I was the quiet kid; the shy one sitting in the back furiously reading to avoid having to talk to anyone. I gave off the illusion of studious enthrallment so you wouldn’t talk to me. So that the “world” wouldn’t talk to me. The “world”, that lidless surveillance camera quietly keeping record. No wonder sleeping was so hard.
School was my anxious temple; my cursed solution. A place of terror with a built in escape route. Like church. It is no coincidence I started drinking in church. At ten I was obsessed with the sacramental wine. I spent entire church services yearning for a shot of its bitter divinity. I was a vampire even then, greedily drinking Christ’s blood they called the wine of life. No one told me it was a metaphor. Maybe if I were Catholic it would have been different.
In school I was an “immersive” reader. I applied the same euphemism to my drinking career. I used immersive tactics to survive myself, missing the irony of using a paranoid solution to cure a paranoid problem. I thought if I just read hard enough, drank hard enough, ran hard enough, I would reach the end everyone promised me (or I promised myself). I would loaf in the heaven of retirement eating all the carrots I spent my life pursuing; my suffering would earn me the grace of an eternal high in the Eden of Xanadu. The laws of physics, of substance use, of language, of society and of habit formation were suggestions I brushed off with drunken nonchalance. I didn’t want to accept that I was human, one human amongst 7 billion humans trying to wade through this messy inheritance. So I tried to drink/read/write/run myself through the earth and into the clouds. The clouds? The stars? Such were the barstool atmospherics I made out of every “I tried to” or “I needed to” out of every desperate experiment with the first drink.
Turns out the bush I had filled with a thousand birds was just a bush I had lit on fire. And it burned. I crossed the finish line in a hospital with tubes down my throat, nurses shaking their heads, and me, hurrying in a blue gown down the street proud I’d eluded the hospital bill. The bill arrived two weeks later. It was ten years late.
My dean said I needed to go to a counselor. My counselor said I needed to go to AA. AA said I needed to get a sponsor. My sponsor said I needed to work the steps. The steps said I had an unmanageable life and needed to surrender. I drank in desperation after every “said,” afraid of the monotony my life would become. Over time these periodic boomerangs happened less and less frequently. Such is the grief process of quitting something I loved; such is the grief process of growing up.
It’s been almost four years and I am still the quiet kid in the corner. Socializing drains me, though not because of fear. The phone still weighs five hundred pounds but I’ve grown a little muscle. The litany of the “recovery church” makes me bristle, but I get to look at why I feel that way. My sobriety is made out of the little acts of courage I surrender to others and myself. Conceding to myself that I am alcoholic is surrender. Doing a fourth step is surrender. Making amends is surrender. Meditation is surrender. Paying my rent is surrender. Going to work is surrender. Writing is surrender. For me, surrender as a spiritual principle is the generous, “giving up” of oneself for the peace of belonging to something other than myself. In the context of recovery from addiction, a disease of isolating self persecution, surrender is an extended hand.