Friday, August 1, 2008

Dry-Erase Board

Day 4
There’s a dry-erase board by our front door. It’s for messages and lists. I’m sure on the box there was a picture with generic things written like “milk, eggs, bread” and “don’t forget to pick up Sarah at the mall.” Ours had a circled number written in the corner. It’s the number of days I’ve been sober. Linsey updated it every day at first, then eased into the period of erasing “103” and writing “112.” That’s usually when I get into trouble. I just walked by the board, and the number is gone. I guess it’s just too painful for her to write the number “4.”

Today would have been five months. The hardest part of relapsing is telling all of the people who believe in me that I screwed up. I know that some of them are wondering how they might have helped me differently, some feel sad for Linsey, and, worst of all, some aren’t even surprised. People who attend 12-step meetings with me, or “program people,” are unfailingly supportive. They know what it feels like to give in, feel guilty, swear off, clean up, then start all over. They know the fear, the helplessness, the self-loathing. The madness and the chaos. They know how small I feel when I realize that my promises to myself mean nothing. They get it before I even describe it – It’s eerie. My parents have been increasingly gentle as well. I spoke to my mom on the phone yesterday. At one point she said, choosing each word carefully and speaking resolutely, “we are not afraid of your difficulties.” They’re in for the long haul.

On the other end of the spectrum, there’s Linsey. I’ve hurt her over and over and over, and each time, her pain bleeds out all over the place. Here’s the truth: I have never experienced anything more agonizing than watching her cry because of me. Nothing even comes close. I would gladly slit my wrists, borrow my dad’s gun for an afternoon, or jump out my hotel window than break her heart. These options take turns lodging in my brain until I realize how much worse it would hurt her if I left. Central to our struggle is her inability to trust. What a combo – me and her, the untrustworthy and the untrusting. She told me tonight that she doesn’t even feel like she knows me. The things I do don’t make sense to her. Program people refer to Linsey as a “normie.” I hated that word at first. But they’re right. There is something fundamentally different between normies and alkies, addicts, and perverts. I don’t really care if you believe it. Look at things from my side of the fence for a moment: I don’t understand why you don’t reach for a cocktail when you’re hurting. If I did, I wouldn’t be this way.

It is often said that chemically dependent people fall into three evenly divided categories. The first group achieves long-term sobriety on the first serious attempt, the second relapses several times before succeeding to stay sober, and the third group relapses chronically for life. “Jails, institutions and death,” you will often hear in support groups. This is your future if you don’t deal with your addiction. I recently spoke to my friend Darla who has relapsed several times. Over the years we’ve fought together to reclaim our lives. I told her that sometimes I wonder which group I’m in. I’ve been at this for six years. That’s half my adult life. That third group – the ones who never make it – what if that’s me? Some days I would welcome the surrender of putting on a hospital gown and moving into an institution. More often, I wonder what heaven is like, and I wish that I could be there now.

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