I am a mystery to myself. Most people, I think, were getting to know themselves throughout their late teens and early to mid-twenties; meanwhile I was doing everything I could to avoid that (the primary reason being that I was scared there wasn’t a person underneath the facade I’d constructed). I’d rather have been taken as the sum of all my messy, superficial parts than have been truly known for whoever I happened to be.
So I was a late bloomer, but now I think (tentatively) that I’m in the early, nebulous stages of self-knowledge. I’m also sober all the time, so maybe that puts me in a weird position where I notice things in other people (probably as a distraction from noticing them in myself, too). It appears to me that some people are afraid of being the person that they truly are – without alcohol, sarcasm, superiority or nastiness. I notice these fronts that others put up, not in judgment but in camaraderie; oh, you’re hiding a weak spot behind that hard veneer – yes, so am I. Can we talk about it?
I was at a ‘session’ a few weekends ago, back in Ireland – the birthday party of an old friend at his house in the countryside. It was one of those parties that starts in the evening and runs wild through the night into the following morning powered by a symphony of powdered substances, one of the nights that warrants an early bottle once the sun comes up to keep the creeping fear (still a distant rumour) at bay, seeing as sleep is out of question, and by the onset of the following evening, you find you’re ankle-deep in a mini-sesh – a shadow-sesh – trying to prolong the return to reality.
I went to this session knowing that it would probably be the first of its kind that I’d been to since getting sober, seeing as they sorta do things differently in America, at least in the circles I’ve been moving in – or maybe (and this is far more likely) it’s just that I’ve always known where the emergency exits are before, and have been able to duck out once I’ve had enough. Here, in the middle of the countryside, I was in it for the night. There was nowhere to sleep, no option but to endure. Which I did, somehow, without the aid of caffeine or drugs or alcohol or even cigarettes – and had a feckin’ great time, too. It was a good session, with seasoned folk who only get messy in ones or twos. I saw it for what it was, for it being the same as it ever was – we drink, we talk shite, we drink some more, we bond, we disappear to dip into our plastic baggies, we share highs, we keep our lows to ourselves, the tunes break out, we sing, we dance, we fuck, and we fade together – vitally together.
What helped me stay sober was this – I felt like I knew who I was, and I made no apologies for it. There were many points in the night when I felt over certain conversations; not the words of others, but the rhetoric coming out of my own mouth. Eventually, I moved to the tiny kitchen in the corner, where I danced for a spell with some spirit animals who were happy to share music and morsels of chatter, brewing our own brand of madness together, a side party.
But even feeling as strong as I did in my ‘self-knowledge’ and my resolution not to drink, I was intensely aware of the orbit of a certain person, my north star, which set off a tide of emotions that threatened to wash me away, as usual. And therein is the elusiveness of my self-knowledge in its nascent state – now I see me, now I don’t.
Whenever I went to pee throughout the night, I’d stand in front of the mirror in the bathroom and whisper a few niceties, in a stillness suspended outside space and time. I’d look myself in the eye and say “You’re alright, you’re fine, you’re gonna be okay”, because I knew that I’d put myself in a position that eight, seven, six, five, four, three and maybe even two and one years ago would have completely destroyed whatever paltry self-esteem I had and caused me to annihilate my consciousness. I wanted to be gentle and encouraging just as I would be with a friend in the same situation. It struck me with a little sadness – why do we not treat ourselves as we do our friends? Should I not consider myself my best friend of all?
Back in the USA, a few nights ago I went out with work friends to a dance bar for a boogie. Dancing is a joy that bloomed in childhood, flourished in adolescence, faltered through my addiction years and prevailed, as I have, into the present moment. When I am dancing I feel a communion with the seen and unseen worlds. I feel like my body, mind and spirit are aligned. I dance in private because I have an impulse to move my body in time with the rhythms of the universe, and in public I dance the same, seeking no validation from others. Right?
This was the question posed on repeat in my mind as I biked home through the unseasonably warm night. Struck with guilt and uncertainty, I wondered how many motions and twists of limbs, dips of shoulders and hips, rolls of the head or hand were for other people. How much of going out in general is, at this point in my life, for other people – how much of my happiness is based on my attractiveness, or my attraction to them? There’s usually someone in the crowd whose attentions I subconsciously play up to. There’s usually an understated awareness of the invisible ripples I’m sending through a room. There’s usually a point in the night that hits me like a truck, when I am entirely dumbfounded as to why I am there at all. Biking home last night in that cloud of confusion, I wondered if I’d gotten or contributed anything at all, or what the exact source of my enjoyment had been. I wondered if the music, or the dancing, or the men, or the women had been removed, how would that have affected me. I biked fast under the waning moon, almost erased from the chalkboard of sky, to my doorstep, where I stood fumbling with keys to open the heavy building door to my apartment where I lived, whoever “I” was.
My feet and body throbbed under the bright bathroom light. I ran the hot tap. Drying my face off, I looked deep into my eyes, wondering why I felt so hollow. “It’s okay”, I told myself. Gripping the edge of the bathroom sink, feeling my skin pressing between the cold china and my bones pressing against my warm skin, I saw the blood in my cheeks, I saw my pupils dilating, a social animal, a wild animal with needs, urges, weaknesses, dark parts and bright spots, with rivers running through me good and bad spreading nourishment and destruction. Reluctant creature of the pack. I’ll find my tribe.
I’ve been writing this piece haphazardly for about a month now. If it feels disjointed it’s because it is; it’s because I am. Each time I sit down to it, I am a fresh mystery. And that in itself is my identity right now – I’m fragmented, I’m questioning. I’m lost but I’m going to find my way as long as I honour this – my perplexity – and go deeper inside, avoiding the lying, luring material world that’s forever trying to drive me to distraction.