Spiritus Contra Spiritum


I want to drink sometimes.

At a recovery meeting a couple of nights ago, several people shared about their urges to get loaded. I want to drink, smoke, shoot up--they said. It reminded me not only of having all those urges at some point in time, but another one too. I wanted to die.

I set out to do it one night, some years ago. I drove my car to some sea cliffs about a half hour from where I live. And I looked for a spot I had noted in an earlier drive. A long straight away. A sharp curve at the end. A steep slope beyond that. I was having trouble finding it in the dark. And, maddeningly, I had to piss. Badly. You'd think that wouldn't make a difference, but oddly it did.

So I pulled over at a lookout point. I stepped out of the car, and right then some headlights swept across me. Just a car passing on the road. But it caused me to walk to the edge of this little turnout, to the railing, where another set of headlights caught me. Still too exposed. There was a gap in the railing, and a trail leading down. I'd be out of view there. I could take care of business and then get on with this. I stepped through the gap onto the dark trail, one more step down. There was no trail.

It was essentially just a cliff. I discovered that when my foot kept going down, down, no ground there to stop it. I started to fall, and instinctively spun around. My torso slam landed on the ledge. Panicking, feet scrambling, I clawed my way back. Heart banging, lungs gasping, adrenaline racing through my veins like electricity standing every hair on end. I stood there knowing as deeply as it's possible to know anything that I didn't want to die. I wasn't going to do it.

But I had wanted to die, just minutes before. Or I thought I had.

And what occurred to me years later, as I listened to those people share at the meeting about wanting a drink, was how much the same it all was. I didn't actually want to die, that wasn't really what I was after, but I wanted what I thought dying could bring me. An end to the pain. And on those occasions in my sobriety when I too thought I wanted a drink, something very similar was going on. I didn't actually want the drink itself. I wanted what I imagined a drink could bring me. A sense of ease and comfort in life. Or just an end to the pain.

What I'm trying to say is that the desire for less suffering or more joy--that part's real, of course. But I don't want what a drink in fact represents for a shit in his pants alkie like me any more than I truly wanted to die in a fiery wreck. What I want is a way for life to work. I want to feel some excitement about what's coming next, some connection to what's happening now, some satisfaction over how I handled yesterday. The drink isn't going to bring that, not any more than the plunge would have.

spiritus contra spiritum

So I want to live. That's what I really want. I'd just like to live.