Here is a recent discussion I had with my wife:
Me: I want to meet with a nutritionist for my appalling eating habits. I saw one online today.
Her: Good. Did you call her?
Me: No. But I think she’s just outside the city. See, what I did was Google nutritionists who work with addicts and alcoholics, then saw an article the nutritionist was featured in about sugar addiction, then went to her website. Now, judging by something I think I saw on the site, she might be too far away. So I went back to Google and was going to start getting other nutritionists, but I want to clarify my search parameters to widen and yet tighten my capture.
Her: Call her and ask where she works instead of guessing.
Me: Yeah, but I think there should be someone downtown with similar qualifications in working with guys like me. I think that I am going to find the number of someone who knows the offices of the addiction center on College St. and see if they know someone in the area who might be of help then I can get their number and try and book an appointment.
Her: Just call the first nutritionist and ask if she knows someone downtown she can refer.
Me: I know, but if I just…
Her: Call her.
Needless to say, I like to complicate things. A wee bit.
I have heard other alcoholics go on about this one (of many) infuriating trait we seem to have in common, about how we can see the path to serenity and directness and make a hard right to hard times. I have heard about this characteristic our peeps share that compels us to dive into the deep end filled with sharks and thumb tacks, rather than wade in the clear and bright cool waters. And so it seems that I am certainly not alone in turning the simplest task into some Herculean endeavor that would tax Job’s patience. I never saw myself in that same category until I got sober and started to look back at just how reckless I was with brevity, simplicity and that thing called “cutting to the chase”.
I recall countless conversations like the one above with my wife – topic just of a different hue – or attempting the easiest of chores and never completing them because I over-thought my way right out of them. I made doing the dishes or picking up the drycleaning into complex battle maneuvers requiring ninja-like skills to navigate through. I would respond to a simple “How was your night?” with a convoluted tale that could rival Kevin Spacey’s character’s yarn spinning skills in The Usual Suspects. I just couldn’t wash and dry the pots or even say “My night was great – yours?” – it was too damn easy. I had to make those things something that they were not.
And why was that?
Why did I have to make running to get a liter of milk from the store resemble Jeffy’s dotted line escapade from Family Circus? Why did calling my mother all of a sudden require plans, timelines and written cues? I mean, why was it that I just couldn’t think in a linear, A to B, no-detour-requested manner that could make life easier? Why did I make things so complicated?
The first, and most obvious answer, would be that as active alcoholics, we lied. A lot. I know that when I was active in my alcoholism, I fabricated anything and everything to keep my drinking under wraps, or to find ways to extend my drinking. I wove tales to keep the boat afloat, so to speak…to allow my untreated alcoholism to flourish or at the very least, survive. Little tame fibs grew into wilder and mangier lies, which eventually turned feral in my attempt to throw some vestige of verisimilitude into my stories. And the odd thing is that even in sobriety, I have sometimes found that I would lie, even when the truth would serve me better. Insanity. So there is this small carry over from my old habits and old way of thinking.
Another reason I spun things into an intricate dance was because of my ego. My enormous, bloated, labyrinthine ego just loved to show off. I would mentally transform a doorknob into a Rubik’s Cube to just show others how intelligent I was. I would question the simplest of things, turn the plainest of observations into some elaborate scheme, or take a one word salutation from a co-worker and extrapolate the bejesus out of it until it was a Dickensian Drama with them as Villain and me as Victim. It was my ego trying to show everything and everyone up. The usual result was, of course, that I stumbled. Badly. I ended up looking the fool or couldn’t live up to my own expectations. A squeaky hinge needs grease, not a Senate inquiry and sub-committees. But my ego loves sub-committees. And it used to love booze as a chaser.
I was also fond of keeping busy, and keeping busy kept me away from myself and my emotions. Keeping busy (drinking, thinking about drinking and recovering from drinking were a good start) was something to alleviate the symptoms of actually being in touch with who I was and what I was…an alcoholic in the grips of the grape. Keeping things simple was too direct a line to the darkness of my soul. It put me in the spotlight of recognition and illuminating the illness of my spirit and mind and body. I couldn’t face the scrutiny of straight truth, so I preferred vodka straight up. Keep things light yet problematic, Paul. Keep the wheels within the wheels in motion. Elaborate rather than condense and distill to basic atoms.
And with that, I chose the comfort of the discomfort. The constant state of flux in my life, willfully created by me, served to activate and showcase the chaos, to drive away the purity of life and the simplicity that was always available, but never desired by a drunk like me. Keeping things simple wasn’t something that worked for me. I had to keep things in a dramatic state to keep myself distracted and away from the clean lines that would help me gain clarity. I didn’t want clarity – I wanted the fuzz of the buzz and the cloudiness of a mental state that would keep me in arm’s length of what I was really about – an alcoholic, a frightened man-boy, a stain of a human. Everything was blown up into a Rube Goldberg Machine for safety’s sake.
Knowing all of this hasn’t particularly made my life any simpler. I mean, it has in many tangible ways, but I still spin my wheels at times. Keeping things easy peasy takes effort for me. It means action. It means I just walk to the corner, drop the letter in the mailbox and mosey right on back home. It means picking up the phone, punching in a number and speaking to the other person on the line. It means answering a question honestly and in a straightforward manner. It’s about taking a pause and dialing it back a few notches over where I automatically would overshoot the mark before speaking or acting. It might even be pocketing my pride, telling someone that they are right about something, and then moving along, unfazed. A “what would Forrest Gump do?” mentality perhaps at times suffices.
And the payoff?
Things go smoother for me. There are less sparks from friction and conflict – within myself and with others. I am not encumbered by the weight of bad motives and poor decisions and judgements borne of ego. I am freer and lighter. I find more joy in the smaller things in life. I am more open. I love and feel love more. I put others at ease. I am available for others.
Simple doesn’t mean dumb. It means serenity. And I can go for double servings of that…if that’s ok with my nutritionist.