Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Ready to Remember

Grapevine February 1958

I REMEMBER DRIVING along the Old Montauk Highway at eighty miles an hour, at night, and coming out of a blackout just as I missed a man walking along the curve of the road. Until I remembered that, I forgot that I had ever driven while even slightly intoxicated.

I remember myself as a fun drinker--loud, funny, and sociable--and always being around people. . .until I remembered the unsociable, un-fun, empty mornings, the lonely summer weekends in a hot and beachless city bar. And the next morning the things I remembered were black and blue and foggy and crystal clear and awful.

I remembered only a "few" bad nights in the last "few" bad years of my drinking. . .until I remembered the whole insidious progression of years of bad drinking in which a total picture of acute alcoholism was recalled to my mind.

As a drunk some days of my life in a twenty-four clock were mangled except for one hour. Out of some weeks the fragments of a day may be hazily recollected. Months of drinking days melted one into the other, with such monotony. . .hangover--drunkenness--drunkenness--hangover--to-the-bar--sleep--sleep--to-the-bar. . . . So much monotony that one year can hardly be distinguished from the year before except that the monotony of the drunkenness seems intensified, the hangover longer, the sleep less, the need for the bar greater--a daily-weekly-monthly-yearly rendezvous with some further monotony. Certainly a thing to forget. . .and forget it is what I did.

If Tuesday is like Thursday and next Tuesday promises more of the same and a year ago Sunday was just like last Thursday except for the indignity of a punch in the nose, or some great crying jag that lasts for two swollen-eyed days and changes that day by a hair, what is there to remember anyway?

I was incapable of viewing my past except as a maudlin creature of fantasy in which things always looked better if not beautiful yesterday. Pass out--blackout--or just refusal to remember a blistering piece of truth--all helped to erase the pain. If the memory of a bad night persisted, I trimmed all the rough edges by neatly obliterating a detail here, a fact there, until only a half painful picture remained. . .and it was "their" fault anyway.

How many of us even think we have a story to tell when we first come to AA--how lucky we are that memory is what it is and nothing more. The human memory is a tricky mechanism. It deserts us at the tip of remembrance, it will recall the dimmest facts, long forgotten, for survival. It betrays us at times and is limited at best, where some details are concerned; yet it will keep, graphically and dramatically etched, one day which seems to have lost any real importance, so far as conscious memory goes.

Even without liquor, memories have the humane faculty for obliterating that which is intolerable. To forget an important date or meeting is temporary amnesia, self-induced to be sure, forgotten for reasons unknown even to us perhaps that they come under the heading of protection of life, limb or ego. Those who have made a study of the mind are not sure where the seat of memory lies. At the end of a long life our memories are stored with information totaling more details than the nine million volumes in the Library of Congress. To remember is an important part of intelligence. How we manage to tell in fifteen or twenty minutes an impression of our ten or twenty or thirty years drinking past--to piece together the jig-saw of our drinking days--is a miracle of the memory.

Only in AA has the freedom been given us to reach far back into our memory and pull out the truth. . .separate the fantasy from the real. . .evaluate ourselves now sober. As we hear other alcoholics tell the truth of their drinking days our memory begins to uncoil and unscramble. It's a slow, creaking process which picks up tempo as the truth becomes easier to bear. Thank God we don't have total recall at our first meeting or twenty-four-hours later--we couldn't take it. It would flood us back into the bottle.

We remember as we are ready to remember. When the shame is removed and the terror diminished our memory relaxes and allows us new ease hitherto unknown in our puzzled and frightened minds. We start to recover. I have heard it said that gratitude is the memory of the heart. We for some reason have been given back the gift of life. In order to match this gift of life with the gift of love--love that is born of gratitude--it seems that we, once recovered, have some wonderful things to remember. . .things not so much measured by where we were at two o'clock last Christmas as by the magnificent comparisons of yesterday's life with today's. This gift is given us by memory.

L. A.
New York

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