I’ve heard it said that no one ever regretted not drinking, the next morning, and just assumed it was one of those obnoxiously cutesy AA needlepoint sayings like let go and let god, or keep coming back! But I woke up feeling like shit today and was, not-so-surprisingly I guess, glad that I didn’t have a hangover on top of it all. 24-hours ago I was chainsmoking a new pack of American Spirits and telling my wife, “we both know I’m never going to be fully abstinent, so I might as well bend the rules and do the Sinclair Method concurrently with this program and start re-wiring those neurological pathways at the same time that I work on the emotional stuff, right? When did following the rules ever get anyone anywhere?”
I thought I’d probably pop open a beer after group ended, and at the very least I’d drink this afternoon, it being a Friday and all, but so far I haven’t even thought to. Before I get all woo-woo I will say that I was never one to drink when I don’t feel well, so I’m sure that’s had a hand in today’s continued sobriety, but I even felt fine last night. More so, really. I felt almost good, when I got out of group. I felt a little less nervous about the whole thing, caught myself pitching in a few thoughts when they came up, and I really like the people. It’s almost like a workshop, but instead of shitty poetry we’re talking about our shitty life decisions.
Dare I say I feel a little like Don Gately, in Infinite Jest:
And then the palsied newcomers who totter in desperate and miserable enough to Hang In and keep coming and start feebly to scratch beneath the unlikely insipid surface of the thing, Don Gately’s found, then get united by a second common experience. The shocking discovery that the thing actually does seem to work. Does keep you Substance-free. It’s improbable and shocking. When Gately finally snapped to the fact, one day about four months into his Ennet House residency, that quite a few days seemed to have gone by without his playing with the usual idea of slipping over to Unit #7 and getting loaded in some nonuremic way the courts couldn’t prove, that several days had gone without his even thinking of oral narcotics or a tightly rolled duBois or a cold foamer on a hot day . . . when he realized that the various Substances he didn’t used to be able to go a day without absorbing hadn’t even like occurred to him in almost a week, Gately hadn’t felt so much grateful or joyful as just plain shocked. The idea that AA might actually somehow work unnerved him. He suspected some sort of trap. Some new sort of trap. At this stage he and the other Ennet residents who were still there and starting to snap to the fact that AA might work began to sit around together late at night going batshit together because it seemed to be impossible to figure out just how AA worked. It did, yes, tentatively seem maybe actually to be working, but Gately couldn’t for the life of him figure out how just sitting on hemorrhoid-hostile folding chairs every night looking at nose-pores and listening to clichés could work. Nobody’s ever been able to figure AA out, is another binding commonality.
I know Wallace felt that he owed his life and best work to his sobriety-by-way-of-AA, so I started reading IJ the first time I tried to get sober, back in grad school. I think I stayed sober for about 150 pages (about the same place I stalled out the first time I tried to read it, as a pretentious college junior) before giving up, popping open a cold one, and then drinking my way through the rest of the book as if possessed in about a week’s time.
I remember that last page, the dread I felt at knowing that this magnificent journey was about to come to an end, already thinking how I wanted to pick it right back up and give it another go, and then the joy of realizing that he’d already anticipated that. The delight at realizing we’d come full-circle, or maybe full spiral since the next time I’d be better prepared for the experience, and also knowing right away that I was an idiot to think that I’d actually put myself through that again so soon. And maybe that’s what getting sober is like, too. I still don’t know whether I’m going to be abstinent forever, but they say not to worry about forever, right? Maybe the urge to return to where I’ve been isn’t cause for alarm, but a human inclination to gravitate toward familiar storylines. Maybe a good opportunity, an urge to start all over again isn’t necessarily a must-do. Maybe the first 150 pages are just hard, and one day soon I’ll wake up and find myself speeding right along, new experiences unfolding like a brilliant turn of phrase suddenly right there at my fingertips.