Friday, August 30, 2013

"And now the great work begins."

I'm writing this on Wednesday, August 28th, two days before I am released after two weeks at the nervous hospital. I'm more clear-headed and energetic than I've been in years, and I'm also as fragile as a light bulb filament. It's been incredibly hard work, but the great thing is - and I say this as a new-found fan of hard work - is that it's still the easiest part of the whole process. I've got five weeks of intensive out-patient therapy ahead of me, and after that, ninety AA meetings in ninety days, and after that, more meetings and sponsors and sharing so far into the distance that the horizon blurs into the sky, sfumato-like, before I can even begin to see the possibility of a true and sober life. But I've been given powerful tools in this place, and I've decided to ask my friend Hannah to teach me how to aim and shoot a gun, because I have a metaphorical one in my holster now. It has twelve chambers, and each one of them is full. I'm locked and loaded and if this disease comes towards me across a field again, it better be prepared to take a bullet to the fucking heart at twenty paces.

There are two roll calls in the morning at this particular treatment center: one at 7:30 and another two hours later, with breakfast and bed-making in between. When I first arrived, I sat on the outside ring of neatly arranged chairs and quietly peeped "here" each time. But over the course of these two weeks, I have been pondering those "heres." They're not just acknowledgements of physical presence. They're declarations of intent. I am here. I am present. Which are things I have not been able to say for a very long time. I have been nowhere for a very long time, tied to some long-lead dog tie-out, numbly running in circles. By this near-end of my in-patient treatment, the seemingly rote calling out of a single "here" has become a promise to myself, so I boom out a hale "I am here!" twice each morning with vigor and eagerness. They're just four letters that don't add up to much in Scrabble, but it's as clear as a windowpane that every morning, the most powerful thing I can do is string those letters together and calmly announce to the world and myself that I am here.

It's only been two weeks. I am not an expert. Indeed, I'm barely a beginner. I don't have a certificate suitable for framing. But if you read this on the day it posts, I'll have been sober for nineteen days, the longest sober time of my life since my early twenties. It's a tiny drop in the very large bucket that is the remainder of my life. It's nothing. And it's everything. If writing this seems premature, I can only say that it's another way of holding myself accountable. The most I can do is to not drink today. And then not drink tomorrow. And then not drink the day after that. I cannot say that I will be sober forever, but I can say that I will be sober today. I'm lucky to have had a group of friends who cared enough to help me disentangle from the briar patch that I had let grow up around me, and I can't wait to show them I've chosen a different, better life. Right now, I can only tell them that; no one will believe me until I prove it with actions. I'm going to do this and I will be amazed before I am even halfway through.

It veers from "official" AA literature, but I chose the title of this post very carefully. "And so the great work begins." It's pulled from Tony Kushner's Angels in America, and though I appropriate it slightly out of context, the intent and urgency so nestle with my current state of mind and sense of willingness that I can't help but lift it. Each word of it is chosen so carefully, especially that last: begins. Kushner doesn't write "and now we do the work" - there's an implication of finishing a task in that. Instead he chooses "the great work begins." No hint of arrival at a destination, no sense of self-satisfaction at work completed. Only mention of the beginning of an ongoing process. We can only begin the work and share the load of it with others until we evolve into a different, better species that won't tolerate the suffering of a single addict more.

I'm DG and I'm an alcoholic.

My morning view for the past two weeks.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Whitney Houston, We Have a Problem

Since I think "Honesty" is the third-best policy (after "Never Put Tomatoes in the Refrigerator" and "Don't Negotiate With Any Neighbor While Either of You are Wearing a Bathrobe"), I've decided to go ahead and talk about what's going on in my life.

Thanks to the prompting of a few (ok, 514) friends, I've elected to enter rehab tomorrow morning for a short stay to help clear out the corkscrews and cobwebs in my brain and emerge with a clear head and a toolbox full of tools to help me navigate the rest of what's ahead. It's hard to talk about it all without dinging the (as my friend Beth says) cliché bells, so if that atonal ding-donging makes you itchy, you don't have to read any further.

I've been a drinker for a long time, and a pretty heavy one for over half of my life. Things have ramped up over the past year - and especially over the last six months or so, since the loss of a job I loved. I'm not blaming that loss, just identifying it as a trigger. But for years now, I would accept each and every invitation I received if there was the barest hint of a promise of noon wine. (I think that might be a Tennessee Williams quotation, but I'm lifting it for my purposes).  And oh, I was FUN! Fun fun fun! I could always be relied on to be the fun one. My friends got tired of it before I did - by a long shot - but everything coalesced last weekend when just the right people were in my orbit to help stop the hurtling asteroid. If I have to sacrifice being "the life of the party" to being a "party to my life," well, then that's what's going to happen.

It's been four days in between the decision and now - it took some time to work out the financials of going to get help - and that's a lot of time to get scared and second-guess and think non-stop about the liquor store, all of which I've done. My only serious regret about last weekend is that my final glass was Corbett Canyon boxed chardonnay. If that's not a sign of a cry for help, I don't know what is.

I'm nervous about 12-step language and method because so much of it is faith-based, and the only thing I have faith in is Cate Blanchett's talent. But I think if every time "god" comes up, I just think of a pretty path in the woods or the crackly poppy sound a campfire makes late in the evening - you know, my particular brand of religion - I can get through even that.

I'm scared to death and practically haven't stopped sobbing for four days, but it's Time, and I use the capital letter on purpose. A capital letter comes after a period. A long, terrible, period.

Think of me when you can and I'll be back soon, better than ever.