Paperwork

A few weeks ago, on my brother’s twentieth birthday and February’s full moon, I celebrated twenty-one months of sobriety. I didn’t know how to feel; that number feels like it has both an impalpable significance and a complete lack thereof. A year and-a-half sounds better; a year and three quarters is too ten year-old-y; and nearly two years is (according to unwritten AA dogma) too fate-tempting.

I was ready to hit the ground running as soon as my airplane (literally) hit Chicago ground a few days before this mild milestone; there was a lot of real shit to be dealt with by the end of the month (not to mention the months to follow this one – but thinking about that would see me floored by such staggering anxiety that I’d never get this month’s matters underway). If I didn’t get this specific and grueling application submitted by the beginning of March, I’d basically get kicked out of the country.

Even in sobriety, I still have slight anxiety when it comes to doing this kind of stuff, because I was so atrocious at dealing with anything serious before. I left everything until the last minute. I’d procrastinate so much that I’d even put off procrastinating. I’d self-sabotage in a way that was too deliberate to be subconscious. I’d rebel against deadlines because I hated being told what to do.

Now, I know that I have my shit a little better together, so that nauseating stuff like bank accounts, health insurance, dentist appointments, immigration cases, court dates, work deadlines – it doesn’t leave me wanting to throw myself off a bridge. My body, however, still houses the dregs of the old me; I experience an almost imperceptible jolt to the spine when I encounter an official-looking letter sitting in my mailbox, as though it’s about to jump out and slit my throat. That adrenaline soon turns to self-assurance, though, as I rip open the envelope with a zeal and sense of satisfaction that I think only a former fuck-up could appreciate.

In the weeks during which I had this paperwork to do, I couldn’t think about anything else; thoughts of them seeped into every crevice of my brain. But, being as crucial as they were, it was totally reasonable of them to demand this level of attention. I was grateful for the apparent change in my behavior – things of this nature used to send me under the duvet covers for days with endless bottles of wine and gin, hoping each time I surfaced from oblivion that all my responsibilities would have disappeared.

Yet this time, each day I would rise and review my checklist of items that I had to come up with to include in my application, and although I refused to see friends socially, talk to my family on FaceTime, or do laundry, this level of focus was motivated by self-preservation – and acceptance, rather than avoidance, of responsibility.

The only thing I did ‘do’ during this time was start going to more meetings, because it felt like a natural and good idea. One evening, I was in a meeting at my regular place where we talked about fear being the great foe and the great motivator of the alcoholic. It got me wondering, where had my fear gone? It used to keep me from leaving the house, even my bedroom. In my addiction, I wasn’t afraid of the normal things that people should be scared of – strangers, cliff edges, the dark, sharp objects, death. It was towards these things that I gravitated. But friends, familiarity, routine, brightness – from these things I recoiled as from a hot flame. I dreaded the inevitable contact I’d have to make with them. I took comfort only in the strange and unfamiliar; I had the most fun where no one knew my name.

And I didn’t come into AA looking to fix that.

But… I didn’t know the extent of what was broken until things started to slowly shift. So perhaps the fact that I can’t feel my fear anymore means that now it’s healthy – it operates as my silent motivator, not my pervasive oppressor.

I completed and mailed the application last week – it was about the thickness of the national phonebooks that would land on the doorstep of my home each January when I was a child. I fretted a little once the package left my hands for the last time, obsessing over every detail, worried that it would get lost in transit or soaked by the storm outside.

Last night on my nowadays-doorstep at dusk, sweating from my bike-ride home in the unpredictably warm weather, I opened my letter-box to find a confirmation from USCIS that they had received and were reviewing my petition. The relief was enormous. Though the battle is by no means won, there’s joy in every achievement along the way for me these days, no matter how small. To ‘do’ anything right is a cause for celebration.

The months ahead loom like mountains. On the other side is an unknowable life that I don’t think I’d recognize as my own, if I were to glimpse it now. But the truth is that I don’t have any real fear of what’s to come. The fears that I do have are localized in the present, and they are my invisible allies.  The ones that lie in future are the ones that paralyze – those are the ones that I don’t entertain.

Not that any of this is my own doing – all of this shit was way over my head before. But just as, over time, the sand, wind and rain will smooth the roughest stone, so does the universe continue to rearrange my insides, refining the blemishes I wasn’t even aware of.

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