Usually I try to post something on my actual sobriety anniversary date, but yesterday’s schedule was such that I couldn’t sit with my laptop and pound out anything close to meaningful.
So. 14 years sober as of 6/19/16.
I’m not really sure where I’m going to go with this.
This was quite possibly the hardest year I’ve had in sobriety.
That’s not to say that at any given time I was tempted to pick up. Miraculously, when things were at the absolute nadir, mentally and emotionally, the goddamn LAST thing I wanted to do was pour whiskey all over it.
But I had a series of things happen, beginning last fall, that rocked me to my psychic core. My mental health, always on shaky ground to begin with, got pretty well battered. I had so many rugs pulled out from under me that I began avoiding rugs altogether, for lack of a better analogy. I had no soft spot on which to tread, it felt like.
And when my mother-in-law finally succumbed to her years-long battle with Alzheimer’s (she passed away in February), I fell apart. I mean – I got through the wake and the burial okay. I put together an album of photos of her when she was well. Baby pictures. Pictures of her clowning around with her friends. It made me feel better to the point where I figured I might be able to pull up some memories of her from before she got sick (which has been an ongoing struggle for me, since most of what I remember about her NOW is her steady decline, and her inability to do things for herself).
But everything that had been churning since last October erupted after she died. If I’m honest, it was everything that had happened since 2010, when we moved in to take care of her. My mistake was in thinking my life would “get back to normal” when she moved into assisted living two years ago. There is no “back to normal” after you’ve been a caregiver. There is navigating a perilous fucking minefield of emotions before you arrive at a vaguely familiar terrain. There is having your expectations dashed, restored, then dashed again. There is the temptation to free fall. There is the slightest sick thrill in thinking that you won’t be caught, either by loved ones or by circumstances. There is your sense of faith being blown to bits. There is the feeling of being small and insignificant, perpetually in the shadow of people who are younger, prettier, and not weighted down by grief and self-loathing.
It’s a giant shitshow, it really is. And you’re beginning to suspect that there isn’t any intermission.
I didn’t drink.
I fell back into some really puerile, destructive thinking. Because there’s honestly something quite comforting in being the WORST PERSON EVER. I’m not sure if “normal” people can understand that.
But I didn’t drink. And in so doing, I managed to not make things worse for myself.
So there’s that.
I’m crawling out of this, slowly, and with the help of my therapist, my psych nurse, some increased dosages, and my recovery community. The people in my meetings remind me that I’m not the first to have gone through this – ANY of this – and I’m trying to be humble around that while also acknowledging that my pain is valid. And it has been painful, no question about that. I don’t like being constantly afraid. I don’t like not trusting the people who are closest to me. I like being happy, or at least more or less content.
We went to see Brian Wilson this weekend. He performed the entire “Pet Sounds” album, accompanied by the Boston Pops.
This was a nearly transcendent occasion for more than a couple of reasons. Brian Wilson has been through the wringer, psychologically speaking. The drugs he was on (both recreational and prescribed) did a number on him. Most folks know the story there, but in case you don’t, you can get a basic sense of it by watching the fairly recent film Love & Mercy. Given all of that, it’s a miracle he can get up on that stage and play those songs.
And “Pet Sounds” is not only my favorite Beach Boys album, it’s in the top ten of my favorite albums overall. There’s really nothing else like it. Watching it be reproduced, as it were, with the help of a full orchestra is incredibly illuminating. It’s directed madness. It’s otherworldly. It explains almost everything you need to know about the beautiful tangled mess that is Brian Wilson’s brain. I wish my own tangled mess could produce something even 1/16th as beautiful as that goddamn album.
Brian Wilson. He has a strange shuffle to his gait. He has to be assisted to his piano. Once there, sometimes he plays, and sometimes he conducts, even when there’s a conductor behind him. And sometimes he just sits there with his eyes closed. He made everyone sing “Row Row Row Your Boat” twice. I got the distinct impression that he absolutely would not start playing until we sang it. There was something so fragile about him, this 70-something year old guy singing these so very painful and gorgeous songs. His voice is broken. He’s broken, but mended in the right places. The cracks are showing, but it’s so lovely. My heart burst and shattered over and over again, and at one or two points I full-on sobbed.
Brian Wilson can shuffle up to his piano and sit in the middle of the crazy beauty he created 50+ years ago, and just BE. This is what I need to remember as I go into my next year of sobriety.
He wasn’t made for these times. Maybe I’m not, either. But I’m glad I’m here just the same.