One of the books laying around my household is the Alcoholics Anonymous trusty little Hazelden book Twenty-Four Hours a Day. In many senses, this (along with the AA “Big Book”) have to be considered the first self-help books ever widely used. “24HAD” is actually a swell piece of literature, especially for 1954: tiny enough to go in your shirt pocket (or thrown in a suitcase), with bite-size nuggets of information that cater nicely to the attention spans of latter-day readers.
While Tessa drifted off to sleep, I cracked open the book and was immediately flooded with memories of my own despondency, and had a very quick, fleeting cognitive resonance with some poor soul reading these chapters for real, some woman in some other part of the country at this very moment, whose life was actually falling apart, with these pages offering the only glue available at this time of night.
This is the first meditation in the book:
You are so made that you can only carry the weight of twenty-four hours, no more. If you weigh yourself down with the years behind, and the days ahead, your back breaks. [The higher power of your choosing] has promised to help you with the burdens of the day only. If you are foolish enough to gather again that burden of the past and carry it, then indeed you can’t expect [the higher power of your choosing] to help you bear it.
Now, you don’t have to be an alcoholic to live in constant shame. I can barely make it through my second Jaeger shot, nursing nothing but girl drinks for years, and I still feel incredible bursts of humiliation at the way I’ve acted over the decades. I think of the stupid things I said at That Internet Job. I think of the way I treated that girl on 86th Street. I remember how quickly I ridiculed homosexuals in high school, and how I picked on Betty Kurtz in 4th grade because she was the only person lower on the social totem pole than me.
The thing is: it’s a good thing I’m not an alcoholic, because I think I’d still be one. I find it pretty much impossible to let go of all the shame that bears down on me, not because I need to remember all of these things in order to be a better writer, but because I’m afraid of being blindsided by an event I had forgotten. If someone comes up to me and says “you left me to rot,” I need to be able to say, “you are correct, sir, and I continue my penance.” I may be an asshole, but don’t think I don’t remember.