Walking in the aftermath of a late January snow storm before the sun rise was brutal. Windchills were in the negative teens and being on a lake surrounded by empty corn fields the term “blistering cold” finally made sense as the gales relentlessly slapped me across the face. My eyes were uncomfortable and I honestly wondered if they were going to freeze in their sockets. My beard was stiff, white and felt like a mask of pine needles stuck to my face with sap. I tried taking my hands, adorned with gloves that had the fingertips cut off and an attached mitten hood to cover them, out of my pockets to take pictures but my fingers became difficult to move after more than a minute outside their shell. My nose ran, and froze, ran again, and froze again.
I slipped and fell at one point, on a plowed road, under no extraordinary circumstance other than I had taken a step too wide. Turns out walking in snow is a lot like sobriety, baby steps, one at a time. I imagined all the faces in the windows, coffee cups pressed to their lips, warm cheeks, pajamas still on, laughing at me and wondering what the hell I was doing out walking alone in the cold. Wondering if they should call the police on this weird looking guy in their neighborhood they’d never seen before taking pictures and wearing entirely the wrong clothes for the weather. I felt like a fucking tourist. I picked myself up, brushed off the snow, and continued my walk towards the lakeside so I could catch the first glimpses of day break, now with much more purposeful steps.
My headphones had been left behind so I could experience everything, concentrate on where I was and how it felt. This has been a challenge given to me by my therapist over and over again, to be in the moment. But there were few things to listen to. The most jarring were the rasping pine trees. Loud and unpleasant, like old men grumbling about the good old days, the trees creaked, whistled and whined as the wind swept them clean of the snow that had piled on their branches the night before. It was angry with violence boiling underneath the surface, a tension and anticipation of a cracking branch at any moment.
Under those powerful, groaning trees was the sound of the snowdrifts playing, a tinkling of ice that was sharp but delicate. It was louder in the places absent of the wooden giants, and beautiful to watch as the wind swirled and painted with the top layer of white. Unlike wind chimes it was more of a smattering of tiny bells, chaotic with the sheer volume of strikes surrounding you. The accompanying piercing wind did not help make the soundscape any more beautiful however. If the wind blew just right those shiny little bastards felt like they were penetrating every layer of clothing I had on.
Footsteps were so loud. They reminded me of walking in the desert in December, the crunching sand the only thing I could hear. But in the snow this became deafening. It felt as if it echoed across the fields every time my boots broke through to another layer of unmarked road. “People hunt in snow,” I thought. “That must be impossibly hard,” I wondered. “I will have to hunt in snow soon,” I worried.
Last, the phrase “sound of silence” stayed in my thoughts as I reached my destination, the frozen lake a mile from where I started, facing east into the now orange and purple sky. Silence filled the air, oppressively. It was padded like an old mattress but open like an auditorium. Empty only by definition because it lacked sound, it somehow was still tangible. Darkness may be the absence of light, but silence in that white, cold, dead landscape was not just the absence of sound, it was its own ominous chorus of isolation.
The walk back was harder, the wind was coming from the west. My cheeks hurt and I had to look everywhere but where I was headed. As the sun continued to rise behind me the wind took the opportunity for one last deep exhale and pushed me around like a straw man as I worked my way back up the hill. I cussed quite a bit each time it shoved. I took my hands out of my pockets to cover my face but that only made my fingers hurt, and I wasn’t sure which was worse. So I cussed some more. And made it home covered in snow. In this moment I understood why a mudroom was not the same as a foyer, and felt bad about using my host’s foyer as a mudroom.
I’ve cried in two of my last three therapy sessions because things are so new and hard right now. Dealing with responsibility sober, knowing you have to face your problems tomorrow instead of just getting drunk and abandoning them tonight, is like fighting a fucking dragon with half your armor. And you’ve got a sword but you sure as shit weren’t trained to use it, you’re just making it up as you go. That’s an exaggeration, I know, but I don’t know what the hell I’m doing half the time and the other half I’m inundated by how much effort it takes having patience with things once you do figure them out.
Last night trying to fall asleep I thought about how I don’t really feel “sober.” I am still having trouble identifying with “alcoholics” because they seem so impassioned by their plight and their cause, and frankly I don’t. I want to drink. I want to be alone. I want to burn this all to the ground. I’m not excited to figure out who I am and build a new life because the uncertainty is terrifying. It’s not all bad. There is happiness, wonder and beauty in between. There’s a lot of love and compassion with the people I’ve been reconnecting with. But the amount of time I spend thinking about drinking, and have to forcefully shove it down, feels like an eternity. There’s not really any hope that I’ll arrive at a day when I don’t wonder how much better things look from the other end of a bottle.
I suppose I didn’t have to go out this morning so early. I didn’t need to walk through all this snow to verify that yeah, it’s cold dumbass. That when the world is covered in ice it tends to be desolate and uninviting, even if it looks beautiful from somewhere safe and warm. That experience of feeling alive, though, was what I was searching for. An ambush of physical feedback to drown out the thoughts in my head. Doing something that made me feel uncomfortable because it would be a complete escape. Pain, to put it succinctly. Even if people wiser than me said it would be all the things I discovered. Even if 99% of everyone else thinks it’s insane. At least it was simple. At least it was natural. At least it didn’t require making any decisions.