For the last several years I have been speaking once a month at a drug and rehab center; the same one which I had been a patient myself for alcohol. On the third Sunday of every month I would make the 1 1/2 hour drive to the center and speak for an hour. I would talk about my life, play some songs I’d written, and share my experience, strength, and hope.
I would share what it was like, what happened, and what it is like now. Last month was my last time speaking. At least for now. I decided to quit and give someone else a chance to fill my slot. I struggled with the decision for a while, but prayed about it often. It has been a really important part of my recovery.
Last Sunday would have been my weekend, and I didn’t even realize it until Monday morning. Probably because I spent Sunday afternoon with my wife, step-son and daughter, and our beautiful granddaughter. It is so amazing what the smile of a child can do.
I remember sitting there when I was a patient, listening to speakers like myself, and hearing them talk about how bad it had been, what happened, and how amazing their life had become. I would take notes. Could that possibly happen for me?
I really couldn’t relate, my life was such a mess and I was just struggling to find a reason to live. I used the power of now often, just looking around at where I was, concentrating on the fact that in that moment, I was alive and OK. Never mind the piles of bills I had accumulated, the wreckage I had caused in other peoples lives, plus no job and no place to live when I got out of treatment.
I learned to just concentrate on what I could do that day. “So then, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own” (Mathew 6:34). I was really forced into each moment, simply to survive. My counselor, bless her heart, helped me so much. She offered a simple suggestion of making a list.
A list of all the things I was worried about. So I wrote down things like; call Ford to see about getting out of my lease, find a place to live, ask for help with income tax, etc. Each day I would look at the list and ask: Is there something on here I can take action on today? If YES, I would take the action; if NO, I would put it out of my mind and go on with my day.
A Rainy Day in 2004
My fiancé’ and I are sitting at an intersection in the pouring rain waiting for the light to change. Across the intersection I see our destination, a loan office where a check is waiting to pay for our engagement ring. I start a fight. Something inside me is saying this isn’t the right thing to be doing—the engagement, not the fighting.
It’s not what I want, or maybe it just doesn’t feel right. Shouldn’t it feel right? I keep telling myself it should, I should want to get married to someone I love. So I pick a fight. If I make her angry enough, she’ll leave me since I don’t have the balls to do it myself. Then it will be her fault, and not mine.
I should want this right? After all, this is what people in love do. They get married and start a family. I do love her, at least as much as I’ve loved anyone. We’re arguing about something as the light changes and we move across the intersection, sloshing through the running water and pull into the parking lot. The sky is angry and I’m sure she’s crying now. She get’s out and I follow, stopping her under the buildings overhang just out of reach of the pouring rain.
Tears and rain dripping down her face, I grab her and tell her this is what I want. She should go in and get the check, we’ll be fine and I want to get married. We got married in January of ‘05, annulled in July ‘05, a year later I hit my bottom.
When I got out of treatment I moved into a recovery house. The closest AA meeting was only a few miles away and I quickly realized I would have to drive through the “rainy intersection” every day on the way to meetings. It was a constant reminder of a painful past.
But I did what was suggested to get better. I went to meetings, I got a sponsor and starting working the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. I worked hard at developing some type of spiritual life. I prayed for others.
I prayed for my ex and that she would have all the wonderful things in life that I wanted in mine; love, peace, and family. I started learning how to have a healthy relationship with myself. I took each day for the blessing that it was and tried to simply do the next right thing in every moment.
As a result, a funny thing happened. One day I realized it had been months since I thought about the “rainy intersection,” yet I was still driving through it every day. And when I did remember, it wasn’t the painful thorn I had experienced before. It was more of a gentle nudge that had gotten me to where I was at this moment in time. That was it, that was proof that God, or something, was doing for me what I could not do by myself, heal.
Everyone has their own “rainy intersection,” something from their past that continues to stir up pain. Pain we allow by continually focusing on it with regret or remorse. To get past these emotional black holes, all I had to do was take baby steps, concentrating on one step and one day at a time. Focusing only on things right in front of me.
I realized with this approach anything was possible. In the last three years I have finished my Bachelors in IT and went on to get my Masters in Business Administration. I’ve gotten married and now have a granddaughter. Everything I do, I accomplish one day, one moment at a time. In Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (Amazon link) by Anne Lamott, the writer explains how, when distracted, she tries to focus on a one-inch piece of the story:
So after I’ve completely exhausted myself thinking about the people I most resent in the world, and my more arresting financial problems, and, or course, the orthodontia, I remember to pick up the one-inch picture frame and to figure out a one-inch piece of my story to tell, one small scene, one memory, one exchange. I also remember a story that I know I’ve told elsewhere but that over and over helps me to get a grip: Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird’.
Our granddaughter is a little over 6 months old and hasn’t taken her first steps yet, but it’s amazing to watch her grow and change from week to week. One week she couldn’t really use her hands, then a few days later she’s grabbing at everything in sight. I can’t wait until she starts taking baby steps. I just know her little steps will take her far.
Lord knows how far little steps have taken me. Sometimes the steps are as uncomfortable, unnatural, or even painful as I imagine they might be for a child the first time. But as I step through them, I’m better able to face them tomorrow armed with the wisdom of today.
Today, all the things I prayed for others to receive, I have received ten-fold. Love, peace, and family.
When life get’s a little overwhelming, get out a pen and paper and right down everything that is weighing on your mind. Ask yourself if there is any REAL action you can do with each thing on your list? Yes? Do it. No? Let it go until you can or decide it’s time to take action. Now what’s the next thing you should be doing? Just concentrate on taking the next right step in each moment. Next thing you know, you’ll be looking back towards the mountains you’ve climbed!
photo credit: Jessica Bee