after a long spell of keeping sober, drank multiple 40 ounce bottles of whiskey, and again I thought, "I'm not like that. I couldn't do that if I tried." And I don't want anyone to come at me with what the AAers call the "not yets." I haven't done that, and I am reasonably sure I couldn't because I don't have the physical constitution for it. I would simply throw up or fall asleep before getting that far along.
I'm not saying I'm better than these people. It just feels like I'm dealing with a different problem. All I did was spend too much money on wine and drink too much wine and occasionally be a bit embarrassing. Sometimes I did things like hosting a dinner party and leaving at 11 or so to go to sleep because I'd had too much to drink and wanted to lie down, but I've been leaving parties early (or late) my whole life and no one cared and the cops weren't involved and even my partner took a lot of convincing that I really had a problem, and he's seen me through all this. What I'm saying is, sometimes all the information about where people got to with their drinking problems makes me feel like my problems are too small to matter. And then the people who say I would have got there eventually are relying on the accepted wisdom that alcoholism is a progressive brain disease, except that the people who study brains and diseases are far from convinced that this is a helpful way to describe whatever addiction is. If it works for you, it's a good story to tell, but I can't buy into it so there's no comfort in that story for me.
And I don't believe that there is some authentic, pure and lovely me hidden on the inside of all this dross, and that if only I do the right things I will chip away what Ginsberg calls my "skin of grime" and my radiant self will shine through. That's way too romantic for my take on life. I think the drinking person I was is just as much me as this not drinking person, and all this "old self" and "new self" talk seems like just another way of buying into the contemporary therapy culture that tells us to buff and shine up our souls like they are old wood floors that would gleam and even be admired if only we'd do the work. I don't know about all that. I don't trust this self-improvement stuff. It looks shallow. And I do not want to be shallow.
So what's left that's not shallow? Going outside. That's not shallow. Poetry isn't, though for some reason I'm not slowing down to read enough of it these days. (Jesus, please say I have't become one of those people who writes "read more poetry" on a sticky note in the hopes that sticky notes cause behavioural changes. Shoot me now.) OK, back to what's not shallow. Love. Real connection with people. Stories. Food. (Maybe eating good food is hedonistic, but I think it's not shallow, so I'll let that one in.)
The other day I was talking with a professor about some research I'm doing, and I said I love the confusion of doing qualitative research because I don't believe the pat answers that so many people come up with anyway, and other people's certainty just makes me poke holes in their arguments and then I'm left with nothing, but at least when I'm uncertain there's hope that I might learn something. It's a testament to this wonderful woman that she understood what I was saying and said encouraging things to me. Maybe I need to have the same take on this getting sober thing. I'm not planning to go back to drinking, because when I drank, I ended up a bit miserable, and I don't know how to do it any other way. So no drinking for me. But I don't really have any way of understanding what I'm doing that's clear to me. I'm accepting the confusion and inconsistencies of this big mess of stuff that is me, and I guess that's all I've got right now. I wish I could sign on to a program and get on some straight road to the truth and light, but I guess I don't think that's how it's going to go for me.
Maybe I'll just go for a walk instead. It's clouding over, but I think it's still sunny out there.
If you really did plough through all my confusion and ranting here, many thanks. It's a bit of a mess in here these days, but I appreciate your your company just the same. Peace and joy to you, and maybe some for me too.