“Ho ho! That’s a real fish!”
I hear a man say this. He’s in a boat (I’m assuming), on the lake in front of me that I can barely glimpse in between the branches of these large generic Texas trees.
“Yes, sir!” I want to holler, but keep the thought to myself. “I bet it’s much more real compared to all those fake fish you’ve been catching all day!”
I have just arrived at my cabin for my annual self-made writing retreat. Starting the ritual a few years ago, I come to this cabin on September 23 to celebrate my sobriety birthday, with a few days in a quiet place to just sit, write, observe, listen—to just be.
In this tranquillity, I open the small package containing the Alcoholics Anonymous chip I order online every year. I’m not a part of AA, but I collect the coins because they mean something to me—that I can do this. Package opened, I hold the bronze chip in my hand and smile. This one has the year number VIII on it.
I’m also smiling because I’m still chuckling about the stranger’s declaration about this supposedly real fish, and since I know it’s not that he’s been acquiring fake fish throughout the day, this is because of just one more instance of being fascinated with language.
It’s this kind of word quirk that kept me intrigued through my beginning years of writing for real—that is, not just writing in my journal, but composing essays and submitting them for publication (you know, real writing, not all that fake writing I had been doing).
It was about staying sober and finding language for all the stories that had been building up inside me and filling up my life, as I emptied one drink after another into my body.
I used to drink like a fish. A real fish.
I wonder, was this one fish deemed real because the others were inferior? As if the previous catches were insufficient, not superior, not “real” to him because—why? Their size? Their mouths? Were their eyes too vacant when they were reeled in? An instant giving up once they felt their bodies being pulled away from the life-sustaining water, their gills instantly drying up, so why bother putting up a fight? That’s not what a “real” fish would do.
For a while, I thought alcohol was my life-sustaining liquid, as if it was an integral part of my identity. I thought it was essential to my writing (well, journaling, really). How could anyone be a writer without being a drinker? But the liquor didn’t sustain me. The toxic liquid made my eyes look empty as it slowly vacated me from my own life.
Thankfully, through those drunk, dizzy eyes, I eventually saw how the alcohol was ruining my life, not sustaining it. The wasted nights spent getting wasted when I could have been living. I could have kept on drinking, kept on putting myself in risky situations, kept on hurting my own skin as I self-mutilated when I was drunk, and I would have kept doing all of that if I hadn’t finally said enough.
It took me a decade to do so, but I did say it, and writing held me to keep on saying it.
Once I decided to get sober, when I pulled myself out of the liquored life I had been suffering through, I at first felt like a fish out of water. As if I couldn’t breathe because I didn’t know who I was without the bottle—didn’t know how to live. Perhaps naturally, I turned to what I have always turned to when I needed help with navigating life: words.
Words supported me through my sobriety. More than something to do to fill my now-sober nights, writing became a part of who I was. Stories and the human connections made from them became my sense of spirituality, gave life a bigger purpose for me.
After I put down the bottle and picked up the pen, I never wanted to put it down again. The pen was a tool to get words out of me, so I could get closer to me. To who I was, am and will always be: A woman who has been through a lot of traumas and challenges, but here she is, alive and writing about it. That’s important. Real important.
And so I go to my cabin every sobriety birthday, sit with my notebook and pen, basking in words and the space to just listen, observe. To engage with and be intrigued by language. Finding the words to find me—the real me. The writer who no longer needs a drink to write—she just needs a thought. A concept. A phrase. A real good word.
So, as I hear this hidden stranger claim he has a real fish, I laugh and then soak in the fact that language uplifts me—that language is me—and then I get back to the life I’m finally living, pen in hand.
«RELATED READ» RECOVERY COMMUNITY: Help for recovering addicts during the COVID-19 pandemic»
1 Image by Suzi Wilson from Pixabay 2 Photo from PxHere