Then vs. Now
My life is far from perfect. In a few days, I’ll turn 54, having failed to achieve any of the goals I set in youth. I’m not a famous writer, and I don’t have much money. I drive a 1990 Honda that starts with a screwdriver (really), because all my money goes to keep a small house that’s in disrepair. My boyfriend is out of state most of the time, and I haven’t spoken to my sister or brother in a year and a half. But… I’m sober.
What does this mean? It means my life today is a an amazing gift. As I get closer to hitting the 2o year sober mark, it gets harder to remember who I used to be. But as a sponsor, in helping other women who suffer as much as I used to, I get to look back and remember.
There was a day when I woke up morning after morning full of toxins and shame. I’d hide my headaches from my partner, pretending brightness, but more importantly I’d hide reality from myself, pretending I’d just had a bit too much last night because of… whatever. At least half the time, I’d also be hiding the exhilarating glow of obsessive dreams about whomever I was infatuated with. I’d go about my day being whoever I thought others expected me to be, looking to you for signs that I was okay, and thinking up ways of impressing you.
And since nothing would work out as I planned, I’d end up filled with sickening envy at your easy life and disappointment at my unfair one. Most of all, I lived with self-loathing: the conviction that I was a worthless loser. This conviction could survive any accomplishment I achieved because its taproot ran so deep, all the way to my core: I was hopelessly defective, fundamentally flawed. And yet, this same worthlessness was the one sure rock I could stand on, the one foundation I could know without doubt. It set me apart from others, ordinary folk who seemed so naturally filled with well-being. Honesty, to me in those years, felt like the flat out admission that I sucked. And the only way to fix that was to have a drink (well… maybe two. And then, whoops, a dozen plus) thereby temporarily rendering life simple and myself fabulous.
So what’s the miracle? What’s the amazing gift? It’s freedom. It’s that not only have I woken up clear headed and sober for the past 7,000 mornings or so, but I wake to perceptions much closer to real. The overwhelmingly loud self-static that used to roar in my thoughts has been tuned down, so my consciousness is a pretty comfy place to live. I can love being who I am instead of berating myself for all I “should” be, and I can even see that I am a good mom who loves many people and supports herself.
How does that happen? I got here by working the 12 steps repeatedly, skimming off one layer of denial at a time, one unacknowledged fear at a time – and giving what’s out of my power to god. (Long version here.) Today I stay on course by using the serenity prayer as my compass, and as I progress, the landscape keeps changing: things that once seemed those “I cannot change” have jumped sides to things requiring the “courage to change” them, and vice versa. Gradually, I acquire the wisdom that all I can change is myself – my attitudes and actions – but that doing so transforms my entire world.
My ambition today is not a newer car or even a bestselling novel. It’s honesty. I want to go deeper. There are still untruths I tell myself, deceptions that auto-play in my thoughts. With god providing the light, I want to root them out and turn them over. Though they don’t now drive me to drink, I can still feel, as I get ready to meditate, grips on falseness that tighten my world. “Give up,” I tell myself, “let them go!” Whether they come from growing up in an alcoholic household or amid a society of warped values and assumptions, unidentified beliefs are incredibly hard to release. There’s the challenge.
The closer I get to living in truth, the comfier my life becomes – to the point that it’s outrageously luxuriant. No amount of material luxury can rival that. Living in a twisted mind, I have traveled Europe, sailed on yachts, eaten at fancy restaurants, or worn sexy new outfits – all the while drowning in dis-ease and self-consciousness, prisoner of an edginess that maybe a few drinks could fix – couldn’t they? Now, to be where I am, naked under my clothes, simple-minded in my thoughts, flawed in countless ways, and making boo-boos right and left as I use up this obscure lifetime that will vanish under the footprints of future generations – what an amazing party it is!
Plus I can start my car with that screwdriver without even looking faster than 99.999% of the planet’s population. Ain’t that a heck of an achievement at almost 54?
Goat Peak, day before yesterday. What more can I ask? (Or so I thought… See 5/18/15 post)