In the Sunlight
During my drinking days my favorite places were dark bars, the darker the better. There was something about a dimly lit pub that appealed to me. It used to be a running joke with my drinking buddies. They would suggest a place to meet and I would say, “It’s too bright!”
We’d laugh, but there was some truth to it. Open, airy places made me feel exposed, and I didn’t want to be seen. I wanted to hunker down in a dingy booth and melt into nothingness. In a murky tavern I could be anyone… or someone else. My all-time favorite bar was a tiny dive with a low ceiling, about six tables and a popcorn machine. That was it—no food, no frills.
Now I hang out at coffee shops. One place I frequent caters to the computer crowd and keeps the shades down on one side of the room. I always bring my iPad, but I head to the other side, the bright side. I like to sit at a sun-splashed table and look out at the world around me, the world I previously drank to escape.
A few days ago I was seated at my favorite window table near some other regulars, a lively group of older men. One of the men is a friend of mine in the program, so I gave him a quick wave and smile. As I surfed the internet, bits of the group’s conversation drifted over to me. There was some good-natured jousting about politics and a lot of laughter.
The conviviality of the men’s group made me wonder what would happen if they were drinking alcohol instead of coffee. Would their political discussion remain friendly and light-hearted, or would it devolve into a contentious debate? Chances are good for the latter, because heavy drinking can bring out the darkness in people. (If you want to see some prime examples, just watch a few episodes of any Real Housewives.)
In my case, alcohol obliterated my good side and fueled my bad one. It gradually washed away my conscience, leaving the blackness of my mind exposed. What is right became what feels right and then what I want. And isn’t that subjective? A still, small voice said no, but my addled brain said yes. As time passed, it became easy to ignore the inner voice. Too easy.
Just one example was a job I had years ago. I worked for a friendly but ineffectual manager, an amiable older man on the down side of his career. He meant well but just couldn’t get things done, so senior managers began coming to me. Instead of viewing this as a way to make my supervisor look good, I saw it as an opportunity to make myself look better.
I began to undermine my boss by leaving him out of things. Soon I became the go-to person and he faded into the background. I justified my behavior as a survival of the fittest scenario, assuring myself that his weakness wasn’t my fault. Instead of feeling guilty, I felt triumphant.
There are more stories, similar accounts of my self-absorption and disregard for others’ feelings. Suffice to say, for many years I was firmly in the grasp of alcohol. I call it my “lower” power because it dragged me deep down into a pit of desperation and despair. It was an ugly fight and I had no defense. Instead of staying down at the first count, I kept flailing until finally I was beaten.
Since I have been sober, there are still times I want to hole up and revel in my misery. It doesn’t happen as often, but when it does it’s a struggle. It seems natural to fall into the familiar—just give up. Close the curtains and go back to bed. On good days, I convince myself to start with one step—shower and dress. Then I take another one—leave the house.
The best step is the third. I go to a coffee shop and find a table by the window. I have nothing to be ashamed of now, so I no longer need to hide. I can sit in the sun—in a bright, open room–fully exposed..