If you’re anything like me, you spend a good deal of your life waiting, watching, squinting your eyes toward the horizon, pacing, jingling the coins in your pocket, taping your foot, drumming your fingernails on the tabletop, wondering if maybe, just maybe that speck out there is the thing you’ve been dreaming of, coming closer at last. A new job? A lover? As a writer, what I’m looking for most of the time out there on the great wild blue, is inspiration. As a person in recovery from alcoholism, what I’m looking for is peace of mind.
If you’re anything like me, you’re not terribly patient. Few of us practice the virtue of patience these days. We are programed by emails and texts and twitters and phone calls and so forth to view the world as a fast-paced swirl of one damn urgent thing after the other. We live outside the natural rhythms of the earth, for the most part, and fear opportunities might be missed if we spend the afternoon lying on our backs in the meadow, watching the clouds saunter by.
When I was about ten days sober (some 14 years ago), I wanted to have not the ten days sobriety I’d earned, but the ten years sobriety I thought would solve all my problems, and I wanted it NOW. I think most recovering drunks are like that. I heard a very funny story from a fellow recently who talked about how after 30 days sobriety he called up his sponsor in Alcoholics Anonymous and said, “Thanks for all the help, but you don’t have to worry about me any more. I’ve read the book and I get it. I’m good.” He said he was shocked to see all those poor people who had to go to meetings for 5 years, or 10 years, or even more. Poor things, they just couldn’t get it. Of course, the fellow got drunk again, and then came back to his sponsor, a wiser, humbler man, and said he was ready to learn the program anew, one day at a time, hopefully for the rest of his life.
Getting impatient, rushing the process, just doesn’t work. It doesn’t work for people trying to stay away from alcohol and drugs, and it doesn’t work for writers. I have found that neither inspiration nor peace of mind come when I’m straining so hard. That’s the strange paradox. These things come to me when I let go, when I release my death-grip on its throat, when I stop fighting to have things other than the way they are.
I spent a great deal of time this past week hunkered, sweating, over my computer keyboard, trying to come up with a way to get into a new novel. I tried this and that, and wrote words, and made character sketches and so forth, all with limited success. And then two mornings ago when I was in the shower washing my hair an idea just popped into my head. Plink. Just like that. And suddenly I knew how to approach the opening scene, and how to do so in such a way that it will (hopefully) resonate throughout the rest of the novel. Huh. Funny how many inspirations I get in the shower.
The obvious possibility is, however, that had I not done all that hunkering, sweating and writing over the past week, my subconscious (or my soul, or my muse, or God, or the creation fairies, or whatever else you like to call it), might not have had the materials with which to fashion the inspiration that plinked into my head while I massaged lavender suds in my hair.
That’s true of sobriety as well. In AA they talk about having had a spiritual awakening as a result of doing the 12 steps. Not before doing the 12 steps. That does trip some folks up.
And there’s that paradox again. Don’t grip, don’t fight, don’t strain, but at the same time, you do need to do these other things, these simple things.
For me, writing is a form of spiritual practice, in which I connect to something greater than myself (again, call it the subconscious if you will, or the soul, or the Ineffable, or Creation, or simply one’s inspired self), learn to listen, learn to sit still, learn to be a little patient, and perhaps most importantly, learn to trust… inspiration will come, if I show up, and do the next right thing. And that is the same for sobriety. I will remain sober today, if I show up, and do the next right thing.
The other component is that sometimes you just have to do things in order. I have a friend who is working the 7th step in Alcoholics Anonymous, which is that you humbly ask your personal Higher Power to remove your defects of character. She was in tears, freaking out because she still had these defects of character. A bit dramatic really, since the step doesn’t say you have the defects removed here — only that you ask for their removal. Huh. Perhaps by doing the rest of the steps, your defects of character – your intolerance, your egocentricity, your selfishness, your darn impatience etc., will slowly (or maybe instantly, I don’t think you should ever deny the possibility of the miraculous) dissolve, under the cool waters of kind deeds, thoughtfulness and consideration of others.
When I sit down and decide to write a book it doesn’t magically appear — I still have to do the work, and the work generally takes years. So be it. I write books. It’s what I do and much of what I am, since it is the way in which I experience the world. So be it. I’m an alcoholic in recovery. It’s much of what I am, and daily sobriety is what I do since it is the way I stay alive, and make myself useful in the world.
Not so bad, really, especially with a little patience, and perhaps a little humor.