Outside at dawn, watering the new pelargonium cuttings I took from my friend Char’s garden in the Swartland –old-fashioned pelargoniums, one with a pure white flower, the other a fresh lively pink, unhybridised by any garden centre, pelargoniums that would have been planted 120 years ago after being taken from where they grew wild in the bushveld. Here in South Africa we still have 18th-century roses flourishing in our older graveyards, roses long extinct in France or England, but which bloomed during the French Revolution and were possibly admired by Queen Victoria as a young woman.
Anyway, as I was watering the pelargoniums, I looked up and saw an white-faced owl returning from a night’s hunting in the fields and woodlands. Such a remarkable sight, the owl flying east backlit by the rising sun.
Woke from dreams that were not ‘drink dreams’ in that they didn’t involve images of alcohol or memories of drinking, but which were all about feeling lost, disoriented, wandering over swampy ground in a mist, as if I had lost my way in life. That brought back so acutely the way in which alcoholism sets us apart and out on a limb, drifting and wandering and inwardly homeless. I woke up and looked around the dark bedroom — my books, the bedside table and lamp, pictures on the walls, the curtained window and old creaky door. Relief and gratitude filled me to the brim. These days I am rooted in my life, rooted in the love of friends, finally able to belong.
Year by year I come to understand more of the subtle and terrible ways in which my alcoholism damaged and disoriented me, how lucky I have been in recovery. The damage isn’t always about waking up in gaol or getting into fights or crashing into cars or being evicted — alcoholism is also about the loss of self, that I became unrecognisable to myself, a stranger to all who knew me, somebody adrift on the seas without a chart and unable to set course by the stars. Lost.
And now of course the challenge is to live a useful and simple life, to contribute, to live deeply and soulfully, to live in a way that support and builds on gratitude.
From Thomas Merton:
“When we live superficially … we are always outside ourselves, never quite ‘with’ ourselves, always divided and pulled in many directions … we find ourselves doing many things that we do not really want to do, saying things we do not really mean, needing things we do not really need, exhausting ourselves for what we secretly realize to be worthless and without meaning in our lives.”