On July 7, 1986, 29 years ago, I woke up sick, shamed, hungover, and in deep animal confusion. I woke up this way most mornings. Why couldn’t I stop after 6 or 7 drinks? Why didn’t I have an “off” switch when I had that first drink every day?
Well, “Why?” is not a useful question.
I thought about having a cool refreshing beer, just to get all the flies going in one direction.
I was 32, with three published books, and the huge local love of my family and life-long friends. I was loved out of all sense of proportion. I gave talks and readings that hundreds of people came to. I had won a Guggenheim Fellowship, although, like many fabulous writers, I was drunk as a skunk every day. I was penniless and bulimic, but adorable, and cherished.
But there was one tiny problem. I was dying. Oh, also, my soul was rotted out from mental illness and physical abuse. My insides felt like Swiss cheese, until I had that first cool, refreshing drink.
So, not ideal. The elevator was going. It ONLY goes down; until you finally get off. As a clean, sober junkie told me weeks later, “At the end, I was deteriorating faster than I could lower my standards.”
And against all odds, I picked up the 200 pound phone, and called the same sober alkie that my older brother had called two years earlier, when he had hit his coked-out bottom. The man, a Jack Lemmon type, said, “I will come get you at 11:30. Take a shower, and try not to drink till then. The shower is optional.”
I didn’t; when all else fails, follow Instructions. I couldn’t imagine there was a way out of all that sickness and self-will, all those lies and secrets, but God always makes a way out of No Way.
So I showed up. Before I turned on Woody Allen, he said that 80% of life is just showing up. And I did. There were all these other women who had what I had, who’d thought what I’d thought, who’d done what I’d done, who had betrayed their families and deepest values, who sat with me that day, and said “Guess what? Me, too! I have that too. Let me get you a glass of water.” Those are the words of salvation: Gess what? Me, too.”
Then I blinked, and today is my 29th recovery birthday. I hope someday it will be yours, too, or at least your 1st. Don’t give up on yourself. In recovery, we never EVER give up on anyone, no matter what it looks like, no matter how long it takes.
Because Grace bats last. That spiritual WD-40, those water wings, that second wind–it bats last. That is my promise to you.
Happy birthday to me, and maybe to you. As my beloved ee Cummings wrote, “(I who have died am alive again today, and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birthday of life and love and wings.)”
Don’t. Give. Up. Because guess what? Me too.