Still Sober: Painting Something Beautiful

This feature originally appeared October 5, 2012, in issue 2038.

The condensation glistens on the pint-sized glass of mahogany beer. A caption on the picture lists the type of beer, and above it, announces the day: National Beer Appreciation Day. It looks like one of those perfect autumn brews.

I wish I was at that bar, with that beer in front of me, and the cold liquid in my mouth, crisp, a tad bitter, a touch sweet; and then It’s flowing down my throat and I’m feeling it in my head, this numbing, buzzing, floating feeling. It will take me up and away from the chair my back presses against; it will send me into a new and better stratosphere. A new world. A better one.

It always has had this effect on me. Wherever I was, however I was, it promised to take me away from it. It took me away from the pain and sadness of it all, or it sent me flying into a deeper sadness. You see, I knew it didn’t make me feel better. I knew damned well it made me feel worse. And that was what I was bent on doing. Destroying it all, including the good, until I didn’t have to see or feel any of it.

Sometimes I admitted it. Usually I lied. I lied to myself. After all, I was just like all the other Americans who drink beer and watch football, and if they were okay, so was I.

I sit there staring at the picture one of my friends has posted?the glistening pint glass full of beautiful brown beer?and I’m flooded by anger. It feels heavy inside me, just like how I feel after eating too much pasta. I’m angry. I’m really, really angry. Take something and throw it through a window angry . . . scream and yell and flail around on the floor angry.

Why can’t I? Why must today and tomorrow stretch into endless eternity . . . why, damn it, why can’t I hold a pint in my hand and tip it back and feel the cold liquid turn me warm inside? Why, damn it, why can’t I?

A day later, I’m driving westward for my husband’s work picnic. I knead the leather steering wheel with the tips of my fingers. I can feel every thread, and I like to rub my fingers across the stitches again and again as the road folds and rises and falls ahead of me. In a little while, I’ll be greeting people I barely know, and I’ll be fidgeting and worrying and everyone else will be drinking a cold, ice-brewed something or other.

I’ll be holding a diet soda, and I’ll rub my hand over the aluminum and try to hold on and take it all in without being afraid. And then . . . then the sadness will slam into the deepest pit of me. You know the place I’m talking about? The place where you want to mourn for something you thought you had but never really could have, should have owned? A closed-off part of you, an elusive, elemental aloneness that no bottle, no glistening pint of slightly bitter liquid could fill? It’s where some of us go to hide, pretending that with the door shut tight, we’ll find peace and love and comfort, but we know that when we open our eyes, all we’ll have is the shreds of something real, something good . . . dying slowly inside.

That’s the colour of what I’m facing. It’s all the colours from a box of children’s paints mixed in together, and when the child is done playing, there is no hue really, no beauty left, just another shade of putrid greenish-gray. And that, that my friends, is why I don’t pick up the glass and pour the liquid down my throat and wait, wait for the colours to fade.

Instead, I hold a paintbrush. I dip it into my favourite colour, which is blue, and I draw my own picture. The pain is still there, but in my mind, I envision something different . . . something better. I pick up the brush. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll paint something beautiful.

Writer E.L. Farris blogs at Running from Hell with El.