Yesterday, Savannah threw its biggest, loudest, ugliest party. Savannah does St. Patrick’s Day quite unlike any other city in the South (its celebration has been compared to those in New York and Boston). Things weren’t as crazy as normal since the holiday fell on a Tuesday, but crazy enough that my children were out of school and my wife, who works downtown, was off for the day. The whole city practically shuts down for the parade and the ensuing chaos that occurs on River Street. It looks something like this:
When I was actively drinking, I avoided downtown, regardless of St. Patrick’s Day. I never liked drinking around people. I didn’t mind sharing a few beers with friends every now and then, but I did the vast majority of my drinking alone. Also, drunk or sober, I tend to avoid large crowds.
My family and I generally leave town on St. Patrick’s Day, especially if it falls on a weekend. This time, we went to Jekyll Island and met my in-laws. Our children were thrilled to spend the day with Grandma and Grandpa, and I was glad for the chance to walk around in the fresh air and talk with my wife as we drove.
Those of you who know me well might raise your eyebrows at that last statement. I went willingly somewhere with my family and enjoyed it? You read it correctly. The day didn’t begin that way. As usual, I got freaked out and said I didn’t want to go anywhere; the old anxiety kicked in and old thought patterns raced. I got in the car, though, and once I tamed my allergies with Sudafed, I felt better physically. Then I started feeling better emotionally. Before I knew it, I was out of the car and swinging with my kids on a playground.
Things can still be quite hyper-real for me, since sobriety is still relatively new. Colors are more vibrant, sounds are more immediate, and my emotions are more intense. And not only the negative emotions but the good ones, too. I felt love as I watched my children walk with their grandparents. I had an ice cream cone with everyone (also, very out of character for me and for reasons that are too long to explain here). I watched shore birds pecking for tiny crabs as I stood on the dock and let the wind have its way with my hair. I was fully present.
And then, of course, I wasn’t. My strained relationship with time tugged at me, and I realized how worn out I was. Despite that, I walked ahead of my family and sat on a bench and simply watched the grass and the sky.
Also, I watched my wife carefully, noticing many things that I’ve either been too numbed out or self-absorbed to see. I saw her grace and beauty as she played with our children, her ease with them that I’m still learning to exhibit. Her support during my recovery has been nothing short of phenomenal, and yet I have a hard time telling her that. I’ve thanked her, of course, but that doesn’t feel like it’s enough. As I continue fighting the urge to clam up, knowing that to be vulnerable is a key step in my recovery, I can only hope her patience continues.
During the last month of my drinking, I was especially cruel to her. I won’t go into the details, but suffice it to say that I went beyond selfish and self-serving. I exhibited, as Bill W. says, “self-will run riot.” I was one of the “children of chaos,” as stated in the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. It was horrible, so much that my wife once described my alcoholism as “the monster that ate [her] husband.”
The good thing is that I got help and, more importantly, followed the advice of my treatment team and counselors. I continue listening to my sponsor and friends in AA. I’m working on Step Five now; I’ve also come to terms with my character defects and am ready for my Higher Power remove them from me. I continue to study Buddhism and Taoism and apply the lessons to my daily life. I’m grateful for my loving wife, my children, my job, and my life. I came close to losing everything, but I pulled the parachute before I crashed to the ground. That’s not the case for many of my fellow alcoholics, and I’m keenly aware of that.
I’m on Spring Break this week and am truly taking a break. I may grade some papers, but I also plan to play some video games, make some music, work on a story, and take naps. I’ll practice self-care and try to practice compassion and kindness to my family.
One day at a time, of course. That’s the only way I can accomplish anything.