"Do you enjoy being a writer Mrs. Avery?” asked Julian.
“No, of course not," she said. "It's a hideous profession. Entered into by narcissists who think their pathetic little imaginations will be of interest to people they've never met."
The Heart’s Invisible Furies
That line made my blood run cold when I read it. Do all writers feel this way? Even those as well known and celebrated as Mr. Boyne? I'm just writing a weekly blog and I certainly do. Every time I sit in front of the laptop. “Fraud! Narcissist! Fool!” my mind likes to tell me. And I don't even consider myself a writer, per se. Truth is, I just like stories.
When the Covid 19 pandemic started in March 2020, I simply freaked out. I did what everyone else did those first terrifying weeks of the pandemic. I listened to the news compulsively, I worried obsessively, and I made banana bread. Like a goddamn banana bread banshee I tell you. And I got good at it. I made plain banana bread, sour cream banana bread, banana bread with nuts, without nuts, with chocolate and nuts, with chocolate and nuts and coconut and a ganache filling and a chocolate glaze. You know how it goes. I spent entire days into weeks baking banana bread. But then, after a surprisingly short amount of time, my family and I started waddling about, and would certainly have not been fitting into our clothes, had we been wearing clothes and not pajamas at all hours. We collectively decided that my daily maniacal baking had to stop. So I did what everyone else did after they had gained those first 5 to 10 pounds of Covid 19 banana bread weight.
I cleaned the closets. Man, did I clean those closets. I was a whirling closet-cleaning dervish. Utilizing the best technique there is for cleaning anything really. Just pull everything out and dump it on the floor. In doing so I found some treasures. A box of incense that I bought in Turkey in the 90s, some horribly cheesy postcards that are ironically hilarious today but embarrassingly enough I don't think I was being ironic when I bought them, and an adorable stuffed animal panda, price tag still attached, that I had meant to give to my son 19 years ago.
But the biggest find of all I think were my notebooks from the A.A. meetings that I have been attending for the past 20 years. I found 20 notebooks total, 1 for every year I had been in the program. I was so surprised. They were scattered about the house higgledy piggledy with absolutely no rhyme or reason.
I've always taken notes or doodled in A.A. meetings. I first employed a notebook because I was afraid to make eye contact with anyone. Also, because I was physically detoxing from drugs and alcohol when I first entered A.A. I was extremely foggy. I honestly had no idea what everyone was talking about. Everyone once in awhile I would hear someone say "I couldn't stop drinking on my own and A.A. helped me to stop drinking." Then and only then would my ears would perk up. That I could grasp. But when people started going on about resentments and secrets and honesty and amends it sounded just like the teacher from the Peanuts cartoons. “Whaa whaa whaa whaa whaa whaa.” I simply could not follow. So I took notes. If someone referenced a book or a page number I would jot it down and sometimes run to the nearest bookstore. Or if there was a wonderful speaker tape being discussed I would note the name of the speaker and then order a copy later on. This note taking was and continues to be a helpful tool.
After the closet cleaning frenzy I started organizing my bookshelves like a woman possessed. Everything felt so out of control in those early pandemic months that I think I took some small comfort in at least being able control my house. One day, on a shelf supposedly devoted to cookbooks. I found a memoir that had made an enormous impression on me before I got sober, Drinking: A Love Story by Caroline Knapp. At the end of my alcoholic career when I knew I had a serious problem but was too afraid and paralyzed and addicted to do anything about it I picked up this book and it changed my life. Here was a person who drank like me. Who had the same allergic reaction to booze that I did. And who loved that allergic reaction as much as I did. I could identify. I felt less alone.
"For a long time when it's working, the drink feels like a path to a kind of self enlightenment, something that turns us into the person we wish to be, or the person we think we are. In some ways the dynamic is simple: it makes everything better: until it makes everything worse."
Her words touched me deeply, sparking some long dormant speck of hope still residing in my soul. "Trying to describe the process of becoming an alcoholic is like trying to describe air. It's too big and mysterious and pervasive to be defined. Alcohol is everywhere in your life, omnipresent, and you're both aware and unaware of it almost all the time, all you know is that you'd die without it, and there is no simple reason why this happens, no single moment, no psychological event that pushes a heavy drinker across a concrete line into alcoholism. It's a slow, gradual, insidious, elusive becoming.”
The book is about Caroline Knapp's journey into alcoholism and then on to recovery. Like me she decided to get sober because she wanted to live, not die. In the book she talked about A.A. and what it meant to her. She described how she laughed in A.A., and how she found her joy again. She also found her tribe and she writes eloquently about how, with that tribe, she came to believe and then know with assurance that she would not die without alcohol. On the contrary, she would start to live.
I was inspired by her. She helped me realize that a sober life can be an amazing life. A life beyond our wildest dreams, as the Big Book promises us.
I thought I should do something with these notebooks, and that is what I'm doing. I enjoy the discipline of the writing. I enjoy connecting with people in this way. And while I’m writing I get out of my own way. During my writing hours I set a task for my mind and make it follow a plan. I know that's a better use of my mind's energy than letting it run roughshod all over the place, bouncing like an ADHD jumping bean from one target to the next, constantly seeking the tiniest elusive fleeting hit of endorphins, never satisfied. So the weekly writing has become like a meditation. A discipline. And being able to have discipline over myself and my alcoholic tendencies is something that I've come to cherish.
The higher goal of writing this blog is to be of service. My greatest hope is that something I write about recovery might be helpful to someone still stuck in the prison of addiction. As helpful as Drinking, A Love Story was for me. Maybe I can help to demystify the Stonehenge-like mystique of A.A. a little bit. Hopefully I can clearly express the gratitude I have for A.A. and convey that living in recovery is actually much more fun than I thought it would be.
So when my cruel and slippery mind tells me that writing is just a naval-gazing folly for narcissists, frauds and fools I'll ignore that voice and remember instead the words of one of my all time favorite sober alcoholics, the author Stephen King: "You can, you should, and if you're brave enough to start, you will. Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art.
The water is free so drink. Drink and be filled up."