This was the week that Madiba turned 89, launching his Elders for Peace initiative with Jimmy Carter, Irish president Mary Robinson and former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan. Mandela has been officially in retirement since 2004, but just keeps going…
In the workplace hyacinths potted in glass coming up from a tangle of spidery white roots all green and promising. I still prefer my succulents.
The meeting at Hope Street, faces that are now familiar. The electrifying quality of truth spoken from certain place – immediate recognition, everyone paying attention, listening hard.
Remembering. In my first few weeks sober I roller-coasted between rage and suspicion, elation, major new resolutions, terror and recurring phobias, fits of nervousness and what was to me a weird unsettling calm. To help myself hold steady, I would imagine I was a small sick child being held by the hand and led forward, taking sips of juice, eating invalid food and explaining my symptoms to new friends, asking for help and doing what I was told while waiting to feel stronger. The experience was very similar to having bouts of malaria, with high fevers and bed wetting and hallucinations, which I had had in central Africa when I was little, so that analogy helped me. I have read something on this site that reminds me of that (sorry if I am misquoting): ‘We are not bad people trying to get good, we are sick people trying to get well.’ The trick is to let yourself be helped. All the self-loathing and mood-swings and outbursts and doubt and fear are part of an illness. As you recover, they will go away.
For some reason I’ve been revisiting some of my favourite writers this past week. The best short story writer of all time (IMHO) on alcoholism is Raymond Carver, who captures that menace and chaos of a life in free-fall so well. He wrote his best work after he finally sobered up, having been hospitalized for acute alcoholism several times, and died tragically of brain cancer in the late 1980s. I’ve always loved his poem Late Fragment, which includes the lines:
‘And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.’
I discovered Carver in the ’80s when my own drinking was very heavy and frightening. His short stories were like a soft punch in the solar plexus. They scared me because I identified so intensely with the mess and the unspoken tension, that one great secret behind every story, the self-will run riot of alcoholism. It seems ironic now that I couldn’t face reading him sober, could only read him drunk and flat despairing lines would terrify me, but not enough to stop me drinking.