Memories can be remade.
Well, not remade, so much as patched over.
It’s no shock to anyone to say that relationships change over time. If you’re an alcoholic (and I mean in the drinking-ness of it all) and you hold on to a single friend, that friend is the friend you drink with. Your friendship may have begun as fun and meaningful and compassionate. But if you’ve reached the point where you have no will to live and booze is the final solution, if there is someone there with you from days gone by, it’s because they can drink just as much and just as regularly as you do. Now, it’s not necessarily true that that other person is an alcoholic as well, but if they’re in it with you, it mean they can hold their own. All recovering alcoholics have former “drinking buddies.” In my case a good friend became a drinking buddy.
Over years, and location changes, and mistakes, and choices, and many things I will never understand, a person who came into my life as a friend who made me laugh and helped me throw Christmakah parties and held my hand when I cried, left my life through my silence. I made the decision not to speak to her anymore. I was 3 months sober. I didn’t return phone calls or texts. I just stopped talking.
I think we both knew it was coming, but it was a huge decision for me. And one that I had to assign a hierarchy of motivation/effect to: my primary motivation was to make a clean break from the worst of my drinking past so that I could build a new life sober, but the secondary effect of that was that she was hurt. It was without a doubt in my mind the most intentionally selfish thing I have ever done. I made the choice to act in a way that put my needs ahead of, and at the expense of, another person’s. For two years I tried not to think about it. Not to berate myself for being so unloving, not to nurse grudges over wounds long past. I just wanted to put it away. I didn’t see the point in parsing out blame or reminiscing about “that one time we…”
But I heard through the grapevine a while back that she was pregnant. I tried to have no emotional response to this whatsoever. I attempted to build distance between myself and any type of reaction; God’s will, individual paths, my side of the street, etc. I did a pretty good job of staying entirely neutral (within my own mind) despite some minor hiccups. (And by hiccup I mean hysterical sobbing.) On Thursday she had her baby, and by Friday the low-level headache I’d been fighting all week exploded into a vengeful migraine coupled with nausea and hearing loss.
I went home from work early.
On Sunday I took a walk with my co-worker Mary. Mary is incredibly practical and no-nonsense. She just doesn’t put up with anything resembling bullshit. I guess I needed to talk to someone more than I thought I did, because I ended up telling her about how things were for me when my friend Kevin died. Turns out she was at his wake as well, and even though I knew her family was close to his family, it didn’t occur to me that we had crossed paths 5 years ago. Talking about Kevin led to talking about my other friend. Finally I let this out:
“You know, she and her husband lived across the street from where I live now. Every day I walk by the porch where I drank away 2 years of my life. I see it whenever I have to go anywhere.”
I had been thinking about this for a while, but I think her having her baby made me say it out loud to someone else. I try not to look at the porch, but it is no joke between me and everything I ever need to get to. And sometimes I can’t help but look and in looking there are so many questions: why did I let it get so bad? why didn’t I see what was happening? why was my friend helping me die? is she sorry? am I sorry? could I have made a different choice?
Mary’s response was perfect:
“Let’s go do cartwheels on their old lawn.”
So we did. In the evening, in front of plenty of foot traffic, a couple of 30-year-old women did none too graceful cartwheels on the lawn in front of a 1st story apartment at a major intersection. It doesn’t take away the old memories (those that I have, because let’s be honest, most of it is a haze), and it doesn’t take away the questions. But it give me something new to add; a pleasant memory to temper the painful ones.
I have been so concentrated on removing things from my past; of examining, dealing, labeling, and putting away. I’ve never denied the value of painful experiences, which are after all, how we develop character and wisdom. But I’ve never tried to add a non-painful present to a past pain. I’ve never tried to bring that which happened and reshape it into something hopeful of what could be.
I may never have the answers to the questions of the porch of the past. But I may be able to ask new questions about possibilities of the future.
I suggest cartwheels for everyone.
(2 Years, 4 Months and 2 Days Sober)