Personal Growth: The First Chapter of My New Book "Stumbling Towards Happiness."
A little over a year ago I began a personal journal of sorts on Facebook called “Sunday Reflections.” There was no planning involved; it was simply a random trip through my mind as I contemplated emotions I was feeling and daily occurrences I was witnessing. Was it an attempt at self-therapy? I suppose that is an accurate description. As I approach the downslope of middle age I naturally find myself in a reflective mood more often than when I was twenty-six and seemingly had no cares. Life was so much easier then; I had barely begun the tapestry of my adult life back then. I had made few major mistakes; I still had dreams of greatness and unlimited possibilities. If the world wasn’t my oyster, waiting for me to shuck it, then at the very least it was a beautiful picture of an oyster in a food magazine. I was educated, athletic, sound of mind and body, and ready to take on the world and see how high I could climb up the ladder of success.
WHAT IT WAS LIKE
As it turned out, life was not nearly as easy as I believed it would be when seen through the rose-colored glasses of youth. In fact, life has not been easy at all. Along the way there was marriage and divorce; there have been three business ventures, all unsuccessful. There has been a constant battle with alcoholism, the thousand-pound gorilla constantly lurking in the shadows of my mind. Self-love and self-respect have been non-existent for years, my confidence was shaken and eventually disappeared completely and there were times I wondered if living was really worth the effort. I lived for a week in my truck, wandered the streets at times in a drunken stupor, isolated from the world completely, and lost all perspective and direction. The twenty-six year old who believed that there was nothing he could not do had become a hollow shell of a human being with zero hope.
It all changed in November, 2006. Alone in a hotel room in Anchorage, Alaska, drinking vodka after having been fired from my teaching position for drinking, my health had declined to the point where I had to crawl to the counter for my next drink. For four days I cried, drank, vomited, and drank some more, slipping in and out of consciousness, too weak to seek help and not really caring if I lived.; but help did, indeed, arrive. Friends back home in Olympia, Washington, came to my rescue. One of them flew to Anchorage, put me back together again, brought me home and placed me in treatment. My second chance at life had begun. It was a chance I grasped at as only a dying man can and I am thankful to say that my life is on a definite rebound.
WHAT IT IS LIKE NOW
Gone is the self-pity. Gone are the self-doubts and self-loathings that so clearly defined decades of my life. They have been replaced by love: love of myself, love of others and love of life. It is a success story worth telling, a story of hope and perseverance that so beautifully defines the human spirit. And it is a story of the power of love, that love really can conquer all if it is allowed to grow and set roots within a person. I have survived, and today I thrive, and if it can happen for me it can happen to anyone out there who feels that life just isn’t worth the effort any longer.
Thus began “Sunday Reflections”, the inspiration for this book. What follows is a series of random topics and my perspective on those topics. I have no degree in psychology, no counselor shingle on my door, no qualifications to write this book other than the experiences I have lived through and the secret to happiness that I have found. I hope these musings give you some comfort and help you to visualize a happier life.
CONDENSING LIFE TO ITS SIMPLEST COMPONENT
Life really isn’t that complicated, but we do our damndest to make it so. We have a responsibility to ourselves and our loved ones to provide comfort, love and understanding. Anything that hinders us in achieving that goal is a negative in our lives; anything that helps us is a positive. I have been accused of being too simplistic in my approach to life. It has been said that I don’t fully understand the seriousness of matters, the complexities of life. But how can that be said? I haven’t lived in some La La Land immune to suffering. I have gone through the worst and then rose out of the ashes of my own self-destruction to sculpt this philosophy of life. I have done this, not to avoid pain through self-deception, but rather to find happiness through the truth. And the truth for me today is that nothing is more important to my happiness than love. Anything else is just a distraction and not worth my time. If that seems too simplistic then so be it. It works for me and that’s all that counts.
I wrote that on October 10, 2010 as I approached my sixty-second birthday. I had been thinking about something my dad told me when I was thirteen. My memory fails me when I try to think of the particular even that spawned my dad’s anger; suffice it to say that something bad had happened and it evidently didn’t affect me the way my dad thought it should affect me. I remember him pulling me aside and telling me that evidently I was too damn dumb to realize when things were going bad and maybe I should think about taking life a bit more seriously. Those weren’t his exact words as my dad had a rather colorful vocabulary when he was upset, but you get the point. It was my father’s opinion that life was pretty darn serious and it would swallow me up and spit me out if I didn’t pull my head out of my posterior and get a grasp on reality.
CHOOSING TO BE HAPPY
His words stung me that day, and evidently they had quite a hold on my psyche, considering the fact that I still remember them all these year later. And in truth I have to admit I believed those words when alcohol became my constant companion and best friend. I have learned, however, that my dad was just plain wrong. Today it is not that I don’t understand when things are going bad; I just choose to not wallow in the negativity of those things or events. Make no mistake about it, I am talking about a conscious choice. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, man is the only member of the animal kingdom who can choose to be happy or choose to be sad, and today I choose to be happy. For decades I looked over my shoulder, not only waiting for the next bad thing to happen but expecting it with every fiber of my being. That is a miserable way to go through life and I choose today to terminate that behavior and just be thankful for all the gifts I have been given. One could call that a simplistic outlook. I really prefer to consider it completely focused on what is truly important.
A former student of mine was born with spina bifida, a crippling birth defect that left her wheelchair-bound for her entire life. When I first met her I was instantly captivated by her smile, her laugh, her positive outlook on life. There was no remorse, no bitterness, nothing to lead you to believe that she considered herself cheated. That was when she was twelve years old. Thirteen years later she is still the same remarkable young woman. She went on to college and today is a high school counselor and a continued source of inspiration to anyone who knows her. She is an excellent example of the people I have in my life today. I made a conscious decision five years ago to eliminate from my life anyone who wasn’t compassionate, positive, nurturing and loving. During that same process I met and formed friendships with people who believed as I do, that love is the most important thing in this life. They give me a safe environment through their understanding and empathy, and hopefully they would say the same about me.
It is a wonderful life I have today. I do not look back at the difficult years and wonder why, nor do I consider them a waste of part of my life. It was through those dark times that I was able to forge a philosophy that brings me great happiness today. Simple really is better!
- Lifestyle Choices: Leaving The Rat Race Behind
Leaving the rat race behind is a lifestyle choice. Social issues like unemployment and debt can be guarded against but it takes a conscious decision and willingness to change.