Buried Alive (and How I Dug My Way Out)

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There was nothing odd about a Saturday morning spent on my knees, digging. The mud underneath my fingernails, the crates half-full of foil wrapped fossils, and the blur of my focused father in my periphery were as familiar to me as my own reflection.

“Time for some lunch!” mom bellowed from the high edge of the creek bed.

“Just a few more minutes,” I’d mutter, remaining focused on the fossilized snail half-emerged from the embankment before me.

The precision and time demanded by these fossil-digs afforded me rare glimpses at my patient side. One hasty move, one wrong tool and a seventy million year old invertebrate became dust at my knees. Whether the appeal stemmed from unearthing something so rare and delicate or from the opportunity to kneel beside my father for several uninterrupted hours evades me still. Regardless, my moments spent in a creek bed once covered by the Gulf are as precious to me as the fossils themselves.

In my early days of sobriety, I often found my mind drifting to these more innocent times. Unintentionally, I’d begun to view my years of drinking as violent assaults on the most sacred moments of my past. I visualized myself at the base of the fossil embankment, carelessly swinging my pick ax into the mud wall until the battered banks covered me from head to toe.

These reckless daydreams did me no good. I was allowing guilt to rewrite my past as it waged a frightening and suffocating war within. How, though, does one reconcile the muddy layers of shame that accompany addiction?

By digging differently, of course.

In visualizing recovery not as an uncomfortable assault, but as the delicate unearthing of something long buried, I am able to move forward. I’ve sharpened my most useful tools and parted ways with those dulled by misuse.

Back on my knees and digging patiently once again, I glance at my son beside me. Cheeks dusty and eyes intently focused on the task before him, I make a silent promise — a promise more precious than the fossils themselves.

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Excavation

My long-buried bones

emit dusty gasps as she works

her chipping hammer around my

periphery.

Shale bits slough

off creek bed’s bank, gathering

on her denim knees. A paint

brush tickles my

groggy fins, posed

gracefully for their wake.

Parts wrapped and

numbered—

stacked in muddied

egg crates, forced from

the safe hug of

hibernation.

Bright lab lights

shine on busy picks and

chisels, as carefully

she reassembles me.

Perched exhibit high

and stripped of once

thick flesh and liquid

shield, I wait.

Crowds gasp and

whisper — reverence paid

as, naked, I resume

my reign.


* Piece originally published on Medium.com
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