I’ve been trying to understand and explain to myself the concept of “hope.” In sobriety, in AA, I was told to come up with a Higher Power: some kind of force that would help me accept the fact that to some extent I was powerless in many aspects of my life. (It would be absurd to say I am completely powerless; obviously I have control over many things: I know not stick my fingers in electrical outlets, I know not to eat dirt, I am capable of picking out my own clothes… Bigger things, too: I can show love to the people I love.)
I’ve always struggled with the idea that I was powerless over alcohol because in order to drink I had to go through a series of actions: carve out some time, get dressed, get out, make sure I had money in my wallet, go to the liquor store, pick out whatever, go up to the cash register, pay, leave, drink. Ten actions here, every one a point at which I could stop. And yet, my mind seemed to have … a mind of its own. Every single step was in the blindspot of my mind; I saw nothing until it was too late. Every time. I have never bought alcohol and suddenly “came to” mentally, and sensibly poured it down the drain. But even if I had managed to do something like that, that would not take care of the obsession that made me gun through those ten steps as if something was chasing me (I was chasing me).
I had a difficult time believing in God, in those traditional concepts of God (white beard, angry), and even in the more flamboyant ones, more accessible ones where, in the context of AA, it might be suggested to see God simply as an acronym for Group Of sober Drunks. Problem was neither the white beard God nor a group of sober alcoholics was present when I was on my own with my obsession. (Sure, knowing that there’s a group of people who understand what I’m going through, is to some degree comforting but it’s not enough of a comfort to blanket the monster of my insanity that snaps at my ankles as I try to stand still.)
I needed a Higher Power that was something else. And I arrived at “hope” because that was the only idea that made sense to me – it was not tangible (so it met the white beard God requirements); it was bigger than a group of people; it was a thing that I knew the definition of but that despite its easy definition, it’s deceptive simplicity, “hope” itself was not that simple.
In Polish, there’s a saying, “Hope is the mother of Stupid” because to have hope is to sometimes suspend every evidence that the outcome of action or situation will not be positive. Hope assumes that positive will happen (“positive” as in the outcome that we most desire). One example could be someone sentenced to death who should have absolutely no reason to believe that she will live, such as a prisoner in an extermination camp. All the evidence around this prisoner shows that death is imminent and that there’s no escaping from it. Yet, hope persists even moments before entering a gas chamber. Moreover: hope can probably still exist in the said gas chamber. Hope dies only when the prisoner dies. Is that prisoner better off than the one who is hopeless, who has given up? I don’t know. But I believe in many situations hope bring can bring comfort, and relief from despair, which is the worst death of all: a spiritual death. (There are situations that I believe warrant no hope, such as death of a child, which is why I stopped believing in God in the first place, when a child I knew passed away. I’ve heard that it’s possible to still go on after that but that is not something I can understand in any way.)
When I drank and couldn’t get sober, I still had hope that I would sober up even though I couldn’t string more than 24 hours without drinking. All the evidence showed me that I was incapable of getting sober and that it was pointless to hope.
Today, hope is what gives me strength. Often, I feel very fragile. I have lost so much in the past year. I’ve lost my home, my family and I’ve definitely lost my mind. I have not recovered from all those loses. In fact, many mornings, I wake up absolutely crushed by sadness and hope is the furthest thing from how I feel about life. But what I learned so far about hope is that although it does sometimes come on its own, announces itself like a lovely surprise, most of the time I have to actively seek it out. I have to believe in it in order for it to work. Or I have to suspend all the evidence that tells me it is stupid to hope for a certain outcome. It doesn’t mean that I need to pretend certain solid realities aren’t there. For example: if I don’t get nominated for a big, fat book prize, it would be ridiculous to hope that I will once the long-list is announced.
But then there are fluid “realities” where hope is absolutely applicable, such as when I’m told something is not going to happen despite the fact that both possibility and impossibility of it happening. An example of that would be someone saying that I will not get nominated for that book prize ever. Yet, as long as I live and write, there is a possibility that I will get nominated. I’m increasing my chances of winning by both living and writing and I should not bother doubting my chances or feel hopeless about them because it didn’t happen that one time. In that way, hope keeps me going even if I happen to be a terrible writer and it would be stupid to believe I will ever win anything considering my lack of talent. Some might call it stupidity, that kind of hope against hope, but it is no less stupid than hoping in last-minute salvation of any kind. As long as hope drives me I can achieve some level of happiness – even if my belief in wining big fat prizes for my crappy writing is pitiable and perhaps it would be better to take up accounting and stop with this writing bullshit. Why? As long as I hope and as long as I hope enough to believe, it should bring me some happiness or at least some comfort. Stupidity is not what defines hope – stupidity is stepping into traffic and expecting to live. Stupidity is an alcoholic going to liquor store. Stupidity is just being stupid and it has nothing to do with hope.
I have many doubtfully possible wishes and desires. I wish for situations and outcomes, which based on previous evidence have very little chance of happening. I wish for those situations and outcomes because they tie in with what I believe will make me happy and as every human being I essentially strive to be happy. According to the evidence, my sobriety will not last and there are people in my life who accept that evidence and perhaps rightfully so – there are only so many times you can set your house on fire and apologize that you won’t do it again. Sometimes I want to drag out the good old argument about how if my alcoholism was just another disease prone to remission (relapse) such as lupus, I wouldn’t be seen as such a failure because it would be understood that being sick is not my fault. Or if I had a brain tumour that was altering my personality, turning me into an asshole, the way alcohol does, I would be relieved of my responsibility still (even if I happened to smoke). Anyway, saying, poor me, with my incurable alcoholism does not work because even if I feel it’s not fair, bottom line is: if I can’t explain what this disease is exactly, how can I expect others to understand? The best explanation I have for what it is is that I don’t have an explanation. The one way it is similar to “normal” diseases is that I can hope that it won’t kill me and that it won’t destroy my loved ones while killing me (find me a unaffected loved one of a cancer patient). Alcohol is that proverbial ticking bomb in the thrower’s hand – once it explodes, it not only takes her out but also whoever is standing close by. The only difference is that an alcoholic picks up that bomb and detonates it, where majority of people with “normal” diseases have just found the bomb in their pockets.
Anyway, hope is my sniper.
(I’ll write more later.) (I hope.)