Can you imagine going to AA and telling everyone you're failing because of light beer?
In a conversation that felt more like I was eavesdropping on a stranger calling airline customer service, I caught up with someone who went on a long rant about whoknowswhat, at a random party. Not for lack of charity, but I was ineffective as an interlocutor, and I found myself treating him like a sequence of squawks meant to keep me alert. After about eight minutes of this, he took a sip of water and gave us a breath of respite. Finally he asked how I was doing. It had been at least ten years since I’d last seen this guy so I could have started anywhere—I’ve had a kid. I’ve moved to Philadelphia. I made a pie! You should try it!—but owing to the torpor of the air he had created between us, I blurted in a way that I’d hoped would crash the plane, that I’d just recovered from a nervous breakdown.
This is not strictly speaking, true. I am not entirely sure what a nervous breakdown consists of, but I imagine it’s closer to an overdose or a mild heart attack, whereas I’d just fallen into a few weeks of morbid despair. I think the impact of saying “nervous breakdown” was more in line with the sense of care I expected from the world—I felt more fragile than mere despondence would invite. Telling people you’re despairing or depressed these days feels like you’re just telling people what tv show you’re binge-watching at the moment. And well, even despair is a euphemism for heartbreak.
I’ve since come up with two other fabricated humors for the state of mind I cannot faithfully report: 1) I am mourning a death, 2) I am recovering from an addiction.
Re: mourning. There’s that old tv/movie cliché of teens skipping school with the excuse that a dog or grandmother died (viz: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off). The implication is that no one’s gonna check on the information or frankly, care enough to follow you home if it’s just a dog or an old person. I think this is the much closer experience to what I am feeling, but I can’t lie about a death. I am way too superstitious to tempt the universe with a good story.
Re: addiction. I can, however, stop drinking for several months and allude to the absence of a narcotic danger in my life, without arousing suspicion from the gods or neighbors. Because I am not beholden to any program, or paying close attention to any vital organs, I am also not sober in any strict sense. Because I’m also trying to quit cigarettes, I like using the excuse that sober alcoholics all seem to have a nicotine dependency when I occasionally light up. The betrayal feels infinitely worse when I smoke a cigarette than when I drink, and I went months before giving in last week.
Describing the actual noise in my head feels at times to me as ridiculous as going to AA because I can’t stop drinking light beer. No one will think it’s a big deal but could you imagine waking up at five in the morning craving a Bud Lite?
I picture myself a month from now smoking Virginia Slims, drinking a heavily iced wine spritzer. I see myself betraying the entire enterprise of mourning, resurrecting the dead, repeatedly tapping my ear with the compulsion of someone still waiting for the words to reach me, where instead I hear you numbering the days I have stayed clean and the days I have left before the words I hear are no longer mine.