I used to get drunk to get my spark
And it used to work just fine
It made me wretched but it gave me heart
I miss Jimmy like I miss my wine
—Shawn Colvin, from “The Facts About Jimmy”
I listened to that album, A Few Small Repairs, last week after a long time. It was like seeing an old, once close friend you haven’t seen in forever, and you forgot how intimately you know this person, and it all just clicks into place again right away.
I almost had to stop the car when I heard that verse. Nearly two decades ago, during phase one of my alcoholic drinking (before the “real grown-up” reprieve of more reasonable alcohol use, and the decidedly less fun return to heavier drinking), back when heavy drinking was just what you did when you were a 20-something party girl, I remember vaguely thinking, “If I ever had to quit drinking, that’s exactly how I’d feel.”
So, is it? I put that song on repeat for the rest of the ride home. It’s true, and it’s not true.
It did give me a spark, of sorts. Not the real kind, I remind myself. Not the kind of spark I have now, in sobriety, the kind that fuels the fire of creativity, productivity, vibrant energy, spiritual growth by leaps and bounds, and thriving relationships. Now, that is a pretty awesome list! And it’s all true, I’m happy to say.
But there’s that other kind of spark. The one that came from the temporary but effortless pulling back on the curtain of inhibition. I’m braver now where it counts most, but more reserved in other ways. I can still hit the dance floor, but it’s not the same. It’s harder and slower to remove inhibitions for real, the more permanent way. I’ll admit I sometimes miss the efficiency of alcohol for that. I read it somewhere (Mrs. D’s blog, maybe?) that being sober is just so…sober.
What about the next part of that verse? Wretched? Oh, yes. For sure. And yet, did it give me heart? Again, not in the real way. But also, yes. In that special way you can get giggly with a girlfriend over some wine. In that way you can get stripped right down to raw emotion, for better or worse (more often for worse, but still).
And the last part? Do I miss my wine?
Yes, right now I do. It’s my second sober spring, so without many years of experience to confirm this, I believe spring-turning-into-summer is like The Holidays for me. I haven’t struggled much over the holiday season, so dreaded and torturous for many in recovery. I actually prefer being razor-sharp with my crazy ass extended family. We do lots of holiday-oriented activities with the kids that were never associated with drinking. We don’t go to a ton of parties, and occasionally when we do, it doesn’t feel hard to be there with my club soda or coffee or hot cider.
But this time of year? Crap. At this stage, almost two years in, I want to say it just gets better all the time and it’s never hard anymore. And most of the time, it’s not hard at all, and my life is exponentially better in almost all the ways, in all the important ways, except for this one way.
Because the truth is, these last couple weeks I’m just plain pissed off that I can’t have drinks on this deck or that patio like everybody else.
All is well in my world, and I’m active and intentional about my recovery and spiritual growth. So, what is this all about? My sponsor/friend says, “Don’t overanalyze it. It’s happening because you’re an alcoholic. It is what it is. And it happens to the best of us at times, even those of us who are ‘doing well.’”
So I’m trying to keep it simple and recognize that this particular change of seasons is strongly associated with the more pleasurable parts of my former drinking, so it makes me fucking thirsty. I have to approach it the way other people have to approach the holidays—with vigilance and acceptance of difficulty.
Part of it is being a bit of a spoiled brat. I’m stomping my feet and fighting with reality, pouting because I don’t get to have what I want the way I want it (which is NOT being an alcoholic). Somehow I know in my bones, even more so than in the beginning, that if I were to pick up a drink, I would very quickly be right back to the mental obsession, the strategizing, the craving, the overdoing and the regretting. I’m so done with that. I’ve struggled with some of the language around addiction and recovery, preferring to think of myself simply as a person who chose to stop drinking, rather than a person with a “disease.” I still don’t love the standard terminology, nor do I find it particularly empowering. However, I’m very clear now that whether I call my alcohol problem a disease or a condition, it’s currently in remission, and if I were to ever go back to drinking, it would take hold again and progress despite all the ways I’ve healed and grown.
So what good does it do to lament the fact that my choices are between that and sobriety? Too fucking bad, I say to myself. I’m blessed in more ways than I could recount here—including loving being sober, most of the time—and so many people are plagued by more severe and intractable addictions, and from countless other unrelated and horrific afflictions.
I don’t want to overindulge or rev up these feelings of discontent, and I don’t want to deny or squelch them, either. It’s a fine line. I’m trying to draw on what I’ve learned from mindfulness meditation and the practice of observing thoughts and feelings without clinging to them or pushing them away. I know I’ll get through this patch by remaining grateful for all sobriety has given me, staying vigilant, and being regular with my self-care and spiritual practices.
And as of this morning, I remembered to give it up to God, the Universe, my Higher Power—whatever you want to call it. Anne Lamott talks about the God Box in her book Help, Thanks, Wow. It’s for those times when you’re spinning your wheels and can’t let go, or stuck inside of a wish to change the unchangeable. You write the thing down on a little piece of piece of paper, and put it in a little box. You say a prayer of release. “It’s yours now, I’m done.”
The first time I tried it, I was desperate to unhook from some other painfully obsessive rumination and willing to try anything, so I said, “What the hell.” I never expected it to work. But it does work. A few girlfriends and I use it as a verb now. When one of us says, “I’m struggling with this thing and I can’t find peace or acceptance around it,” another says, “God Box it.”
This morning, I wrote this on a little piece of paper: “My desire for my situation with alcoholism and sobriety to be any different than what it is.” I God Boxed it. I’ll be back to let you know how it all shifts. I trust that it will.
Until then, I’m wishing you a safe and happy sober start to your summer!
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