“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” — Ernest Hemingway
I’m glad I didn’t drink last night.
I stayed up late, as I often do on pre-birthday nights, sort of like I do on Christmas eve; but I didn’t drink.
Sad but true: I look worse this morning than if I had been drinking. I need to get more sleep. And maybe a haircut. Or even just a hair wash (—ashes will only do so much). But I feel good inside, and not self-hating or anxious.
On birthday nights, I traditionally spend time decorating the homemade cake, meditatively making a birthday card, and often, reminiscing over old baby photos, long after everyone else is in bed. In the past I would delightedly drink wine while doing this.
Ah wine, that beautiful connector nectar, always there when you want a little quiet company. It doesn’t talk; it whispers to you, whispers sweet nothings and everythings, anything you want to hear. All the things you heard at some point in your past perhaps, that you are missing now. “You are so good. You are loveable. You are beautiful. You are generous and kind.” At least, that’s how it was for me. I was lucky in my childhood.
Yet in the end I suppose I could never quite feel satisfied from it. It wasn’t a whisper that came from within, but from without; and those whispers that come from without are nothing other than seductive caresses that come and go with the wind or the wine. They may stop and delight or tantalize and perhaps give a glimpse of love, as does a photograph, but it never replaces truth. Truth can only be found and listened to from within.
The fact was I did not believe in myself, in my abilities nor even my existence as a true fact. Do I exist? If so, why, and how? And is it truly good and right that I continue to do so? And if so, what amazing thing must I do next, to continue to prove my merit? Nothing I could do was good enough in my own eyes.
Three glasses and the glow would fade and the fermenting rot would set in. I would attempt to get back the glow by continuing the flow and by socializing, either online or by tipsy-dialling my mom or one of my soul-sisters in Canada; the only ones with a time-difference that would bear the late hour. I would slur and babble and connect and disconnect, and most times what happened was beautiful, in the moment; it felt that truth had been tapped and raw presence had accessed, or it seemed that way from my end at least, in that moment. But the problem was I would hardly remember what was said the next day, and I would feel ten times worse and disconnected than before my passionate tryst with the god-juice.
When I stopped drinking people were surprised and befuddled, mostly. But why? “I think I’m an alcoholic.” What are you talking about? You’re not one. You’re always so fun when you’re drinking! “I am one in my head.”
But my kids were quietly glad, I believe. Perhaps kids are more perceptive.
No harm done, one might say, about babbled deep-truths soon forgotten, but somehow it did harm my psyche. I had not listened to the other person. Or if I had, it’d mattered little, for I had not done so sufficiently for their detailed stories and complex selves to be remembered. I would remember and retain their essences, yes, but in effect that can be done without alcohol as well, if you have a little common sensitivity. And I would feel physically rotten the next morning and perhaps that would affect my mood. It would certainly affect my self-perception. And that must have been evident to my kids. Kids are great mimickers of what they see. What do I want them to mimic in me?
Even if I was happy drinking wine, I would ALWAYS still do the required things, but to a perfectionistic fault. I would over-compensate for my dipso-wining by attempting to create perfection in my outer world. Kids sense this intrinsically and it is stressful for them.
Last night, for example, the birthday cake was an aesthetic disaster. I had not properly buckled the springform pan and half the batter leaked out, unbeknownst to me, onto the pan below it. When I took it out, there were two cakes, perfectly baked: one was round and flat and the other was a misshapen blob. To top it off, the icing turned out runny.
The “old” me would have flipped into a barrage of self-flagellating abuse. But the “new” me is more even-tempered and self-forgiving. “Ah well. Make the best of it. It’ll get eaten.”
It became a double-layer cake of a shape that none has before. (Let’s call it a Rorschach cake — and I saw the first initial of the birthday boy’s name in it.) Laugh at our mistakes and keep moving forward. Isn’t that a better lesson to model to kids than that everything one does must be perfect (and self-yelled about)?
I have a love-hate relationship with wine (I would just say with “booze,” but oddly I’m not really interested or tempted by other kinds of booze — at least, that’s what I tell myself). I have decided to abstain from wine (as well as any other kind of alcohol) for a whole year, as an experiment to see what kind of difference that makes in my life.
I know for sure that the first time around (last spring and summer, April through August) abstention made a hugely positive difference to my creativity, my kids and the wider community. I “magically” got past fears of publishing, and feelings of inadequacy not only in my writing but also in terms of my second language aptitude. (I can fluently converse and do business in French; however, I come across like a clipped-wing bird, unable to truly fly with the spoken word, and this is often frustrating, humbling and humiliating.)
I also gained confidence in my mothering and planning skills. I overcame indecision and self-doubt and booked not one but three excellent family holidays (usually I don’t have the commitment or self-confidence to plan anything — too afraid of making mistakes or not pleasing enough people). I overcame my shyness when it came to volunteering locally; finally able to accept my own imperfections (in language, mainly) enough to give others a chance to accept them as well, and perhaps even make use of them (being anglo-Canadian, I smile a lot more than the average French-speaker around here, which perhaps is uplifting for folks who need a little extra help).
Basically, I gave up the god-juice and thereby allowed space for god (or what I call LIAV—the Little Inner Answer Voice) to enter from within, instead of from without, and talk to me at any time, in any place that I am willing to listen. Like here, now.
My greatest wish is that my children should have the same ability to listen to their own inner voices.
With happy mid-winter wishes, on this beautiful birthing day in February,