9:47AM: I poured myself a third shot of vodka.
In the office, I sat alone at the beat-up, IKEA desk we’d purchased on Craigslist. I felt appropriately contained in the tiny, windowless room at the back of the restaurant where I was the general manager. I’d come in early to write the schedule for the servers. The peak of Summer, it was hot. The air in the hall was thick with the rancid stink of the hamper, filled to the brim with dirty kitchen linens, which sat, a palpable presence, just outside the sliding office door.
The previous evening’s service had been a busy one. I’d stayed late with the chef-owner and drank. When the last customers left we turned up the music and laughed at our own jokes. Later, I took a cab home, drank more still, and blacked out. I woke up in my clothes, on the couch in my living room, my cat staring at me from her perch on the armrest. I splashed water on my face, brushed my teeth, changed, and reapplied my mascara quickly before returning to the restaurant.
And then, I was back in that office, as if I’d never left. Three shots in. And, suddenly, I was terrified. After printing the schedule and pinning it up on the cork bulletin board, I felt sick. Was this how the rest of my life was going to be? Drunk, still accomplishing my tasks with ease? The static motion of mediocrity in which no one challenged my insanity?
One of the cooks walked up to his locker and looked into the office, his eyes darted from my face to the the bottle of Seagram’s Extra Dry that sat beside a staunch, little cocktail glass, still wet from my last sip, for which I made no excuse. “Hair of the Dog?” he asked, laughing. I smiled.
But, it wasn’t. It wasn’t Hair of the Dog. — That was what I had become.
That day, was the day I became Willing. Willing to do whatever I had to do to be something other than what I was. It hadn’t been the day of my arrest, five months earlier, it hadn’t been an embarrassing or violent episode, it hadn’t been a blackout. — It was me, realizing the devastating normalcy of alcohol’s place in my daily life. It touched everything and nothing at all.
My life had become varying states of disconnectedness. I could do my job, see my friends, feed my cat. But, I was gone. Somewhere that, even I, could no longer find. I’d become something, I was no longer someone. I was a machine, and the cost of my fuel had left me penniless.
Willingness, this month’s theme in our Year of Happiness, is a concept that is often lumped-in with something else: Desire. When we want something, when we truly desire it — we tell ourselves that we’re willing to do anything for it. But, that isn’t true. Willingness is something that goes beyond desire. It is the turning point at which one is enabled to act. — To change.
I spent months dissecting my own desire to get sober. I went to 12-Step meetings and then, immediately following, b-lined to bars where I got shitfaced. I would go for 24, sometimes 36 hours without a drink, and then would stand at my kitchen sink and gulp down a full tumbler of Jim Beam, neat, like a glass of water. I had all this desire. — But, was unwilling to change.
How I came to be willing on that Summer morning in the restaurant office, I still don’t know. People have told me that Willingness comes from divine intervention, desperation, or love. I’m not sure that my Willingness was born from any one of those things. And, truthfully, it’s not really important to me that I discover my Willingness’ origin.
When we talk about Happiness and a means to finding it, we cannot avoid facing our own Willingness. We’ve been told Happiness is a choice — and it is. But, it’s possible make choices without being willing to act on those choices.
Willingness is our final phase of reconciliation before action. Without action, nothing changes. So, Willingness becomes the final impetus, the push that will begin the journey from Point A to Point B. And, maybe you’re curious — What does Willingness look like? Where will you find it? What must you do to become willing?
I wish I had the answer to those questions. I don’t. Not for you, anyway. Willingness is perhaps the most elusive and personal concept we’ll explore during this series. Because, what drives us to change — is something buried so deep within us, that even when we try to communicate it to someone else, we struggle in finding the right words.
What was the difference between the feeling that I never, ever wanted to drink again and actually walking into that same office where I had been piss drunk, days earlier, and giving my boss one month’s notice because I’d enrolled myself in a rehab program? — I cannot describe it. Willingness is an unpredictable internal catalyst. It’s sly. My Willingness came to me when I was already three sheets to the wind. A voice whispering in my ear, telling me that I was more than a sad drunk, and that the vacancy I had allowed myself to exist in, was wasted space.
This month, I will not advise you on how to find the Willingness that makes it possible for you to unearth your own Happiness. How you will go about uncovering that mysterious piece, is the part of the story only you can write.
On that Summer morning, after all the cooks arrived and began their prep and my servers were on the floor mopping under tables and brewing big carafes of coffee, I stepped outside and sat in my usual spot at the picnic table closest to the side door. I propped my feet up on the bench, my black Vans with white polka dots punctuating my legs like a sentence. I lit a Parliament, and with each drag off my cigarette, I could taste the cheap vodka I’d drank earlier that morning.
And, I still remember looking up into the hot sun, knowing, if I could just make it one more month, I’d never have to feel that way again.