Once, years ago, I found myself driving though a rural part of Florida. I was headed to work in the late afternoon, teaching writing to folks who thought writing had nothing to do with what they wanted to do with their lives.
It’s real bleak to share the thing that brings you joy with folks who couldn’t give a single shit about it.
But, there I was, driving along, watching the flat land stretch out to the horizon. I think there were cows. In my mind now, at least, there were cows. Rural Florida is, indeed, the South. It bears no resemblance to its coastal, sometimes more urbane, cousin. And driving though it requires some good, twangy country music.
At least, for me it does.
I’ve loved country music since high school. It’s storytelling at its finest. And it fills me with big, big joy. Or brings me to tears. But it never fails to make me emote, to feel. Country music feels like being alive to me. It’s that good.
It was also the background to a helluva lot of my drinking.
Of course. The perfect country & western song involves: Mama, trains, trucks, prison and gettin’ drunk.
So, I’m driving through rural Florida, feeling real countrified and a drinking song comes on. Since music is soul-memory, immediately that song triggered the most definitive craving for a drink I remember having in sobriety.
And, because sometimes when things are going to hell in a handbasket, life throws in one more thing & shit gets even more real, I was at that moment, driving by a bar with a neon Bud Light sign shining like a beacon. (Yes, I drank a lot of cheap beer. Let’s not dwell on that life choice right now.)
It took my breath away, this longing for a drink. Or was it longing for the part of me I had to let go in order to keep living?
But what drove me to tears was feeling completely stripped bare. Defenseless. Vulnerable. Because, I realized right there in rural Florida with country music floating through the air & that damn neon sign beckoning, when I quit drinking, I relinquished my ability to hide.
Alcohol had been my shield from feeling anything too deeply. It’s a terrific numbing agent. And now it was gone.
I was going to have to feel things I’d been sheltering myself from for years. There was no place to hide anymore.
The terror I felt in that moment, faced with actually living my own life, was staggering. I wanted to bolt. Physically, I ached to run & hide.
But there was nothing to do except keep moving forward.
I turned off the country music. Mid-song, which is like sacrilege. And I kept driving.
It’s such a small event, really: the music, the bar, the willingness to keep driving. But it marked the beginning of my choice to get sober–to cut the bullshit, do the work, get real, and live my life.
Sobriety is an ongoing process. And it’s rarely dull. I’m constantly presented with opportunity for growth. Which really just means that I have to handle shit as it arises–the squirrelly, the scary, the just plain old too much. Because, without the alcohol, there really is no place for me to hide when things get … intense.
But that’s okay. It becomes okay. Because there’s healing and there’s big, big life out there.
And when I feel too out of synch with myself, with my emotions, I find that a little country music gets me right back where I need to be.