“The story is always better than your ability to write it.” — Robin McKinley
Today was a good day.
It’s 3 a.m. and I just put down the paint brush for the night. I spent the last four hours caulking and painting the new trim in my home, and painting three doors.
I didn’t get started until just around 11 p.m. because I went to visit some friends, people who I hadn’t seen in a long time. I’ve known all of them for more than a decade, and four of them I met within weeks of moving to Austin back in 1995.
I almost didn’t visit them tonight, though. Frankly, I was nervous. I almost threw up on the drive to the gathering. I stopped twice on the six mile drive and considered going home. I had work to do on the house, I tried to tell myself.
Besides, I’ve missed so many events throughout the last decade that another no-show wouldn’t have been missed. I’d removed myself from this group long ago in the same way I’d removed myself from just about every other group I’d ever been a part.
These are things addicts do. You can only embarrass yourself so many times when it matters before you cut your losses. I always cut and ran before it hit rock bottom.
But the last few years, I’d been thinking about them and wondering how to make my way back. Or if I could.
I wanted to find out so I kept driving even though every part of my addict-self was telling me to just go home, where I could be by myself.
Alone. The place I retreat when the world is going wrong. And today it had gone wrong.
Actually, today had been a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.
As a recovering addict, today was the kind of day you grow fear. The kind of day that sends you back out before you know what happened. The day that can erase all of the time and energy you put into not having these days anymore.
I could feel it creeping up on me from the moment I awoke. I had the tension.
The tension started in my body, which was pulled taut before I awoke. My shoulders were strained, like they’d been flexing all night long. And there was a dull roar behind my eyes. Not a headache I could cure with aspirin (I tried), but a constant and dull pain from my body’s inability to relax.
I hadn’t slept well because of it. I toss and turned last night. I got up, my mind awhirl with nothing particularly important. An empty spinning. Neutral Neural Network.
When I awoke, tired and tension-filled, I could feel the trouble. I was irritable, craving, and climbing the walls.
On days like this, nothing was going to go right. No matter what happened, it would be a disaster. The slightest tick would set me off, volcanic-like.
I knew it, and I still couldn’t stop it.
The tension moved from my body and into my head.
The Home Depot screwed up my window repair, costing me a few extra hundred dollars and pushing the work order back at least three weeks; my phone died in the middle of a rather uncomfortable conversation about said window order; two friends – thousands of miles from me – needed my time and energy because they were both having actual problems; I didn’t have a moment of time to speak with the one person in my life whose voice I needed to hear the most; I didn’t have a chance to write; I didn’t have a change to run; and I’m still staring at a half-finished house with just six days to market.
My mind soaked in each slight, piled it on the next, and began to process it through the dark side of my personality.
By noon, I was intolerable. Cursing. Throwing things. I was the dangerous, go-to-the-bar, fuck you all, intolerable.
Three events transpired today.
As a recovering addict, one role I play in life is to lend a helping hand to anyone who is looking for a way out of the darkness. This is the pledge we make, and it’s one that recovering addicts take seriously.
In the midst of intolerable meltdown, someone from my early days of recovery sent me a message on Facebook asking for help.
“Fuck,” I thought, “I do not have time for this.” I was in the midst of contractor hell with Home Depot, and I needed to sort out my window situation.
“Wrong”, I could hear the other voice in my head counter. “This is the only thing you have time for you ungrateful little fuck.”
In just a few seconds, I was snapped out my world and pulled where I was actually needed.
My sponsor and I don’t speak often since I moved to Muncie. He’s 120 miles away, and we’re at different meetings. When I’m having a bad day, though, I can still hear his voice and I remember the huge bear hugs he’d give me when we’d see each other.
I picked up the phone and called him today.
He didn’t recognize my voice at first, a sure sign it had been too long between calls and visits, but soon we fell into a casual conversation about recovery, and the importance of being there for people.
Being there for people.
He said that to me, and my mind clicked. I don’t know why. It seems so obvious and simple – being there for people – but I’ve been so wrapped up in my house, in my work, and in my own needs that I forgot the most important part about recovery.
I have a friend who has gotten into a pickle, in the way anyone can find themselves in a pickle. Really it’s more of a triangle.
As the world around this triangle crashes, there are the inevitable emotional fallouts that come with these things. We have talked, this friend and I, much during the last few days and I find myself doling out advice from The Program even though addiction has nothing to do with this series of unfortunate events.
These conversations, though, reminded me of two important ideas: there is a righteous honor that comes with the truth even if it was preceded by less than honesty, and there are few things in life we cannot accomplish with friends who will stand beside us while we find that righteous honor.
All of this swirled in my head as I sat in the gas station parking lot just around the corner from my house, sick to my stomach and searching for a reason not to go.
For many years, I was very good at finding reasons not to go. I have missed weddings, and parties, and vacations, and births because of that.
In adulthood, I tell my students, there is nobody that stands behind you like a teacher cajoling you to make the right choices. Quite the opposite. If you make the wrong choices long enough eventually you are just not thought of anymore.
You become invisible, as I had become with these friends.
This is my fault. I had not made time to be there for people because I knew what my life had become by the end. I was dishonorable and embarrassing.
Yet in some drunken way, I believed that staying away from those I care most about was righteous in its on way.
But how I viewed it had little bearing on how it was taken. I had not been present, as I had not been present in so many others’ lives. Certainly I would tell tales of these people, but the stories were old and stale and from a different time.
I was lost to them now because of the choices I had made. Not that I hadn’t seen some of them or spoken to some of them over the years; I just hadn’t done so in any consistent manner. I had become an afterthought of my own making.
So there I sat, shaking the full-body shake of an addict on the brink, wondering how I could not go and see them. I couldn’t handle more disappointment today.
I parked outside the house, and sat for a few minutes, girding myself. For what, I am not exactly sure. I think I was afraid I would be welcomed for a few minutes before settling into the background while I listened to stories of their lives without anything to contribute.
I was afraid of becoming invisible, which is the same fear I’ve faced with every step back towards the world of The Humans.
Today, I wasn’t sure if I could withstand invisible.
Three hours after I walked into the party – 2 1/2 hours longer than I told myself I would stay – I finally left, my heart filled with words we call love and joy that do so very little to explain the bursting sensations of rawness that course through our veins.
I returned to my empty home, which had trim to be caulked and painted, and doors to be cleaned and painted. I had several hours work in front of me.
Tonight, I didn’t mind that. I returned happily to this place, the tension of my body gone. I sat on a 5-gallon paint bucket, one of the only places other than a floor you can sit in the house, and let loose a torrent of tears I didn’t know I had in me.
This day, the one that began so badly and took me to the brink of my sobriety, had finally broken. I was reminded once again of the great capacity for love that my friends – likely unbeknownst to them – have. I was reminded that I walked out of the wilderness 3 years, 2 months, and 19 days ago because of a promise that there would be days like this.
I was reminded that each day, you wake up and no matter how hard it may seem you just keeping taking the next, right step in front of you because you never know where you will end up.
I was reminded that life isn’t about big, grand gestures; life is about being there for other people.
Today I was reminded (again) that every day is a very good day.