Boy, it’s been a while since I posted here. It isn’t that I’ve disappeared from the sober blogosphere. I read blogs every day, and as a project for my second year of sobriety have been making an effort to comment, especially on newbies’ blogs. It seemed like one way I could start giving back. And I’ve thought plenty of times about things to post. It’s just that with finite time and energy, I guess I’ve decided to put most of my writing time into my novel.
Let me just type that again because my fingers don’t have it in muscle memory yet: my novel. The novel that I’m not just thinking about, or talking about, or making excuses for not starting. No, this one is the novel that I’m actually writing, as in, my butt is in a chair and my hands are typing; or sometimes my hands are jotting notes and phrases on index cards that must read like a lunatic’s deck; or sometimes it’s just my foot tapping while I stare into space. No matter–the butt is really the key body part here, and mine is in the chair doing the work. And the work is doable. It’s often difficult, sometimes a slog, occasionally crazy-making. But I can do it. The way you write a novel, it turns out, is to start, and then keep going at a regular time and place whether you feel like it or not. Just like the way you get sober is to not drink, then keep going with the not drinking whether that’s your momentary preference or not.
Of course, one of the lovely things about sobriety–early sobriety in particular– is its binary nature. Are you sober today? Yes? Then YOU WIN! Go get yourself a cupcake! And maybe the frosting half of a second cupcake! Novel-writing is…less so. I want to write a novel, but I’d also like it to be a good one–and some days I feel like I’m on the right track, others that I’m a hopeless case. But as much as I can, I’m trying to keep that sober-beginner’s mind. Did you write today? Yes? Oh my God LOOK AT YOU! Have a cookie! Have a new Moleskine, the green kind you love. Have a run. Have a nap.
Writing fiction was going to be my life, you know. It was my very first love, my childhood obsession. It earned me two degrees and some minor publications in my twenties. A stay at a writer’s colony once, even. And then I utterly let it go. For what–fifteen, sixteen years. Almost a third of my life. And I never expected it to come back.
Did I quit writing because of drinking? No, I wouldn’t say so–not directly at least. I couldn’t stay a 24-year-old MFA student forever, living on a stipend with almost unlimited time to write. My life got bigger and busier, colorful. I married, traveled, built a big career elsewhere. Good things happened even as I drifted away. But I’ll tell you what role the drinking did play: it made it criminally easy for me to ignore what was missing. To dismiss my writing as something I’d simply outgrown, or lacked the temperament to stick with. And I’ll tell you what sobriety has given me: the space to notice who I am and what I love and how I want to spend my time. And sobriety has given me stamina, which is something I lacked even in my early writing career and sure as hell lacked in my drinking days. Writing a novel is hard, but because I am sober, one thing I know about myself now is that I can do hard things, and I can do them well, with focus and purpose and generally at least a little glee.
When I first quit drinking, I didn’t want to call it ‘getting sober.’ Then I found myself adopting that phrase, but I didn’t want to call myself an alcoholic. Then I realized ‘um, yeah, but the thing is you actually are an alcoholic, probably or definitely. Somewhere in between probably and definitely lies the fact of your alcoholism.’ So (fine!) I started calling myself an alcoholic, but I didn’t want to use the word ‘recovery’ because I thought that word was, to use a technical term, ‘lame.’ It conjured up Magic Mountain-like images of white coats and patients shuffling around a fancy sanitarium, always just a breath away from relapse. But now I wonder if I’ve been interpreting it too narrowly. Because my writing–or even just my generic ability to have any passions at all–is something I’ve recovered in sobriety. That I know beyond the shadow of a doubt. Because I’m sober, I can sift through the sand and recover things that matter to me, things I thought were gone for good. Maybe that’s what recovery really means. And that’s not lame.
I wonder what I will recover next. And I wonder what you will, too. What we all will recover on this warm and sunny path.