The grace of imperfection — reflections on the 24th anniversary of my sobriety, Part One
This is the story of my twenty-fourth year of sobriety, told together and in three parts. (You’ll see. There would have been columns, which is infinitely more satisfying to me, but Blogger isn’t set up for binary sophistication. So – the parts go together, even though they look to the naked eye, separate.)
Part One, told together and at the
exact same time as Part Two
This was a crappy year. In the scheme of all my years, there have been crappier, but not by much. It was one of those years I less lived through and more survived, finding too many windy, twisty paths and far too many trap-door bottoms as I stumbled through the days.
There was a time (way too long a time) that I lost just about everything — property, people, positions. I lost these things irrevocably. With each new loss, it felt like an amputation and I would get those ghost twinges and pains, as if what I had lost still existed, just out of reach, just out of sight, but still it all held weight and heft enough to bring me to my knees. This past year, this past crappy year, was not one of loss, but more a long string of break ups. People, possessions, things – all the standard gathering of stuff that one accumulates over time, a simple break of here and then not.
If I woke, all too suddenly, in the lonely and dark, my night shirt clinging and twisted and drenched in sweat, it was less about loss and grief and fear, and more about a constantly-changing body, a war of hormones and time raging just beneath the surface of my skin. But, having been woken by flashes of heat at temperatures just shy of internal combustion, having stumbled to the bathroom to pee yet again, all the voices of all those people and places and things from which I had separated and severed ties (or that – more likely – all those that had broken up with me) came muttering back in, racing through my head, a cacophony of what-ifs and whys that caused no small amount of psychic whiplash as I attempted to follow each whining whisper spinning manic tales that always ended with “and that’s why you’re a horrible mother and a terrible human being!” Dawn did not defeat the monsters of my dark, but rather sent them skittering into deep folds and hidden corners, where they readied themselves for their inevitable return.
I ran out of money. I robbed Peter and Paul both to keep the lights on. They flickered a time or two while I cobbled together something out of nothing, a game of smoke and mirrors and odd jobs and charity. I can barely stand the kindness of strangers — the kindness and generosity of people I know and love is worse, but I gritted my teeth and learned a grudging gratitude. I collected the mail every week or two, whether I needed to or not. Bills went into the if-you-don’t-open-it-you-don’t-owe-it pile. I hadn’t resorted to that since the early days of my sobriety. Of course, back then, I really did believe it — let them all wait while I sorted out my life and my needs and my wants, while I amassed an Enough that was never quite Enough enough to pay any creditor back. These days, as the pile of unopened bills and avoided calls from collection agencies grew, seemingly exponentially, I cringe, remembering something I had heard at a meeting long ago, “Hey – people don’t want your money. They want theirs.” I am hemorrhaging other people’s money, desperately trying to staunch the flow that shows no sign of stopping.
I was busy learning lessons of life and faith and God this year. Relearning. Reliving those painful, poignant lessons I could have sworn I’d mastered in early(ish) sobriety. There was no less intensity in the learning, no less wondering or pain than twenty-four years ago.
Again and again during this crappy year, I found myself knee-deep in the muck of powerlessness. This damnably simple truth had, long ago, seeped into my consciousness, gotten under my skin, became as true to me as “two plus two is four,” or “the sun rises in the east.” It has been the bedrock upon which the foundation of my sobriety lives and breathes. I do not ever doubt my powerlessness over alcohol (and even grudgingly accept this as a managing principle over people, places and things). It is so true that it is almost-but-not-quite invisible.
I got the crash course review this past crappy year. What I didn’t get that first year or three, when I finally began to notice the shambles of my life — when finally noticing the shambles I had made of my life — the gruesome remains of relationships I had pushed past the breaking point, the tiny universe of one I lived in, desperate to avoid pain and entanglement and fear (never realizing that I had tethered and tied them all to me with knots as hard as night), when powerlessness felt draining and all-encompassing and impossibly huge, was that there was something I could do, some action I could take that could relieve the absoluteness of my powerlessness. The action would not fix me or the broken pieces of my life, but I could rest easier, trudging along that weary road. I could go to a meeting, make a list, talk to my sponsor, make an amends, go to another meeting, whine for a bit and work on it and pray about it and go to sixteen more meetings and find that, at some point, the moment passed and I was out the other side — still powerless, but sitting in my own skin, crisis (real or imagined) back there somewhere, and I was still sober.
What I didn’t get then – all those early days and middle years and long ago Thens — was that soul-sucking, weak-in-the-knees shock of powerlessness that comes when all you can do, no matter how much you pray or hope or love, all you can do is watch. There is no action you can take, no power you can summon. There is nothing you can do except witness. Hope becomes tattered and gritty, an impossibly shallow breath that cannot sustain a too-weary heart. It is so much easier to quip “I’m a human being, not a human doing!” from the comfort of ease and abundance. It is nearly impossible when the doing and the being may be on you, but the reality is all about someone else. Someone you love, who is facing demons of their own, challenges and stumbling blocks and even death itself. And all you can do is love them, because you are powerless to do anything else, and how the hell can that ever be enough?
What can I do? What can I do? Nothing. Pace. Pray. Don’t drink. Get angry. Get scared. Still don’t drink. Disconnect. Head to a meeting. Write. Don’t drink, even when that fear becomes unbearable. Still don’t drink. Talk to a friend. Rail at God. Pace. Nothing. Anything. Spin like a whirling dervish of activity – all sound and fury, signifying nothing. Cry. Sleep. Wake up. Eat a cookie. Don’t fucking drink. Sing. Hope.
Ah, yes. Hope. That gritty, rusty shriveled old thing. Hope. Don’t drink. Hope. Pray. It gets better. Maybe. It might get better. But you’ll be there. You’ll be present and sober and scared and there. Ready, when it’s time. Time to pray, or mourn, or do the next thing, whatever that thing is. You’ll be ready. You’ll be sober. Don’t drink, go to meetings. Talk. Share. Listen.
I have walked, stumbling and hesitant and with a surprising bit of grace, through twenty-four years of days. I still get scared. I still box with God. I still take it a day at a time (sometimes an hour at a time, sometimes a minute or a breath). I am still powerless. I still mostly hate that.
I’ll live – powerless and present. I’ll pray a little, pace a little. Try to hope. Sleep too little, fret too much. Feel crappy. But oh – what a gift! To be present, in this moment, to celebrate and grieve and worry and doubt and love.