One of my favourite poems is Adam Zagajewski's "Ode to Plurality."* It starts like this:
"I don't understand it all and I am
even glad that the world like a restless
ocean exceeds my ability
to understand the essence of water, rain,
of plunging into Baker's Pond, near
the Bohemian-German border, in
September, 1980, a detail without any special
meaning, the deep Germanic pond."
It's a masterful work. Zagajewski oscillates between the specific details of lived experience and different ways of knowing, the whole time singing the beauty and wonder of the world and the strange truth that philosophy doesn't trump poetry and poetry doesn't trump family stories and none of it trumps life in all its messy glory. Here's a little more:
"You, singular soul, stand before
this abundance. Two eyes, two hands,
ten inventive fingers, and
only one ego, the wedge of an orange,
the youngest of sisters, And the pleasure of
hearing doesn't destroy the pleasure of
seeing, though that flurry of freedom disturbs
the peace of the other gentle senses."
(OK, now I want to point out every line in the poem and just say, "Look. See? Don't you love it?" And then we can all cry and be happy together in poetry for a while.)
One of the things I treasure about being a part of the sober blogging community is the sense of belonging I sometimes feel here. For me, I think it's an important part of how I managed to quit drinking and stick with that until it became clear to me that it's a better way for me to live. I'm not used to feeling like I'm part of something, and I'm not sure I know how to do it. Because belonging means we're all here, and we're all different, and we won't all agree. There isn't a lot of explicit disagreement in this online world, in part I think because the point of being here is to belong to a group of people who are trying to find a way to live without alcohol, in a world where alcohol is very much the norm. But sometimes I worry that belonging means I'm editing away my own truth so as not to offend, and that won't work in the long run.
I thought about this when I wrote my last post. I had a hard time writing about my reaction to supposedly "alcohol-free" wine, which is really very low alcohol wine. For me, sharing a bottle means having the lion's share--I even outdrink my partner when we drink fizzy water. (I really am thirsty!) That means I inadvertently had about the equivalent of half an ounce of actual wine, and I reacted. I admitted to feeling a tad more-ish, even though the wine wasn't good. I already said that.
But I didn't say everything. I left out part of the story, because I wasn't comfortable talking about it. Sitting at the table, just finished dinner, talking to my partner, and having had what it turned out was a little bit of alcohol but not knowing that yet, my whole being was awash in a moment of sweet happiness. I felt like I belonged to the world and the world was good. Remembering that feeling now, I can't help but cry. All this talk about getting sober being a better way to live is good and true. But I need to admit this, in case I haven't before, because it's also true: when I gave up alcohol, I gave up something that could, at times, be lovely. I had forgotten about that.
To me, it's more helpful to know that. Now, at almost seven months sober, it can seem irrational to me that I would every have spent as much time and money and energy drinking. The other day, steeped in that warm, happy feeling, I recognized it, and I knew, "This is, in part, why I drank." It wasn't just the more-ishness that told me there had to be alcohol in that wine. It was that feeling.
I'm not making a case for drinking. Those days are over. I can't hold onto that moment anyway. One taste of it and I get that old hankering for more, and then I drink too much, and we all know how that goes. In fact, my reaction helped me see how powerful addiction is, and why I can't slither out of calling my problem addiction, as much as I guess I was still kind of hoping I could. When the tiniest bit lands me right smack in the middle of a home I thought I'd left behind forever, that's a dangerous substance for me.
This isn't a completely unfamiliar sensation. I'm from Newfoundland, a place I love, but I can't live there. In ways I have trouble explaining, it doesn't suit me. Despite that, for years as soon as I'd hear a certain song or even a turn of phrase, or see a picture of the rocks, or smell the salt air, I used to be wracked with homesickness. I longed to be home. But when I've tried to move back, even after years away, I feel myself slipping into a way of being that doesn't leave room for the person I've become. Whatever it is I miss about where I come from, I can't quite grasp it when I'm there.
And I think that's what drinking is like for me now. I can't go back. But I won't lie: there is a certain sweet happiness that I felt the other day that reminds me that alcohol wasn't all bad. It's just that that happiness is too fleeting for me to grasp. There's nowhere back to go.
Drinking isn't a simple problem, and getting sober isn't a story with clean lines. I guess today I needed to talk about the messier parts again, because they are part of me, too. That Zagajewski poem I love so much ends like this: "A poem grows/ on contradiction but can't cover it." I expect being a person is always going to mean being messy and contradictory. There's no hiding that. There's just life, in all it's messy glory, and us living it.
Wishing you all peace and joy to you all, and finding other ways to live those sweet happy moments.
*(Originally published in English in his book, Tremor (1985), I read it in Without End: New and Selected Poems (2002, p. 95). I can't find an online copy to link to, and too long to insert in a blog post, but if you do want to read it let me know and I'll type it out and send you a copy.)