Warm-and-fuzzy feel-good stories were my bread and butter throughout my career as a journalist (RIP, “The Good in Sports,”) which is funny, because in my personal life, I’ve always been partial to dark subject matter.
My entertainment obsessions include Cormac McCarthy novels, Coen Brothers movies (dark comedies are my absolute jam), true crime docudramas, bleak 90s grunge rock (RIP, Layne Staley), and TV series filled with complicated, conflicted protagonists who both battle and indulge their demons. The Tony Sopranos, Walter Whites, Ser Jaime Lannisters of the world…they’re not purely evil people, and yet they’re not above leaving chaos, devastation and bloodshed in their wake. Somehow, they make you root for them, even though they frequently act like assholes and occasionally scare you to death.
Speaking of which, I’m soooo looking forward to the new season of “Fargo,” which apparently premieres on FX next month, because I’m pretty sure my husband will move out if I spark up one more re-watch of “The Sopranos,” “Breaking Bad” or “Game of Thrones.”
Sitting here now, looking at things through the lens of eight months of sobriety, I see some clear commonality in the stories I used to tell and the stories I like to follow: namely, the redemption arc.
You know how the plot device works: Subject overcomes obstacles, either self-imposed or beyond his/her control, by actively fighting for a better future. They find a way from darkness into light, make good out of what was bad, and maybe even morph from a villain into a hero in the process. They say they’re sorry, and they’re forgiven. …Or maybe they can’t get out of their own way and die a tragic figure.
Did I say I used to tell those stories? Clearly, I’m living — and writing — one of them right now.
What is recovery from addiction if not a darkly comedic redemption story?
You’ve seen “Intervention,” right? You watch addicts stumble, wail and thrash around like feral beasts, blowing their lives all to hell, destroying their relationships and family systems, going to jail, losing their homes, prostituting themselves, maybe falling off a few curbs or pooping on parked cars…and then, hopefully, they recognize the error of their ways and turn it all around at the end. The show closes with emotional reunions and hopeful declarations over a Christian Contemporary soundtrack…and we hold our breaths as the final words flash on the screen, telling us whether or not the addict stayed sober.
They did?!? Exhale. Happy tears. Change the channel. Preferably to something with blood in it.
TV can package it up in a neat little 45-minute box and tie it up with a bow. Real-life redemption, I’ve found, is an ongoing, never-ending journey of one step in the right direction, one good choice followed by another, and maybe staying stuck in one place for a while, struggling not to make wrong choices that you know will lead you in reverse.
Right now, I am 245 days into that journey, and while I’m beyond grateful for the distance between my feet and a sometimes cringe-worthy past, I know I’m only as good as my next move.
Unfortunately, you won’t ever get all the gory details of my “Intervention” episode here on this blog. I did some things that just aren’t fit for public consumption. I did things I never, ever thought Jenni Wielgus, the good little girl who wanted nothing more than to make her parents proud, would do. I hurt people I love in ways that no apology can remedy, and to restore that trust and repair those relationships, my only option going forward is what 12-steppers refer to as “living amends.”
Show them I’m committed to change, in everything I do. That’s all I can do.
If 20 years of alcoholism taught me anything, it’s that “good” people are capable of all sorts of bad shit when they indulge, rather than battle, their demons. The lines between right and wrong, angel and devil, hero and villain will blur and cross and tangle up until you’re not sure which you are or which you want to be.
If you’re fortunate, one day, you finally stop messing around and decide. And whatever future you want for yourself and the people you love, you dig in and fight for it. You don’t wait to get saved, like a fictional character in a novel or TV show. You save yourself…little by little, one day at a time.
Because addiction is part of my identity, and dark subject matter part of my past, I get to be one of those complicated, conflicted protagonists I love to follow as I write the rest of my story. By continuing along this “living amends” redemption arc, hopefully I’ll be someone worth rooting for.