26 Days Sober, An Eclipse and A Caterpillar

There are many ways to tell this story. I am going to tell it the way I like best. I know it will be unsatisfying for some. But others, I hope, may see a little magic in telling it this way.

Uh oh, I broke my brain!

Uh oh, I broke my brain!

Six weeks ago I accidentally looked at the eclipse. I had a headache for two days. A weird headache that buzzed at an unknown frequency in the back of my skull.

Now I’ve really done it. I thought. I’m so stupid. I’m no better than Donald Trump for fuck’s sake. I have brain damage now and it’s no one’s fault but my own.

The headache lasted two days and on the third day I had a thought I couldn’t unthink. Oh, I’m an alcoholic. It surprised me, this thought, but it didn’t shock me. I knew it was true. The headache was gone, and in it’s a place a fact I couldn’t ignore.

I wasn’t mad. And, honestly, the more I thought about it the less and less surprising it became.  It made a whole lot of sense. Given my past. Given my family. Given everything I’d like to forget, everything I thought I would eventually grow out of.

I spent about week grieving (binging), and then I started counting days. Today is twenty six days.

Are you waiting for the part of the story where I tell you about a rock bottom? A gruesome personal story so shocking and pathetic that you will have no choice but to agree: yes, girl, you have to get sober. You are without a doubt an alcoholic.  I suppose I could go running over to the closet and drag out some trauma for you. Something nasty. I could do that, but I choose not to.

I have those stories. Oh buddy, do I. But they are sad and they are gross and they are mine. Also, I’m not convinced they are all that unusual. In an age where we expect writers, especially women writers, to wring every last devastating detail out of their personal narratives, maybe mine wouldn’t shock at all. Maybe you would say: is that all? Hm, I expected something worse. Hell, I have stories worse than that.  Are you sure you are actually an ‘alcoholic’?

I’m running around telling everybody ‘I AM GETTING SOBER’ because I know that without the accountability that comes from blaring your intention over the loudspeakers I won’t be able to hold onto my resolve.  So far I’ve mostly confused people. My loved ones furrow their brows and say, “I didn’t know you had a problem.” to which I say “Me neither! But I realized I do and now that I know I can’t go back to not knowing.” Their brows stay furrowed.

They also say: “Why are you telling me a story about an eclipse?” to which I say “Why not?” There are many ways to tell a story. Especially one that has been told thousands of times before.

Some of have been very skeptical of my eclipse conversion to sobriety story. One dear friend ran through a checklist:

“So you won’t drink alcohol anymore?”

“Nope, definitely not.”

“What about pot?”

“Actually pot was the worst, most insidious one for me. I’m done with it too.”

“What about shrooms? Shrooms aren’t really drugs… they are spiritual.”

I couldn’t give her a satisfying answer to that one, but later on I thought about it and giggled. Sweetie, I’m telling you a story about how I stared into an eclipse and realized I needed to change my life. I don’t need drugs to commune with the universe, I’m tripping my tits off over here, stone cold sober.

This week, still sober and tripping, I’m wandering the Vermont woods chatting with snakes “Oh, hello, Mr. Snake! It must be snake o’clock!” (Snake o’clock is dawn and dusk, just fyi.) I’m hiking and writing and reading. All the things I love to do, but rarely do because I never had time. I have time now.  Funny how sobriety unfurls your days, revealing an abundance of time you never knew existed.

This morning, I was sitting at a picnic table writing in my notebook when I felt a tickle on my shin. Without looking, I reached down to scratch. My fingers touched something soft and furry. I instinctively flicked before I looked down to investigate. A little gray caterpillar lay motionless at my feet. Oh no, I thought, move, little buddy, move! But it was still, and I was sure I had killed it. The caterpillar was short and thick, about the size of my thumb above the knuckle. What a monster I must be to kill something so thoughtlessly, so easily. I felt genuinely sad. Sobriety enables you to finally feel all those feelings you have been working tirelessly to mask and ignore. Oh, and how many feelings there are! Who knew! Every moment is a rollercoaster from grief to wonder to fear and back around again to grief. I sat there a long while feeling wretched about this unwitting milling before I could turn back to my writing. I glanced back at the ground every minute or so hoping to catch a sign of life. I had given hope when I looked down one last time and saw him on the move! But he wasn’t short and stout at all! He had unfurled himself from his defensive posture to reveal his true form as long and lithe. His little head bobbed this way and that, I swear he looked curious. I happily watched him as he made his way across the grass marveling at our tiny shared drama. He’d been flicked by a giant, he had gathered up around himself to recover and when he was ready, moved on. We all know how to heal ourselves, it’s in our nature.