The Finest of Spirits (day 128)

So much has been going on in my life lately that feels so big for so many reasons that I have actually felt the need to keep tight to myself. There are some things so personal that they feel like once I put them down on the page they leave me, and I am not equipped to bear such a spilling yet. I’m still needing to hold onto these things. There is some kind of alchemy occurring inside that is not yet complete.

I attended my first wedding as a sober person on Friday. But it wasn’t just any wedding it was my brother’s wedding. My only sibling, my brother who is two years younger than me, although once you both hit forty the relative difference in age sort of becomes nothing at all. Two years melts as fast as snow on the sidewalk on a bright sunny winter afternoon. There are some parts of us that were molded together and cannot be separated; molded into each other. I was his Best Woman. To even begin to tell you what that meant for me is simply too monumental to wrap the wings of my soul around. I couldn’t find the words if I tried. And perhaps one day I will try. But just now, I am speechless. I’m muted under the beautiful weight of it.

I cried a lot that day. Tears of supreme happiness and awe and gratitude and awareness and disbelief. So many tears that the next morning when I woke up, I thought for a split second I had a hangover headache before then remembering just as quickly that that was impossible because all I had to drink was sparkling water and lime. I cried because words have failed me. I cried because I can feel every little thing like earthquakes in my veins and so the big things are like bright glaring lights turned on suddenly in a dark room. The eyes of my emerging being need a minute to adjust. I danced a lot, too. It was different than dancing drunk. It was better by far. So much better it seemed insane to imagine having done it any other way.

I also heard back from an incredibly insightful editor who has been supremely generous in helping me to craft my memoir. The challenge to make it the very best it can possibly be is a challenge greater than any I have ever endeavored to undertake in my writing career. The experience is changing me, evolving the way I think and feel about my beloved craft. To have a wickedly talented and accomplished professional editor offer me concrete guidance is an overwhelmingly humbling experience.

The questions this opportunity affords me to ask myself are most profound. How on earth will I tell my story? What is my story? Where does it begin and end and what are the things that happen inbetween that must be told? Why is it worthy of telling? So many voices inside my head and heart. This kind and brilliant editor thinks I have something though. Something that could be the book. And I am going to fall deeply into the comforting, empowering, wise, soft-strong words of Anne Lamott: … just take it bird by bird.

And the rain is sifting down in bursts of light cold mist. The gloom in the weather keeps all the neighbors’ lawn equipment quiet on this Sunday morning, when all of our dear over-night wedding guests have now left our house and the familiar quiet has moved in again behind them. This gray May Mother’s Day. I think about the treasure of my son. My ‘baby’ who is now a twenty-four year old gorgeous, attentive, hard-working, witty, intelligent, kind-hearted man, with his own place to live and sleep and eat and work and be in this wide world. I sip coffee from the mug he gave me years ago, imprinted in gold and navy lettering with his college logo and the word MOM in bold across the middle. My breath catches a little in my throat when I think about all the joy we have shared over the years.

It’s all a lot to take in right now, but maybe for the first time in my life I know so clearly that I want to swallow it all in gulps and not miss a drop. This exquisite life, the only fine spirit I want poured into my precious cup.

Tell Me Where It Hurts (The First Session) (day 120)

All of my thoughts rush forward in my mind like they are trying to get my attention by speaking over one another. This sensation has become a recurring thing. At first it is upsetting because, as a writer, my immediate instinct is to try to get them all down on paper but the thing is, I guess, right now, I just can’t.

I can only write when I can hold one thought at a time, hold each up and inspect it, turn it, observe, record. It needs to be at least somewhat quiet enough for me to think straight enough to get through the tangle of thought-voices and pluck one. And so this mania of thoughts could really scare me if I let it. This mangle of loud thoughts all at once. But I have to trust that if I let it all be, eventually all of it will sort itself out and I will write what needs to get written and leaving the rest will be okay.

I think about my first session with my new Alcohol & Drug Addiction Counselor which I attended last evening. Please let me tell you that writing that sentence feels as surreal and bizarre to me as sipping my morning coffee whilst watching an elephant peddle merrily down my street on a unicycle and yet I am trying to be cool about it like this was all meant to be my life but I don’t think that’s true, honestly.

