I haven’t had a drink in 22 years. Whether you realize it or not, it’s a pretty remarkable feat for anyone to go from darkness to light in their lives. People often ask whether I’m bothered by other people drinking. I’m not. My wife drinks. She doesn’t have DNA that turns her into a monster when she drinks. And by monster, I mean a completely different person with very bad ideas.
How I came to quit drinking is something like a miracle. I was lost, then I was found. All that. And since the day I had my epiphany, I’ve learned to have faith in something I can’t see. My life has been on a fairly consistent ascent ever since. Sure there are plateaus, and sometimes the car swerves onto the rumble bumps, but by and by I’ve learned to live a good life by trusting in a power greater than me to light my way. It’s pretty cool.
However, as you might have guessed, there is another side to the story. A dark side. So dark, in fact, that it left an indelible mark on my soul so deep that after all these years I still haven’t forgotten.
One day, a few years after my last drink, I was sitting in an AA meeting and sharing about how I was acutely aware that the darkness was always ‘out there waiting’ for me to slip up, and how I used this awareness to help me stay in the light. It was true. I didn’t obsess over the darkness, but knowing that it was out there helped get me through tough times. Yes, my life kept getting better the longer I didn’t drink, but when gratitude wasn’t enough I’d remember how fucked up my life was before I quit. Anyway, after I shared this, another guy at the meeting stood up and proceeded to berate me for sending the wrong signal to the new people. I’ll never forget how he shot me a disgusted look and declared, “Sobriety isn’t some…Goya painting.” It was the last meeting I ever attended.
I still believe that very bad things want me to slip up and rejoin them. It’s the nature of darkness. Only, I can’t imagine ever going back to being the person I was before. And so that fear, as distant as it is as I walk through each day, is always in my periphery. A constant malice that hides in the shadows. Waiting. Waiting.
In my work as an advertising copywriter, I’ve never defaulted to fear as a persuasion tactic. Conversely, I always spin things positively. Sure, it’s easy to scare people into buying stuff, but it’s been my experience that, in general, people prefer positive engagement to negative. That said, you can’t just ignore the negative sell. It’s always out there. Hell, the negative sell helps build the case for the opposite. Darkness, light. Black, white. Bad, good. Notice the pattern? I tend to focus on the good, but am keenly aware of the bad. Both in life, and in my writing.
Oh, and the funny thing about that guy in the meeting who mentioned Goya is that there’s this one Goya painting that has always scared the hell out of me called, “Saturn Devouring his Son.” Not coincidentally, I never had great relationship with my Father. Nothing is insignificant.