the evening of August 26, I, as they say in that non-political anarchist group i belong to, “took a cake”. It’s been three years since i last smoked dope, which was what I did to take the edge off after I quit drinking, three years ago in April.
the topic i chose was “we will not regret the past, nor wish to close the door on it”, from the promises. in recent months I have been haunted. time is a strange thing, it kind of shrinks or expands. Memory shifts, splits, and mumbles to itself in the corner. the longer i go without drinking, and the more I consider another way to live “life on life’s terms”, the more the defensive layers slip off, revealing the sources of mistakes, the cause of remorse; a fountain of volatile rage fed by a spring of fear. Dread.
I have written here about my older brother, dead before my birth, but always present; and about my mother’s fierce love of her children–those nights facing down the rattle of the Wheeze family in revolt in the treehouse in my chest (I named them the Wheezes, they were sometimes companions, and sometimes adversaries. This is still the case). That is the context of who i have become. A certain sense of entitlement, a confidence that i am worthy of tenderness and protection. But coupled with that was constant fear. Constant. and that fear twisted into humiliation, embarrassment, shame and then anger. Rage.
So much pressure. So much love. So much expectation. Not bad, not in a bad way. We should all be so lucky. We are not.
That protective cloud of fear and sorrow with celebration and protection covered my childhood like a blanket. I remember endless sunny days and the nights lit with a million stars in the sky. And I remember many nights at the kitchen table with Mom, sipping hot honey and lemon and talking about everything and waiting until the orchestra packed up and went home for the night. Mom and I carefully two-stepping our way through my childhood to the music of the Wheeze Orchestra string section. I don’t really take those dances with death so seriously. we don’t have much of a memory of pain–it would be too hard, I guess. So many more people suffer so much more. Nearly everyone else in the world has a much more harrowing story. But still, those nights, the sudden wakefulness without air, the struggle to rise from sleep and catch my breath, breath elusive–tripping and diving just above me, out of reach–“I…can’t…”
Mom: “Breathe deep and relax, honey” i was never aware of fear in her voice. But I know it was in her heart.
Memory–Mom driving her little Dodge Cricket fast through the midnight streets of Red Deer, barely slowing for the traffic lights flashing yellow till the dawn. We clear the train tracks, nearly taking to the air. pull into the Emergency entrance of the hospital, and Mom talking slow and calm, “breathe deep and relax, honey, we’re almost there”, me leaning on her arm. the bright lights, the wheelchair, the nurses, an oxygen mask, then the needle in the arm–it was called Adrenaline then, now it’s the same stuff, but it’s called Epinephrine. The effect is immediate, a million tight bands unfurl in my chest, heart skips and speeds, heat. blood rushing faster to my head, my chest, my limbs all tingling. Oh the relief. Exhaustion too, but sleep is impossible for a few hours yet.
Many years later, my mother comes to a meeting with me. This spring, in fact. She cries when I tell people how much she loved me, she and my dad. I drank at first because it calmed the dread, the anxiety, the social uncertainty. Then I drank to mute the pain, knowing that i was not living up to my potential, that I was squandering the gifts from my family, my fortunate birth. and then it was just because i couldn’t stand myself. and I was lonely. Johnny Walker was my only friend. The topic of the meeting is “rigorous honesty”, and there is my mom, sniffling in the corner there. My friends attend to her, I know she is there, I don’t remember now what i said, but when I sit down, she squeezes my hand and touches my cheek and whispers “i’m proud of you, honey”.
during the second half of the August 26 meeting, we heard a woman screaming outside. At first I thought she was just hollering in some drunken celebration, but it wasn’t long before we heard distress. we all shifted around in our chairs. ‘should we go out?’ finally some men went out. then H left to attend to her– (i’ve told you about her in this blog before–there has been a big shift in our friendship lately, maybe i’ll write more about that some other time. it’s all good, anyhow)–and soon we heard a siren. finally i went out, too. the young woman was HAMMERED and alternately crying and laughing and jumping around and lying on the grass. Two men were with her, one took off when the cops came, the other stayed with her. he told us they were on their way to the meeting, but she stopped at the liquor store and got a bottle and downed it. then she started hitting the man who ran away. both the men tried to restrain her, but she yelled louder then. H. said the woman had, in one small, quiet moment, told her that she had been raped as a child. Her rapist was a man in her family. Somehow she knew she could talk to her, somehow she knew that her secret would be safe with H. And one of the paramedics assured H that he would make sure the girl went to the hospital not the drunk tank.
this is why we drink–the horrible pain of violation and betrayal is too much to bear. the contradiction of loving the man who attacked you. the sorrow of blaming yourself for keeping the secret, for not knowing who to tell, the confusion…that girl tried both things she knew to stop hurting, aiming for an AA meeting and aiming for the jar store. she found a feminist. if she uses the number that H gave her maybe she can rise with us. if she can find a thread of belief in her own worth, that thread will lead her to a slender freedom, the one we are trying to broaden together.
We don’t have to drink. If we are together, if we are honest, if we take good care of each other, we do not have to drink. We do not regret the past, nor wish to shut the door on it. We need our histories, our context, our stories. And from that, we weave together a future. Life is just fine this way. Simple, not easy.