old (2008), Uncategorized

life goes on, even at 5,314 feet above sea level

When I visit New Mexico every February, I wonder if there’s something missing in me that forces the true beauty of the mountains to escape me. Seeing the landscape on the horizon feels like an intellectual exercise, a shadow on the cave wall, an aesthetically brilliant phenomenon that inspires little reaction in me other than, Huh. Interesting. Whether I’m hard to impress or easy to bore, this baffles me.

Beyond the dilemma of dull mountain ranges, being here is strange, the first time I’ve been out of town sober, the first time I’ve had to deal with aberrant thoughts on an airplane (if I have a drink, no one will know…), the first time I’ve had to interact with the same men who, just last year, were potential lovers or flirting partners or at least not immune to my charms. I’m not the same person I was then (or the two years before), but who, exactly, am I? I’ve undergone a spiritual transformation, but what’s the cash value of that? Are all of these perceived differences facts or just feelings? Does it matter?

There’s a friend of mine, I’ll call him Dave, who has struggled with his own drinking since I first met him almost three years ago. He recently observed how much healthier I’ve been looking and expressed interest in going to a meeting to see what it could do for him. He never did, and yesterday when I encountered him in a professional situation it was clear he’d relapsed. It was jarring, and not just because I was surprised he’d fallen off the wagon again (he hadn’t had a drink since Christmas). What was surprising was how his entire demeanor had changed and he had morphed into someone I hardly recognized. I don’t know if he was actually drunk or not, but I didn’t have to wait for him to tell me of his relapse before I knew it. He was acting so strange and doing things that, had I not been sober, I probably would have joined in on — mocking people when they weren’t looking, making angry faces when things didn’t go away, violently scribbling “I GIVE UP!” on a piece of paper for me to see. Honestly, the whole thing scared me.

It’s easy for me to think about how I’m different person now, less easy to take the next logical step: if I relapse, not only will I go right back to accelerating my alcoholism but I’ll also be undoing my spiritual transformation. It’s not as simple as taking a drink or not — it’s the choice between affirming the desire to want a different kind of life and invalidating every healthy decision I’ve made in the past 145 days. And, really, it’s a no-brainer.

Maybe the beauty of the mountains escapes me because I’m fundamentally a pragmatic person, focused on what needs to be done rather than entranced by frivolity. Perhaps this thing with “Dave” unsettles me for the same reason — this isn’t a joke any more. All those drinking stories and the times I kidded around about taking care of kids with hangovers or staying out too late and getting too little sleep are insane luxuries I can no longer afford. And while one day I might be able to see a sun set behind a mountain range and my pragmatism will have been replaced by awe, I’m absolutely certain my romance with the bottle is over. It has to be.

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