The longer I’m sober the more I realize I need alcohol. I don’t expect many to understand this except alcoholics in recovery, or practicing alcoholics who are particularly soulful. Both these are my kin in a way deeper, it would seem, than blood.
I need alcohol the way we consider a perfectly-cared-for infant needs mother’s milk. I need it to function and to feel okay. I need it because without it I am at a precipice and there’s nothing between me and a blank, muffled abyss. I don’t need to be drinking it right now or at any time of day or even tomorrow night, but I need to know I can have it when I need it.
Now having said this, I will also add that I never, ever, ever thought any of these statements were true about myself – not even when I had begun to realize I had a problematic relationship with alcohol, not when I admitted to another human being I was an alcoholic (and not as a joke, either), and not even for many, many months after getting sober. No, I never thought of alcohol as something I needed but rather something I had a complicated relationship with, at times unpleasant, many times quite lovely. I was at least a year sober when I heard a man talk about how he hadn’t had to have a drink for twenty-some years – and how was this possible, when he needed alcohol more than he needed oxygen? At one year sober (or so), I didn’t quite relate to what he was saying. Over a year from then I understand it at a deeper and deeper level. I look forward to an even deeper understanding as even more time passes, should I be so fortunate.
One of the things that gives me the spookys big-time is knowing that a practicing alcoholic is often quite certain they are not one. They also are often completely convinced they know how to run their life, and whatever problems they have are usually circumstantial – other people, money, their job, that sort of thing. This is true of all types of compulsion and obsession, craving and aversion – and is not limited to alcoholics. I feel helpless to help those who are in this place. And when I think about how I lived this way I feel a sort of PTSD, a thrill of terror. I had placed myself beyond human aid and today I know this. It’s why I consider my life a miracle, a miracle in the everyday sense but also a miracle in the profound: I Cannot Explain How This Could Happen. Who could save me when I’d made myself unsaveable?
There is nothing more treasured by me than my spiritual life, today. My spiritual life includes not only those beautiful moments but also the experience of Hell and the knowledge of a pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization that no one can talk me out of, add to, or detract from. I have come to treasure this experience the way one might treasure the memory of holding their child’s hand and walking in a sun-spangled surf. I can start to cry just remembering the experience, and the tears are of joy.
To be sure I have had so many beautiful things happen to me in my life, a life blossoming even today with beautiful moments and friendships. But it is the wretched and the Failure that I place in the most treasured inner places of my heart. My suffering became beautiful to me over time as it ripened, and that means that today’s fresh suffering can, too.