I rolled out of bed, sat down for a while, then walked to the store when there was enough daylight. Once there, I ran into Lisa and her daughter Olivia. Lisa bought a bunch of energy drinks and a Coke for her kid. At my turn to check out, I told Lisa the clerk that the sale priced beers on the table were a distraction for me. But she helped remind me that you lose everything as an alcoholic… At ten o’clock I have Gloria today. Thursday I’m going to the agency to see my med prescriber, a PNP named Todd I’ve known for four years, though I can’t believe how time flies. It’s also been that long since I had contact with my brother, whom the family has sort of ostracized. The only relative I talk to now is my sister, the family matriarch; but I’m always on the fringe of the gang, having a totally different set of values from them. I think it goes back to my dad, and my mother too. They cared about education and sophistication, whether or not they could be accused of snobbery. My dad was a peculiar kind of guy, with polished manners but many foibles. Both of my parents were hard to get to know, keeping to themselves in their safe little bubble. The rest of the family despised them.
But they gave me everything they had…
I was awake at three, then slumbered another hour and a half. The store opens at six, so I’ll probably stumble over there before sunrise. I’m not having much fun lately; rather, I’m frustrated that people aren’t more intelligent.
Eight thirty five.
Just a cold white sky. I got a little more sleep this morning, and now I’ve fed the dog. I dreamed about drinking again, and what a superman it made me feel like, but the reality is Clark Kent. Dreams are necessarily not real unless you live in one, like Edgar Poe in all his decadence and brilliance. Chemical dependency is a strange thing. It seems larger than life at the same time that it takes it away from you. Mostly it’s a game of self delusion. I don’t even think my dog believes I’m a god. Everyone is mortal and makes mistakes, if you are honest enough to confess it. It would be weird to read Nietzsche again, speaking of supermen and mistakes. We’re all vulnerable and ordinary, so it’s probably not right to make yourself a hero.
I haven’t felt this kind of humility in some time. Soon I’ll go on flat feet over to the market and get my regular stuff for the day. Everyone can agree that it’s cold today. I’ve put on a gray sweater: no flamboyant colors. I’ll wear a belt because I ordered my jeans a size too big in the waist. And wear a beanie to cover my bald head on top.
Nine o five.
I think I understand the motive for my Coca-Cola all nighter. If I played the devil’s advocate I’d say I should give myself what I really want: alcohol. But instead, I know I have to do the right things if I want to live much longer. I believe the unconscious probably does exist; sometimes I have an insight to its activity. Alcoholism is a treacherous disease. Addiction in general can shorten your lifespan and make your life miserable… I can see how I substitute compulsions like writing and reading books for the drinking behavior. But if I let myself drink then I’d do nothing else. It’s a mistake to “succumb” to alcoholism. I’m sure that I can’t be a functioning alcoholic. I have no control over it whatsoever. Cold turkey is the only way to go. It’s just me and the booze. There’s nobody else. It feels like fencing with demons, but at least the demons are mine. I will find nothing in these woods stranger than myself, to paraphrase Anne Sexton.
Quarter after eleven at night.
The plain English is that I’m ambivalent on sobriety. This goes on at a deep and fundamental level, underneath all my thinking and deliberating. I compare it to the hunt for the white whale, and, having read my Melville, I acknowledge that Moby Dick may come out victorious, dragging down the whole ship and drowning the captain. It’s the ambiguity in the book that makes you wonder what the heck. Like trying to serve two masters, both a god and a devil. Or maybe it’s only humankind having to contend with the devil, as in the philosophy of Schopenhauer. The whole point is to obliterate the Will, and this and the whale are the same thing… Ishmael’s life is saved by the coffin that Queequeg built for himself before the final confrontation with the whale. So the coffin symbolizes death and life in the same image. Or maybe Q. gave his life so that Ishmael could live. Remember that his tomahawk also served as a peace pipe…
What I fear is that religion has no substance. In the chalice of faith there’s not a drop of wine. And on the other side of this reality there’s no ideal world, no sublime: no heaven. So then I begin to ask myself who I’m doing sobriety for. What does this word mean?
The last word is books instead of booze. When you buy a book, you invest in wisdom that will last a lifetime; whereas buying beer is a temporary party: you consume it and eliminate it all by the next morning. Then you wake up with a hangover and a cloud of regrets, guilt, and shame.
Two in the morning.
I think I’m near to freeing my imagination from the throttlehold of religion. Biology is enough to live by. The only problem is where our ethics comes from. But the idea of a natural morality is nothing new, and I wonder what Hume meant by natural religion. Also, why did Blake react to this so violently? About seven years ago I worked on this problem, reading ebooks on my Kindle. But the scary part is how I drank beer like a fish at the time so I could scarcely function. My alcoholism was killing me. Can I say that my beliefs were working for me in 2015?
It was sheer desperation that led me to the doorstep of the Lutheran church two years later. It amazes me that there was even a thought process involved in my actions.
Maybe the real question is what gives us freedom of the will or the illusion of this. I wanted to read The Oresteia myself after reading Sartre’s The Flies, in search of the origins of freedom in Western thought. Or perhaps I’m just keeping my mind busy in order not to stray into alcoholism again. You can do worse things with your time.
Eight thirty five.
