First night sober in Germany

It was a really strong cup of coffee, the first one I made back at my mom’s house. It had been four years now, three since we’d last seen each other. She was worried she’d look a lot older to me but she didn’t. We both were and you can’t hide that. The video calls reveal some, but it’s like the difference between a camera’s lack of depth and what you see in person, there’s no comparison. I saw her first at the train station and we walked up the hill home, stopping at Frank’s for lunch. I got the fish special and she, the Vegetarisch. It was good to be home again in Germany.

And I ruminated on that now this first hour of the morning here alone by the dining table. This room off the kitchen, what feels to me like the heart of the house. The heart because this is where the main memories are stored, all those nights together when John was still alive, stretching back to 2004.

I hadn’t been so kind with this house the last time I was here. It didn’t feel the same, my connection to the past. I was willing to cast it all aside, to leave it behind, and said as much. Maybe I didn’t believe that but I said it anyway to make a half-truth true. I realized now I’d been wrong about that. My past was here for me still in this house, this quiet room. There was just the sound of the candle wick burning and my music. In the night lying in bed I thought the silence held me as a form of suspension, as if floating weightless. That was my sense of time too, frozen still.

And that came from the pictures all around me here of the faces I knew from a different time, stretching back. Our kids, our friends’ kids, John and Eberhard, their friends.

I had come here before and rediscovered my love of writing when I was stuck and maybe this would be like those times too. Like that time before Christmas in 2012 I sat here the same in the dark with my music, writing. I walked across the bottom of the village to the train tracks and up the himmelsleiter above the valley, the crooked stone steps through the vineyard where I heard the day’s first train coming through, the hoarse sound of brakes on metal as it came to a stop. And all that filled me with the sense I must live and write, how feeling alive and writing were connected in a way I might never fully understand but had to trust.

You don’t produce as an artist and that makes you reconsider your status. We undercut ourselves with rules and bylaws no one has written, it is all made up. It is not much different than the language we use as kids to divine the fantasies of our youth. It is called make believe.

I have forced that magic upon myself and others, it is like blowing on a flute to get the snake to uncoil. I have felt at times my life is not enough and yet too much to write about and I am happy for all I have said about it. I trust no one will write my eulogy better than me for no one will care about my life as much I do. And that is how it should be.

It was my first night sober in Germany since coming here in 2004, or before that even when I first visited Europe in 1996. Alcohol was a big part of all my travels, the romance I imagined I saw in the culture here. I was terrified to come back to this house for the triggers I expected would await me. I used THC edibles to mimic the same high I got from drinking but did it discreetly in small doses to hide the effects, and I planned to smuggle cannabis in with me to Germany when I visited last November. But I had to cancel my trip last minute and here it is August, almost another year, and I’m back clean and sober.

I asked my AA sponsor about that, was I really sober after I stopped drinking when I was using those edibles? And he said we call that “California sober”: not drinking, but still getting high. He said you need to be clean and sober. And the word clean has a funny meaning here. They said they didn’t judge in AA but the word clean had some judgment to me. I guess I did feel clean, my mind did, possibly my soul. I wanted it to be about more than just sobriety, my life, what I wrote here, but there was some smudging to do first.

It was getting light now and time to set out for my morning walk. There were two old clocks off the dining room and if mom could help me find a key I was convinced I could get them to start again. And that was important to me, the sound of the clocks ticking was like the beating of a heart.


Note: the image here is the same from my first blog post, written in our family home in Besigheim, Germany in August 2009.

Categories: Memoir, writing

Tags: , ,

16 replies

  1. Such a strong sense of a journey in this, Bill. Not just the miles, of course. But there is also stillness. I can almost hear the clock.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I love ” it is like blowing on a flute to get the snake to uncoil.” The two things probably have nothing to do with each other, but it feels like they do so we stick with the program.

    Also, “California sober”! Is it OK to be high on life?

    Liked by 1 person

    • California sober cracks me up, so California isn’t it? And you’re right they probably don’t have much to do with each other. The die hard romantic in me insists they do, thank heavens! Thanks for reading Kevin and greetings from Germany!


  3. Beautifully written – it takes me back to that room off the kitchen, the real heart of that very old house. Hugs to you and your mom.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I can kinda relate to that “reconsider status as an artist” quandary, at least on the writing side. Seems like lately it’s been more documentary and less personal experience. Maybe that’s due to not spending enough time in any one of the places I’m describing to really absorb it, digest it, and spit it back out with a personal spin. Or because I spend so much time learning the history of a place it becomes abstract – not a thing that lends itself to the vivid feels of description.

    Your little piece here reminds me of when I first discovered your blog – you wrote of Germany then, too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Dave, thanks for sharing. I have to remember to not beat myself up on the whole artist thing. Maybe for example the documentary thing vs personal experience you’re feeling now is just fine so you can ease back into the latter. I was talking with a guitarist about this recently and likened it to going into “foraging mode,” where maybe you’re not creating as much but you’re consuming to help inform what you ultimately create. One way to think about it I guess, or put a positive spin on the downtime. I like your documentaries though, for what it’s worth! Thanks for reading man!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, and documentary is kind of a fall back position for me too, as that’s nearly the only sort of writing I did before I retired. (Technical specs, manuals, memos, boring stuff like that. Not too mention novels for computers…)

        Liked by 1 person

      • Boy I know the “boring writing” myself from past work responsibilities. I’m glad to report the writing I do now for work I’m more into at least. Super grateful for that. “Love the one you’re with,” right? Write! Be well buddy!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m glad that when you go on these trips you dont leave us behind, you take us with you.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. “Clean” and “Germany” in the same sentence evokes a very explicit memory of my Oma’s laundry room. I can smell it now, just looking at that those words together.

    Liked by 1 person

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