Laughter. Joy. Mirth. Silliness.
These weren’t the things that immediately came to mind when I thought of recovery. They certainly weren’t at top of mind when I walked into my first AA meeting. Oh sure, I heard a chuckle or two at those first few meetings – someone identifying with what a speaker might have said – “oh yes, I remember downing mouthwash too when the liquor store was closed!”. Hardy har har.
I was the kind of person that if I tripped and fell on an icy walk, I would get angry, be embarrassed and would be struck with the egotistical and unrealistic expectation that people like me do not trip and look foolish. I, the Great-I-Am, did not fall to the folly that mortals do. Somehow, I was above such things like weather and gravity. In other words, I took myself way too seriously. Everything I had done in my life was a serious study in something. When I tackled something, it was with acute and profound elan. There was no room for jocularity or soft edges. I had to make sure that I was thoroughly involved in with what I was doing. And of course drinking was no different. There was no joy in drinking. Maybe at the beginning. There might have been a two-year window in which alcohol lifted my spirits and allowed me to take in the fun of life. I could feel, hence I could smile, I could make light of things that by sober light I would be aghast to do so. It loosened my tie. But of course that stopped, and drinking was a thing I needed to do just be comfortable in my own soul. I think even a Puritan would have told me to chill out.
So when I got into AA, laughter was not something I was looking for. I just wanted to get off the merry-go-round of alcoholism. I wanted the pain to stop. But how would just relaxing and taking it easy help me? Didn’t I need to be vigilant at all times, like the lookout on the watchtower?
Psychologists have long known the importance of play, in child development and in adult life. Play isn’t just Wii and hide and go seek. Play is anything creative, free-spirited, spontaneous or can be planned, laid out by rules and structured. Play is intrinsic to our growth and the balance in our lives. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Play can be anything from sports, games, thrill seeking, pretending or improvising. It can be fetish night at the club or designing your new kitchen. It can be bungee jumping or having an intimate dalliance with a special somebody. Regardless, play is critical.
So what, then? How could I, He Who Hath No Fun, all of a sudden get into Night at the Improv mode while trying to stop a life-threatening illness? Why would I need to?
Once I started to smash my ego, get rid of old ideas and prejudices, and start to look at life without whiskey goggles, I realized that there was a lot more going on. My blinders were cast aside and slowly I began to see that yes, people were having fun – I always saw that and felt apart from it in the past – but that I too could actually be a part of it. What a concept! I remember having my first sober belly laugh at something I heard at a meeting about two months into my recovery. I mean a true, from-the-heart laugh, something that wasn’t based on demeaning someone else, but on pure joy. It was a huge shift for me. I never thought I could do that. What new joys would descend on me, I asked myself. Since then, lots. I am constantly moved by the smallest and the largest of joyous things that are on my path. Spontaneity starts to creep in then. Silliness for silliness sake begins to show up. My sons’ laughter begets my own. Rock climbing all of a sudden looks like something I want to do (I did it). Many of the things I closed the door on in my active drinking years now look feasible. I am not a workaholic automaton. I am not a wet blanket anymore. I am finding new colors on the palette.
And now, as I continue to move into that sometimes still unfamiliar arena of unplanned joy, I am shifting in all other areas of my life. I don’t carry the same gravitas on everything like I used to. There is lightness. And yes, today if I fall on a patch of ice, I can laugh as I get up, free of anger. I can take my sobriety seriously, but I don’t have to take myself seriously.