In Reading, We May Yet Return

I know that the most important thing I can do as a writer (and this may be different for other people) is to read. Because of this belief, books were once an integral part of my life; but eight or so years ago I gave them up, when I dove headlong back into addiction. And when I got sober, I just couldn’t find my way back to them.

I tried, over and over again, to reignite the spark I once had for the written word. I started reading dozens of titles — across a handful of genres — and never found myself reaching the last page of any of them. In desperation, I then turned to the beloved books that I have read more than once, only to reach the same dismal result. And I couldn’t fathom why.

Maybe it was because reading was once a hobby I shared with my husband — and when my addiction took over both our lives, he too gave it up. I thought maybe it was because I had to do so much reading for school that my brain just couldn’t process one more word (let alone an entire novel). In my darkest broodings over the matter, I often wondered if the doctors who attended to me after my last, nearly-fatal, suicide attempt had been right — I damaged my brain, and was now a self-inflicted illiterate.

But as it turns out, none of those hypothesis was correct.

A Not-So Simple Decision

In a post earlier this month, I spoke to the fact that I have decided to forego a degree path that was settled on largely for the intent of pleasing my family, and to instead pursue one that interests me — literature and writing. And following that seemingly simple (though it was anything but) decision, I found — rather surprisingly — that I could read again.

I cracked open my Kindle, found a novel about a haunting that I had purchased some time ago, and read it in 12 hours and 42 minutes, across six days. (I use the fantastic Read More app to track my reading habits, and highly recommend it.) The joy that I experienced from completing this task was overwhelming. I couldn’t believe that I had actually finished a book!

Still not confident that this wasn’t a one-off fluke of some sort, I did not share my victory with Mitch. I kept it to myself, and I opened another book. 14 hours, 59 minutes, and eight days later, it too was read from cover to cover. But in the midst of that second book, there was an unfamiliar grumbling amongst the frenetic hamsters in my head: simply stated, they wanted more books.

Meeting the Hamsters Demands

I have never been a person who reads more than one title at a time. I was always afraid that if I tried, I would lose the thread of one narrative and accidentally stitch it into the tapestry of another. But the hamsters refused to yield to this logic. Each lil’ furball demanded that they have their own damn story to read, so I gave it a shot.

Much to my delight, this maneuver actually made it easier for me to read. When the words of one book began to scratch against my skin like a new woolen sweater (as they tend to do), I simply switched to the other… and I never lost, nor misplaced the threads of either. Instead, my flickering interests were allowed to flit about in accordance with my varying reading temperament.

Invigorated by the fact that my ADHD was actually working for me for once, I added a third and then a fourth title — and before I knew it, I was reading for hours at a time without frustration or a dwindling interest in what I was reading.

But that wasn’t all that changed.

Mitch has always been very accepting of spending his time with me in any way that I see fit. He doesn’t mind if I turn off the television, and fire up the hair dryer. (Having the hair dryer on when reading and/or writing is a bizarre tick I developed in early adulthood, and promise to explain another time.) When this happens, he is usually content to just sit and play games on his phone in the spare bedroom. But! When he learned that I was reading for pleasure again (versus reading for school, which requires him to vacate whichever room I am inhabiting), and that he could remain in the living room with me, he began reading again too.

All of a sudden, we were having conversations about books and spending contented, quiet hours in one another’s company. There has been very little tension in my house, and as a bonus, the chores are getting done — slowly, but surely. (I don’t understand the connection there, but I feel too fortunate to question it.)

Mitchell is leaving today for his week-long assignment on the summit, and there hasn’t been any of the usual fighting. In fact, my husband was up all night (something he does in the days leading up to the run, because he works nights up there) baking banana bread, making one of my favorite meals and portioning it out into single-serving microwavable containers, and doing the majority of the dishes.

Needless to say, when I got up this morning, I was floored.

A Return to Self, A Return to Us

I realize that to some, spending a lifetime reading is no life at all; but for Mitch and I, it was once a vital part of our relationship… and when I veered off the road and back into the wilds of addiction, we lost that part (among others) of who we were. But maybe, just maybe, this recent experience goes to show that we can start to get those pieces back.

I am not naïve. I know that this new, and at the same time old and familiar, path could disintegrate beneath our feet just as quickly as it appeared (mainly, because my interests tend to be as capricious as my moods)… but for some reason, there is an underlying confidence in my mind — and in my heart — that Mitch and I have somehow turned a corner: that we are both willing to rebuild the path that led us to one another in the first place; to tend to it in a way that will ensure it does not crumble, and to take careful steps to make certain that we do not, once again, find ourselves astray.

At least, that is my (slowly renewing) hope.

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