Deep down I am a superstitious kind of person, perhaps because I was told so often as a child not to step on the cracks in city pavements (a bear would come around the corner and eat me up if I stood on a crack) or not to pull faces because the wind might change and then my face would be stuck in a nasty expression for ever after. Now I cross my fingers when approaching the computer because of ongoing computer blips, niggles and bugs since a well-meaning friend offered to upgrade software and install some useful programs. Now it crashes and files corrupt, and I plead in vain with the ghost in the machine each morning.
The plus side of being offline for longer is that I have had a chance to do more reading, the ‘quiet alternative’ to online browsing. Alice Munro’s short stories, some Paul Auster, a reread of Bolano’s 2666, Juliet Mitchell on hysteria between siblings and Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol which everyone in the village loves and hates and takes seriously. Freemasonry is big out here. Reading Dan Brown always reminds me why I hate gnosticism, that secretive elitism about the nature of knowledge, as if acquiring obscure knowledge is a shortcut to wisdom. It isn’t. There is no shortcut to the getting of experiential wisdom.
Each afternoon I have coffee with a woman from another village in a neighbouring valley who is trying to decide if she wants to get sober or not. In the mornings she likes the idea but by 3pm when she meets me, she is less sure. And her resolve falters towards 6pm and the magical drinking hour. As she points out, ‘If I don’t drink, what will I find to talk about with my husband? When we’ve both had a few drinks, everything seems funny and witty. Sober we bore one another.‘
So I doubt she will give sobriety more than a cursory glance for now, but listening to her is like watching the elephant in the living room trampling the furniture and it makes me happy I no longer have to play that mental game with myself. Her point is that there are no crises or dire consequences to the nightly drinking and only a slight headache in the morning. It doesn’t bother me that she may not feel ready to get sober, so I have another coffee and just nod. I drank with relative impunity for years, hanging out in non-relationships and not realising I was wasting years of my life. I never woke at dawn and stood looking at a brilliant sunrise. I never made breakfast for a loved one as an early morning surprise. I never bothered to go out and look at stars, Orion and the Milky Way and the shimmering galaxies of the Southern Cross. Never sat up late writing and thriling to have the sentences pour out onto paper, the creative unfolding of a new fiction.
She asked me at one point, this soft-voiced woman with her green cat’s eyes and expressive manicured hands, why her family won’t just leave her in peace to drink. In time they will because they will realise that drinking means more to her than relationship. Before that they will get angry, even outraged, because self-harm makes others angry. Drinking may not feel like self-harm, but it is obvious to others that the drinking is excessive and dangerous, that we leave ovens on inadvertently, pots boiling away on forgotten gas rings and doors unlocked before going to sleep, that we have one more last nightcap and a lit cigarette in bed, dozing off with the cigarette dangling, the glass on the edge of the bedside table. That elsewhere in the house there may be children crying unheard, the dog unfed in the kitchen, the cat shut out in the cold. Self-harm and neglect.
But we don’t stop until we stop.