I was talking to some fellow sober women about why pot smoking doesn’t bother me as a sober person. One woman was saying that one of the reasons it bothers her is because the other person isn’t fully present. They’re high, so they’re not completely there. And the other thing was that she doesn’t want to ever open the door to the thought that she wished she could get high again. It’s too dangerous. She did make an exception for people who smoke weed as a way to cope with physical/mental illness or trauma. And I was thinking that when I drank that not being fully present was the fucking point. That somewhere between four drinks and blackout there was relief for me. Relief from anxiety, fear, overthinking, dark and morbid thoughts, more fear, loneliness — it was a fucking break. I know that I can’t control it — it’s not in my nature to be able to just accept a two-drink lightness to be enough. Never enough. But really, who in their right fucking mind wants to be sober? Who wants to replay visions of Syrians suffocating on gas or cogitate on the intimate details of a person’s suicide or the injustice of a black boy getting shot by police or child soldiers or that same drunk Native you ran into while walking around UNM only this time he looked like someone beat him up. Who wants to feel all this shit and be this afraid and be unable to DO anything about it? Who wants to unrelenting uncertainty? Now, I realize that to an AAer it might seem as though constantly recalibrating and realizing what it is you need to do to deal with your emotions, your fears, your anxieties seems to be building some emotional musculature. That we are tougher in our sobriety — more adept at dealing with “life on life’s terms” because we have a toolbox full of tools and have to go without the balm of temporary separation of self and world. But really, are we? That seems to be reaching a bit with an emphasis on self-righteousness and back patting. It seems that we’ve created a vast system of ways and means to distract, defer, or just generally wait out bad feelings. The difference between me, as an alcoholic, and someone who can drink or smoke weed and it not interfere with their responsibilities is that I could no longer live with myself and my alcoholism and I was irresponsible to the point of negligence and abuse. If someone else is fine with smoking weed and can figure out a way to shoulder their responsibility and manage their pain without throwing it on everyone else, who am I to say that’s not the right choice? They have to be fully present and aware at all times and here with me because for fuck’s sake everybody knows that misery loves company. So let’s defer our pain together or wait it out at the same bus stop. Honestly, if I love someone, I want them to be able to mitigate their pain and anxiety in a way that best suits them, not me. And yes, I totally wish I were a person who could have a couple of drinks and a joint and it wouldn’t turn into a freight train through the living room and I would never wake up with scabbed up knees and a nebulous sense of regret and shame. I totally wish I could get high, because this shit is fucking exhausting. But I can’t. I know I can’t. But I ain’t gonna deny someone else just because I can’t. Especially with something like pot. For fuck’s sake.
Drinking was exhausting too. Exhausting and extinguishing. Soul-stealing. Like suicide, drinking was taking all my pain and throwing it at everyone else and saying, “Here, I can’t deal anymore. I’m out. You deal with it.” And now the burden of responsibility is on me to deal with my own pain and I don’t want to. Unrelenting uncertainty feels fucking terrible. Being afraid of the future feels horrible. And I’m afraid of everything. I feel sometimes I can’t enjoy really great things because I’m always afraid of when it’s going to begin to hurt. I’m always anticipating pain. That’s why I get angry when people tell me to manage my expectations or that bad shit is right around the corner. No shit. I feel like I’m in a constant reflexive crouch because I am always anticipating the other fucking shoe to drop. It’s like back when I drank and people would get mad at me and tell me what a piece of shit I was. I felt like spinning my hand and saying, “yeah, yeah, yeah…tell me something I don’t know.” Nothing anyone could tell me was a fraction of what I had already mulled over in my own head. As a long-time story creator and fantasyland denizen, I KNOW how often what I create in my head and what actually occurs ever fucking merges. I am prepared for disappointment and heartbreak all the fucking time. Woke af.
So much so that I often can’t enjoy what’s going on in the present. Not fully present because of weed? Shit, I’m not fully present because of acute awareness dread. How is that better?
* * *
I wrote this a few weeks ago when I was struggling with my sobriety and had, for the first time in a long time, the desire to drink. I missed drinking. I missed being able to disappear and not think for a bit because things got difficult for me, I was actively denying some subconscious thought, and I didn’t want to feel like shit. My sponsor gave me the assignment to write about the burden of responsibility because I was so angry at having to take care of my son, my sobriety, and myself. I feel very differently about things since I wrote that.
