Otto Phokus CC
I was afraid of the wind and I drank a lot. Too much, it turned out, because when I put down the whiskey and wine, I immediately felt better. But I couldn’t stop without help, despite trying many times, so I got myself to a church basement. Actually, that first 12-step meeting took place in the cafeteria of a parochial school, the lunch tables laden with coffee pots and literature from 1939. Later there were true church basements and a Quaker reading room and, eventually, a beach. At the beach, I befriended the wind.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. I drank for protection: from my emotions and memories and the constriction of my own skin. I stayed indoors as often as possible for protection, too. Conditions had to be perfect for me to venture outside for recreation. A romp through the first snow or a stroll down a bar-lined city street while the night still fought with the sun’s heat - those felt tolerable. Otherwise, exposure to the humidity, the chill, the bugs, the ice, the wind seemed unnecessarily masochistic. I preferred to be inside, alone, with a glass in my hand.
The synergy between sobriety and nature started almost immediately after I dismissed the booze. Reporting to recovery meetings got me outside after dark, in the cold or the rain. After, I would head to my car with a clearer mind and a few pebbles of hope, look at the sky and think, this isn’t bad. Soon, I started walking to the meetings. Outside was where I got to know the other sober drunks. I got my first welcoming hug on a freezing night from one of the smokers. Two of the women invited me to trek at dusk with them to a meeting and around a pond the next morning. Turns out people in sobriety walk a lot, an activity I had always found insufferably boring without a destination. Then I discovered the meeting on the sand. Every morning at 7 am, we park our beach chairs in a circle and learn to be better humans. The group includes white-haired old men and tattooed young women, a judge and a fish cutter, construction guys and college professors. We keep each other sober as we air out our wounds so they can begin to heal.
On those first mornings at the beach meeting, I often saw the sun rise. I spotted the moon loitering in the daylight, and watched the clouds do line dances. I noticed the tone of gray that preceded the rain. I estimated the temperature by feel instead of by meteorologist. The more mornings I spent in the frost, the less cold I felt. My body was adjusting to the natural world, just as it was adjusting to days upon days without alcohol.
I forgave the wind, too, even when it kept slapping at me. I’d loathed it because I feared it, just as humans believe they loathe other humans, when, really, we’re just afraid of each other. Getting to know one’s nemesis can cure that. Once I learned that I could survive a wind blast to the face, I got curious about my foe. I saw that the wind doesn’t only bite. It also caresses and cools. It delivers scents that warn and comfort. It builds the lovely dunes.
These days, I feel safest outside, especially when I’m surrounded by a platoon of sober drunks, our souls naked to the elements. I adore the wind and I drink no poison.
Susan Kushner Resnick is a social worker and the author of three creative nonfiction books, including the memoirs Sleepless Days and You Saved Me, Too, and the narrative Goodbye Wifes and Daughters. Her work has appeared in Michigan Quarterly Review, Brevity, Chautauqua Journal, Montana Quarterly, Poets & Writers, and numerous newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times Magazine. She earned an MFA in CNF from Goucher College and taught CNF at Brown University before temporarily trading the poorly-paid, fraught world of writing for the poorly-paid, fraught world of social work.
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