Volunteer State- Part 5 “Suffrage”

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Somewhere between the meetings and the writing and the car rides, I learn something­­ that surprises me– I don’t actually want to shave my head. I want to want to do it, but I don’t actually want to. I know that if I do it, it won’t be free– it will take some sort of emotional toll. I think back to my little prayer the other night and I just don’t feel the need to take from myself more than I’m willing to give. I don’t want to have to recover from today if I can help it. If the means to the end of balance requires me to imbalance myself, I don’t trust it.

I especially don’t want to do it now, on new years, for the same reasons that I did want to before. To perform an act like this, on a day and in a way so steeped in symbolism and expectation would all but guarantee my failure.

In the miniscule space between the question and my decision, I’m already almost floored by how effectively I distracted my over-conscientious mind into obsessing about this question. What a ruse! What a joke! I spun an impulse into a thesis statement. All the reasons I told myself were true to a point, but the core of this desire was sheer and sharp, razor blade desperation. I guess I’m not desperate right now.

Three years ago I started the path that began with a divorce and has stirred my restless soul around almost a dozen different residences (you can hardly call them all homes). When I lost most of what I had, I gave up the rest. I had nothing and nothing to lose. But I’m not there anymore. I have a life, I have a lot to lose. It’s taken a lot of time and a lot of work to build the shaky foundation I’m navigating from now, and I know firsthand how much easier it is to destroy something than to create it. Let me be gentle with myself right now, let me not throw away what I have, even if it is just, you know, hair.

In my romantic musings, I thought that I would shave my head and then every sprig of hair that emerged would represent the new me, the clean me, the recovered me. I imagined that, if I ever relapsed I would shave it all again, a strong deterrent and an externalization of my internal progress. But would that symbolism actually be true? Its not as though the hair already on my head is soiled and any new hair would be pure. Already I have a few days of being “clean” and beyond that, I have years of growth and recovery already incorporated into my mind, body and hair. It was 7 years ago when I recited the Invictus poem in my car the whole ride home to keep me from pulling over and buying food. It was 5 years ago I went into treatment for the first time, 3 years since I found my voice and left my marriage. 2 1/2 years since I walked off my heartbreak through northern Michigan. 2 years since I bared my soul in public, flew a kite at the top of a mountain and started a new life in Detroit. It’s been 9 months since I discovered OA and found the hope of real and lasting recovery for the first time. This past year has had more healing than any before it. I’m not nowhere. I’m not nothing. I need not abandon myself to a false idol and give into vanity all the more by making it such an interminable focus. Get over it! Focus on the focus! Be good to yourself!

In this week alone, the whole question of my hair has become a brilliant distraction from the real work that I came here to do and that quite frankly, I’m doing quite nicely. The pages of this journal are full, I have an inky pinky on my left hand, I’ve plowed through 4 books, I’ve enjoyed silence and conversation, rest and wakefulness, I’m clean. This hair obsession has tempted and distracted me like a seductive potential lover, trying to get me to play hookey or cheat on my boyfriend. He tells me he wants me, he loves me, he’s the real deal, but he can offer no assurances other than the thrill of a moment. After the adrenaline rush, who knows what will be there but it won’t be true love, true commitment, true recovery.

The mind of an addict is physically different from others, with an overgrown frontal lobe and a tendency to assume that an idea implies an action. I don’t want to be a prisoner of my thoughts, I’m not wedded to something just because it occurred to me any more than I’m required to go along with someone else but because they have an opinion. I get to chose my actions, I get to chose my thoughts. I get to chose which thoughts become actions. I get to volunteer myself, or not. I get a vote here. And to choose not to do something- to abstain- while infinitely less cool, less climactic, is still a choice.

Maybe later I will do it. Later when I have a stable enough foundation to dip my toe into delightful eccentricity or, in true helplessness I grasp at this symbolic gesture of austerity and sacrifice. But I won’t do it now. With my skin rather thin, my footing so tentative. I won’t make any sudden moves with my hair any more than I’d rush into love with a stranger. Let it be a dive, not a flop, let it be a choice of determination not a spasm of desperation.

I just looked at the time and discovered that midnight has passed while I have been writing. I couldn’t have asked for a more auspicious start to the new year!


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