Friday, 1 January 2010

The real New Year's Day

New Year's Day is supposed to be the beginning of a cycle. Perhaps recalling some original beginning which we lap once a year, like the starting line on an athletics track. Or the start of a path up a mountain.

My New Year's Day is 24 July, recalling 24 July 1993, which was when I was last separated from alcohol. I was done: I had just been released from a police cell in which I had been locked up for being drunk and disorderly; alcohol no longer conjured for me the dream that I was adorable, invincible, and bullet-proof, it merely deepened the terror and bewilderment; I was unable to live life sober, and terrified of dying drunk.

That was the beginning of the cycle, of the lapping round the track, of the path up the mountain.

But it is the last of these three images that best reflects recovery.

The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous are presented in vertical form on the page or scroll; they're 'worked' in a sequence; we think of time as linear.

This is a mistake.

I sat in a cheap cafe yesterday evening with someone who has four days of sobriety. We talked about the spiritual disconnection of the unrecovered alcoholic, the inability to feel one's own humanity, the barriers erected between oneself and everyone around, the loneliness and unattainability of the alcoholic in the cage of his or her own ego. And about how alcohol once treated that.

Every time I do the work, which is to take someone else through the considerations and actions set out in the book Alcoholics Anonymous up to page 164, to enable him or her to make conscious contact with the power that is already keeping him or her sober, I am placed back at Step One.

What looks back at me across the table is my own powerlessness over alcohol, and the dark, cold, dank space at the base of the mountain that I myself came from. And the hope, which is the last, cool light left flickering.

Every time I return to the dark side of the mountain on my path to the summit, every time I find myself back at Step One, I am further up the mountain.

My experience of spiritual growth is that it takes the form of a spiral, continually revisiting the same places but from a higher point each time. The landscape below is just as familiar, the dark side of the mountain is just as cold, but progress has been and is being made, and the knowledge of what lies on the other side and above now sustains me, whereas, in the beginning, all I knew was the darkness.

Today, of all days, I should be dead, drunk, mad, or medicated. That, after all, is where real alcoholics end up, sooner or later.

But I'm not.

And I get to start another year.

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