There are times when sober living is one storm in a tea cup after another. I don’t mind that much now that I’ve come to realise it’s not always all about me.
And I have planted up delectable Rosa tomatoes in great glazed planters that once were sealed and held lotuses until we had a frog invasion. Don’t ask. The tomatoes are interplanted with basil, spicy and lush. As I completed the planting and stood back to admire my work, my small foxy dog took a flying leap into the pot and flattened two tomato seedlings. I don’t know if she will destroy all the other seedlings. There is a certain quality of despair that only seasoned gardeners know when trees topple or bushes become diseased or lawns go brown or plants are killed by too much love. So many uncertainties and yet we go on planting year after year, learning from our mistakes and making new mistakes.
It was great to get to a meeting and I wish I could say more about that. The sober friend giving us a lift lectured his hapless passengers all the way there and all the way back. His topic was ‘women’ and all the things women do or say to make men feel bad. There is a generic script wheeled out in discussions of heterosexual relationships ( I have never heard anything like it in lesbian or gay relationships) that is tedious and iunauthentic. Emotional laziness and entitlement. And I like this man, he is troubled and harrowed and stuck in a mindset that is getting him nowhere. But all of us women passengers arrived home with a splitting headache.
Him: ‘When I met my first wife I knew I had the capacity to give us both the relationship we wanted and needed.’
Women passengers, in silent unison: This is something you only say if you are talking to your reflection in the mirror. Really. Nobody has the capacity to carry both sides of any relationship. And none of us know what another person wants and needs and how those desires might change over time.
Him: ‘I spent most of my salary on presents for her, everything a woman wants.’
Women passengers, silently, with vehemence: Material gifts are not a substitute for substance. And perhaps she might have wanted or needed those material things but not you as part of the gift, needing to feel beholden to you. Would she have been free to say ‘A paid-for holiday in Mauritius would be wonderful but I would prefer to go there with my sister’ or were the gifts all about you?
Him: ‘I wanted to us to start all over in a brand-new relationship.’
Women passengers: Aargh! Some of the script is about gender relations and that power imbalance between men and women and some of it has to do with a shared lack of realism. If your ex-partner wants a brand-new relationship, he or she will have to find a brand-new partner. You are the same people and in the same relationship with memories and patterns that will not just disappear. Startiung over is wishful thinking. Better to make amends, forgive and accept that the memories will stay around for years to come.
Him: ‘You know what bugs me most about women? –’
Women passengers, aloud, in desperation: ‘Oh look there is a chanting goshawk perched on that fence! And the moon is coming up over the mountain! The problem is not you, Henry. The problem is patriarchy, that dinosaur lurking behind the scenes. We will find some way to address sexism and all those weird expectations about women that surround us like a fog all our lives. Why does male privilege blind men to their own sense of entitlement? Would it be different if men suffered sexual violence or were financially dependent on women? ‘
Unlearning sexism is like unlearning racism. And no, women complaining about men is not the same thing. The insights of Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich, Simone de Beauvoir and bell hooks should be required reading for basic lifeskills.
That feels better. On the whole my temper has improved in sobriety because I speak up more often and trust my instincts when it comes to reading situations and recognising my own part in what happens. And sober confrontations might be painful and jarring but don’t go down the road of vodka-inspired lunacy.
But it isn’t easy. Active alcoholics adopt an escapist lifestyle while drinking, habits of thoughtless idealism or cynicism, procrastination, avoidance. Easy on ourselves, hard on others. Recovery meetings are accepting of lousy interpresonal skills and unquestioning social attitudes. But those old expectations and attitudes carried into a new more conscious way of living are like rocks lurking just under the surface of the water. They leave us floundering or unsatisfied or wondering where the hell we went wrong. Think, think, think! as the message above the chairperson’s seat at a meeting reminds us. Change may be called for, a renewal of the mind.