Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Living and Reliving

It's funny, the way we make patterns in our lives - the way we live with habits we think we will not break. 

My childhood was tumultuous and strange. Sometimes I tell people little details about my life, and the overwhelming response is always, you should write a book. And here, on this blog, I feel I've begun the process of constructing my own narrative - the words which build upon each other, which illustrate, which eulogize. Very few topics have been off-limits, and if my prose has been purple, it's only been in an attempt to do justice to the crazed dance which is life.

Patterns. I read over my words and they echo back at me, and themes emerge - home, faith, illness. Justice, pain, regret. And through all of these themes are the threads of how I've lived. 

Too often, we place upon ourselves the burden of the past. We carry it with us. All the hurt and trauma, the joy and passion, the moments we remember gladly and those which we long to forget. Within us lie snapshots and vignettes of our families, our friends, our selves, a handful of days which stay with us and make us who we are. As I read my own words - an exercise in vanity, without a doubt - I notice those memories and realize that I've been reliving them. 

Trauma is like living in the past, over and over, not just remembering it but experiencing it anew. And I think a lot of life is like that, not just the difficult bits. Many memories are enriched by that reliving - my sister's birth is made more poignant by the years I've been lucky enough to know her. My relationship with my mother is more glorious because I live in the moments when we were on our own, and I rejoice in the ensuing years of adult friendship. 

But some memories become habits - worry stones we turn over and over between our fingers. We return to them, we cherish them, they lie like quiet waters within us. They are there when we are lonely and scared, and they are familiar, our childhood blankets worn thin and filthy. 

I've read the old blog posts, the old facebook memories, and in so many of them I write about drinking. 

Alcohol has been a constant in my life, from cocktail parties I attended as a child to teenage gatherings to gourmet cookouts to afternoons on the deck. And why not? Alcohol is everywhere. Costly advertisements during the Super Bowl show thin, attractive people working out, busting their butts over weights and interval training, and then rewarding themselves with beer. Another commercial shows a young man who doesn't even want to drink but who is urged by the spectral force of fear of missing out to grab a case and party with friends.

Women are encouraged to drink. We're told by memes, by jokes, that we deserve to drink - that all our work as single women or wives or mothers or professionals requires a bottle of wine at the end of the day. Drinking, the world seems to say, isn't just for the boys any more. There's so much out there for the woman who does everything - chocolate wine, birthday cake vodka, cosmos and margaritas. And we cool, tough girls get to drink the real stuff - bourbon, rye, whiskey - and smile through the burn as men congratulate us on our assimilation into a drinking culture which has elevated toxic masculinity and made it sexy.

And there's nothing wrong with drinking. But these messages with which we are constantly bombarded are bits of that tattered security blanket. Drink to feel good, to relax, to hide, to smile. Drink because everyone drinks. Drink because your parents drink. Drink because, what else is there to do, really?

Breweries, vineyards, upscale liquor stores; fun runs with a plastic cup of cold relief as a prize. Sexy twenty-somethings and craft cocktails, college students and beer pong, weddings, birthday parties, brunch. 

Five months ago I stopped drinking entirely. Personal reasons, medical reasons, any reason. 

Alcohol has been a theme running through my life, through my writing. It's been a companion, a signal of creativity and la vie boheme. I've been the cool girl and the classy girl - mixed drinks with homemade syrups and cold beers savored on hot days. And I never knew how wonderful life could be without it.

Life is so good. 

I'm thirty years old. I carried around my security blanket, I shouldered all the memories and the habits and the curses of my forbears, I believed the commercials and I laughed at the jokes. And I realized, slowly but inevitably, that I didn't want to do that any more. I didn't want the comfort of a lie. And I was lucky in that I stopped and could stop and wanted to stop. 

Everyone should do what is right for them. I'm never going to judge anyone else's consumption. If you, dear reader, enjoy drinking and feel good doing it, then great! All I know is that my life has improved, and that I've been able to discard the remnants of so many hurts, so many moments, a handful of desperate days. Choosing to abstain in our alcohol-worshiping culture may seem almost perverse - but abstinence can be the gateway to healing.

In five months I've done more healing than I had in ten years. Here's to today, and tomorrow, and every moment I choose not to relive, but to truly live.