Batter Up

One hundred and eight is the number of prayer recitation beads in at least three faiths and the number of sun salutations. It is the number of feelings we recognize and the alcohol proof of Wild Turkey Rare Breed Bourbon Whiskey. One hundred and eight is the number of stitches on a baseball and the number of lessons that can be found in that game for managing an alcoholic life.

This summer, in 54 innings and counting, while my seat neighbors follow games on the scoreboard and in the program, I have been taking commentary from Mickey Mantle. With his memoir “All My Octobers” tucked inside me, I have watched baseball as a metaphor for alcoholism come to. Even with the togetherness for which it is known, baseball is a game of aloneness. No one can field the ball that is yours, or correct the pitch that leaves a catcher’s mitt empty because the ball you threw met the bat instead. And when you are granted a walk, only you know how much you might make of that unexpected chance.

Over time, every game is reduced to an inning. Errors, outs, hits and runs are absorbed by final scores. Players are ultimately described by career averages that don’t reflect their best moments. The ones for which they are remembered. Like a hit that turned around a series, or a catch that became the reason for the transfer of a pennant from defending champions to a team long-in-waiting. It is the highs and lows in equal measure that craft the forward to our time at play. 

Like in baseball, a life with alcoholism has its wins and losses. Too often, the decisions not taken that could have changed the game are forgiven. And forgotten. While some can stay in the game longer because of a strong support system, good health or luck, only one in ten people with alcoholism ever round home plate. The others remain on base, hoping the next hit will bring them closer. Some never take a swing. 

Swenny will not even pick up the bat. When confronted again this week about his escalating drinking, he is choosing to wait. For me to either change the subject or deliver an expectation that doesn’t send him away from home. A sober house? Rehab? He has tried those, he tells me, and they didn’t work. When I suggest he consider getting a place of his own, there is no response at all.

So that leaves me in a batting order of one. Before I step up to the plate, though, I am going to take a lesson from number seven and kneel first in the on-deck circle. To take in all that is at play so that my approach has purpose. Because if it’s true that grace bats last, I need a hit.

“Thank God for Baseball.” ~ Mickey Mantle

At Sea

As the spouse of a man with alcoholism, I fish. For bottles, for lies and for acknowledgments of a struggle in which we remain firmly anchored. My instinct is my line, and I cast it in rhythm between sobriety and relapse.

Where once I was prolific, my line is now slack, opposed only by my continued relentlessness. Daily searches turn up nothing despite my knowing that the evidence is there. No longer under our roof, though, as Swenny now moors his drinking elsewhere. Not, however, in his car while at work. And not in the parking lots of the stores he frequents. I know because I have checked.

And for what? I am already surrounded by a sea of evidence so vast that it leaves me keening. Not only for the alcoholism it first revealed but for the depths to which I will go to find it. To prove what I already know is true. What good can come from finding one more bottle? Or catching him in another lie? Or telling my own to draw from him information he won’t willingly share?

Like Santiago in the Old Man and the Sea, I’ve gone too far and am ill-prepared for the expanse of the hunt I have taken on. In the midst of evidence collected over two-plus decades, I can’t help but look back to where we started. And see a point of no return.

This summer, especially as the relationships between Swenny and our children strengthen even in light of his continued drinking, I wonder why I am so intolerant of relapse. My need to add to what I have already collected in order to corroborate the persistence of his alcoholism is drowning my hope that things might one day be different. With me and my endless fishing to blame, it could be time to replace my bait. To exchange relentlessness with something gentler. Like acceptance. And a desire to see things another way. Maybe then I will catch a bit of the truth skimming the water instead of the lies feeding at the bottom.

“It’s silly not to hope. It’s a sin he thought.” ~ The Old Man and the Sea