I’ve turned the corner into my fourth year with the United Methodist Church, so surely I’ve been in attendence on All Saints’ Day before, but I have no clear memory of it. There is something about a bell, but it’s vague. The church calendar, it seems, takes some time getting used to. Or, more likely, it takes the body longer to acclimate to the pace of Christian life than the mind (wrestling with the new theology from day one) and tongue (learning the new language on the fly). Who knows where my heart is in this transition. Miles ahead or years behind, I’m sure. So today is All Saints’ Sunday and I’m a foreigner to this quality of grief. I’ve lost hardly anyone that wasn’t supposed to go. So I’m quiet in Sunday School, so quiet A asks if I’m okay, but I am more than okay, I feel terrific, just listening and learning from people who know more about death than I. The services are as usual, though the choir director brought saxaphones in for the day, and they are loud and jazzy. The children come back to the group for communion and gather on the steps in front of the sanctuary, which is different. I see D in her shiny winter hat watching Pastor Grace bless and break the bread intently. She serves the children first. I approach the table–it’s an open table, which means it’s okay that I’m not technically a member of this church, okay that the church for whatever stupid pedantic reason does not recognize my Mormon baptism–and take the bread, dip the bread, eat the bread sweet with Welch’s grape juice, walk down the stairs. I find D and we head into the courtyard, join the congregation huddled around the labyrinth. It was cold this morning and still is, but the sun is shining. D’s hat looks like a disco ball. We stand with my friend J and her daughter L in the fluffy hot pink earmuffs. The pastors take turns reading the names out loud, the names of everyone lost from our congregation this year, and it guts me because I knew some of them, but none well enough. I know enough to feel that some of them should be here still. After each name, a clear bell, the silence. The pastors move onto the names of those that the members of our congregation have lost, the parents, and grandparents, and brothers, and sisters, and children, and friends. There are more bells. J weeps. And then we sing in Latin, a three-part round. D learned the words in choir so she sings too. Something about peace. We file inside, upstairs to retrieve the electric tea light all the kids got today from the children’s chapel room upstairs. I try to hug J, but we are both walking, and it’s awkward. We go back downstairs into the Great Hall for fellowship. D brings me a handful of broccoli, “all the broccoli they had” and instead of chiding her, I eat it. We pack sack lunches for the soup kitchen. D and L run to the stage to play. J and I lean against the stage, drinking coffee, talking about her brother, talking about our husbands, talkimg about our kids. We are all saints.
In the beginning drinking was a gift. It was a superpower. I could change the world anytime I wanted. I could change myself to fit the world. I liked it so much I wanted to keep it all to myself.
Drinking became a secret. It was medicine. I could fix the world anytime I wanted. I thought I could fix myself, but drinking kept breaking me instead. My heart, my head. My cell phone.
Drinking was a wicked pet monkey living on my shoulder, a devil in my eye. It was a curse and I liked it because it made me different and special. Nobody had ever known this curse like I did.
I put the curse in my back pocket and kept it there like a promise. I would save drinking for later. I had a bunch of things I wanted to do first and I knew I couldn’t do them wet.
I did it all. I made a living. I made a family. I made myself. It was amazing until the novelty wore off. I remembered my superpower. I tried to bring it back, to make living like an adult less hard and boring and sad.
But drinking had changed. Drinking was a mutant freak, everything all at once. It was a gift and a secret and a curse and a promise. It was sticky sweet. It was sickening. It was a black hole.
I crawled out and through the muck looking back so hard my head almost fell off. Lot’s wife and then some. Drinking was a monster receding in the distance. Drinking was my ex-best friend. Drinking was a friend of a friend. Drinking was an interesting acquaintance I wish I’d known better. Drinking was a dumb bitch.
Drinking was not for me. It never was. I don’t understand how it works for other people, if it does actually work for other people, but it was never going to work for me. I don’t have the guts for it, or the nerves, or the solid sense of self. Something’s off inside.
But I was never going to go down in flames with it either. Drinking was not my lover. Drinking was not enough. Time and time again I moved toward love and light and life. I swallowed pills and then puked them back up, hoping I’d beaten them to the punch so that I could fall asleep next to my husband for real. I freed myself.
I was never going to hit a bottom low enough to make want to stop because that kind of drinking was not in my path. I am not afraid of jails, institutions, and death.
I was more afraid of never moving up. I was never going to climb a mountain high enough to make drinking okay. I was never going to climb a mountain. I was never going to move.
There are many paths, but for me the only one forward is not drinking. Head forward, no secrets, no medicine, no curse. Blessedly, the path is littered with good gifts, with teachers, and only the occasional wicked monkey. Mostly I walk, but there are times when I fly. Not drinking is my superpower.