18 JUNE 2012
One of the phrases that stands out for people in the book Alcoholics Anonymous is actually the ending sentence of the text. “…surely you will meet some of us as you trudge the road of happy destiny.” There’s been much discussion of the word ‘trudge’ used in combination with the phrase ‘happy destiny’. It seems that those things conflict. We think of trudging as heavy, difficult work. For me, it ends up arousing the image of soldiers marching home from a terrible, Pyrrhic battle. Bloodied and worn.
In AA, frequently people address this seeming discordance by saying that “To trudge” officially means: “To walk with purpose.” And that that purpose is sobriety. And of course, words mean what the people using the words decide they mean. I’m not going to get all lingual drift up in here, but if enough people decide to use a word in a certain way, then that becomes the meaning. And that’s fine. I don’t mind a little creative reinvention to satisfy a cognitive dissonance.
But I don’t think I need one here. I’m perfectly content with the idea of trudging a road of happy destiny. With trudging meaning what it means in the rest of the English-speaking world. A heavy, laborious, rhythmic slog. I think that that describes almost perfectly the way (especially early) sobriety can be sometimes. Hard work, seemingly endless toil. Slow, arduous translation of mind and body from a state of misery and demoralization to one of content and peace.
That image of soldiers is appropriate for how I think about it. I’ve said before and will again that alcoholism cannot be defeated. But whatever my relationship to alcoholism, I don’t think that describing it as a defeat is quite appropriate either. People who lose the battle to alcoholism die drunk. And of course, no one wins the battle. What I did was give up, stop fighting, and go home. That’s when the trudging begins.
Because it can be incredibly hard, in early sobriety. We’re dealing with shattered lives. Our own, and those of the people we hurt. Egos (the real kind, the integrated sense of self) have been crushed under the weight of selfishness, denial, entitlement, and addiction. Fixing that takes work. Usually our finances are in disarray. We need to do difficult work to secure loans, or bankruptcies, or to find jobs. Doing this requires dealing with administrative systems that seem to suck out our souls. Often the same is true of dealing with medical establishments.
We often must begin dealing with these things while we remain in the fog of detoxification. Our minds stay confused and brittle for a long time. The effect of so much poison, sloshed daily over our brains, is significant and slow to be corrected. But life doesn’t stop just because we’ve begun a new kind of living. The rest of the world is uninterested in our adjustment period, often. And so we have to work.
I was incredibly fortunate when I finally stopped drinking to be unemployed but to have enough money to get by. I didn’t have to worry about keeping a job, fixing things with a boss. Suffering through complicated medical procedures, finding or keeping housing, I didn’t need to confront those things. I was able to spend six straight months worrying about nothing but my sobriety and my relationships. And still, it was an incredibly difficult trudge. I’m utterly impressed with people who have to confront more than that, and do.
And I find trudging is germane to my daily life today too. I have to trudge at work. One of my great shames in life is that I feel incredibly lazy all the time. I don’t work hard enough, or enough hours. I prefer leisure to work. So I have to force myself to engage with my tasks, even when I think they’re really cool tasks. I’m so excited about my research. And I still have to force myself to do it, daily.
But the key for me is that happy destiny. I know that by stomping ahead, though difficult emotions, hard work, unending administrative bullshit, and rejection after rejection after rejection, I move forward in life. Those soldiers, in the opening metaphor? They didn’t win. But they didn’t die, either. And they’re going home. Home to where smiling loved ones and rest await them.
At my meeting yesterday, there was a man, about my age, who had returned and was at his first meeting since his last drink. He had a spectacular black eye, and his eyeball had haemorrhaged to that scarlet-crimson color of old blood. I didn’t know what to say, or how, or even if I should. People don’t talk about injuries like that, out in the real world, I don’t think. Chuck Palahnuik mentioned once that a black eye that no one would talk about was his inspiration for “Fight Club”. But the people in the room with more time than I have led the way. Commented. Made it funny. I learned something about how to interact kindly and openly and honestly yesterday. Though I’m still not sure how to put it into words.
So, he has some trudging to do. To come up with a new way forwards. It’s hard. But I know it can be done. Because I did it. I’m still doing it. Not as well as I should, sometime, perhaps. Not as well as I can. But I’m moving forward. Today. Tomorrow. I’m moving to a place of happiness. Serenity. Peace. Interdependence and autonomy.
I’m looking back at this and thinking it makes sobriety sound like endless toil. It’s not. There are, throughout the process and immediately from the beginning, times of ecstatic joy and freedom and happiness. In fact, it’s so common and widespread that we coined the term “pink cloud” to describe it. Being on a pink cloud means being transported in rapture over being sober and free and alive. And it happens to nearly all of us. It certainly happened, and continues to happen, to me.
But I work for these things. Also at my meeting yesterday, a friend spoke. His wife had a stroke recently. They’re not old. Perhaps 50. He’s been sober for 14 years. He said that he’d been told that happiness consists of three things: Someone to love. Something to do. Something to look forward to. I think that’s about right. I’ve got a couple of those. And my horizons are inviting.