I was reading this article that Cormac McCarthy wrote about the subconscious and language. He was saying that the subconscious doesn’t use words to express itself. There was a bit of discussion about what the subconscious is, and it remains somewhat mysterious, though uniquely human. He was talking about how this German organic chemist, August Kekulé, who was trying to figure out the form of the benzene molecule and fell asleep in front of a fire. He dreamt about a snake in a hoop with its tail in its mouth — ouroboros — and woke up exclaiming, “It’s a ring. The molecule is in the form of a ring.” This ability to arrive at heretofore conclusions during sleep is not uncommon. It seems to be how people process and think and would be indicative of how very important sleep is.
This unconscious thought is presented to us in metaphor, images, and pictures. The unconscious never nudges us on the shoulder and says, “Hey, the molecule is a ring, man.” Thought doesn’t speak with words. And he discussed the evolutionary function of language to help tease out meaning from this subconscious manufacture of metaphor, image, and picture. Until I read that article, I had never thought about my thoughts and language as two separate processes. I had never thought about my thoughts not being words, but it’s true. They aren’t. They’re more like a nebulous collection of impressions, feelings, and connections. It’s only when I stratify them into writing that I can figure out what the fuck is actually going on.
This morning I woke up with wordless images and metaphor in my head, and realized what I why my sobriety is important, and why the days of separating myself from this world is no longer an option. I realized what the burden of my responsibility is. I have just spent a few weeks struggling mightily with loss and grief and mourning and I was overcome with this wave of seemingly unending pain. So much so that I’ve been physically sick as well. All of my shit just manifested in my body in this recalcitrant way and I could not get it to move. Even now, my joints are sore, my throat hurts, and my ears are clogged. But I feel a shift coming and there is movement. I’m not underwater anymore.
The burden of my responsibility to stay sober is this: I have a moral imperative to feel my fear, anxiety, sorrow, grief, sadness, anger, sense of injustice, etc. A moral imperative. I have to give these feelings their full compliment and not try and shove them around or try and make them disappear. The days of my being apathetic enough to drink myself into a blackout are over and will never come back because I know that I will hurt people if I do not take care of my shit. I can’t defer it, or separate from it, or give it a break because by doing so, I will unintentionally cause damage to people I love. I maintain that dealing with your shit is a revolutionary act. Like a pebble in a pond. This burden of being responsible enough to take care of myself isn’t something that has an end-point. It is a constant burning down and rebirth. It a tiny, personal Krishna, Destroyer of Worlds and Creator of Universes, it’s building up and tearing down like a two-year-old with blocks, it’s shedding, shedding, shedding and regrowth.
I hate this fucking process.
So are sober people any better at this than people who are “not fully present”? Is there a developed emotional musculature in people who give their pain its full compliment and expression? I’m still not sure about that. I’m not sure that suffering leads to redemption. Sometimes suffering is just suffering. Life is full of it, que no? And some people seem to have more of it than others and very little redemption. All I know is that people who don’t deal with their shit are miserable to be around and I don’t want to be miserable to be around. I don’t want to hurt people or confuse them or not come through with the things I say I am or what I’m gonna do. I do not think that I can ever get back the indifference and apathy it required to drink excessively and perhaps I had to mourn that a bit.
This is what it is to be human: uncertain and frightening and insecure. There is a shit ton of loss involved. We love others so mightily and hold them tightly and tuck them into the warm, red, soft spaces in our ribcages and then we have to let them go. Over and over and over. And it totally blows.
I think that what my subconscious mind produces in images and metaphor is the divine language of god. If I am paying attention and I trust and listen, I can tease out the metaphor in a fashion that helps me and heals me, which I only do when I’m in a huge amount of pain. I was raised by a man who thought that belief and faith were tools for weak intellect, so I have to snap the straps of my singlet and wrestle with this fucking concept all the time. It never has a distinct form or definition and I like definitions. I like certainty. There is nothing that I like about this. Nothing. It’s too new and nebulous and see-through and flimsy and confusing and too much work and I don’t want to have to think about it. I am envious of other people’s seemingly infallible faith. However, I still believe it’s part of my virtuous obligation to fight with this shit. It’s one of the things that will help keep me on the straight and narrow. Plus, figuring out metaphor makes me feel smart. So maybe there is something I like about it.