My problem with AA meetings is that many are almost reminiscing sessions. Like the guy at the end over the bar who never got over that one woman. His friends tried everything to help him move on but he refused. Instead of living life, he is spending his time reliving the glory days again and again. Closed off to other opportunities. A prisoner to his past.
But what defines us, not only as drinkers but as people? Does a job define you? Am I a teacher even though I am not being paid to be one? Or am I potential? To be whatever I am capable of being? Am I labels of the past or the blank canvas of tomorrow? I think we can be whichever we choose. I met a woman called Becky, a few years ago who told me the story of her family. Her mother had an accident in her early thirties that left her paralysed from the neck down. The father had to shoulder a lot of responsibility raising their 3 children. The older children helped where they could. I thought that was impressive. Becky went on to explain that her dad had retrained as a doctor before the accident which helped a lot with his wife. The father had retrained as a doctor at FORTY years old from being an electrician. It got me thinking that the labels we wear are written in pencil. We can erase them and change them any time we wish. And we should if they are not the ones we wish to wear.
It is nice to reminisce about good times but to constantly dig up the sludge at the bottom of calm water for no other purpose than to disturb it seems like a form of self-punishment. To relive the opportunity that was missed results in missing many more. The path lays out in front of us. Not behind.
I drank a lot of alcohol and often. I made mistakes. I made terrible financial decisions. I destroyed my health. I could sit and wallow on these wrongs. I could let them define my future. Or I could learn from them. Vow not to make the same mistakes again. And that is what I did.
I made peace where I could. I repaid my debt. I worked on my health. And it worked out better than I could have imagined. Those lessons in life that at the time had been painful were the greatest lessons I ever received. I had to have it that way. I am a thick-skulled fool sometimes who ignores the warning signs and blunders through. Thankfully I learned to listen. I got tired of getting hurt by my own hand. I was tired of being leashed to a life of pain. Those chains that tied me were with locks to which I had the keys. I just didn’t want to wander into the unknown. A chain offers some security even if it is detrimental.
Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains.Jean-Jacques Rousseau
People still tell me how I was. Remind me of those dark days. “Do you remember when you did….?” is often the question. “I don’t remember!” That is my reply. It is genuine. I made peace with those days. Alcohol defined me when I drank. It will not continue to define me now. Those days are gone. Times and people change. Each period of life is a chapter in a greater story. A story of pain and regrowth. Of heartache and love. Of desperation and fulfilment. And ultimately of depression and contentment. The pain of the past doesn’t have to be the template for tomorrow. Pain is going to happen in life but carrying forever is a form of punishment. Why suffer twice?
I quit drinking because my liver was screaming out for the time to fix itself. The constant alcohol intake was killing it and as a result me. I had a choice of course. I didn’t have to quit. I could have soldiered on all the way to the bottom of my early grave. I was scared of not living. I got scared of not doing the things I had always wanted to do. I saw a future on dialysis and restricted living. All brought about not by an unfortunate illness but by my own hand. It seemed such a waste of life. Such a waste of potential. I couldn’t face that future.
When I was 29 years old my liver gamma was 50% higher than the recommended highest level. I was told it was a warning. I quit drinking for a bit but then slipped back into the abyss. An enlarged liver made me quit the second, and final time. A life of necessary treatment became an increasing reality. Yet, five years after quitting drinking I had a health check and my liver function was normal. From destruction to restoration. All I had to do was allow it to happen. But much like my liver, my life has recovered. Who would have thought that the physical and mental pain I felt for such a long time would lift? I used to be convinced that the life I lived then, in the drinking days, would be the template for a life to come. That was enough of a thought to add weight to my depression. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Small changes today lead to bigger outcomes in the future. The seeds we plant today grow into the flowers of tomorrow. If we don’t plant seeds, weeds take over. Knotting and binding us to the same old thinking patterns that keep us trapped in a life we no longer want. The stories that others tell us about ourselves don’t have to be our narrative. That drunken fool who embarrassed themselves and others only exist in the minds of those who wish to keep the pain alive. The memories of mishaps and mistakes get worsened over time. Bits get added and changed. Our memories contort the original event to harshen the punishment years later. Make peace with the past and look to the future. Tomorrow isn’t here yet.
It was surprising how many people saw my behaviour differently from how I saw it. My version of events was created by a mind intent on misery. When I tried to make peace with the people who I had wronged, they saw it differently. Wrote it off as drunken hijinks or had forgotten it completely. I was the one carrying the cross through the streets daily. The tales I told myself was keeping me, prisoner, to a thinking pattern that served no purpose. By quitting drinking I not only repaired my body but also my thinking patterns.
I thought I would be a prisoner to a life of destructive drinking. Of guilt and shame. Of watching life happening through a pub window. But instead, I am on the other side of the glass. Life isn’t written yet. Change is always an option. Break the routine of destructive drinking and break the chains that keep us locked in a life of misery.