So I blew past ninety days this week. And sometimes it shocks me that just three months ago my internal landscape was all post-nuclear holocaust in its’ bleakness and despair. I was all rubble, sickness, shame, head noise. I had no words anymore.
I’ve been thinking about language and writing as it relates to this journey. I used to take Hemingway’s advice “write drunk, edit sober” and applied it with an extreme amount of enthusiasm. Most of my writing the past twenty years was done that way. Now, I’m exploring how to write sober, edit sober and finding my raw truth without a buffer, without anesthesia. It’s more pure and much more scary to write without that armor.
But language, vocabulary… I’ve spent my life learning “insider” lingo. First in the Army with all of its’ acronyms and abbreviations “Copy, NLT, Hoo-ah, FUBAR, BOHICA, OPFOR, etc.” And then, with my career in medicine when phrases like “45 yo M presents with h/o of COPD, sob, dyspnea, CP x3 days, BBS c exp wheezes, prn albuterol q4 hours ineffective, r/o PNA/ COPD exacerbation, recommend CTA chest” make absolute sense. I speak the language.
Sobriety has a language of it’s own. There’s a whole new lingo to learn. We hear a lot of it in recovery. “Cognitive restructuring, surrender, willingness, NA drinks, gratitude, Normies, one day at a time.” Slowly, these terms become part of a new vocabulary.
When I think about the word “SOBER”, its’ definition seems incomplete and lacking oomph for something so life-changing and explosive.
1. not drunk
2. having or showing a very serious attitude or quality
3. plain in color
Well, I’m definitely not drunk. I am dead serious about this journey. But there is nothing plain or dull or staid about this trip. There is belly laughter. Joy that is burbling up like an underground stream. I am laughing at how ridiculous I can be, finding my sense of humor again and rejoicing with friends in recovery as we discover how full of miracles and COLOR life is now that we are no longer letting ourselves be abused by alcohol. I run every night in my reflective orange vest and I’m sure I look like a deranged crossing guard who is lost but I can laugh at how silly some of what I’m doing to stay sober might seem. But I’m all in…. Doing whatever it takes. Scratching notes to myself in a lovely journal, eating dark chocolate caramels with sea salt. Going for runs more than twice a day some days. Coloring with my kids. Eating a whole bag of cheesy poofs with a vitamin chaser. Getting choked up over a post rainstorm sky. Performing the heck outta the “corpse” pose in yoga because my middle aged muscles are protesting all the exercise I’m putting them through. Having to laugh when my earbuds unplug while I’m in the checkout at Lowes buying plants and suddenly hearing my sober podcast echoing all over the perennials/getting the hairy eyeball from stoic sensible sandaled/sunhatted gardener-types. Letting random strangers ahead of me in the checkout line because I’m teaching myself not to rush. Leaving the dishes in the sink and going with my kids to jump off the dock into the river. Playing sober anthems and singing along. Practicing self care like it’s my job. Finding the elusive beach blue glass on the beach and seeing it as a sign.
I know it’s not the pink cloud because that sucker sunk a few weeks ago. This is an uphill hike where I just keep pushing, and am still shocked at just how much energy it takes to get sober. Some days are unspeakably hard and I have no words. Many moments sting like a bucket of ice water dumped on my head, regrets still float around and surface from time to time, old traumas creep into my dreams and remind me they are still there. In those times, my recovery community surrounds me, encourages and reminds me to keep my eye fixed on the things that are invisible. They remind me that healing results when we do the hard work. They shout reminders to me, cheer me on, help me find the words to speak to myself. And I’m learning to do the same for them.
I don’t know if other diseases have a voice. Maybe diverticulitis sounds like a guy talking with a mouthful of nachos, saying “Anybody want a peanut?” and emphysema sounds like a wheezy old broad with 3 pack a day smoker voice saying “Light up, honey.” I’m not sure. But I do know that my alkie voice starts out all smooth and velvety like Tom Hiddleston reciting Shakespeare, all posh precise, rich, round tones. It whispers. “You are doing so well, just look at how much better you feel. Why not celebrate with just one? You don’t have to tell anyone. It would just be between us. Go on, darling.”
I picture my sober self as a wise earth-mother type with a flowy skirt, serene face and a halo made of daisies (a girl can dream, right?) ; “No, I’m enjoying this lovely glass of La Croix coconut water. Plus, I could never just drink one, remember?”
The tone of my alcoholic voice changes the more I talk back to it, reminding it that I don’t drink anymore. It gets more whiny, more petulant, more bratty. ” But you deserrrve it. Look how hard you are working. No one knows how HARD this is. You never get a break, wouldn’t a nice crisp glass just taste so nice.”
When I continue to refuse, it gets nasty, in a Loki, “kneel before me, you mewling quim, I must have a drink!” way.
My sober self answers: ” Well, sure, if I want to end up dead on my bedroom floor. That’s not on today’s agenda, thanks.” And then I give myself a mental high five and get on with my day.
So that’s the new normal. No more waking with a splitting headache, dizzy, looking for a place to throw up. Actually, I haven’t thrown up once in the past 90 days. Not once. No more pounding antacids with my shots of whiskey. No more checking my rearview mirror obsessively because I’m driving buzzed for the thousandth time. No more feeling alone, no more secret keeping from even myself. No more energy wasted on denial, procrastination and lies: “I’ll quit tomorrow.” There were always a thousand tomorrows.
I’m living in today. Writing sober. Living sober. I am finding my new voice.
I wish Hemingway could have found his.