In two days time I will be nine months sober.
Only I’m not really meant to say that. Because it’s only supposed to be “a day at a time.” As in there is no tomorrow in sobriety; only ever today, the moment, the here and now. What is it my old sponsor once said to me? “One foot in the past, one foot in the future, and pissing all over the present.” Recovery speak is full of little soundbites like that – annoying really.
“Are you better now?” people like to ask. And generally I smile and say yes because nobody really wants to hear a great long monologue about how I will always be an alcoholic, that the illness hasn’t gone away simply because I’ve stopped drinking for a few months, and that sometimes I feel as though I’m wading through treacle and have made no bloody progress whatsoever. Only for me to backtrack and stress that yes yes of course I know that isn’t really true and besides, it doesn’t matter, because these things can only be taken a day at a time anyway you know.
A friend of mine who moved away, and who, incidentally, was also the friend who drove me to the train station with all my bags when I first went to rehab, came back to the area to visit this weekend. An e-mail had been doing the rounds informing everybody that she would be down at the local village pub for the quiz on Saturday night if people wanted to catch up. And so I went – despite me and pubs having a fairly chequered history – because I wanted to catch up. It felt important.
I think it may also be worth mentioning at this point that for such a wordy person I actually know very little and so am extremely rubbish at pub quizzes. I’m a bit like having a small child on your team in that I so rarely know the answers I feel either compelled to make rash, stupid guesses, or if I do know the answer I get so excited I can’t help shouting it out for the whole pub to hear. Occasionally, my two methods combine embarrassingly:
Quiz master: What bird hunts by sense of smell only?
Me: A PIGEON!
I don’t often go into pubs anymore. Because pubs are where people go to drink generally, and I don’t drink (“keep going to the barbers and sooner or later you’re going to get a hair cut.”) But life goes on. Old friends that once drove you, terrified, to the train station come to visit, and catching up feels important.
Anyway the quiz ended, and suddenly deprived of a focus upon which to concentrate my energies, I looked around and realised I knew barely anybody in the place. And that’s when it hit me suddenly that this was exactly the sort of situation that would usually send me barrelling for the bar. Awkward? Shy? Self conscious? Alcohol was the magic medecine could cure them all. A few glasses of that stuff and no longer would I be reliant solely on my own limited resources. Oh no. King alcohol would prop me up, inspire me with ideas, and radiate warmth and confidence all around the room. Until of course he took over, tipped the floor, and – laughing like a mad thing – yanked out the rug from under my feet.
And so heaving open a low, thickly solid wooden door, I slipped outside into the surprisingly mild night. Lit a cigarette and stood blowing smoke up at the sky; clear, wide, and ever so starry. Across the way to my left, a big open mouth formed by the twisted branches of leant over trees led through to a garden, with its quiet stream running along the bottom and all its many memories of summer; of paddling children, toy boat races, and home made fruit jam. All still. All dark. The whining jig of an accordian, made muffled through stone walls, the only sound to be heard.
Back inside I saw my friend chatting in the crowded side kitchen amongst huge vats of steaming soup and those still waiting with empty bowls. She spotted me and smiled warmly, knowingly.
“I can take you home if you like. It’ll only take a couple of minutes and I can come straight back, it’s no problem.”
I smiled back, relieved. “Yes,” I said. “Please.”