Withdrawal Is Hell

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I’ve done this before. Sugar. Purging. Alcohol. Caffeine. Bad boyfriends. Withdrawal is no fucking joke, but it always passes, and in its place are hard-won insights and the giddy, breathless relief that the hairy, incontinent monkey is finally off my back.

 

You’d think those past experiences would be shining, hopeful beacons on the horizon, proof plucked from my own timeline that I can do hard things. Hell, I can the hardest thing of all: I can change.

 

But that’s the thing about withdrawal: while it’s the gateway to hope, its path is pitch-black, stark.  You know why there is no Venn diagram showing the overlap of hope and withdrawal? Because the whole fucking point of withdrawal is to crawl through it even though it feels like a hope graveyard. You keep crawling even though all you want is your drug for one more night and you don’t believe for one hot second that letting go is ever going to feel as good as having the needle in your arm, the Starbucks grande, the bad boy on your speed dial.

 

I’m there now. I’m staring at the ceiling and sweating while my whole family is asleep wondering what the fuck normal people do when they can’t read. (Sleep, apparently, if the three people in my house are any indication.)

 

I ride the bus feeling half listless and half buzzed. I’m dying to pull out a book, a newspaper, a Buzzfeed article about the 23 Things Only Girls With Fine Hair Understand. God, anything with the written word on it. I settle for a quick scroll through Instagram.

 

I feel like I’m dying. I’m Ray Charles in that scene where he’s detoxing, thrashing in the bed, screaming about spiders on his skin. I’m Tom Hanks’ character on Family Ties—the uncle who’s so profoundly alcoholic he drinks all of the Keatons’ vanilla extract to get a buzz. I’m the Ulysses-obsessed kid from my Master’s program who had a psychotic break when he abruptly stopped drinking Johnny Walker Red.

 

I got here by asking for help with my writing. I guess my shrink got sick of hearing me keen about how shitty my writing is compared to, well, every other person in the world who’s strung more than two sentences together. “I’m stuck, I’m paralyzed, I hate every word I write. By the time he was my age, Salinger was done writing.”

 

If writing is Crossfit, then complaining how much mine sucks is my WOD.

 

He lowered the boom: Stop reading for a month.

 

“Say what?” I said. My paying job requires extensive reading; those Amelia Bedelia books aren’t going to read themselves to my illiterate children; my only sustainable hobby (other than therapy) is reading.

 

“Other than work or reading to your kids, no reading. For a month.”

 

I understood the exercise. While for most people reading is pleasurable escape, I’d turned it into something else. I’d turned every book into an indictment against my own work. It was as masochistic as the way I guzzled coffee or enabled my college boyfriend by ghost-writing his essays so he could sustain his drug habit and fraternity obligations. The relationship between me and reading had to be reset.

So, surrender.

 

Was he taking me off heroin? No. Did he take away running or my Costco card? No. Do I have a choice? Yes.

 

I choose to crawl on, forsaking my seven library books because of the dim promise that at the end of this exercise I may have something better: appreciation, love and compassion for my own stories.

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45 thoughts on “Withdrawal Is Hell

  1. If I couldn’t read myself to sleep, I don’t think I would sleep at all. I hope the withdrawal gives you the perspective you are looking for.

  2. Oh how do I feel this. I am my own worst critic. I stepped away from blogging for a bit, a long bit, came back and found my old blogging friends and still felt so inferior to their style and ability to pull people in, despite them telling me I was better than them. Writing is our escape, our ability to bleed without cutting ourselves, and hoping someone comes by to at least see what we bled for and acknowledge how it touched them. Sometimes, if we don’t get that one person to see we feel, well, unworthy. I am back writing.. I basically started over and though not at the level I was, I am somewhat content. Let me just say, I think your writing is wonderful.

    • Thank you! And do I EVER know exactly what you are talking about with blogging and comparing and feeling “less than.” I had to get back to writing for joy, for me, and because I wanted to even if it sucked booty. Glad you’re back at it.

      On Mon, Jan 26, 2015 at 9:35 PM, Outlaw Mama wrote:

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    • Hey! My computer posted my comment before I was done! Anyway… that was supposed to go: QUIT BEING RIDICULOUS!!! You’re a fabulous writer! I put down more books than I finish, but I always read your blog (even when I don’t comment).

  3. No reading was the worst part of The Artist’s Way. Golly was it hard. What a crutch to replace the voices in my head with other people’s voices. Fiction, nonfiction…I didn’t care. But the mental boredom of not reading did make a difference.

    Good luck!

  4. Learn to knit! That’s what I do on the train. And while my kids are practicing the violin–I can still listen to them, but it keeps me from getting too helicopter-y.

    You’ve got me combing the cobwebby recesses of my memory about the Ulysses kid, and so far I’m drawing blanks. I do remember the vanilla-swigging uncle from Family Ties, but I had NO idea it was Tom Hanks.

  5. Is it wrong that I’m laughing at your lament here? Do I remember or only imagine the not live studio audience sadly sighing “ooooh” when Hanks drank the vanilla?

    And what a lovely close, to bear it all for love of your own stories.

    Thanks for both the laughs throughout and the heartfelt sentiment at the end.

  6. I’ve tried this before, when I was doing The Artist’s Way. What an order: I could not go through with it. Reading is my oldest addiction, my oldest pain-killer. I could read to myself long before I was able to get food for myself.

  7. So you can’t even read an article in a magazine? Kind of like, you’re a readerholic, you’re all in or you can’t read at all? I take self imposed reading hiatuses because sometimes I use reading to distraction and then don’t accomplish anything. I hate that you beat yourself up so much. You know (I think) you’re a wonderful writer and we all have our own styles. You can’t compare. My grandmother would always say, don’t look up, look down. 😉
    So we’re not going to be the writer who writes the great american novel, we can still enjoy our creativity and the journey. Come on, enjoy the journey. xo

    • Thank you for loving me and seeing me and knowing me. I am very hard on myself. Maybe I should take a break from that!!!! Your grandmother is a wise lady!

      On Tue, Jan 27, 2015 at 1:08 PM, Outlaw Mama wrote:

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  8. Why are you reading these comments? 🙂 Good luck. I NEED to read. It inspires me, but I understand, it is a double edged sword.

  9. Are there people who don’t think their writing sucks?! I want to meet them! I’m kidding. Sort of. Your blog is great Christie, and I have no doubt your book will be on my bedside table one day! Meanwhile, I wish you well on this new assignment of no reading. Ugggg. Painful. But as you noted, you’ve gotten through MUCH worse lady. I have faith in you – I know you’ll come back to reading and your own writing with exactly the compassion you’re looking for. XO

  10. I’m starving for a read. I champion reading and books and exposing oneself to as many varied authors as possible, and here I am with barely a page read in the last many weeks.

    This prescription reminds me of the current WNYC project linking boredom to creativity. Good luck with the non-reading. I don’t think your writing needs the help, of course.

  11. I fully support exchanging reading for binge-watching TV. And actually, I’m proof positive that a TV habit can be a really good thing. I discovered the joys of binge-watching during my second year of law school. I did fine, but not fabulously, my first year, but once I started binge-watching during my second year, my grades soared. Something about keeping a part of my brain distracted while trying to do really hard things was a great medicine for me. Maybe it works with creativity too?

  12. I hated driving back when I had a car and a 45 minute commute to work. Now that I only get to drive twice a year I love being in the car. It’s such a treat. I can see how not reading for a month might reset my attitude the same way, even though I wouldn’t know what to do with myself. Here’s hoping your pain is worth it!

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