I slept well last night, though it was interrupted by a window. I plan to call my sister this morning to thank her for the birthday money and nice card.
Somehow, free will depends upon an idealistic scheme. Nature is definitely deterministic. If you consider that you are what you eat, you can actually reduce the self down to a bundle of impressions with no soul or identity… I was watching the birds, mechanical little things of pure instinct. A family of sparrows is upset by the invasion of a starling that threatens their nest. They know just enough to preserve themselves and ensure perpetuation of the species. But people are different. We can override nature and choose our destiny as individuals and as a group. Are we still related to the little perching birds out my back door? Science says we are. Religion says not really. And philosophy is the boondocks in between.
By the way, I reset my Kindle to start totally from scratch.
Six fifty five morning.
Outside is black as ink but I went out in it anyway. At four thirty I could no longer sleep so I got up; besides, my dreams were rather unpleasant. The music I hear is archaic for me, some Three Dog Night from my grade school years. My family was closer knit in those days, or so it seemed, maybe because all the adults drank, while today, the drinkers make a minority.
I remember a birthday breakfast I had with my sister nine years ago at Burrito Boy on River Road to the south of here. A strange rendezvous, because she called me to say the battery in her van was dead and she wanted to cancel. However, I suggested picking her up in my truck, and that’s what we ended up doing. Distinctly I recall telling her at our table that I thought I was a nicer person when I was drinking, which in hindsight was a load of crap. But in my defense, I drank for self medication of the illness, so it wasn’t entirely illicit. The drug I take for psychosis now wasn’t on the market until the following year. Up till then I squeaked by on a drug developed in the Fifties, a “first generation” antipsychotic that barely sufficed to keep me feeling okay… There had been a controversy over whether talk therapy could take the place of medication for schizophrenia. I don’t know what the current thinking is on that, but it seems very dubious to me, especially when psychologists can’t agree on what causes schizophrenia, if it’s even an experiential thing.
I think psychiatry is to thank for us being out of hospitals, not to mention out of medieval dungeons, chained up in darkness.
I slept three hours. Dreamt about my little edition of Sandburg that’s gone through two or three copies because I give them away. This reminds me to finish reading the Whitman selection and make my comparison study of both poets. The birthday yesterday is finally over and the holidays completed. Each season feels different, perhaps a bit weirder than the last since I quit drinking… In the middle of the night there isn’t much to see, so I must use my imagination if I can. Short of that, I can putz with my journal and hope for a revelation of some kind: be the subject of my experiment like Dr Jekyll.
Two o’clock morning.
I had a little insight regarding my brother and the nature of his alcoholism, but it’s his business so I won’t go into it here. I’ll just say generally that everything people do is motivated by a sense of duty or what we believe is right. This is the meaning of “rationality.” We could never do wrong if we didn’t believe in a warped way that we were doing the right thing. Behind every behavior there’s a process of thought— for even the most self harming patterns. To correct the thinking hopefully fixes the behavior.
Humans are rational beings.
Nine ten AM.
My gaze wandered over to the beer cooler as I waited at checkout, but I believe working and drinking constitute a philosophy that many people live by. It’s a lifestyle I fortunately found my way out of. There are lifestyles and there is life itself: would you sacrifice the second in the interest of the first? Life is precious enough to preserve when the reaper stares you in the face. No shame is worth dying for. So my brother can have his mentality of capitalism while I explore other possibilities. I came home with my shopping bag full of food and drink for the day plus my dog’s jerky, and everyone is satisfied and even happy. “To question such good fortune, who am I?” From a song by Petula Clark I heard in childhood, before I could even talk… Family is an odd thing. I don’t know if I still resent my family or if I want to repair our relationship. I had planned on calling my sister today, but I guess there’s no hurry. During the small hours I heard music by Three Dog Night in my head, a souvenir of grade school. It’s a mystery.
I feel great today even though I skipped church this morning— or maybe because I did that. No pangs of conscience, no guilt or remorse at all, since I did what was good for me. I’ve just been sitting here near my back door, watching the activity of the different birds and squirrels, and thinking a bit about instinct versus intellect, and finally what it was that saved me from drinking any further. I still don’t really know how it happened; only the fact that I don’t drink now. It sounds like a person chopping firewood outdoors at a nearby house. The cold has been bitter and biting for the past week and today it’s cloudy after two days of sunshine. With the clouds has come slightly warmer weather. I hear old Genesis music in my mind. I’m almost done with the selection of Whitman’s poetry. I’m aware of being a scatterbrain but I don’t punish myself for it, and I can only repeat how good I feel at the moment. The wood chopper keeps on working, while most people are indoors probably watching tv. The furnace kicks on now and then to make it cosy in here, and though I am glad for that, I’m not thankful to anything in particular. No angels or devils; no holy horrors. It’s a little like being in a Carlos Williams poem where only the details are important.
Every Blessing but Bliss
This is what sobriety comes down to. Alcohol is a worthwhile sacrifice for the benefits you receive, though it’s never easy. The stuff I learned in treatment contains at least some truth, and it can’t be ruled out that God rewards those who recover. For that reason I’ll go back to church again this Sunday, mindful that alcohol and my old friends are indeed a sacrifice for a gain somewhere else. This seems to be the way of recovery.