In my very early days of sobriety I had no appetite at all. As in zero. Then suddenly at around 100 days free from alcohol my appetite came roaring back with a vengeance. And with it came an insatiable hunger. I would eat and eat and eat but I could not be sated. I wish I could say my early sobriety was pretty, but it was not. It was, in fact, very ugly. I was anxious and scared and deeply ashamed of my alcoholism and now, because of this obsessive hunger, I was getting chubby, which was a disaster for my self esteem. I was wildly uncomfortable in my own skin. “I should start smoking again” I reasoned, thinking that would help with my voracious appetite. And so I tried that for a bit. I wasn’t drinking but smoking was fair game. I adored smoking in my twenties. With a nice cool alcoholic beverage in my hand, a cigarette became one of my most trusted accessories and a great way to start a conversation. Cigarettes to me were sexy, cool, and carried with them a euro-trash vibe that I sought to emulate. But I soon realized, to my horror, that without a drink in my hand smoking just wasn't as much fun. It was expensive, smelly, bad for my skin, and it could kill me.
So pasta it was. Vats of spaghetti with lots of butter, salt, pepper and grated cheese. And if I was feeling crazy some evenings, crushed red pepper flakes. Pasta began to feel like my new vodka. I couldn't wait to get home at the end of the day and make a huge pot of it. Because I deserved it. Because it comforted me. Because I was lost without booze and the pasta felt like a healthier way to numb out.
But numbing out it was, and eventually the behavior around the spaghetti eating had to be looked at, addressed, and eventually discarded. Before it was, however, I had a spaghetti-induced spiritual experience.
One night, one of the last with my paramour Tony Ronzoni, I cooked a huge pot of spaghetti and wolfed down one or two large bowls. Apparently I didn't clean up that evening because in the morning when I awoke I realized that all last night's spaghetti was still in the pot and had somehow congealed itself overnight into a large mass. It was just me eating but I had cooked 2 boxes of spaghetti. I had probably hoovered up half a box, so there was a box and a half of cold, cooked, congealed in the butter I had thrown in last night, spaghetti - laying in the bottom of the pan, glaring up at me like some malevolent sea slug. It was a 12-inch diameter 2-inch high perfectly shaped round disc of cold pasta.
When I tipped the pasta into the garbage can it came out smoothly, soundlessly, intact. The bottom side of this God-awful slimy culinary horror movie was even more repulsive than the top, but I was impressed. This block-o-pasta had stayed together. I lifted it all gingerly out of the garbage and admired its bouncy tenacity. I placed it on a cutting board and took a slice out of it, like a cake, and even then it didn't fall apart, it didn't quake, it didn't even jiggle. “I wonder if I should fry this slice up in butter and have it for breakfast?” I asked myself. I took the piece of pasta pie and held it up to my face. I turned it this way and that, willing it to disintegrate, examining it with a mix of curiosity and revulsion. I felt like Hamlet regarding the skull of poor Yorick. Then, as I began to take a closer look at this foul slice of slimy starch, I had what I like to refer to as my “pastawakening”.
“That's exactly what my brain feels like right now” I thought, regarding the congealed slice of spaghetti pie. “That’s all of my thoughts, all of my emotions, all of my memories. My entire life up until this point. All tangled up in a big disgusting viscous confusing mess. Everything all stuck together. Congealed. Complicated. Chaotic. I don’t want my brain to feel like this anymore” I thought to myself. “It’s gross and heavy and it’s weighing me down.”
I wondered what it would take, what sort of patience and diligence and time it would require to unravel this heinous block of cold pasta in my head without breaking one single strand. I wanted to separate every single one of the gluey spaghetti strands stuck in a mass in my mind and lay them all out in the sun. And when they were all dry and straight and gorgeous once again I would organize them. I would gather up the all the pieces that no longer served me and discard them with love. Then I would take the pieces of spaghetti - or of my being - that I did want, and I would gather them all straight and unstuck and dry and tie a gorgeous satin ribbon around them, and place them, these elements of myself, in a beautiful box. I would keep them there, taking them out and using them in a constructive manner and appreciating them for what they are. A gift from the universe. But I knew I couldn't contemplate doing any of that if I was still drinking alcohol.
It was 7 a.m. and I was already late for my morning A.A. meeting. I thanked the heinous pasta mess for the metaphor and chucked the entire thing into the trash. I ran out the door and jumped in a taxi - arriving at my meeting 15 minutes late but still in time to hear exactly what I needed.
After the meeting I told my friend about the spaghetti analogy and he laughed. “That’s what we are doing here Blenderhead” he said, holding for the door for me as we stepped out into the warm summer morning. “That’s why we are in A.A.”
“To unstick our psychic spaghetti?” I asked him.
“To unstick our psychic spaghetti. To unravel our secrets and our trauma, to lay it all out, and to learn about ourselves and why we drank the way we drank. How we ended up here, at this point, trying to get and stay sober. Also, once we untangle the spaghetti we learn how NOT to drink like that ever again in a world where everyone else drinks.”
“That sounds like a lot of work” I grumbled, unappreciative of his wisdom.
“Yes” he said, “it's a lot of work. But guess what? Life is a lot of work. You’ll see. Once that spaghetti starts to loosen up, once that pasta block in your head starts to soften, once you start to separate and detangle and organize what's going on between your ears, you'll start to feel better. And once you gain back some control over your mind, and you will if you stay sober, you’ll start to relax…. and so will your shoulders and your jaw and your stomach and your psyche. You will learn, if you stick around here," and at this he jerked his thumb back toward the meeting’s front door, “how to sit with all your spaghetti. How not to run from it or numb it away. You will learn how to live life on life's terms. You will learn that gratitude is everything. All you need now, to get the benefits of this A.A. program, is some discipline, a lot of patience, and time, sweet time.”
He was right.