In May I obsessively listen to Lady Gaga’s “Applause.”
I mean obsessively. I listen to it about 10 times a day.
May is a stressful time in teaching. It is also a stressful time in sobriety. So, as some sort of strange ironic outlet, I press repeat on a song that is the exact opposite of everything about my life.
I never thought I could be as concurrently exhausted and keyed-up as I am in May. In May I plan out the last few lessons of the year and I am inevitably hit with the thought: “This is how far I got? This is it?”
There is always so much left. So many concepts I don’t think they’ve mastered. So many stories we didn’t get to read. So many mistakes I could seem to find a way to correct. The whole month seems like carnival arrows lit up and pointing at me: “Come See the Amazing Failing Teacher!”
I feel overwhelmed with guilt. Guilt for the days when I was tired and didn’t put in 100 percent of my effort and attention. Guilt for the days when I just wanted to concentrate on a certain subject and pushed of the one I found less interesting that day. Guilt for the time wasted in anger or frustration. Guilt for the extra recess and the early clean-up. Guilt for being so thankful for snow days and late arrival and half-day dismissal. Guilt for the things I promised myself I would do last summer and I just didn’t do. Guilt for turning back work later than I promised. Guilt for not planning enough field trips. Guilt for spending time worrying about my co-workers deficiencies instead of working to correct my own.
But, I am fully aware of just how useless guilt is. Most of the time one is not experiencing a genuine call of the conscience or sincere sorrow for one’s sins. Run of the mill guilt most of the time boils down to “I wish I had done things differently.” And there is no end to that feeling; the more you feed it the more it grows. For each choice you regret, there is the choice that led to that choice, which you can then regret, and so on. I am all for admitting my mistakes and there are many. But “I wish I done things differently” is focusing on the person you thought you should have been if only you were smarter, prettier, holier, better. “If I were a better teacher, I wouldn’t have taken that extra 20 minutes for recess instead of grammar.”
Am I responsible for the times I willfully didn’t fulfill my responsibilities? Yes.
Is there a version of me who makes no mistakes? Fuck no.
The sad truth is that by May I’m too exhausted to combat the lies that fuel the guilt that eats the spirit that animates the life that is me. I have no emotional reserves left to face reality with calm and gratitude. If I’m able to express any facet of my internal life, it mostly just comes out as hysterical sobbing and the phrase “I am just so tired.” (That was my go to phrase in high school to explain all of my behavior. And for the semester that I had mono, that was accurate.) In many respects, May is just a month I must white-knuckle it through with the promise of “summer.”
The promise of “summer” is where one must tread carefully on sobriety road. Summer is a season, “summer” is a concept. “Summer” is a chimera of relaxation, peace, sunshine, togetherness, memories, ice-cream, and ease. And “summer” is territory of the happy-drinker. Gin and tonics in the sunset. Cold beer at the ball game. White wine at the picnic. The image of calendar period of pleasant weather and blithe socializing is inextricably linked to the image of merry imbibing of alcoholic beverages.
One lie will always beget another. While weaving bucolic images it’s nearly impossible to be just a little sad that I cannot be the happy-drinker. For me there is no “summer” that is not followed by the “winter” of binges, isolation, and eventual death.
So what is the truth? The truth is I will make it through May. I will learn of my mistakes, and I will forgive myself for my imperfections. I will plan to spend my time off pursing all of the wonderful things about summer with a cold LaCroix instead of a PBR. I will remind myself, as often as necessary, the most fundamental truth that the alcoholic loses sight of first: there is no other me.
And I will listen to a silly song over and over again.
(4 Years, 7 Months, and 29 Days Sober)