It was not ‘always meant to be’ in fact it was never meant to be if you asked me a few months ago. A few months ago, I could not even use the words alcohol or sober or recovery or addiction or any of the rest of it. Part of my drinking-self-survival was to pretend all of that did not exist because for me it didn’t. It couldn’t. If it did I might need to deal with it and fuck knows I was in no condition to have to do that.

I tell my counselor man about the flood of thoughts I keep experiencing all the time, to which he responds by nodding encouragingly and calling them ‘racing thoughts’ which I let him get away with it but it isn’t right. They aren’t ‘racing’ like some kind of strongman contest with each other, they are rather like adorable but hyperactive gremlins all cramming into the same doorway at once trying desperately to burst out of the tightness of my mind and onto the freedom of my page.

They want to say what they have been dying to say and finally, mercifully be heard. Each one believes earnestly in itself and trusts me to understand. And I feel very strongly that I owe them that. That I am here to make sure these creatures get a stage. A moment in the spotlight or sunlight or whatever you may say.

I tell my counselor about my darkest times. I choke on tears for the better part of an hour as he sits quietly and patiently and attentively and calmly, like he may even have expected this, all of this, to unfold exactly the way it is. I, on the other hand, feel like a wild animal that can only express what its truest nature is and cannot think beyond that very basic primal premise. A creature which can only be what it is and do what it has to do. Drain itself of the poison it has known was inside for decades but was afraid it would kill off the whole entire earth if she let it out. The poisonous thorny wretchedness that she believed sincerely she had to hold in because better she be killed off quietly like a good little beast instead of cause any more trouble for a single blade of surrounding grass.

What on earth was my self-worth before I got sober? What on earth made me so goddamn afraid all the time? Afraid to not drink and afraid of what the drinking was doing to me. Afraid, afraid all the time, either way. I ask the counselor man if I am an alcoholic. I ask him this right off the jump at the start of our session. I want answers.

But he is wily and wise and diverts the question. Some kind of magic therapeutic hat trick takes place and I find myself telling him about the extremely dangerous nature of my multiple blackouts. He raises both of his therapy knowing man eyebrows and repeats back to me so I can hear it from the outside looking in: Oh, so you had blackouts... I emphasize to him like I am sort of proud but sort of not that I am able to verbalize this: Yes, yes, many many blackouts.

He tells me when we speak about a drinking problem what we are speaking about is a loss of control. That’s all it is really about when you get right down to it, beyond the labels, beyond the stigmas and diagnoses. Are you or are you not in control of this thing that is holding your life at knifepoint.

He asks me if I think that blackouts are something ‘normal’ people experience on the regular. I am stupefied by this question. Because it is so stark, so blatantly naked I don’t expect it, and because the answer comes to me not smoothly, but rather like a crooked person in a faded unbuttoned trenchcoat stumbling down the sidewalk who arrives to me ragged, bewildered, and out of breath.

No? No. No, I guess I don’t think that blackouts are a normal occurrence for normal people. But I just never thought about that. I suppose I was too busy getting myself into or out of one. And then that makes me not normal, not the same. Not a regular drinker but also not a regular human. There is something very wrong about me. See, I knew it. I knew I wasn’t right. That I didn’t fit ever and still do not.

All my life I have felt outside, strange. Not ‘unfit’ exactly but ‘ill-fitting.’ I didn’t quite fit into this life and it didn’t quite fit around me. Sometimes I found that thoroughly and utterly depressing and unfair. Other times, in my art and my writing and my secret inside world, I reveled in it and rejoiced for it. I found it to be my favorite thing about myself, hands down. It was the thing I wouldn’t let anyone touch or take away from me. That uniqueness. I wanted to show it in a way that I didn’t lose it, in a way that would make it multiply and never leave.

All of the poetry I ever wrote was in defense of my otherness.

My weirdness was my wild. My grotesqueness, my beauty.

It occurs to me that never before in my whole life have I ever told anyone at all about my addiction or the very scary places it took me. Never even so much as alluded to it. Never even came close to dealing with it as a serious problem. If I ever had inklings, I would stomp them out as fast as they flickered up. What I didn’t realize was that stomping out a flicker, no matter how fast I could manage to do it, couldn’t make the flickers non-existent to begin with. That even if they only got one split second of oxygen, they could still burn a discernible cigarette-sized hole through my grim facade.

