Niklas's blog

David Berman's letter on sobriety

PurpleMountains_PhotoByDavidBerman_0186.jpg David Berman, photographed and tweaked by himself.

A stranger tweeted this letter after David Berman died. I was given permission to reprint the entire thing on my old blog before the twitter account was suspended.

The tweet:

Seven years ago I was about to go into the hospital for detox after a really rough few years. I was scared and isolated. I sent an email to David in the dark.
His response truly helped me and I will always carry it with me.
thank you dcb#dragcity #DavidBerman

— Timrw58 (@Timothy17695396) August 8, 2019

The letter Jul 28, 2012, 6:04 PM


After detoxing are you going into a rehab program? Assuming you are, you're going to start hearing the language of AA, certain phrases and proverbs that are fairly universal in recovery. Some of these will make sense to you, some won't. Some of what you hear will bug you.

People might bug you. You may be irritable. There will be ups and downs.

My best advice would be to go along with the program. Some of what you hear will be unhelpful, some will only seem unhelpful, indicating a place where you're resistant to what you really need to hear. It takes a while. So don't draw any conclusions; stay open. Don't look at other people in the program and define them as being way more fucked up than you are. I'd advise you just to go along as if you were in the army. There isn't any chance that you'll be brainwashed or be asked to commit to a lifetime of fellowship with nervous coffee swillers. One of the things you'll hear is “take what you need and leave the rest”. That will happen naturally. You'll hear someone say something that really connects. Write it down and remember it. Part of what helps you is helping others. Breaking down your selfishness. So listen to everything, even if it doesn't seem to apply to you. If you do this right, you'll have times down the road where youll be advising someone who has no idea what to do.

One of the biggest problems is really accepting that you can't drink again. It's impossible to imagine life without. This sense of impossibility is what the phrase “one day at a time” is supposed to combat. It's like someone has brought in all the food you're going to eat in the next year. It's filling up the room, piled high to the ceiling and after being told you'll be consuming all of it a certain feeling of despair is natural. At that point you need to remember that you've eaten many rooms full of food. Our relationship to the present doesn't call for imagining 30,000 barren days of no drinking. And when you do imagine your future that way you're leaving out some very important things you cannot know: all the good things that will fill up those days, things you are completely blind to now. You're leaving out the new people you're going to meet and know. You're leaving in your drinking companions. a lot of whom you'll not be seeing much of. (if you can move to a new town or a new part of town, you should…) after you discover much of what you had in common is gone.

The good things: When you get sober you're going to start appreciating things you've been completely numb to. You'll be raw. like a newborn.

Your senses will come alive. Emotions will resurface. You'll have to relearn things you learned how to do drunk. Be patient with your new incapacities (usually things like socializing). It takes a long time for your brain to heal. The way you feel for those first six months or that first year is not the endstate. That's why you can't draw conclusions, like “so this is how it's going to be from now on”. That kind of thinking is going to make you miserable, and it will make you relapse. Your brain has stopped making certain chemicals because you've been bringing them in from the outside. Those areas come back online but it takes awhile. So there's a lot of depression at first. You can outlast it.

For me there was a lot of life to be explored: much of it for the first time as an adult. One beautiful thing was reintroducing myself to the morning, which was like a foreign country to me. How quiet the world was. The clarity of waking up and not being sick. Having all the money I wasn't spending made me feel like i'd gotten a raise.The best was how, for about a year, everytime i saw a cop car, i'd feel the old terror and then slowly realize “im not doing anything wrong.i am not intoxicated. i am not in the possession of any illegal substances. in fact that guy can't do anything to me at all as long as i stop at the lights and observe the speed limit!"I loved how that shot of fear instantly melted into an unassailable inviolability that id never experienced. “I'm just another citizen living withing my rights. I'm not trying to get away with anything!” What a sense of well-being that gave me. This stretches out to relationships. You're not lying to anyone. You're not trying to put one over.You're not hurting anyone.

But it’s tuff the first few months. Just remember that you're not experiencing sobriety until 6-9 months or a year have passed. The real benefits don't start until after that. So the way you feel now is not the real deal. People who relapse are ones who haven't figured this out. They want quick results. But it doesn't work that way.

I just kept my mind on a couple sober friends: thinking about how happy and congenial they were. Happier than they were before they were addicts, even That's why you'll hear sober people say they're glad they became addicts. It's because there's something about sobriety that makes a person better kinder and smarter than people who never had a problem in the first place. They're stronger, tougher, humbler, more compassionate, more aware, more reliable, and on and on. My number one piece of advice is don't think about giving in until a year has passed. Write off the next year as recovery time. Don't worry about career or romantic achievments. Just put your life up on blocks. Give yourself a year to heal before you draw any conclusions!