Last night, just as I happily turned off my computer and was about to find some flirtatious romantic comedy to watch on TV while eating cold roast lamb and wild rocket on sour-dough bread, I looked again at what I was supposed to be working on. Which is when I discovered I had written about 8 000 words of copy that had nothing to do with the brief. I had misread the brief and screwed up.
Not a good moment. I sat down with my delicious supper turning to ashes in my mouth. Once I would have resorted to the One&Only Favourite Solution and gulped down two or three litres of wine so that I could wake up nauseous and wretched at 3am, thereby compounding all my problems.
This time I probed the feelings of anger and frustration, probing until I got to the old fear of failure and dread of inadequacy and all that gooey self-hating stuff that keeps me trapped in self. Good self, bad self, it makes no difference, the drama still keeps self centre stage.
And as always, once I could just sit and experience those feelings, the cramp and misery of them, something inside me lightened and I was able to think about tackling the work from another angle, doing some more research, double-checking the brief. I didn’t have to go out and ‘rescue’ anyone to get my mind off myself, I didn’t have to call anyone as I did in my first year — the learned skills of sobriety are slowly taking root. It’s all about feeling the pain and knowing we can survive that feeling of things, all about balance and proportion. Some trials or ordeals we can’t and shouldn’t face alone if we can reach friends or get to a meeting. But sometimes there is a brand-new asset called common sense that comes to our aid, one of the more gracious and practical gifts from our Higher Power.
And just as I was heating my hot milk with cinnamon before bedtime, I had a call from a desolate alcoholic in Worcester who had been given my number by a mutual friend. She was very drunk and very sorry for herself and felt she had every right in the world to get more drunk — and wanted to get all kinds of incoherent things off her chest. I suggested she pour herself a large jug of water, go to bed and call me the next day if she wanted to stop drinking. For good.
She was so shocked, she almost sobered up on the spot.
‘Nobody wants to stop drinking for good,’ she reprimanded me. ‘Drinking is one of the few pleasures of my miserable existence. I might have had too much to drink, but there is no need to be so doctrinaire! I sometimes think brandy is my only comfort in life and I can’t lose that old friend.’
So I meekly said goodnight again, and she went off in a froth of righteousness. I learned from quarreling with myself over many decades that arguing with drunks is a waste of time. If she doesn’t want to change her life, it is none of my business.
And spending time trying to help people who don’t want to help themselves is just perpetuating another old pattern. I grew up as the eldest sister who was encouraged to play mother in a very unhappy family and I derived a terrible amount of ‘as if’ self-esteem from believing I could rescue my little sisters and brothers. To let go of that illusion was like swallowing hemlock, but once I had let go, I could move on and understand something about autonomy and taking responsibility for ourselves and what we shouldn’t look for in community.
Last week I called an old friend and in the course of the conversation I said, ‘What’s the best thing about being 33 years sober?’
Quick as a flash he came back to me.’ “The best thing? Well, being sober for 33 years.’
Time, I remind myself, time enough to get the hard work done and grow up.