It's taken me a while to write again after my last post. And it may have sounded to some people there that I was questioning whether I had a problem at all. So to be clear: I'm not questioning that. Drinking had become a huge problem for me, and I'm just plain relieved that I stopped. Mostly I experience not drinking as a kind of freedom from a compulsion to do something that I enjoyed but that brought me much grief. It's hard to talk rationally about the wanting that goes along with drinking, and am still sometimes gripped with an overwhelming wanting that I don't associate with booze anymore but that I don't have any other easy panacea for either. But mainly, not drinking is freedom to live, and I'm very happy I made a decision to live that way and have been managing to keep the decision alive and keep living it every day.
What I want to talk about is this: the difference between June 10, 2013, and June 10, 2014. I haven't written much about my darkest days, and I won't do a drunkalogue here, but for me, that day last year was the kind of low I never want to repeat. The previous day had been a Sunday, and my work Sundays are always challenging, and they leave me tired. My answer to that used to be to drink a bottle of wine, and sometimes a good portion of another one. That day there were also some tensions regarding a person with whom I have had serious personal trouble in the past, and who is no longer in my life but is still connected to people I know, and the tendrils of that connection sometimes felt strangling to me. None of this is an excuse. It was just a crappy Sunday that ended in too much wine and not enough sleep. The Monday morning was bad. I wasn't prone to physical hangovers, just the occasional dull head that passed quickly, but I did sometimes have killer psychological hangovers, and this one was brutal. That day, I made a deal with myself. I called in sick to work, and I found a counsellor and made an appointment. I knew I had to sort out this emotional mess, and part of that was sorting out the drinking. Calling in sick due to hangover was well out of my usual normal life. No matter how much I drank, I was always OK to do what I had to do the next day, and that was one of the points of pride that helped me think the drinking was somehow not so bad. But on this particular day, I thought it would probably be better to die, and in part, I wanted to. I have been through a couple of crippling depressions. That stuff scares me. I knew I had to try to find a way to take better care of myself, or I wouldn't be able to live. This sounds melodramatic, maybe. It's hard to express how bad I felt that day. I just knew I couldn't keep living that way, and I didn't know how to change whatever I needed to change.
I didn't quit drinking that day. I can't remember now if I took a day or two off, though that seems unlikely. I probably drank some wine that night at dinner, because I absolutely never went a day without drinking unless I was doing some kind of "quit for a week" or "quit for a month" program. But the day was a turning point. After that, it was the first time I spoke with a stranger about my drinking. I didn't start out talking about wanting to quit. I wanted to drink like a reasonable person, and get a handle on my emotional life. But I remember a moment of clarity I had in an appointment with this counsellor a few weeks later. We were talking about mindfulness, and anticipation, and trying to locate that feeling of looking forward to drinking, trying to slow down and find that and see how much of it had to do with drinking and how much was anticipation. OK, that was fine. And then the counsellor said something about all the good feeling coming in the anticipation and in the first drink, and stopping at the first one, and I felt such a boiling rage I thought I might explode. How dare she stop me like that? All that anticipation wouldn't work if I was just going to have one drink. I thought the counsellor was just crazy, and far too pious for my tastes! I was so angry with her, but I knew that was irrational, so I made another deal with myself. I decided to stop seeing her for a while and think this stuff through on my own, and I also decided to stop drinking altogether for a week while I was thinking. That became a month, then 100 days, and I thought I'd do that forever but I became scared of the fear of drinking/relapse and decided to on purpose see if I could drink again after all, and I could for a while but the old patterns seemed to be coming back which lead to me quitting for a week and that's turned into 5 months and counting by now. (That's a very short version of the back and forth, but it works for what I'm talking about here.)
