In recovery circles it is called, “pulling a geographic.” While sharing their stories about the past and living the inebriated life, many addicts and alcoholics learn that they have done similar things. (Although I am the only person I know of who stole a commuter train. For only five feet, but still. Sorry, Metro-North.)
One of the things that many of us did a lot of when we were trying to exert control over life was run from it. Move. Sometimes cross-country. There was nothing so bad it couldn’t be fixed without filling out a change-of-address card.
Some might call this “running away from one’s troubles,” and those “some” people would be correct, somewhat. At the time, I did not see things that way. I was “taking advantage of new opportunities.” And now, I am grateful for all that I have seen; as I have written somewhere, if I am content-verging-on-happy about my life now, and I am, how can I resent my past? I hate some things that happened to me, some things that were done to me, and some things I did, but I no longer yell at ghosts. (Understand, my life is pretty not-entangled, given that I do not yet have children.)
By the oldest of old-fashioned reckoning—you know, counting on my fingers—I have resided at more than 20 addresses in six counties across three states in two time zones. (This includes three residences in five-and-a-half years in recovery.) And there are about a half-a-dozen “I almost lived there” cities that sit in my memory like books unread on a shelf in a library I no longer have a membership card to: Two suburbs of Boston, Massachusetts; Jersey City, New Jersey; Sheboygan, Wisconsin; Nashville, Tennessee.
Each one of those place-names sounds to me like a bullet whistling past my head, an anecdote of a disaster that I did not have to watch unfold in front of my eyes as if I was a bystander in my life instead of a participant. I had enough disasters in the places in which I resided; and, yes, I might have found recovery in any one of those fine cities and be celebrating many more years of recovery than I have, but I did not. Life is perfect where I reside, even in its many imperfections.
Oh! and California. I had a few job interviews with newspapers in the Bay Area. It was the late 1990s and several friends and acquaintances had moved to the Golden State. (Matt Coleman.) By the late 1990s, several had moved back to New York, of course, but not all. I have yet to set foot west of Sedona, Arizona.
Wherever I moved, the fact of successfully landing a new job, which was always the spur for any change in residence for me, carried with it the idea that I was a success in this life and had no problems ticking away in my psyche. “Sometimes sooner, sometimes later,” as the saying goes, this hubris that masqueraded as self-knowledge always resulted in the loss of employment, change of address, loss of friends.
(I never consumed on the job. I always drank off the clock. But at some point, those two facts will be over-ridden by a combination of two others: how much one consumes off the clock and how little one produces on the job. Here’s an illustration of the progression of addiction: I liked to drink as a celebration of my successes. I worked hard and earned it, went my thinking. Publish something? Go out, get congratulations from people, drink. Finish writing something? Okay, great, you’ll submit it tomorrow. Go out, get congratulations from people, drink. Get pretty far into an assignment? It’s late, you’ll get it done tomorrow. Go out, congratulate people, drink. Start something? Cool. Go out, con … people, drink. Button your shirt correctly on the first try? Drink alone. Go out tomor … soon.)
I never fooled myself into believing that I was indispensable, but did I have to prove it so often to the world at large?
Wherever I went, there I wasn’t, completely. Five-and-a-half years off that hamster wheel, and I feel like I can make it anywhere.
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This first appeared in December 2014.
The WordPress Daily Prompt for November 5 asks, “You’re going on a cross-country trip. Airplane, train, bus, or car? (Or something else entirely—bike? Hot air balloon?)”
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