Tuesday, August 23, 2011

the telephone

I loathed the telephone.

Eight months ago, if someone asked me to call her or him, I would groan inside.

Seriously? Can't we just email like civilized people?

Sometimes I still loathe it. Except that when I first sought help with my sobriety, someone gave me a list of phone numbers and told me to call three numbers on the sheet every day. Three.


I didn't think it would help. I mean, call a complete stranger and talk about how hard it is not to drink? It seemed like madness or torture. In the early days after I quit drinking, I would stare at the phone and wonder who I should call, and what I should say. So confused and ashamed, I usually called no one. I finally asked someone what I was supposed to say when I called.

"Say, 'I'm calling you because someone told me to call three people on this list to stay sober and I'm doing it.'"
"Well, that's a little rude."
"No, it isn't. It is honest. Pretending you have crap to talk about is both lying and thievery."
"Remember that five minute, bullshit story that girl told us a few minutes ago? She stole five minutes of my life I will never get back. When you call, be honest. People will appreciate not having to chitchat. Then they will pick up your calls. One day you may call because it is the thing between you and a bottle of booze."

I didn't want to drink again. And I hadn't managed to remain sober out of my own stubborn will. I mean, I had for a while, but not forever. My father is an alcoholic. My uncles. My grandmother. On both sides, this disease runs rampant. I knew exactly what tomorrow was going to look like, a year from now, a decade...it was not going to be pleasant for me or my kids. Alcoholism is not a tidy, quaint way to die.

All of the alcoholics in my life were exactly like me--isolated and isolating. I realize now that that is part of the disease of alcoholism. The drink wants you alone, sad, full of resentments. The drink wants the drink. Nothing else, and it will take out anything in its way.

I guess it should be no surprise that after Lucia died, I couldn't reach out to friends, and I let their inability to reach out fester in me.  When my friend said it was my turn to call six months after she stopped talking to me, but failed to tell me she was mad at me, or there were issues between us, I felt righteous indignation. She didn't tell me she was upset, or it was my turn to call, or that I should reach out to her. And it didn't occur to me that I should call her. My daughter died. I shouldn't have to call anyone particularly when I loathe the telephone. And it is all about what is comfortable for me. (That is sarcasm.) I thought everyone wanted to talk on the phone but me. I have come to realize lately that people call because they want to stay in touch, not because they love the telephone. (Yes, I'm a fucking idiot.)

I was given the gift of desperation. I was desperate for sobriety, for changing who I was. See, as much as I talk about my friends, something I realized after Lucia died was the only common denominator between any of them was me.

My daughter died. That fact did not relieve me of the necessity to be a decent human being and a good friend. I wanted my friends back. I wanted me back. I wanted to stop feeling the way I was feeling--angry, resentful, sad, alone, lonely, isolated, isolating.

We hold on to things that allow us to drink.Let go of resentments and you begin to let go of the things that justify addiction and alcoholism. And so I called three strangers every day.

It wasn't so bad.

In fact, it was good and a good skill to hone. Now I pass my phone number out to anyone who will take it. I really don't mind the phone anymore. I even email my phone number to women and men who just come into this community, because hearing a living human being breathing on the other end of the phone, who cries with you, that is fucking important some days. Sometimes when I would call people from my list, they would talk about themselves the entire time, and that was a gift. Other people struggle with alcoholism, most of them struggled with grief too. Grief and alcoholism tie together in an ugly, whopperjawed grey-colored bow.

That is one thing I wish I could have reiterated over and over again to friends after Lucy died--that I really wanted to hear about them. All the time. I wanted to be trusted to be a friend again. It is a space where I am most comfortable--to listen, rather than talk. I am not built for sharing my emotions. My people are stony and hardworking. That is why the blog became such an important part of my grief, because the computer gives me enough distance between you and me to share what I am feeling. To cry without the gawking.

But the phone, the phone has taught me to listen as well as talk. To be a better friend. Sobriety has given me many gifts, constant stream of gratitudes, but the most important is that I am learning how to be more human. And I believe the phone has given me a gift of being able to express my emotions in real life a little more easily. To sit with my own emotions, not just other people's.

I am learning.


  1. I like email better than the phone too, even though I am getting better too.

  2. I love how candidly you are able to talk about your battle with sobriety.
    I am notorious for having a conversation through texts. I never answer the phone, and rarely return calls. It doesn't help that i have a 1 year old that gets in my personal space and tries to have a conversation as well.

