A blogging-friend commented the other day that my writing reminds her of another writer’s, and (with that sense of shame peculiar to a bibliophile when she discovers there’s something she hasn’t read) I immediately downloaded Anne LaMott’s Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith. The action of downloading the book brought home to me, actually, how little I’ve been reading in recent months. And by “little,” in this case, I mean “not at all.”
I used to read incessantly–a book a day on average–and tell myself it was feeding the writer-in-me… But for years I was shying away from my keyboard, incessantly “feeding the writer” and never turning her loose. In recent months I’ve been writing, writing, writing–and not picking up a book. (Or, in my case, my book-loaded iPad.) Clearly balance is an issue for me.
And in fact, I’m feeling supremely off-balance today, thanks to a vivid nightmare that’s been clinging to my mind. Usually I don’t remember much of a dream, even moments after I wake. But this dream, from two nights ago already, has its tentacles dug into my mind. It was a nightmare of triple-imprisonment.
In this dream, I am working again for my old boss, the Hell Boss. This was a person who fully believed she owned her employees, body and soul, lashed out at any hint of “disloyalty,” and thought the legal-reminders by the human resource staff were laughable jokes to be ignored. (If you watch “The Office,” think of the Steve Carell character’s disregard for human resources warnings about inappropriate behavior—minus the bizarre and quirky humor—and that would be The Hell Boss. In this dream, I am back in her claws.
In this dream, I am back in my first marriage. Tiptoeing around the temper that controls the house, bowing to insecurities that require me to be dumber than I actually am, and less myself than I should be. And worst…
In this dream, I am drinking. Which means I’m imprisoned by myself, the alter ego who takes control with that first drink, and who destroys mercilessly everything I care about, in deference to her single priority: getting the next drink. She goes to ridiculous lengths, tells ridiculous stories to try and protect her drinking, endangers my children, destroys my integrity. And if I’m able at some future point to wrestle her back out of control, I’ll be faced with her wake of destruction–because to anyone not living inside my head, she is the same person as myself. And I do have myself to blame–for handing her the keys when I took a first drink–but she is not me.
I used to hear, in Recovery circles, the saying that if you commit suicide when you’re under the influence, you’ve killed the wrong person. That never made sense to me. (Why? Who am I supposed to kill?) I understand it better now. My last relapse, drunk and destroyed, I swallowed as many aspirin as my shaking hands could get from a full bottle, and took a kitchen knife into the empty bathtub, where I went to work along a wrist vein. It sounds so melodramatic to my sober-self, but at the time there was simply a grim determination to rid myself of her. And the me that’s me felt so destroyed already that I didn’t care that she’d take me with her. It would save me the heartache of facing up to this new wave of destruction, wreaked after almost two joyfully sober years, when I somehow convinced myself that she wouldn’t be lying in wait if I just had a beer at the end of the day.
That was the dream. I’ve been unsettled since–despite the overpowering relief of waking. And this afternoon, feeling an uncharacteristic aversion to writing, I started reading LaMott. And found myself right back in the nightmare, with her vivid recounting of her own spiral into addiction and hopelessness. Ultimately, that’s the most devastating darkness of active addiction–the utter lack of hope.
I had to put down the book in order to breathe.
I took myself to the front porch and huddled in a patio chair, breathing. It’s not a day for huddling–it’s above seventy degrees, brightly sunny, my husband raking up the mowed grass wearing my Tilley hat and singing along to his iPod in the Hawai’ian language, with an occasional exclamation in Pidgin thrown in (the Island equivalent of a yeehaa)… And I gradually found myself again. And reached out for reassurance that God is still there (of course! but there’s nothing like addiction–even remembered–to make you doubt).
I’m humbled by the comparison to Lamott’s writing, and unworthy of it. But I’m grateful to have been put onto her book–clearly I needed to read this right now. And always, always, I need to remember what lies in wait if I become complacent about my Recovery. Synchronicity strikes again.