Because I went to theater school, you'll have to forgive me for, on occasion, drafting incredibly pretentious sentences. Here is one of them: there is a Pinter play I think about from time to time. It is about a woman who has sleeping sickness (made famous by Oliver Sacks's novel and the devastating movie adaption, Awakenings) and wakes up after thirty years in bed.
In this play, the middle-aged woman is out of touch and child-like. Everyone around her wonders what to do. There isn't much TO do, as it turns out. She was stuck for so long, as the doctor describes, in a kind of remote world of semi-awareness, "like a kind of Alaska."
In my first months of getting sober, I felt like an alien who was dropped onto earth with a vague recollection of what he had been taught about humans. I had all sorts of questions that I nagged sober people about. I still often feel out of place, like I am reclaiming lost time.
After the meeting, I talked with a friend of mine who is newly sober, too, after doing drugs and drinking for more years than I've been alive. On our snowy walk to the train, we caught up on sober community news and he showed me the latest grandbaby photos.
This guy, by the way, gets up crazy early each morning, meditates, reads sober literature, calls another person in recovery, hits a meeting a day, sponsors people AND has a family and two jobs. His recovery is as inspiring as it is intimidating. He is a good friend.
Because my friend has seen some shit and thus wouldn't judge me, I told him that I've considered drinking again lately - just to try it. Now that I have all this knowledge under my belt about how bad things could get, well, how bad could it get again?
My friend patiently explained, just as I do when people say risky shit to me, that if he had a drink, it would be all over for him. He would have a drink to loosen himself up, inevitably do some drugs, and then be gone for a week.
His weekend bender would lengthen into a week or two. He'd very quickly lose his job, his sober friends and responsibilities, and worst - his family.
With one drink, he would begin the slow, fatal fall leading all the way down into the chasm that he had to crawl out of to earn the trust of his family back, secure a job, build a new life for himself. So why even try? Why experiment any further?
As the train pulled up to my stop, we said our goodbyes. I stepped out into the snow. The train pulled away and I slid along the icy wooden planks of the platform so hard and fast, I wasn't even able to catch myself. I slid into a splits and fell over, leg dangling off over the tracks.
In the past, when I drank and woke up with bruises the next day, I'd jokingly say to friends, "Hope these were from something fun!" Presently, I was lying in the snow, stone sober, with a throbbing knee. I'd briefly considered self-destruction and the universe felled me.
Was this part of the spiritual experience I'd heard so much about? No, it's April in Chicago and it always snows. Lying there, prone, I flexed my knee and foot. No major damage.
In the dark, in the midst of big, cartoonish snowflakes, the familiar platform was transformed by the orange lamps reflecting on the treacherous, icy pools in between the wooden planks. Unusually, no one had gotten off at my stop. No one was coming up the steps or going down them. No one had seen me fall.
Over and over again, I learn from my friends in recovery that no matter how many meetings you go to, how many books you read, how many wise inspirational quotes you write down, how badly your loved ones want you to get better, you have to want to be sober. Only you can save you.
You lucky idiot, I thought. All around me, the snowflakes swirled.