Addiction’s Curse: Not Being Present
Woody Allen once said that whenever he was somewhere, he always wanted to be somewhere else.
We are never satisfied, it seems, to be where we are. There is always some other goal to attain, some other fantasy to fulfill, some other dessert we haven’t tried.
I say that to all my twitter friends because right now I would rather be conversing with all of you. But today I must engage myself in the beautiful discipline of expression, to dip my feet into the pool of some thoughts I have been having about my own addiction (alcohol was the addiction of my choice).
When did I really discover that I was an alcoholic? I mean when did I really know in my gut that there was no way I could have come to any other conclusion about my drinking.
That no brainer, of course, in spite of all the evidence—not being able to find my car after a night out, even though it was parked right in front of the bar I just came out of; unexplained dents in that same car that I only discovered when a potential buyer commented on them; waking up with strangers; placing myself in homicidal and suicidal situations hoping to be annihilated into some weird state of ultimate freedom; finding opponents in the friendliest of environments (friends and family, of course, were always suspect because they were “too near,” as the poet says); diving deep into depression as my covert way of gaining more sympathy as a new-age sensitive guy; missing classes—conveniently on Monday and Friday (you know, the addict’s perfect four-day weekend); not showing up at a child’s birthday party, or worse, leaving a family get-together and not returning home for a couple of days.
The silences after all of these events were enough to hush a barking Labrador.
And what about all those fuzzy, London-fog days of walking ever-so-deftly through the hangovers when my tongue felt like a braided carpet, my eyes red as a carotid-artery scar, my sinus-muffled voice sounding like a row of cars, engines quietly revving, underneath a huge air-tight-tent of canvass.
And yet I never made the connection between any of those events and my addiction to alcohol. Yes, I inherently knew that all of my bouts of drunkenness had collateral damage. But that was the price I thought had to be paid for that claustrophobic, suffocating feeling of being held hostage by a world that wanted me to be someone I wasn’t (mind you, most of the social pressure I was feeling from the world around me had very little to do with an objective world that really had that much control over me; it was merely—I hesitate to use the word “merely,” but merely a product of my own perceptions).
What I really wanted to be, of course, I had no clue. I just knew what I didn’t want—that old negative-default mode of rejecting the known without knowing what I would accept as the me-of-my-understanding, if you’ll excuse the bad pun.
Let me tell you up front that during all of my drinking, I believed that I had mastered the art of self-knowledge. I read volumes of books on deep, really, really, really deep stuff. But it was all a compost pile with no seeds. I had the pile. But what I was I to plant? I thought I was planting me inside the soil of what I was reading,that I would come out of the pile fertilized into a new me, a mountain-top guy morphed from ignorance into total, I mean total, awareness. Think again, masked man.
As I look back—over twenty-five years ago—at that early beginning of my slow recovery process (and I am always in process), I realize that the most glaring evidence of my alcoholic addiction and behavior was that I just was not present. “Never there,” wherever “there” happened to be, could have been my motto.
And how can one ever “not be there,” as the saying goes. Yeah, I showed up when I chose to show up. I wandered around a lot from here to there. I read student papers. I cut the grass. I changed dijon-mustard-colored diapers. I went to marriage counseling on Friday afternoons. I performed sexually (and sex was always a performance, after all, a kind of vaudeville act where I would mentally dress up as someone else, the sexual Kermet-the-frog guy who always had someone else’s pleasure voice—I don’t think I’m fooling myself here, but I really wasn’t good at it, no matter what my fantasies were telling me).
Many of my friends have told me to read “The Power of Now” (Sorry guys, I threw out my copy before reading it—maybe it’s this fear that if I’m reading the book, I really can’t be present, even though I know damn well I’ve suspended a whole lot of important stuff before to indulge myself in other worlds).
Buddhists love talking about “being present.” And there was a novel, “Being There” about Chauncey Gardner, the mentally challenged guy, who spouted garden clichés about growing and planting and who loved to “watch” people having sex (he became a guru among the intelligentsia and the corporate guys who mistook his disarming simple-mindedness for some kind of ancient, unadorned, simplicity).
I am afraid of the Chauncey Gardners among the rabble of simple folk out there who seem to have all the answers,the instant-solution guys who blame complexity for all the problems in the world—after all, they tell us, it’s all really here in front of us and only needs to be discovered.
Well, I continue to recover. I don’t have all the solutions. But I have opened up—warts and all. And I think I’m aware. I seem to listen more, except on those days when my stomach gurgles or my mind is in a caffeine rush, or I’m on a twitter roll or I’m engaged in a conversation with a raving conservative who just doesn’t do his homework.
I’d like to believe I’m present most of the time. But I can tell you now that I can easily drift into the cave of fear when I start to become afraid of not being able to make it. I mean make the whole nine-yards-of-it-all—that gripping, choke-hold existential panic that my entire world just might implode, that I’ll melt into some catatonic state where I won’t recognize familiar faces, I’ll forget my daughter’s name, or I’ll be in the middle of 5th Avenue in NY and have no clue where my hotel is.
Then I move quietly into caring about myself. Not the caring of the I’ve-got-an-agenda narcissist but the gentle care of the nurturer—the kind I always believed the ideal, earth-mother would have for her child. The kind of care an old man would have for his favorite dog. The kind of care I have watched in a hospital when a smiling nurse walks in and asks me how I’m doing. The kind of care a friend gives me when she gives me permission to be who I am.
And then I am truly here. Sober. In process. More to come.
Namasté, my friends.