Now from Then.
Today I start my fifth decade of life. I don’t think I have anything remarkable to say about it. I am now a middle-aged man living in a large city on the East Coast of the United States. I have a partner who lives in another nearby city, whom I love deeply and loves me. I have a career and a house with a mortgage. These are all unremarkable things. In these respects, I am similar to millions of people all across this country and this world. These are all good things. They represent an achievement that I am proud of. My achievements do not need to be extraordinary to be worthwhile, to be valuable to me.
As a boy, I always felt apart. I was never popular. I rarely had many friends. There were plenty of good reasons for that. I was odd, and I was smart, and I was insecure. This manifested in me learning to find ways to prove to others that I was better than they were. So I developed a powerful need to know more, to be right. I pursued this self-defeating arrogance for many years, even when it was obvious that it was preventing me from developing socially in ways that would allow me to be happier.
I never knew how to relate to people until I found alcohol. Or alcohol allowed me to find people I related to. But I didn’t remain a gentlemanly drinker for long. And soon enough I was entrenched in fatality-statistic drinking. I smoked. I sat. And I drank. And I was miserable. For more than a decade, I smoked, and I sat, and I drank.
My fourth decade included a brief marriage. I don’t feel much need to write about her anymore. We were right for each other in many carefully-chosen ways, because we were each seeking someone to make us miserable. And we each succeeded at that. And there were innocents caught up in it, and I lament that. I cannot change it.
But in trying stupidly to save a marriage failed from the outset, something wonderful happened. I learned that I was the cause of my problems. I had to be shown that, but when I saw it, I could not unsee it. My drinking, my recalcitrance, my arrogance, my righteousness. I was the cause of my own misery. I had chosen my misery carefully and elaborately, and I could suddenly see whole bankruptcy of it. And if I wanted my life to change, I had to change.
I went to an inpatient rehab. I went to Alcoholics Anonymous. I stopped fighting. I stopped trying to assert control over the things I have no control over, and first among those things is alcohol. When I stopped trying to control and manage my alcoholism, I found that I could relinquish my need for alcohol. There was a slow, terrifying but enlightening process of unclenching.
I remember thinking then: “When I turn forty, I will be sober for six and a half years.” It was unfathomable. And it is not how I would recommend anyone think when they are new to sobriety. When I looked at now from then, I couldn’t imagine what it would be like. I could barely imagine going a month, a season, without drinking. Years had little meaning.
But years pile up just the same. Now, six and a half years later I am still sober. I am no longer married. In fact, I’ve been divorced now longer than I was married. I don’t know much about what my ex-wife is doing. But I genuinely wish her well. There are still things I resent about my marriage, but they are mostly about myself. I set myself up to fail, and I failed as designed. And that’s ok, in the long run. Because I lave learned to learn from failure, instead of repeating my self-defeating behaviors.
In the years since I got sober, I’ve done a lot. Eighteen months after I quit drinking, I quit smoking. Which means I’m approaching five years without a cigarette. Eighteen months after I quit smoking, I started exercising. Professionally, I got my first real job at six months of sobriety. After a year and a half, I was promoted to a Principal Investigator position. After three years of that, I moved on to my current post, which involved leaving the city I’d spent my entire adult life in. I have now held this position for about fifteen months, and it seems to be going very well.
I met my partner. With whom I share far more than I understood was possible before. It is wonderful and liberating to be a part of a relationship in which both people are invested in success and support and intimacy and companionship. I finally have the relationship I dreamed of. Because I finally became a man capable of participating in it. Capable of waiting for the right relationship.
Today, as I start my fifth decade, I am a grown man making his way in the world. My life today is very close to what I imagined long ago. A home. A partner. A career. I used to imagine children, but I’m grateful that that never happened. I’m not as rich or as fit or as handsome as I’d like to be. But who is, really?
I feel like it took me a long time to learn things that other people learn early on. How to look inward for the source of my disquiet. How to take responsibility for my career and my home and my relationships and my happiness. How to recognize my limitations, and not struggle fruitlessly at things I cannot attain. How to recognize the difference between a limit and a challenge, and find ways to meet challenges that once seemed impossible. How to appreciate the passage of time.
I have learned how to live. I owe that to Alcoholics Anonymous, and to surviving a great many mistakes. I don’t know what the next decade brings. I don’t need to know. Because I know what I am. And where I stand in a world full of unknowable things. And that makes me grateful for all this wonderful mystery. All this incredible life.