I don’t go to bars to get drunk anymore; I don’t call a dealer to get high, but there is a place I frequent sober that I frequented drunk. I was there all weekend.
It’s lonely there, and I like it that way. I can go through all the motions of my life and never leave. I keep everyone at least a car-length away. It smells there, stinks really. Kind of like the laundry bin after a week of neglect. But I love the smell, don’t get me wrong. The smell is half the reason I get to enjoy the place all to my lonesome.
I realized I was there when my wife asked, “where are you?”
We were driving back from a Christmas tree farm.
“What do you mean?” I asked back. Don’t we always reply to questions we don’t want to answer with another question?
“What I mean is, where are you? You’ve been gone all weekend?”
“Last I checked, I was at that holiday shopping bazaar, and church with you and the kids. I just sawed down our Christmas tree. What do you mean?” I asked.
“I mean you’re unavailable. You’re off somewhere like really far away.”
She had me. Since football season ended, I’ve had more time on my hands. As I usually do, I dove into projects and writerly things with abandon. I was consumed by it all weekend. I was with my wife and kids, but I travelled a good distance in my mind.
Somewhere in that conversation with my wife, she said, “This is worse than football season.” Meaning, I am more isolated and distracted now than during the season. That’s saying a lot. One time, when she asked me what I wanted for dinner, I was so focused on how a play should be run that I replied, “Gun rita weak Irene hot”—that being the name of a play.
I got to a meeting later that night.
And when I did, I realized that the distant place I was in all weekend was the same distant place where I lived in active addiction. I kept secrets. I let some see one side of me, some see the other while keeping everybody was a car-length away.
In 2007, I worked for the United Talent Agency in Beverly Hills, California. I was an aspiring screenwriter. But more importantly, I was an addict who didn’t identify myself as an addict. On a Sunday, I was diagnosed with a drug-induced psychosis. The Friday before, I was at work on time, although I hadn’t slept the night before.
That Friday, I answered to curious onlookers, concerned colleagues, to anyone who paid the briefest of attention to me in the same fashion. They looked into my eyes, saw no one was behind the wheel, and asked if I were OK. My reply: “I’m fine, how are you?”
What I should have said was, No. In fact, I am caught in a spiral of addiction. I can’t sleep because I don’t want to see another morning. And when the sun rises, the only thing that gets me out of the door is a medicine cabinet of substances that I prescribe myself. I’ve lost my mind and I can’t numb the pain any more. I can’t do it anymore. I’m done. I’m ready to die. There is no way out. I’m trapped. Get me out of here now or you may never see me again.
Yeah, that’s the place.
The place has changed now that I’m clean. There are a few air-fresheners in there, and I opened the windows to let the breeze blow through. But, I still go there. And I don’t let anyone else inside.
I cycle through obsessions in sobriety like a game of hot potato. Or maybe more like whack-a-mole because when I knock one out, a new one, or two or three surface.
I can’t stop writing once I start. Shit, that should be a good thing.
My sponsor tells me to keep my priorities straight: “Recovery, Family, God.” Man, I love that notion of order. For if I don’t stay sober, I can’t be a father to my children, a husband to my wife. And if I lose the love in their eyes, how could I ever dare claim to understand God?
What I am struggling with today is what I’ve been struggling with my whole life: moderation. A new world of writing has opened up to me, and my first inclination is to chase those fairies—the little darlings—the ideas—the far-off notions to the end of the fucking earth, leaving everyone else behind.
I need silence and distance to write, to create. I must respect that. I must tend to it like a small flame in the woods. I must keep others from it in order to let it grow. But I also need to keep it from turning into a conflagration that burns the whole forest down. That ain’t easy for me.
How do I strike the balance?—Insert laugh ‘til you cry emoji here—Striking a balance is never my answer. My answer is recognition. Recognizing that I take creative worlds to the same extreme I took my addiction. Recognizing that I need to make clear delineations between work and family.
And always recognizing that my name is Mark, and I am an addict.
If you liked this post, you may like more posts on sober obessions. Click here for the series.