Not About the Bike: Forward Day By Day
My father was an alcoholic.
This isn’t surprising.
First, he came (as I do) from the kind of blustery Scottish family that is stereotyped — and perhaps for good reason — as producing burning, brilliant, passionate minds prone to alcoholism. Bipolar disorder runs in the genes, presents itself on a spectrum, is associated with creativity, and predisposes its sufferers to addiction — and therein may lie the grain of truth behind that stereotype.
In retrospect, I can’t help but wonder if those genes derived from his mother’s side. My paternal grandfather was a warm and peaceful man, while my paternal grandmother was a wiry and intense woman given to passionate opinions which she expressed with what I can only describe as forceful restraint. With respect to her own children, she was not infrequently embattled.
In thinking about her now, I realize she may, in fact, have been very much like me. This is not to say that she was a bad person: I am capable of seeing, at this point in my life, that her battles with her children often stemmed from the force of her convictions. She was a person of immense strength. I hope that I possess, at least in part, the qualities of character that were her greatest assets.
Second, my father was a member of the generation that went to war in Viet Nam. He was torn by the forces of his own conscience, I think, and torn — I am almost sure — by the response of the country, which seems to have been violent at both its extremes and probably also in the middle, where the two streams of reaction met.
I spent much of my childhood in fear of my father’s mercurial moods (I should probably discuss another time why that’s actually a good thing, in some regards; I think I would have been a much worse person if I hadn’t learned early that there was something bigger and “badder” than myself). I didn’t doubt that he loved me, but I was the kind of kid who really needed stability, and stability was not something one of Dad’s strengths even after he stopped drinking.
When I was eleven or so, Dad discovered Alcoholics Anonymous, or perhaps Alcoholics Anonymous discovered him, or something like that. I don’t know exactly how it happened — I suppose because I was not the kind of kid who was by nature inclined to inquire into the minds of other people (perhaps ironically, every single career assessment I’ve ever taken has told me to become a psychologist!). All I know is that it changed his life.
I don’t know what the early days were like for him. I don’t know if he tried a few times before he was able to stop drinking, or if he was able to stop at once. It doesn’t matter. I know that he went to a lot of meetings and developed a lot of friendships, and I know, in retrospect, that he worked hard to rebuild his relationship with me. I know that my father rebuilt himself, in a way, or rather that he was rebuilt through grace and through effort and through the support of a community of people who understood him.
I know that the principle of “one day at a time” was central to that process. I know that those one days had added up to seven years of sobriety and counting when my father died.
At this juncture I am beginning to see that I, too, should probably adopt that principle. I’m trying to find ways to apply it: to school, to cycling, to my spiritual journey, such as it is.
I’m reading Forward Day By Day again (if you’re not familiar with it, it’s part of Forward Movement, a ministry of the Episcopal church. Forward Day By Day is a little booklet that comes out every few months or so which includes a daily meditation and some very fine thoughts from people who have done some serious thinking and feeling.
Today’s reading begins with Psalm 88.6:
“You have laid me in the depths of the Pit, in dark places, and in the abyss.”
I can’t help but feeling that that message directly relevant to my own life; that today G-d is speaking directly to all of us who are struggling in dark places through those words. The funny part is that I haven’t looked at Forward Day By Day in a few days. I forget pretty often. So, there it is: serendipity. The message today is terribly relevant.
G-d is an implacable hunter. You can try to escape but you never will. Somewhere in The Seven Storey Mountain Thomas Merton says something about how you can run to the ends of the earth to escape from G-d, and still He will pop up wherever you find yourself.
Serendipity never ceases to amaze me. It has always been serendipity that makes me most keenly aware of the present of G-d in my life. Here it is again, that same serendipity that never fails to shock my soul awake.
The meditation on this passage, which is both wise and gentle, ends,
“The good news? Recovery is possible.”
That’s something I need to hear right now. Even if my particular recovery isn’t from some specific addiction (though I will be the first to note that my personality and my biochemistry are terribly prone to addiction), it is good to hear in that serendipitous whisper from the divine those un-looked for and un-hoped for words, “Recovery is possible.”
The sun will return and spring will come again. Evidently, recovery is possible.