Monday, October 4, 2010

On the Downward Slope

Well, it's Day 17 of the "30 Days Without a Drop" project, which means I'm more than halfway to my stated goal of 30 alcohol-free days.  It's all downhill from here. 

That's what you say in situations like this, isn't it?  Society has some kind of nutty obsession with the notion that life consists of a series of symmetrical hurdles.  Wednesday is "hump day."  Turning 40 means you're "over the hill."  Get halfway through anything, it seems, and you've reached some sort of metaphorical peak - with the implication, of course, that the journey down the other side will be a relative slide on your ass compared to what it took to get there.  Ninety degrees up must mean ninety degrees down, right?

I say, poppycock.  (I do; I say it all the time.)  It would be nice if life flowed in nice, even rhythms, if the ease of our second acts were always in direct proportion to the struggles of our first.  Hell, it would be great if we could even accurately identify when we've reached the so-called peak from which our smooth descent will begin.  With a current life expectancy of 82 years, right now I should be feeling that exhilarating pause that comes when you've completed the slow, agonizing climb to the tippy-top of the roller coaster, right before the dizzying free-fall that makes all your terrified anticipation worthwhile.  Yep, right about now.  Exhilarating.  Or maybe I'm actually slated to live to be 90.  Or 120.  Because I think I'm still crawling upward, with gears gnashing and knuckles clenched white.  Either that, or the top kind of sucks.

But seriously, folks, the symmetry we like to imagine our lives to contain tends to collapse under scrutiny.  Are the last 10 pounds easier to lose than the first 10?  Do the second thousand words of an essay flow more readily than the first thousand?  Is the second half of a marathon (or a 5k, or coming back from the end of the block) less punishing than the first half?  Is a Thursday really that much better than a Tuesday because it's on the other side of the weekly hump?  I maintain that goals tend to be much flatter than we imagine, and that momentum is less helpful to our cause than our positive self-talk would have us believe.  Sometimes that nice evenly shaped hill is more like an uneven stretch of road.  And sometimes we find ourselves going backwards: climbing up the slide and bumping down the steps on our ass on the other side.

To relate this to my current situation, I don't feel as if I've passed any sort of psychological milestone by going more than 15 days without a drink.  I appreciate the accomplishment of getting halfway to the number I've arbitrarily chosen.  Half is good - it's more than a quarter, more than three-eighths; it's significantly closer to 100% than I was a couple of weeks ago.  But if I had to give a shape to this 30-day goal, it wouldn't be a mountain, or a playground slide.  It would probably be a hamster wheel.  I'm scurrying along, but I'm not exactly putting a lot of miles behind me.  There are little flecks of rust and scratches on the wheel, and they keep coming around and around; I see them every day.  It doesn't get easier not to drink every day; it doesn't get harder, either.  Some days are good, some days are bad, and some days are exactly like a day I had yesterday or last week.  And there's no going up or down - there's forward, and there's stop. 

I can live with that. After all, downhill is not my favorite direction.  It's hard to land on your feet every time, and too easy to bust your head open.  And as for uphill, I don't really believe in uphill.  As I continue on this journey of mine, I increasingly find there is no peak to stand on, just an endless series of toeholds to find and hang on to.

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