It’s been six months since I last wrote a post for Bottles Down. I didn’t make a conscious plan to take a break. I didn’t stop because I feared I had revealed information too personal (that ship sailed back in 2011) or because I was bothered by the attention I received. In fact, I felt the exact opposite — the feedback I got was nothing short of astounding; never in my life had I felt such a consistent wash of concern, encouragement and hope as a result of something that I wrote. And even the criticisms were valuable — it’s important for me to be reminded that I can follow my heart and take risks, and that I won’t shatter if someone disagrees with me.
Despite all of those positives, however, new ideas for this column would not come. Weeks passed, I had nothing. I attributed my dry well to severe writer’s block, something I’m STILL struggling with today (if I’m honest, even writing this post is painstaking). I’d never really understood the concept of writer’s block before — it was something I (mercifully) had never experienced.
It felt like my brain was coated in flypaper and my words were trapped in the glue.
But I get it now. And man is it an incredibly uncomfortable, anxiety-producing experience. Especially when it’s how you make your living. Words which once tumbled effortlessly out of my fingertips and onto the computer screen were suddenly stuck. It felt like my brain was coated in flypaper and my words were trapped in the glue.
I scolded myself for a dearth of ideas. I worried that I had lost my recovery writing mojo. I feared I’d be forgotten if I didn’t write something soon and that I’d never have the opportunity again. I jumped to so many self-defeating conclusions, I got caught up in all the things I was doing “wrong” and quickly started to lose sight of the one thing I was still doing right — not drinking.
Someone pointed this out to me and in an instant I understood why some friends had cautioned me to be “careful” with this column. In order to keep my sobriety safe and strong, I have to shield it from outside influences. Alcohol is the most obvious one, but my own harsh, negative self-talk is a powerful — and inconspicuous — second. So is my ego, and my ego was beginning to put undue pressure on my recovery. It’s hard enough not to drink everyday. To expect my sobriety to serve as anything other than a means to a healthy life — more specifically, to expect it to serve as a well of inspiration for my writing — is unfair. And dangerous. If I make staying sober too complicated an affair, it will crumble at the first sight of a vodka martini.
When I first started writing this column, there wasn’t anything complicated about it. I was a writer and I had important experiences that I wanted to share. I had been profoundly inspired by a number of recovery-focused memoirs, most notably Caroline Knapp’s Drinking: A Love Story. Writing about my own recovery came easily, was extremely therapeutic and had the bonus of keeping me accountable — since pretty much everyone I knew was reading or aware of it, it wasn’t like I could order a glass of merlot without someone taking note.
But once this missive became more of a challenge (and honestly, there are only so many things I can say about early sobriety before I start repeating myself), it started to weigh on me in ways that I didn’t — at first — fully realize. Now that I understand it, I have to accept it, and I have to stop asking my recovery to be anything other than what it is — a beautiful, but fragile, gift.
I do hope that this flypaper lining my brain will eventually peel off and that I’ll be able to write for this column again with ease. It’s been rewarding and beneficial in so many ways. But I have to let that come naturally if it’s to come at all. And in the meantime, I’ll be giving my sobriety some well-deserved privacy — perhaps that’s what I’ve needed the most, after all.