Ken M. Blind Cat
I was living in an apartment with no furniture. (Why buy a couch when you can just sit on a stack of the empties?) Sharing my abode was a blind cat named Stevie Ray.
At the time I was working as a counselor at a community mental health center. I led drug and alcohol groups with a hangover. (I was hungover, not the group, or at least not the whole group.) I worked a lot with people coping with delusions and hallucinations. Sometimes I would come home from work and tell Stevie Ray about the groups I had run. I started to think Stevie was looking at me funny as I popped open a beer. Insight wasn’t my strong suit back then.
Early in my recovery I heard people talking about a pink cloud. I didn’t have a pink cloud. I had sense of impending doom, and the strong suspicion some celestial being had mistaken me for a urinal.
I craved booze the way drowning people crave air.
My first sponsor was big-hearted, wise, funny, and sneaky. I told him I had been trapped in a car upside down on a busy highway, and the experience left me with an overwhelming fear of being anywhere I couldn’t leave. He sent me to every 12-Step meeting he could find near a jail or prison. “Can you imagine how you’d climb the walls in a cell?” he’d ask. “Good thing you don’t drink and drive anymore.”
I thought that once I was sober, the rest of life would fall into place. I learned an alcoholic’s life rarely falls into place; it just falls. My 12-Step program made me see I had choices as to what I would build from the rubble.
Somewhere along the way, somebody said to me, “It gets better.” Somebody else said, “You’ll get better.” I wanted to know when. If I hadn’t feared confinement so much, I might have killed the next person who answered, “It will get better when it gets better.”
They were right, of course. Life got better. Instead of spending my afternoons and evenings drinking, I started playing more basketball. No risk of arrest, no hangover, no neglected responsibilites, no memory loss.
In my drinking days, I had played basketball on concrete courts in beat-up canvas sneakers with very little padding left. Afterwards, my feet would hurt and I would drink a six pack or more to make the pain go away. When I was first sober, I substituted aspirin for the beer. Finally, I realized I could take the money I wasn’t spending on booze and buy a decent pair of Nikes. I had gotten better at life, albeit slowly.
I realized there was a trade off to getting sober. Without alcohol to numb my mind, I was more aware of life’s pain, but I was also more aware of the joy and less likely to inflict pain on myself.
I haven’t had a drink in decades. More importantly, I haven’t had a drink today. Instead, I practice sober hedonism. I squeeze the joy from everything that isn’t alcohol and other drugs. I savor the feel of cotton, the taste of coffee, the one fry I eat at a time, the sight of my wife and the laughter of my children. I live in the present moment, and I write gratitude lists every chance I get. If there’s a cat heaven, I think Stevie Ray might be looking down with amazement at how I’ve changed. On the other hand, she might still be wondering how I could have thought a blind cat was looking at me funny.