This year, June 10 was a Tuesday. I had the day off work and a bit of schoolwork to do. Instead of lying on the couch in the grip of suicidal despair like I had that day a year earlier, I had planned to take the day as one of quiet celebration, maybe go for a long walk and take myself out for an espresso and a piece of that gluten-free carrot cake that the local bakery makes so very well. (Such yummy cake!) But we ended up with a small domestic crisis on our hands. On the weekend, I found these odd little bites on my hands and arms, and I had some sense of what they might be, and sure enough, on Sunday night we took our bed apart and found that we had the beginnings of a bedbug infestation. I work in the downtown eastside, and I have seem bedbugs. They don't even freak me out anymore. But it's one thing to see one or two in a neutral context. It's quite another to see more than one crawling on your own bedframe. Ick. This is the stuff of nightmares for me. (In case you don't know much about these nasty creatures: they are unpleasant, but lots of what you read about them is made up of myth and urban legend, and they are not caused by slovenly housekeeping or any other moral failings I might have.) Anyway, on the weekend, on Sunday night (the same night I'm usually tired after work) we slowly dismantled our bed and trapped the bugs one by one, and then carefully removed the bed and frame, wrapped in great swaths of plastic, out to the alley so we could take it to the dump later. And we cleaned as best we could. The next day, I spoke with landlord and exterminators, and organized a heat treatment for the apartment next week. Which needs some prep. So Tuesday, instead of lounging in celebration of being sober, as planned, I got up early and spent the day going through notes and papers and throwing out what I could and emptying my desk and generally organizing stuff so that the exterminators will be able to do what they need to do next week. They will have to move every object in the apartment in order to make sure the heat gets into all the cracks and crannies, so I couldn't have towers of books and papers related to projects I'm working on in my study space. The organizing doesn't sound like much, but I had been putting it off and it took most of the day, and then there was still the schoolwork, so I worked from 7AM till midnight and there was no long walk and cake for me that day.
But the point isn't to complain about blood eating critters. It's that, being sober, I didn't treat it as a big crisis. I didn't cry or even complain much, and I didn't lose heart in the face of the massive task. I don't like the feeling of living in a place that probably still has some bugs or eggs that might hatch. We don't have a bed right now so we're sleeping on a very narrow foam mattress. We threw away the pillows and duvet (the heat treatment would probably have saved them but my partner and I agreed that we could never find those objects cosy again) and we don't want to replace any of that until after the exterminators do their work for fear of the critters still being here (some certainly are) and getting into the new bedding, so we're using towels in pillowcases as pillows and an old couch throw as a blanket. It's like camping, but without the smell of pine trees or the sound of crashing waves or the wonder that food always tastes better outdoors. Still, we're fine.
That's a lot of detail about what is really a small crisis. But it matters to me, because I'm learning that these things are so much easier to deal with sober. Tuesday, I was mostly just grateful that I was taking the time to get that stuff done, because I had to sooner or later. Now my study space (aka the living room) is liveable again. And it's still June. We have been eating plenty of summer salads with fresh herbs, and fresh strawberries with cardamom-infused whipping cream (tasty stuff!!) and walking out to enjoy the warm, light evenings. I'm doing the work I need to do in this last week of classes, and then I'm done this degree. Last week I finished a paper and did a conference presentation and spent a few days at a big conference, talking with interesting people about these ideas I care about so much. It was exhausting and fun, and facing a wee critter crisis afterwards didn't take away any of that.
Yesterday, I was reading an interview Foucault gave not long before he died in which he talks about care for the self as a way of practicing freedom, and I felt like he was speaking directly to me. It made me laugh. Like many people, I have often found a lot of philosophy to be completely impenetrable, and I generally use "Foucault" as shorthand to mean, "all that egghead stuff that I don't understand and don't much trust." So it was a bit of a shock to find, in plain English, the clear thoughts of a man who was going to die soon and who knew it, talking about how there is freedom everywhere and how finding a way to care for the self is a way to being free and participating in social relations that support freedom. OK, maybe now I sound like an egghead. I'm not going to try to summarize the interview here, because I can't. I'm just glad I read it, and I'm very happy to be participating in this sober way of living, in which I am finding a freedom I didn't know I was missing.
Despite the bloodsuckers and some little trials these days, I'm really grateful for the way I'm living now. Thanks to all of you here with me figuring out how to keep on living it. Peace and joy to you, and freedom too. And love. xo