It would appear that April showers have poured down with as many triggers and cravings as raindrops from the sky. There’s something about the slow and easy melt of Spring that makes everything seem more loose, more flexible, more relaxed. Like the entire world has been holding it’s breath and is finally able to exhale.
Just like me through the early days of sobriety, where everything felt stark and white and disinfected, now giving way to days where I’m reminded that I still have a choice. That the liquor store across the street hasn’t moved despite my quarantine, and that all my wine glasses are still shuttered from view, unfulfilled and empty for months now, collecting dust and calling out to me.
It’s in this damp awakening of everything around me that I’m reminded of summer days spent poolside, of late night bonfires and the clink of glasses and crushing of tin cans.
Somehow all my fairweather memories are kept in a bottle and defined by wine.
I had to talk myself down yesterday and the day before; finally free from winter’s long detention, raking leaves in the yard and cleaning up the mess the snow kept so quietly hidden and held down. Just being outside and working I could feel my body fire up, stirring a hunger I know I can’t feed.
There is something about Spring that makes me want to drink.
I wanted to sit back in my chair on the porch with a bottle of wine, rocking myself through the sunset like they do in every movie on sprawling covered porches in the old deep south. I wanted to watch the world go by, noticing less and less with every sip until darkness came, putting the day to rest to the song of cicadas and sweet drunken bliss. I wanted to wrap myself in a sweater just thick enough to keep the damp chill away, the kind of chill that comes with every spring evening, warming myself from within with each emptied glass of wine and the booze-fueled fire that flushes itself through me from the belly up as it hits.
Except that I didn’t.
I didn’t really want any of that.
I didn’t want to find myself cleaning up the mess again.
I wanted the warmth without the wine; the reward without the regret. And so The Great Debate began, standing in the middle of my yard with nothing but a rake in my hand.
I was triggered. That was obvious. I was standing in cravings much deeper than the piles of leaves I had gathered, and they were nonetheless rotten; the only difference is my cravings wouldn’t just decompose and rot themselves away. I couldn’t just collect them and dump them behind the tall pines in my driveway or mulch them into tiny shreds of themselves. My cravings weren’t like brittle fall leaves that could just be swept away, they were invasive like weeds, and needed to be dug up entirely or else they’d spread.
They’d spread everywhere in good time, choking out anything good in my garden.
I know, because it’s happened before.
The Great Debate always begins by replaying the inevitable chain of events, reminding myself of The Pattern. Just like the seasons tumble from one to the next, I know my first drink will just make me sleepy, and the second will perk me up. The third I’ll be tipsy, then the fourth I’ll be drunk – then it’s fair game, and the winds will pick up and blow my leaves all through the yard. I’ll go three bottles in, and pass unwittingly into blackout, just to wake up tomorrow and see the mess I’ve made, strewn all over again.
I remind myself that I didn’t come this far to only come this far.
And then, the ingenious thought that maybe I’ll just have one arrives like clockwork, as though I’ve excelled at this in the past. It arrives like an Ah-ha! moment, as if I’ve just invented something that’s existed forever and I’m claiming the stroke of brilliance as my own.
Except for my track record. My track record reminds me of all I need to know.
My one drink without fail has always turned into ten, then two bottles, then four, multiplying like wet little Gremlins in the rain. This is one of those rare times where the past serves me well, knowing better than to touch a hot stove because I’ve been burnt before.
Moderation for me is like the sample stand at Costco. I only need one little taste and without fail I’m buying the whole damn box in bulk.
When the patterns of my past aren’t enough to douse the fires, I turn to my sloppy understanding of science and biology and start pulling out facts like I’m Bill Nye The Science Guy.
And it always comes down to gasoline.
“Ethanol fuel is ethyl alcohol, the same type of alcohol found in alcoholic beverages, used as fuel. It is most often used as a motor fuel, mainly as a biofuel additive for gasoline.” (Wikipedia)
This is where I start to pull myself back to the sobering reality that I’m standing amid all these flames of cravings because it was gasoline itself that fueled this stupid fire in the first place.
I surely wouldn’t pour water into the gas tank of my truck, so why would I pour gasoline into myself? If someone handed me a glass brimming full of ethanol, would I drink it? And what does it mean that I willingly did for so long, knowing I was sipping on slow death every day?
And at long last, I summon my memories of The Cycle. The deceptive dichotomy of what I want, and what I’ll get. This is often the nail in the casket that holds the lid down for one more day, keeping my zombie cravings contained. It’s the moment where I force myself to look further than what I want right now, to the horizon and what I’ll actually receive if I give in.
It’s projecting myself to the destination I’ll unavoidably arrive at if I keep driving down this familiar, bumpy road.
It takes breathing, at first. To stop and see. To see what I’m really craving, because I know it isn’t wine. It’s the flush of relaxation, the quieting of my mind, and the “reward” at the end of my hard days work. I want the immediate satisfaction, but need to pause and place it on one side of a scale, weighing it against all the inevitable, heavy consequences that will arrive as surely as the sun tomorrow.
Am I willing to trade the few hours of being numb tonight for an entire day of regret tomorrow? Am I willing to quiet my mind with wine right now in exchange for all the noise I’ll hear in the morning? Is it worth feeling nothing for awhile, only to feel everything so very much more amplified later on? Am I willing to trade the ever-growing pride of my sober time for the certain shame of having to live with my weakness for having given in?
After all this time cleaning up the mess in my yard, am I willing to let the winds blow through and just throw it all around again?
I’m not willing to undo myself anymore. I’m not willing to be nothing more than a gas tank, always running on empty and coasting on fumes. I’m not willing to let the mess of winter lay rotting in my yard when I’m finally standing tall in this spring so full of potential.
I’m not willing to pour gasoline on all these piles of long dead leaves that took so much work to clean up.
And it’s in that fleeting and freeing moment of sober clarity that I’m reminded that what I’m craving isn’t something that can be poured into me like gasoline, only feeding the fires I’ve been trying to put out. It’s knowing I don’t want to stand there for always, cleaning up the same messes over and over, day in and day out, at the whims of the wind.
It’s knowing that after these damp days of spring that still carry bits of winter with her, that the summer I’ve been truly craving is on it’s way.
That my hardwork and perseverance right now allows so very much more to grow.
Sometimes in recovery you need to hold your own hand to remind yourself of how hot the stove really is. And it’s after those decisive little talks and winning the precarious Great Debates that you can sit back and enjoy all you’ve cleaned up, knowing it will be even more beautiful in the morning.