Almost 12 weeks into this round of quitting drinking, and I'm still here and still sober. Maybe I shouldn't be calling it a "round", as though I'm planning to start up drinking again at the end of it. I'm not. When I count my days like that, what I'm really doing is acknowledging to myself (and to anyone who wants to know, I guess) that I was sober for four months and then 16 months, and that I only drank for two months and then four months in between there. So while I've been sober now for 82 days in a row, I don't disavow the fact that I have been sober for 23 of the past 29 months. To me, that's pretty darn good, and I'm reminding myself to take full credit for that.
Why all this counting? Well, I think it's because getting sober is so influenced by a certain kind of day-counting, and people sometimes talk about where they are as though all the back and forth of sorting things out isn't part of the process, as if only the most recent stretch of sober days in a row counts, somehow. That hasn't been my experience. For me, the back and forth of trying to quit have been a real, important part of quitting. I sometimes date events by "that time in 2010 I quit drinking for a month" or "back when I was taking a heavy course-load and quit drinking for three months" or even "that time I biked 25 km back and forth to work and got down to one glass of wine a day most days." I have been increasingly aware that drink was a problem, and I have been trying (sometimes on and off) to address that problem since 2002. For me, drinking got tangled up with deep depressions, but for years I didn't even know the drink thing might be a problem, or related to depression in any serious way. OK, so now I know. It is related. When I drink, sooner or later I drink too much, and sooner or later I get depressed. And my friends, let me tell you, that sucks!
I used to be what is sometimes non-technically called "crazy." (No disrespect intended, to me or anyone else. I'm drawing on a way of talking adopted by some people who reject a lot of the diagnostic language and all that goes with it. Irit Shimrat's great book, Call Me Crazy, is a good source on this refreshing way of thinking, and a great read besides.) For a few years I went through several serious psychiatric crises, and I live with what I think is a healthy small amount of terror that I may go crazy again. Putting my life back together after each crisis was a lot of work, and each time there are some things (friends, jobs, apartments, furniture, favourite red pants, time) that are gone for good. These days I'm not so crazy. I am not medicated, as drugs don't work solve anything for me, and most of what gets called help doesn't seem to help me much either. But I have learned how to live with however it is that I am, and I live pretty darn OK. Among what counts as "normal," I pass. And I don't give away my details unless I see someone else struggling. There's a certain amount of feeling left out that happens with passing as normal in a world that pays close attention to the normal and the diagnostic categories. (I study psychology, so I'm kind of in the thick of this worldview. Here's to resistance, I say!) I'm mostly used to that. But I don't need to accentuate it further. Moving towards belonging, not towards alienation, that's important to me. Doesn't come easy, but it matters.
Now that I see clearly that the drink is linked to a bad state of mind for me, and I see that, when I return to drinking, I have tons of fun for a while but then I fall into the pit again, I have decided that it makes sense for me not to drink. To support my decision, I've been trying to go to AA, but it hasn't felt like a good fit for me. I know I wrote a few weeks ago that I was trying it, and I was being patient. I have been, and I am. But I have trouble there. I react badly to the often implicit sexism, and the group dynamics often remind me of the worst parts of being a teenager. I don't identify as "alcoholic," any more than I identify as "major depressive" or "insert-diagnosis-here-ic." I know that in mental health, recovery communities are moving away from that kind of language, aiming to see the full person and not just the problem, disease, or diagnosis, whatever it is. (Makes me think of a poem I love, Ginsberg's Sunflower Sutra, in which the speaker calls out, "We're not our skin of grime!" Oh how much I love that poem!) I'm trying to figure out how to live well, and how to keep this resolve not to drink alive enough that it's supportive of who I want to be, but not so front and centre that it defines or consumes me. Attending AA meetings makes me feel, simultaneously, that the drink problem defines me, and that my version of the problem isn't bad enough anyway. So it's just another group to which I don't quite belong. Frankly, I'm not sure that's doing me much good.
This morning, I read a great post at NoMoreSally about getting sober as a kind of being an adult and getting on with life. She speaks to a lot of what I'm talking about here. It's food for thought, that's for sure.
In his wonderful though often impenetrable Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein said, "a philosophical problem has the form: ‘I don't know my way about'" (PI 123). That seems to be a good take on my problem. OK, now I don't drink. But how do I live?
This isn't a post with answers. I'm finding my way, and I have more questions than anything else. I am often lost. At the same time, I continue to feel a fierce aversion to certainties about any of this. Some people will say, "Just don't drink," and the longer you are sober, the better life gets. That hasn't quite been true for me in the past. Sober was and is a good start, but it remains only a start. I need something else. I don't quite know what that something else is, and I suppose my gut feeling is that it's no one thing. I have a better sense of what I am doing in my academic work, and that's helpful. My husband is fantastic. I spend too much time on my own, but so does every grad student I know, and I'm working on changing that. I'm doing lots of other stuff too, but by now this post is long enough. Maybe all this is just to say I am here, trudging along like everyone else: sober, living, confused, but here. And that's just fine.
If you're still here, thanks for reading and walking along with me! Wishing you peace and joy on this rainy grey December west coast day.
(* Post edited to add: something wacky is happening to the font here and I have to keep resetting it to "normal," but it keeps reverting to several typefaces and font sizes. Which I know is funny. But sorry if it makes the rambling post even harder to read!)