“I had to control everything,” Phoenix tells me, “that’s what we’re like!”
Her rather amazing story means her nickname is pretty much a given, because this woman has truly risen from the ashes. It makes my own journey look like a commercial for healthy living. But she has that thing about her that always gets my back up, this tendency to teeter on to territory usually controlled by the likes of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The “we” in her words refer of course to “us” alcoholics. I nod and smile politely and take a few moments to consider if I’ve gone through life having to control everything. I quickly discover that although you can absolutely argue I’ve done what the hell I wanted from day dot, I’ve mostly winged it on gut feeling and allowed life to take me where it has pleased. There is nothing more fruitless than trying to un-convert the converted, you’ll never find minds more closed than that, so I allow her to assume that because she and I have the same reaction to alcohol, it must mean that we have the same personality too.
“We drink to numb ourselves,” she tells me a little while later when I’ve put to her that I drank because I believed booze would bring some benefit (sprinkle glitter on a party, relax, enhance a meal, etc etc) but clearly that can’t – mustn’t! – be the case because “us” alcoholics are all made in the Drunkard Factory and all have the same settings. She immediately dismisses what is true for me because it isn’t true for her. She tells me “that’s the illness talking” in that tone where again I instantly know that me telling her that actually it’s HER talking would be like getting the Devil to read the bible. At this point I revert to nodding politely. My truth is not of interest because it is not true for her (only it IS for me, but seemingly this is completely irrelevant). In fact, Phoenix has decided it doesn’t exist because the one that does is “our” truth. One size fits all.
She continues to tell me about a background that sounds like what might have inspired the film Precious. Several times I well up and there is a part of my heart that breaks when I look into Phoenix’s eyes. Her eyes are an almost impossibly bright emerald green, so vibrant I’m trying to look for the telltale ridge of coloured contact lenses along the perimeter of her irises but it seems like Phoenix was simply born with eyes the colour of a precious stone. Whilst my worst childhood memory was having to give up some kittens we couldn’t keep (our cat was the neighbourhood slut and always got knocked up, and we were upset every time we had to give away kittens to new homes), Phoenix tells me of growing up with addiction, violence and sexual abuse. When I finally get it, when I finally begin to understand what Phoenix has gone through, it’s easier to ignore her insistence on What We Are Like. How in God’s name could Phoenix possibly know what my drinking was about? As hard as it is for me to understand what it must truly be like to have to drink to make reality bearable, how could someone whose reality was so cruel ever understand how anyone – me! – ever drank to enhance its beauty further? So I kind of get it.
Each to their own, I suppose. It never ends well when you try to push your religion or beliefs down other people’s throats – it is the root cause for the majority of all wars. Well, these days the cause is often other stuff, like, you know, oil. But you know what I mean, right? So it’s very useful for me to have the little realisation I end up having when I speak with Phoenix. In some ways it is similar to things Sparks sometimes says, this “us alcoholics” and so on, so I am making a promise to myself that I will be open minded and respectful. Phoenix, or any alcoholic other than the only one I can speak for – me! – know why they drank. They know what they feel. They know their own reasons. They know their own thinking. You can see where I’m going, right? That’s right – I am the only person who truly knows myself and my feelings, reasons, thoughts and so on. If I find myself in situations where someone’s mind is too closed to see that and has a need to group me in with a “we” or “us” that makes sense to them, I’ll just be polite. It’s a little bit silly but not a battle I feel any need to fight.
All I know is this: today I’m not going to drink. Why? Because I am coming to understand the reasons why I used to and they’re no longer reasons good enough to pour that glass.
Happy Friday everyone!