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Living Simple: What Are Your Priorities?
Something I had to come to terms with five years ago was the matter of priorities. I had spent the better part of my life being what other people wanted me to be….a good son, a good husband, a good friend, and a good father….all admirable goals until I realized that “good” was defined by the expectations of others, and by extension if I didn’t meet their expectations then I wasn’t good. That may seem silly to you but to me it was very real.
It is a losing proposition when a person’s happiness depends upon the acceptance of others and it certainly is impossible to meet all of the expectations of others. The question then arose: when was I going to make me a priority? When was I going to take into account my needs, my desires, my goals, my dreams? The reality of my life was that I was slowly killing myself trying to be what everyone wanted me to be.
I had, in truth, forgotten who I was. It was only with the realization that I counted and that I had worth that I was finally able to take that first step towards inner wellness.
SUFFERING IS MY GREATEST MOTIVATOR
I wrote that a little over a year ago. I had just quit my job and made the decision to become a freelance writer. I had no idea what that meant but it sounded good and it had always been a dream of mine so I decided to do it. I first, however, had to do a personal housecleaning.
This is a difficult concept for most people. It is wired in our brains that we need to meet expectations. Most parents put their lives on hold for at least eighteen years while raising a child. Most children are so in tune to the expectations of their parents that they become physically ill when they think they have let their parents down. As workers we try to please our employers; as husbands and wives we want to keep our spouses happy. It is an endless cycle, day after day, year after year, of trying to live up to what others want us to be. How utterly exhausting!
With that in mind I had to take stock of my life, put me first and decide what my priorities were. Through the lessons learned in AA I came to realize that my number one priority had to be my sobriety. This was a bitter pill for me to swallow and for others to accept. Putting my sobriety ahead of family, friends, and employment seems totally selfish and self-serving, and it certainly was the opposite of how I had spent my prior decades, but upon closer inspection it made complete sense. I had proven to myself in the past that if I return to the bottle I will lose all the things that are dear to me. Gone is the job, gone are relationships, gone are possessions….all gone. So in order that I might be a more complete father, friend, and possible husband, I had to concentrate on sobriety first and foremost. Because of alcohol I had already lost two marriages, two businesses, all of my possessions (twice), and two jobs I loved. The only course of action for me, then, was to stay sober and then I would be able to concentrate on the secondary priorities in my life.
LEAPING INTO ACTION
So how did I go about that? The most obvious change for me was to take the AA program seriously. That meant setting up a schedule that allowed me to attend meetings on a regular basis. I practiced the 12 Steps of AA daily and worked with other alcoholics to help keep them sober. I could go on indefinitely about the program and what I need to continue doing to stay sober, but I want to point out the secondary issues I needed to address. My second step was to weed out of my life negative people and surround myself with sober, positive people. Reinforcement of positive values is crucial if a person is to live a positive life, and that is what I set out to do.
Not only did I find it necessary to eliminate drinkers from my life but also those in the AA program who were not working a good program. Today I have a core support group of close friends. They are people who would do anything for me and know that I would do anything for them, and we share a crucial belief that love and good values are necessary in order to live a life filled with humanness.
But it doesn’t end with choices concerning friendships. I had spent the better part of my life thinking that the grass was greener on the other side of the fence. I would climb that fence, fall off, climb again, fall off, and upon finally reaching the grass discover that there was crab grass and weeds. So off I went looking for another patch of green to explore. I came to realize that the search was endless and ultimately meaningless. The search I should have been doing all along was inside of myself because that was where the answers were, and still are.
SELF-DOUBT WILL ALWAYS BE THERE
The task seemed monumental and I wasn’t sure if I was up to it. I had defined myself by so many different standards that I wasn’t sure I knew how to be me. Who was I before I became a husband? Who was I before fatherhood entered the picture? Who was I before I discovered that wonderful elixir called alcohol? If I didn’t know the answers to those questions how in the world did I expect to reach the goal I had established?
WHO WAS I? WHO AM I?
So began some serious soul-searching. I had to rifle through the memory banks to remember who I was prior to being derailed by life. What did I enjoy doing? Well, I knew I loved hiking and nature for sure. I knew I had always dreamed of writing. I knew that long ago I was a person who was honest and could be trusted. I knew that in days gone by I was a person who cared about others and tried to grasp an outstretched hand that was in need of help.
Close friendships had been important at one time and I had been quite emotional and loved that gentleness and empathy that so defined my character in my youth.
A VISION FOR THE FUTURE
So I now had a path to follow; it was just a matter of re-learning and making that path my priority. My journey of re-birth was made easier because I was no longer married and my son had grown to manhood. I did not have the daily responsibilities that are common for most people so that freed me up to take on the task at hand with singular purpose. Some would call my tunnel-vision obsessive but please remember that I was fighting for my life. I grasped hold of this new path as a drowning man a life preserver and never looked back on my old life.
I am quite certain that many out there do not consider this a realistic journey. Most out there are, as I once was, wired in a different manner. We look for a higher paying job, a bigger home, better car, and on and on we go, where we stop nobody knows. But while we search for a higher level of social status or comfort for our loved ones we are forfeiting time away from what should really be important, the inner well-being of ourselves and our loved ones. I finally reached the point in my life where that was unacceptable, and in order to survive I made drastic changes.
There are those who have told me that they can’t possibly do the same thing, that they have a house payment and club fees and credit cards to pay off and the damn car needs repair and you know what? It will always be that way unless changes are made.
IT DOES NOT HAVE TO BE THIS WAY
As a society we seem to have bought into this lifestyle. Few people actually question the purpose of it all or if it is really working for them. My dad worked twenty-five years at a manual labor job he hated; each and every day he got up and worked eight to ten hours at a job he despised, all to provide a better life for his family. Now here is the million dollar question: what is the definition of a better life? My dad evidently defined it as meaning more money for the family, more possessions, more, more and more. I no longer buy into that way of thinking.
For me a better life equates to more quality time with my family and loved ones and more time to pursue that which is important to me. It really is that simple and it really is a matter of priorities.
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