This monday, my drug and alcohol counselor ‘graduated’ me from treatment. We’d each separately brought the idea up several times in the past but it never seemed like quite the right time. But I brought it up to him about a month ago and we both agreed to think on it before meeting up again.
When I walked into his office on Monday, he greeted me with a copy of the NYTimes I was recently in, the first time I’d seen it in the flesh (they recently printed the covers of two of my Kindle Singles on the front page of the Arts section). It was a cool surprise for both of us as I hadn’t given him a heads up about it– he had been surprised to find it, much as I was surprised to find out he knew about it. I like my counselor a lot and I like to think that it was a rewarding moment for him as a therapist to be kicking back after work with his paper and stumble upon the work of a client who had come to him an anonymous drunk getting the nod from the Old Gray Lady. It was also the sign we had both been waiting for.
We had a great last talk. I gave him a big awkward hug–the first in our career– and gave him my solemn promise that before I took another drink, I’d call him. I’m going to miss him: as a tireless listener, as a fount of solid advice, and as a really excellent human being.
I met vegan Ironman legend (and fellow alcoholic) Rich Roll a couple of weeks ago when we did a really intense podcast together. He asked me a lot of tough questions, some of which are still rolling around in my head, unanswered. He made a couple of assertions that I wasn’t ready for and that I’m primed to react negatively to… but when you’re hanging out with a guy who has trod the same darkness you have, done even harder work than you have to pull out of it, and then has gone on to do some really un-fucking-believable things, well, it’s in bad faith to do anything other than hem and haw and think hard about it and then respond with total honesty.
When I mentioned to Rich that I had graduated from treatment, he responded simply with “Are you cured?” Apparently, ballbusting is the fourth sport triathletes engage in… (keep it up, Rich, and I am going to give you that Charlie Horse I promised you when we last met). As usual, he’s got a incontrovertible point. The sidelines are littered with alcoholics who mastered sobriety so completely that they felt comfortable going right back to drinking. It’s good to have a friend to nudge me on that point. In the words of Ida B. Wells, “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”
Drinking or not, I know I’ll always be an alcoholic. Just as I tired of the cult of alcohol, I have no interest in joining a cult of no alcohol so I’m going to continue to work hard in my life to just make alcohol irrelevant in my life, a minor footnote in my past, and make sobriety my natural state. Pretty revolutionary thinking there, huh? Making your natural state your natural state? Thanks, it feels good to be a hero.
I will never make alcohol irrelevant in my life. Sobriety will never be effortless for me. I will asymptotically approach these two ideals, but I will never reach them. That’s okay. I will get closer to them than I am now. That’s good enough.
On the subject of addiction, here are a few words from my failed book proposal. May they help you on your way:
The scorpion is asleep. Life is pretty sweet right now. When I run under the blazing hot sun until I’m exhausted or find a smelly dog on the street in Mexico and scratch that tickle spot that makes its leg skitter and it sheds all over the clean shirt I just put on or when I make my sister’s kids laugh in the back seat of the car by singing bathroom songs, good, healthy blood runs over this sleeping scorpion, softening its armor, turning its thick black shell walnut brown, then rich, racehorse brown, then liver and finally pink, slowly eroding it and dissolving it, absorbing its minerals and proteins back into my body.
But when I get a whiff of Jameson or take certain types of cold medicine or get too angry or tired or depressed, it twitches uneasily in its slumber, its tail writhing minutely, its pincers digging ever-so-slightly into my spinal cord. I live in fear of what will happen if that evil little fucker ever wakes up.
The Jameson thing, I get. I’m an alcoholic. I have been for a long time and the common wisdom is that I will be one for the rest of my life. The scorpion stirring in its arachnid dreams when alcohol vapor hits my sinuses is a purely chemical reaction. But this vile crustacean/ arthropod/ dinosaur/ demon wakes for other things, too: pornography, video games, Ebay, Facebook… even a fucking Snickers bar. Crack, methamphetamine, heroin—they’re huge. Ounce for ounce, each of them is more destructive than enriched uranium. You can’t ridicule someone crushed under that avalanche of pleasure. But a fucking candy bar? The smaller the thing that diminishes one, the smaller one is by comparison. A woolly mule of a man, 6’5”, 215 pounds, a man who has broken bones by accident and on purpose… laid low by a piece of candy? You gotta be kidding me. It’s too pathetic to even be a punchline.
This spiny black abomination, it’s not some rare tropical parasite that wormed its way inside me. It’s not a hive of nanobots implanted by an elite squadron of secret UN commandos, it’s not a malign interplanetary virus injected into me by some universe-hopping alien scientist. Cell by cell, molecule by molecule, atom by atom, I built this monstrosity, one miniscule bad decision after another. It’s a devil of my own creation, blood of my blood, flesh of my flesh, my mistakes incarnate. Now I have to live with it as it lives within me and try to slowly wear it down before it wears me down. Place your bets, ladies and gentlemen, place your bets. [end]