  3. I hate the phone as well. Always have. I think that week having to tell people she was going to die, and then telling people she was dead did me in. I didn't talk to anyone -- phone, email, in person, or otherwise -- for about two months afterwards. I always wonder when I call people when they see my id if they think I'm calling with bad news.

    I actually like talking to people too, but I like the face to face. Which I suppose is difficult to coordinate without a phone. Thank goodness for this neighborhood where I can find interaction pretty much any time I leave the house.

  4. This post gave me the strength to call a friend and cry. Thank-you.

  5. I love the phone. I realize that makes me odd.


    Email is so often full of misunderstandings and missed connections. I cannot temper my temper with humour in email

    Phone is real. Voice is real.

  6. I have come to realize lately that people call because they want to stay in touch, not because they love the telephone.

    WAIT! What????

    Seriously, this was kind of a revelation to me, thank you for sharing it. Obviously, I have a very trying relationship with the phone and phone conversations. I just don't like to do them. But you've got me thinking now about readjusting that, for my own good, so thank you.


  7. I am that person that will text you 20 times rather than pick up the phone. My brother, my mother, they hate it. They call. I resent the rings. It's not the talking that bothers me, it's the finally getting to the point. Why did you call? What do you need? If the need is "I need to hear your voice," then that's fine. But I need to know what's expected of me.

    I feel like I am always on the defensive on the phone. I have to answer to someone whether or not I want to.

    And yes, like Tash, there is much residual left over from having to share that news.

    Lately, I've been trying to get better about answering voice messages, returning calls rather than defaulting to text or email. But Ang, you are so right - why am I assuming that anyone ELSE wants to be on the phone? That this is some beloved object that only I can't manage? I appreciate this post.

    And I appreciate your honesty tracking your journey in sobriety. You are raising a lot of questions for me, internally. And that's not a bad thing.

  8. I still, a lot of the time, let the phone ring rather than answer. Part of it is the awkward silences. When you are talking to someone face to face, you can have companionable silences but not on the phone. ON the phone there needs to be an exchange of information going on and I forgot that for a while. I never remembered to ask the other person about their life or how they were doing because it was too hard to come out of my Emma grief bubble an remember that the person on the end of the line had a life too. Now it's a bad habit.

  9. Yes, can't we all just e-mail like civilized people? Too funny. I'm just the same. But it is probably time that I picked up the phone again. At least once in a while...

  10. I hate the phone, too. I never really liked it before, though I do enjoy talking to some people on it, once I've made myself pick it up and dial. I'm grateful, though, for people like you who've faced down the phone, especially because you're so very right - sometimes the voice of a living human being is profoundly comforting.

    I wonder sometimes if it's a generational thing, if my daughter and her friends will grow up so used to watching and listening to each other on video phones that she'll think my phone aversion is strange, alien, a marker of an older, stodgier time.

  11. OK, big duh here for me, but I never realized so many people hate the phone too! I have turned into a phone hermit in recent years. I used to be good, but lately . . . well, it's a shortcoming of mine.

    Thank you so much for sharing this post. You are so freaking rad, and I continue to learn from and be inspired by you every day.


  12. I used to love the phone. Love it. Both making and receiving calls and I think I can honestly say, before Hope died I don't think I'd ever really screened a call. It was the "compulsive communicator" in me that I talked about in my Glow post. Now, I've had a complete about face. Hate the thing. Texting and checking emails sure, but making and receiving calls? No thanks. Unless it is to order take out. Or speak to my mum or sister.
    I wasn't even the one who had to make any of "those calls" when Hope died but in the past three years since she left us, I have just found it impossible to pick the thing up. Yeah, I much prefer email, seems far more civil as you say. And I'm also ok with face to face, if people really want to talk and if I really want to listen, but the phone, I just don't love it like I once did. And I wish friends would understand. Though, to be fair, I don't think I've ever really told any of them, though I think many of them are finally starting to figure it out. My phone has been running hot for a week now since Juliet was born and even though people want to talk about happy things, I'd still rather not.
    That said though, you can call me any time of day, Angie. Time differences be damned.

  13. Yet another here who hates the phone.Lots here to consider, thank you Angie. x

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