Of all the emotions that I push aside with drinking, loss and grief are the ones that push my buttons the hardest. Any loss – a death, a breakup, a sense of failure – will send me looking for relief. I struggle with it, perhaps more than anything else.
Loss is hard for me to take because when I was a kid, my parents punished me by removing the things I clearly enjoyed. That’s pretty normal. It’s how punishment works. But I don’t know if they over-did it, or if I was sensitive to it, but my takeaway lesson from the experience is to never tell anyone what I enjoy, never let on that I like something, never get attached to anything or anyone, and never admit (even to myself) what I want.
This is staggering in its depth and inhibition. Ask me when the last time was that I told anyone I loved them. Ask me what I’d like for dinner. Ask me if I have any favourite or special books or clothes. Smile warmly at me, and watch me suspiciously return your gaze.
If I want nothing, you can’t take it from me. If I ask for nothing, you can’t use that to take more than I want to give. If I love nothing, no loss can hurt me.
In subtle ways, I realize I’ve lived a life of quiet self-deprivation. I don’t like spending money. I don’t want to collect things. I barely understand the idea of ‘treats’ and when I get them, I’m often too uncomfortable to enjoy them. Waste makes me furious and luxury makes me restless. I keep my distance from people. I assume that no one really likes me, not really. I don’t know what to do with compliments and I don’t remember people’s names. I spend too much time drifting along and trying not to hold on to anything.
I spend a lot of time thinking about my drinking and how I turned away from my feelings when I drank. But I’m again reminded that I also need to address how I’m living my life as a sober person. How my passion for life is muted by fear. How helpless I feel when I want. How anguished I am when I experience loss anyway, despite all my efforts to stiffen my attachment behind clay masks. How I hide from people, and then feel lonely. How I turn away from friendships, and then wonder why it’s so hard to love me. The fear of loss keeps me from even trying to reach for the joy I want or the love I need.
I need to feel loss, because in the end we face our death alone and in dying we lose everything we’ve ever loved. So what’s it going to be, a life without love, or an ending without loss? When I put it like that, it’s pretty clear to me which one is better.