He asked me why I was so frightened, and I told him, weeping, the first thing that came into my mind:
“I’m afraid that no one will ever love me again.” He leaned toward me with a smile of great kindness on his face, his hands clasped in front of him.
“Don’t you know?” he asked gently. “The flaw is the thing we love.”
When I read that passage in Gail Caldwell’s Let’s Take The Long Way Home, I was laying in my king-sized bed, my marital bed—a bed that took up almost the whole bedroom in my new place—save a little space to crawl in from the side.
There was a grenade of fear and grief in my body, and the words pulled out the clip. I lowered the book face down on my chest and let animal noises escape.
I’d moved into this much smaller place partially because I needed to downgrade costs when my husband moved out, but mostly because it was physically attached to the bigger home where we lived as a family, and thus the easiest possible choice for a person with no energy left to make choices. No moving trucks, no labeling, no packing or unpacking, just a hasty transfer of items via armfuls of trash bags.
I’m afraid no one will ever love me again.
I didn’t know it was my most primal fear about quitting drinking until I read it. But it was. Oh, oh, it was.
Who will ever love me again? Who will ever love me again?
I rolled the question around for months before I ever spoke it aloud as my own. Then one July day while sitting on the beach with my friend, I looked across the horizon at a barely perceptible island (it might have been a boat) and I said to him, “Love feels that far away now. It feels impossible—like a land I’ll never reach.”
He assured me that love wasn’t so elusive at all, that I, more than almost anyone he could think of, was totally in the market to be loved. He didn’t add the caveat: if you stay sober.
“Aren’t you almost at a month now?” he asked.
“23 days,” I said, my eyes fixed on the island boat. It had been over a year since I started trying to quit.
What I wanted him to say—not because I was in love with him, but because I needed someplace to disappear—was, “That’s not true because I love you,” but he didn’t say that because it wasn’t true.
The truth was, I had no idea how to disconnect men from drinking, and this was a big reason I kept drinking long after I knew I shouldn’t. For as long as I could remember the two things had been inextricably linked. Growing up, when adults in my life acted romantic it was over a bottle of wine. I was drunk the first time I had sex and more times than not thereafter. In my 20’s, drinking allowed me to forget how much I hated my body—the thing that made me undesirable. In my 30’s, it’s how I was able to connect and disconnect from my husband. It was the required precursor to interaction—the Swiss Army Knife of connection. It made me anything I needed to be in order to get what I wanted, and what I wanted more than anything else as far back as I can remember, was undying attention and love from men.
That sentence is embarrassing to write, but true. I was a girl who didn’t get the kind of love she could count on from her dad so she went searching for it in every other man. Not sex, but love. The kind that makes them go wild, change their ways, shatter their beliefs about themselves, the world, what they want.
I wanted to be every man’s siren song.
And somewhere along the way, alcohol became part of the attraction game. It had become part of me. I didn't know how the game worked—or who I actually was—without it. I didn't trust that there was a game, or a me, without it.
The flaw is the things we love.
I was okay being flawed. Deeply flawed, in fact, so long as the flaw wasn't this. So long as the flaw didn't mean I couldn't share a bottle of wine on a date, or toast champagne at a party, or ease the rough, awkward spot in a conversation my smearing it with cocktails. I was okay being flawed so long as it wasn't this flaw.
But we don't always get to choose, do we? When it comes to our flaws, just like our gifts, we don't ever get to choose. And maybe there's actually no difference between the two; one comes disguised as the other. It's up for us to choose which it is: a flaw, or a gift.
I thought about this long and hard and for many months. I thought about all the people I loved and admired most in life and I looked very specifically at whether or not what I loved and admired most about them had anything to do with the fact that they could or couldn't drink. I thought of the writers and the artists and the musicians and the philosophers. I thought about my own friends, family, colleagues. In zero percent of the cases did my love and admiration correlate with their drinking. In fact, many people on my list were actually sober (see: the author that spurred this entire train of thought). So why was I so unwilling to accept it could be true for me, too?
Why was it so unbelievable that I could be sober and loved at the same time?
It would take time, of course.
It would take time and many, many leaps of faith and learning myself all over again, or maybe for the first time.
But it would be true: the flaw would be the thing I love, too.