I submitted the second draft of my book manuscript yesterday. I believe in this book so very much and it’s so hard to wait to hear back about whether or not it is good enough. Maybe it is especially hard when the contents are all about how you tried to destroy yourself for a long, long time before you somehow started to save yourself instead. And you are still new at the saving part.
Something has changed about me in the last almost five months (140 days today). I fit inside myself now. I am not sure I could have ever said that and meant it so entirely as I say it and mean it right this minute. Perhaps that sounds rather crazy considering I am a grown ass forty three year old woman (mother, wife, etc.). I get that. I feel a little bit crazy, to be honest. If anyone had told me a year ago – even six months ago – that I would have written a whole damn book about my early sobriety journey, I would have sworn they were out of their fucking mind.
And yet. Here we are. It’s a kind of wilderness, getting sober and staying that way in a culture literally obsessed with sucking down alcohol all the time. I wish I didn’t mean ‘all the time’ but I do. There’s every opportunity every which way to get buzzed or trashed or whatever you wish any time you like. Of course, most people are not alcoholics. I guess most people aren’t addicted to the drinking. It can be so hard to understand it all. After a while everything just gets fuzzy. Reaching for help if you think you need it can feel like reaching a hand out into a dark abyss of nothingness. It’s hard to figure out what to hold on to. How to break your own fall.
The editor was frustrated by the first draft of my manuscript. She told me I had two voices, one clear and compelling, the other dark and thickly confusing. She said the second voice went off on tangents that were impossible to follow. When she highlighted this to me it suddenly felt obvious to me where before I sort of knew it but wasn’t sure what to do about it. I cannot help but think that the dark confusion was the voice of what my addiction did to me. Seduced and lured and promised me a richly extravagant adventure but then just as smoothly trailed off into nowhere and left me there with all the nothingness.
I extracted that voice from the manuscript as best I could. I tried to identify each instance where the voice of vague incoherence, that almost desperately searching voice of longing and emptiness, was entangled with the voice of clarity, conviction, and knowing. And little by little I pulled them apart. I did what had to be done to rid my story of what was trying to strangle it. The confusion that was trying to keep the truth from finding its own way out.
It was hard to throw away some of those dark poetic passages. I still worry if I managed to preserve the substance, both the dark and the light, and only trashed the extraneous drivel. We are so often taught that dark is bad and light is good. I think that’s misleading. I think both dark and light are vital and necessary to our stories, as long as that darkness and that light are true.
There is the darkness of my shame, my trauma, my hurt, my fear and my pain, and that darkness is honest. I know because when I curl up to it to shower it with compassion and comfort instead of run away from it, it enlightens and frees me. It opens me up to the light of revelation and renewal. Good shit.
But then there is the darkness of my addiction. The secret vicious voice of a thing that wants to ruin me from the inside out. A voice which, when I got so close I fell into it, trapped me. It pinned me down and deadened me. It promised me everything and led me to nowhere. It left me with only emptiness, fear, panic and confusion.
So I get why only one voice can prevail if I want to tell my story properly. With honesty and decency and integrity and hope. Out in the light where other people will be able to see it. I want to share my story with all my might in the best way I know how. The shadows and the illumination.
Working my way through this process, the lengthy process of recovery and of writing about it, is the best kind of struggle. I much prefer it, in fact, to the other kind. The struggle to keep slamming booze into my veins. The struggle to hide it, manage it, control it, ignore it, deny it. The struggle to express my desires, hopes, beliefs and dreams all while clinging desperately to a voice that wasn’t really mine but belonged to something beyond my control.
There is some debate in the recovery world about whether or not addiction is a life-long struggle for anyone who has had to heal from it. I’m not sure this matters that much in the long run. If you have to put down the booze because it has been treating you like shit I don’t see how that miraculously becomes something you can reverse or move past or ever experience differently in the future. But I will say this: If I am stuck with my addiction then that means that my addiction is stuck with me, too. It means I’m calling the shots for both of us now. And ain’t none of them whiskey.