Last week, I was talking to a co-worker. He said, “The reason writers drink is because they ca’t write anymore. Hemingway drank when he couldn’t write. He couldn’t express himself.”
I thought for a moment, cocked my head to the side. “Nope. No, I don’t think that’s right.”
I was a cute kid with chubby, pink cheeks, and a big mop of unruly blonde hair. Even though the only videos of me are the silent reel to reel kind, one can see me chuckling, my whole body shaking. What you can’t see in that silent reel to reel was my speech impediment. My Rs sounded like Ws. Till I was in fifth grade my name was “Ann Kwogwa.” While this added to my overall cuteness, it made me painfully self-conscious.
When no one can understand you, you stop talking. When you’re alone and silent, restless, irritable, discontent, you pick up a pen and start to write. My need to escape existed long before I found alcohol.
At thirty, I would get sober. I am still not sure how that happened. I sat in the back of a meeting and cried the whole way all through. At the end of the hour, I walked up to the front and got my desire chip. For the next several months, I attended multiple meetings a day. I did not think recovery would work. I just couldn’t think of any other place to go or anything else to do. I remember thinking, “These people seem fairly happy. Maybe it’s okay that I will never be able to go out to dinner or dance or write ever again.” That’s how intertwined drinking had become in my life. I just couldn’t imagine going out for dinner and not ordering a glass of wine. Well, I thought, sober people just don’t go out to dinner. (It’s when they invited me to join that I realized that sober people only eat in groups. That way they can keep an eye on each other.)
But writing was the hardest of all to give up. It saddened me. And yet, I knew writing was an impossibility. For the last many years of my life, a ritual surrounded my writing. It always involved me trying to reach, and maintain, a very specific level of inebriation. I needed the liquor to make the thoughts flow, but not so much to blur me into incomprehensible gobbledygook. While I would like to think that some days I was successful in this tightrope walk, I highly doubt I ever was.
See? It’s not that I drank because I couldn’t write. I couldn’t write because I am a drunk. And when I drink, I annihilate everything else around me.
For months after I got sober, I could not sit at a computer without wanting a drink. My hand would involuntarily reach for the highball which was not there. It made my palms sweat and my heart race. One day, I just stopped sitting at computers.
And I learned to talk instead. I don’t think my support group knows how little I talked before I got sober. Everything went on paper. Everything was processed through the written word. I remember my mom sitting me down one day and asking me to please stop saying, “You know what I mean?” after ever sentence. “Of course we know what you mean.” I didn’t ask that question so often because I thought the man next to me was an idiot. I asked because I feared the words coming out of my mouth were a jumble of random thoughts often supported by my mumble and odd vernacular. I’m not sure if what I am speaking is even English sometimes. Y’know what I mean?
In the fall of 2010, I went back to school. With a couple years of sobriety, I knew only two things. Be honest. Ask for help. My second week of school, I stayed after one of my classes. I approached my professor and said in the flurry of words that only the brave and the stupid use, “I don’t know how to write, I use to know how to write, but now I don’t know how to write, I got sober and now I can’t, I mean, I don’t know how to, and a five paragraph paper, I mean, see, I’m old and I’ve been out of school a long time.”
The teacher looked at me for what felt like an excruciatingly long and uncomfortable length of time. Skeptically, she quietly and slowly stated, “We don’t do five paragraph papers in college.” And somehow that is all I needed to hear. A giant smile crossed my lips. I knew what she meant. I could write how I needed to write.
I still struggle with my writing. I do not like showing to people. Or talking about it. It’s still something incredibly private and personal to me. I still live in fear. My dreams of writing are so soft and subtle, fragile and precarious; my insecurity is only barely kept in check. Some days I think one negative word will cause the entire house of cards to come crashing down.
But here I sit. Its 9:54 on a Tuesday morning. I am writing. And I am sober. I write to tell the newly sober man that sobriety can happen. I write to tell the woman with thirty days that she can go out to dinner and order a Coke. I write to tell the person with two years to continue asking for help. And I write to tell the woman in me to walk through yet another fear. For every day I proclaim I am an alcoholic. Today, I am also a writer.