Six Years’ Sober

Six years ago, I went to a retreat center on top of a mountain in a last ditch effort to get sober. I was there for 8 days. Here’s what I wrote while I was there:

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

I’d never heard of an Ayurvedic massage, not before my self-imposed rehab at a mountain retreat that promised yoga, meditation, vegetarian food, and healing. No meat or alcohol allowed on the premises.

It was here on a table, on top of a mountain so high that we often walked through clouds, that silent women anointed my body — my forehead, my palms, my feet — with warm, fragrant oil. Their skilled caresses and the lull of soft Indian music made me feel like I was in another world.

Like anything might happen.

I vaguely remembered something about the anointing of saints, of Jesus. I read later in the Ayurvedic literature in my room that it was a call for healing. For miracles.

I wondered if the silent women could feel how desperately I needed a miracle. I knew, though, looking in the mirror later, that desperation was a feeling that I could no longer summon up. Instead, a familiar numbness clouded my mind, obscuring what used to be concern for my own wellbeing.

“Miracles happen here,” claimed the retreat’s website.  I needed one for myself, no doubt. But also some to bless those I had damaged with my need to anoint myself with wine.

During my final days at the spa, I was anointed for the last time. Afterward, the woman wrapped steaming towels around my head and feet so that I was covered in a shroud of white, with a sheet wrapped tightly around my body.

Like a corpse I thought. The anointing of the dead.

It’s up to you, she seemed to say.

I could take this blessing from the gods and hold it tight forever. Or release it and turn away. Let the unforgiving tide roll in and take me out to sea.

I want to hold on.