And all the while as I fucked around playing games with myself, none of my drinking was normal even when it appeared as such. To others or to me. This new revelation feels like melting. Like snow off a pine-covered hill or ice cream on a blazing hot sidewalk in the middle of a blistering summer afternoon. Like the springtime coming and not being able to stop it. Like the sticky unfortunate end of a decapitated treat that was charmingly doomed from the start.

As I blow my nose rather unceremoniously, I realize I have dumped all the stories I could think of onto the head of this properly formally credentialed stranger because I just needed it to come out. I cannot stop crying and I cannot stop apologizing for crying. He says he understands it is very hard for me to talk about these things. He is correct but far too mellow about it all. It is hard for me to talk about my alcoholism the way I imagine it is hard to be in a hospital gown in a hospital bed right before they wheel you into the OR to give one of your organs away to someone you have never met. You know it is a good and benevolent thing to do, that a life can be saved, and in the hands of an expert surgeon, it can be done. But it still feels insane and frightening and like there’s a chance you will go through it all and it still might go horribly morbidly wrong.

All this to say that trying to weave my way through recovery is newly complex and odd for me right now. Having my own ‘addiction counselor’ feels like it is a miracle or whatever they tell you about miracles, you know what I mean. They seem ridiculously impossible and also obviously true at the same time. I can’t even believe I am doing this. It is like I am me but I am also doing things to save myself that feel vastly bigger and braver than actual me is capable of carrying out.

Right before we end the session, counselor man, who is himself a recovering drug addict, asks me where I’m at ‘spiritually.’ He wants to know if I am willing to entertain the idea of an otherworldly-world and without him having to say it directly, I surmise he wants to discern if I am open to accepting the ‘help’ of a ‘higher power,’ a term which grates on my last helplessly exposed recovering nerve for reasons I will surely expand on in good time.

In the moment though, trying to appear dutiful and resolved in front of the very kind guy who just let me blurt out all over him rivers and rivers of hurt and pain and silent sickness for the first time in my messy unrelenting life, I write down the word ‘God’ in my notebook. As I do so, a heavy wave of deep and thorough and swollen exhaustion presses all the way from the top of my head to the tips of my toes.

I’m Looking for a Literary Agent

Not sure if it’s cool to do what I am about to do but something in me won’t let up until I do it so here’s the thing. I am actively looking for a literary agent to help me scout around and get my early sobriety memoir published. I need help finding my agent person.

I can write. I’ve got that part down. It doesn’t stop or let up because it is who I am so I have to follow where it seems to be leading me. I don’t really have a choice other than to ignore it but I have a very sneaky suspicion that suffocating my own lifeblood is exactly the kind of shady shit that makes my addiction act up. My sobriety won’t stand for it.

When it comes to finding an agent, a partner in crime to navigate the overwhelming publishing industry, I feel paralyzed. Maybe I shouldn’t admit that. Maybe I should pretend I am far more savvy and confident and I should fuck around behind the scenes until I can make it look effortless and magical. But I am not and it is not. I am just so not right now.

So I am starting right here from exactly where I am. In a kind of soft, safe, glowing virtual room with all of you, my fellow literary writer artist creative beauties. We are not like the rest of the humans. We are writers and writers know about the lit agent world. Well, all the writers except me, that is, or so it feels. I’m scared but I’m also determined. I have received so many messages from incredibly brave souls who have told me my words are helping them stay on track to keep themselves healthy and alive. I need this to happen for them as much as I need it to happen for me. Maybe more. For us.

My only ask is this: If you have any connections in this regard to email addresses or contact information to agents who publish memoirs, or connections to connections, please drop a comment below or send me an email to allisonmarieconway@gmail.com or tell a friend who might know or anything you can think of that I am not thinking of. I am open to however this shit might go down.

I know my creative stellar partner person is out there. This is one of many ways I am sending up a flare, I hope, into the vast and mangled wilderness to say: Hi it is me and I am searching and here I am.

Thank you for reading and sharing and listening to my words here on my blog. It means more than you can possibly imagine. I mean that from my soul. Thank you.

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Photo: self portrait April 2022

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