Chris DeLine

Cedar Rapids, IA

Terra Incognita (Terminally Unique, Pt. 21/21)

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The last chapter, titled “Clarity,” is where I originally ended things in 2012, and for the better part of a decade I’ve regretted writing that ending the way I did. To be clear, what bothered me most about my conclusion was using a clichéd premise to try to wrap everything up into a neat and tidy package. To say “there’s no looking back” wasn’t true then and it’s not true now. While I don’t tend to stew in the past as much as I used to, recovery goes hand in hand with looking back regularly, if only to use that as a measure of where you’re at now, what to avoid, and how to proceed. In fact, this project itself has largely been one mammoth exercise in looking back, paradoxically leaning into one of the darkest aspects of my past in an attempt to move beyond it. I was truly uncertain about where all this might lead when it began, yet now that it’s over, I’m not entirely sure what’s to be made of it.

When I wrote Believed to Be Seen, I felt like there had to be a proper ending to the piece, as if the lesson learned needed to be concrete, with old habits conclusively resolved and a new life visibly arising from the ashes of catastrophe. To some degree that’s a consideration now, too. Part of my intention behind this project has been to right a past where I mistakenly tried to frame myself as some sort of authority on the subject of recovery, despite having only just barely gotten sober, myself, at the time of its release. This time around, I feel like I’ve cornered myself into a position of having to convey my thoughts with some level of profundity for the project to feel worthwhile. I’ve written, re-written, and re-written this chapter again, but none of what I came up with felt quite right.

In one version of this chapter, I refocused my thoughts around perfectionism, once again, and other issues that are still present for me, which this writing has helped illuminate. Another tangent I wanted to run with used last year’s sexual assault allegations against Russell Brand to leverage my point about the human factor being the greatest downside to the Program of Alcoholics Anonymous. I wasn’t taken aback by that news because I’d assumed his sense of integrity to be flawless and unwavering, but because of how much I’d leaned on his perspectives, myself. I don’t even mean just in this project, but in my own recovery. The way he framed language helped me better digest the meaning of A.A.’s antiquated literature, which aided me in my own recovery process. I, in turn, championed his book to others because of that (and referenced his work frequently through this very project, itself). I don’t know what to do with that though. There were dozens of other quotes and passages and ideas I’d saved for this concluding chapter, but the more time I spent with it, the less essential any of it became to actually ending this project. Piling on with more of other people’s ideas as intellectual ammunition in support of my own recovery process is definitely a practice bearing diminishing returns.

Trying to distance myself from it all, I started thinking about this project as a culmination of all the experiences, opinions, insights, and reactions I might have been able to muster in response to a document of the first time I tried to write myself sober. And to that end, I feel good about this. In the final version of this chapter that I scrapped, I wrote to myself asking, “Can I be okay with letting go?” I think so. I think I’m good with that. I don’t feel a particularly significant connection to “my story” anymore, but in reflecting on it all I’m filled with a tremendous sense of gratitude. I’ve gained so much by stopping drinking and the path I’ve taken between there and here has, and continues, to provide me a life worth living. It’s a truly remarkable thing when I stop to consider all of what’s happened, and the countless ways my life could, and probably should, have ended, but didn’t. And for as much as I’m itching to move beyond this subject matter and let go of what no longer serves me, revisiting everything that went into this project has helped provide a blueprint for how to move forward without perpetually getting in my own way. I know I’ll always have this here, for those moments when it does serve me to look back; for the moments where I need to remember; and for the times where I need a reminder of what it was like. Armed with a healthy dose of self-doubt, I’m signing off here by recognizing that I know my past still speaks to a history of inconsistent living, or one aligned with a vision for a future that could be possible, if only it weren’t for my failures to help myself out along the way. Nasty habits or poor decisions aren’t life sentences though, and if I’ve learned anything over the past decade it’s that I’m capable of a lot more than I give myself credit for. Thinking about stepping into the unknown of this sort of vision for the future, I’m reminded of one of my favorite lyrics, which says, “We live to survive our paradoxes.” Or, at least, that’s the hope.

Terminally Unique - Alcoholism - AA - Addiction

Terminally Unique is available in its entirety here.

[The track opening the episode is called “styles.”]