That fateful night in December when I managed to get myself arrested and hauled into a Northampton jail cell for those awful 8 hours, I thought it was pretty much the end for me.
I remember the distinct stages of consciousness unfolding on that stainless steel bench which was too short to fully lie down on, even for me. I recall how my jeans moved smoothly over its surface as I switched from sitting, to laying on my back, to sitting, to laying on my belly, to sitting again. And every once in a while I'd look up at the video camera in the corner and say--in the most sober voice I could muster--"can you please let me out?"
Yeah, right ... sucker.
And then, a while later ...
"Can you please, please, please let me out ... sir ... ?"
Well, his mother wouldn't approve of her son being in jail for OUI, but she would definitely be thrilled that he had manners.
Meanwhile, my head pounded like a hammer with each rush of blood from my heart.
The absence of shoes and belt was a strange sensation, almost as if I was in the airport's equivalent of purgatory: he can't fly, but he can't really walk too far either.
There are few more definite things in this world than being locked up in a real jail cell after midnight for failing a sobriety test. Few things seem so certain, so concrete, so real.
And as I sat there, occasionally giving a sad look up to the video camera, I knew one thing:
My fun was over.
My last bender had started, stopped, started, and stopped again in the matter of about a week.
And at that point, benders were my idea of a week's vacation, regardless of if I had to work through it or not.
And I knew I could never have another one of those "special" vacations again.
My friends would never again call me up and ask me to go out drinking with them. At least if it happened, I would know whoever was asking me out was most assuredly not my friend.
Not that anyone really ever called me up to say: "Hey, Al. Let's go out and get wasted tonight, whaddaya say?"
Because going out and getting wasted with me was kind of tricky. If the request wasn't made early enough, I would already be hammered.
And going out to get drunk with somebody who is already hammered is like trying to spar with a person who just got the shit beat out of them on the street.
It's not so much fun, really.
But, at least I knew it had a beginning, a middle, and an end--the drunk, I mean.
There was safety in the process, regardless of whether or not the process was designed to kill me.
It gave me comfort to know there was an answer to the question: Is it over?
Nowadays I find myself less asking if it's over and more wondering what comes next. It seems like I never get that feeling of completion I used to after falling off the barstool, unequivocally assuring me that I'm definitely hammered.
Job well done.
These days I find myself asking some pretty open ended questions.
Have I done enough today? Do I have a plan for tomorrow? Is it the most productive way I could spend my time. Where do I want to go in this world, and which process there will give me the most flexibility to do what I desire when I arrive?
It's not so much, is it over, but rather, how does it continue?
To me, it's kind of like the difference between children's games and grown-up games.
Most children's games have an ultimate goal--a finish line with a clear cut winner of usually just one person. We play these games as a kid and we expect life to reflect those logistics.
Battleship, Don't Break the Ice, Don't Spill the Beans, marbles, checkers, and Candyland. With all these games we get taught that one participant will declare victory at the end of play. The group is merely there to form the foundation of strategy, as well as to act as a lesson by example. If someone is too grabby, they are singled out and told to quit it. The same goes for cheaters, criers, and meanies: quit it or deal with the consequences.
As I get older and wiser and start to play the grown-up games, I realize that there is no clear cut winner, there is only progression. There is accumulation of points in varying forms whose value changes as frequently as the rules. Whether it's the stock market, working your way up the ladder of a company, landing a good paying gig that will bring you all around the world and back, or battling the most cunning foe imaginable in the form of substance abuse, you're not just playing to see the end of the game ...
... you're playing to keep playing.
These adult games, I must add, do retain a few trappings of the ones we play in our youth.
You have to participate, for one.
If you don't participate, you must stay out of the way of those who are. Because there are plenty of people who are trying to excel. People who have found a mountain they fancy and not only want to climb it, they want to find a nice spot on the top of it and sit there for a while and revel in the accomplishment they have worked hard to achieve. Meanwhile, down at the bottom of the mountain there will always be plenty of people wishing they could be up there, sitting and grinning, wishing that life hadn't dealt them such a bad hand of cards as they drink themselves to death every night or sit on the sidewalk with cardboard signs and cups and bottles covered in paper bags, with dogs they can neither afford to feed nor bother to clean up after, staring blankly, silently reminding you as you walk by that you are on your way to the bank, and they are on their way to detox ... if they're lucky.
Which brings me to the other similarity between kiddie games and adult games: as you get older, the games get harder.
If you play Candyland until you're old, two things will happen:
1. You will get really good at playing Candyland.
2. You will find that everybody you used to play Candyland with over the years has moved on to bigger and more complex games. And, while not everyone wins frequently at the tougher ones, the odds state that if you play them long enough you will win a few. If you keep at it and learn from your errors and bad judgement calls and not only try never to let those mistakes happen again, but notice when your opponent is exhibiting similar behaviors, you will not only eventually win that game, but you'll be one step closer to moving on to a newer, more difficult, more rewarding one. And as the wins accrue and the confidence inevitably starts pouring out of you like water from a hydrant, anything seems possible, because there are only as many obstacles as we are willing to let hold us back, or at the very least let discourage us. And in doing this we move ahead one confident step closer to our constantly expanding goal, one sure stride nearer to convincing those around us that we meant what we said when we told them it would be different this time, one magnificent leap towards the goal of convincing ourselves that we meant what we said when we told ourselves it would be different this time, one point closer to another victory in the long, never-ending string of games that we must remember we played, not by the trophies on our mantle but by the skills in our heads and the pride in our hearts. And by the time we have a chance to look back for a second we will realize that we are that many steps away from ever asking again the question that is so easy to answer if you just want it to end ...
... is it over?
Thanks for reading.
PS: It's Tuesday. Fat Tuesday as it were. And the results are in:
I have been on my quest to lose two pounds a week for roughly 18 weeks with the ultimate goal to lose 35 pounds.
Last week when I checked in I had gone from 224 to 222.
This morning I was pleased to step on the scale and see that I now weigh ...
... two hundred and twenty pounds.
... and the game continues ...