What Being Sober Has Meant to Me
June 10th, 2019
Via Brené Brown: "This last one is a quote from Mary Karr. I read it in an interview she did for The Fix. I recommend you read the entire interview – it blew me away.
'That schoolmarm part of me — that hypercritical finger-wagging part of myself that I thought was gonna keep me sober — that was actually what helped me stay drunk. What keeps you sober is love and connection to something bigger than yourself.When I got sober, I thought giving up [alcohol] was saying goodbye to all the fun and all the sparkle, and it turned out to be just the opposite. That’s when the sparkle started for me.' "
Via The Fix: "There’s this idea of the tortured artist, or of a link between depression and creativity—is that true and necessary? If so, how do you make meaningful art after recovery, if you’re no longer tortured?
Mary Karr: Well, I don’t know, maybe you don’t. I’ve been sober almost 25 years and anything anyone’s ever bought from me has been written when I was sober. If I hadn’t been, I would’ve been like David, swinging from a fucking noose. That really cuts down on your creativity. [Laughs]
When I was super depressed, I wasn’t working—I was always too depressed. Hemingway did his best work when he didn’t drink, then he drank himself to death and blew his head off with a shotgun. Someone asked John Cheever, “What’d you learn from Hemingway?” and he said “I learned not to blow my head off with a shotgun.” I remember going to the Michigan poetry festival, meeting Etheridge Knight there and Robert Creeley. Creeley was so drunk—he was reading and he only had one eye, of course, and had to hold his book like two inches from his face using his one good eye. But you look at somebody like George Saunders—I think he’s the best short story writer in English alive—that’s somebody who tries very hard to live a sane, alert life.
You’re present when you’re not drinking a fifth of Jack Daniel’s every day. It’s probably better for your writing career, you know? I think being tortured as a virtue is a kind of antiquated sense of what it is to be an artist. It comes out of that Symbolist idea, back to Rimbaud and all that disordering of the senses and all of that being some exalted state. When I’ve been that way, I’ve always been less exalted than I would have liked. [...]
Blake said, '...we are put on Earth a little space / That we might learn to bear the beams of love.' And I think, 'bearing the beams of love' is where the freedom is, actually. Every drunk is an outlaw, and certainly every artist is. Making amends, to me, is again about freedom. I do that to be free of the past, to not be haunted. That schoolmarm part of me—that hypercritical finger-wagging part of myself that I thought was gonna keep me sober—that was is actually what helped me stay drunk. What keeps you sober is love and connection to something bigger than yourself."
Serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.