That’s a term I never heard of until we had children. What that means is that you give the child as much information up front so that transitions are easier on them when it comes time to change something. Like when leaving the park. Or when dropping them off at preschool. Or when it’s almost time to turn the TV off. Our oldest son needed a lot of front loading when he was younger – still needs some these days. Change wasn’t kind to him, and it was difficult for him to move on to the next phase – physically, emotionally or in his environment. Front loading was a way of giving him a long fair warning of what was going to happen and when it was going to happen. Front loading is a way of gently nudging towards a new way.
“Front loading” also means having many pre-drinks before going to a bar or party, by the way. I was pretty good at that. It helped me in my transition from an empty shell of a human being to someone who momentarily felt he had filling in that shell. When it came to social events, I always asked my wife who was going, and how many people were going to be there, especially if they were coming over. I had no capacity to be spontaneous. I needed to adjust. I had to fiddle with the dials a bit. I needed to continually be fed information so that I could be as comfortable in my own skin as possible. Which was usually not at all.
Now, with regards to my son, I would find myself worrying when I saw other kids, usually younger than him, already potty trained or reciting pi or whatever it was that my son wasn’t doing yet. It’s an unspoken thing many parents engage in (at least I do) about comparing their children to others. So when I saw my son taking forever to get out of diapers, it had me thinking about all the other delayed landmarks in his young life. Would he always be behind? Would he be missing out on things? Is he somehow not smart enough, or willing enough to do the things that show progress in others? How would he be seen by others?
Lots of questions. Too bad those questions had nothing to do with him. I was projecting, of course. He’ s a kid. He’s doing fine. It’s I who couldn’t handle him not being in the place I thought he should be. Me putting my weighty, old stuff on a 35 lb frame. Me trying adjust those dials again, but by remote control. Me trying to play God. And what it comes down to is me trying to measure my progress on a measuring stick that is warped. And it’s warped because I created it. How could it not be refracted and out of proportion? An alcoholic created it.
So what it comes down to is this – I cannot compare where I am in my recovery to anyone else. I cannot compare where I am in my timeline to anyone else. I cannot compare where my heart and mind lie in this moment to anyone else. And yet I love to do so at times. Do my detriment, of course. You see, like my son, I don’t transition easily. That is, I stay where I need to stay until I am gently pushed or guided to the next phase or step of my development. I can’t be forced, coerced, pep talked, enticed or sweet talked into getting into the place I need to be until I get to the place I need to be, regardless of how badly I want to be there. Just like I couldn’t force my son to have an interest in using the washroom or to write his name properly or to balance on a rail at the playground – he had to come to those things in his own space, through the natural progression of his own oneness and uniqueness. He needed the room to make errors, to strike a balance and finally get to that unmarked, but definite line where he moved into a new phase. And sometimes he needed a tiny push in the right direction in doing so.
And so it is with me.
When I started my recovery, there was a sense that I was going to be this brand new person. Unrecognizable. Like the Phantom of the Opera with a mask-ectomy and botox in the forehead for good measure. I wanted to be like the werewolf losing his coat and scorn and returning to human form. But there was a snag in all of this. It’s that thing about being human and all. Sigh. I don’t get to always choose what changes in me. And in a cruel twist of fate, I also am the last to see any changes. Rude, I tell you. So when I saw others in my meetings working the room, getting the handshakes and hugs, getting the phone numbers, getting invited for coffee, and me not, I had to stop and take my internal emotional temperature. I pulled out the warped measuring stick (the stick is like a Magic 8 ball, but nowhere near as accurate). And this is what the stick told me: you’re behind, Paul. You’re behind the pack. You’re not par for course. You’re not good enough as those guys. Work harder or disappear.
So I redoubled my efforts to no or very little progress. When I saw that others were smiling a lot more than I was, or were more connected to others, or didn’t seem to need as many meetings as I did, I pulled out the measuring stick. Yup – stuck at “dumbass”. No matter how much I shook that stick or remeasured, it came up to that same result. No matter how much my sponsor or other well intentioned men front loaded me with how it was going to be, that things would go at it’s own pace, I still had difficulty in transitioning. I refused to believe that I could be “last” in anything. I was last in lots of things in life, and I didn’t want to be last in recovery. How sick in my thinking, even in recovery. And I still find myself doing that at times.
I have to also remember that this isn’t a race. The only one I have to compare myself to is myself. A simple, but oh so difficult concept for this alcoholic to follow. Remember, we alcoholic like to muddle and entangle things. That is why AA works so well for people like me – it’s a simple program for complicated people. So where does this leave me? I have to see that where I am at, is where I am at and where I am meant to be. Simple. OK. But I want to be there. (Slow down, Mario Andretti…remember what we said? Not a race). So I stay where I am and like my son, I find I need the space to make mistakes, to learn what I need to learn, then ascend and grow into a new phase where I repeat this cycle. These days, it seems that I am in a space where unfinished business looms and where I need to take certain actions. I seem to be in a place where pulling back hurts me more than pushing out. But the big question is how do I know I am ready to move on? I know from past experience that I am on the verge of a spiritual breakthrough when all my old habits and old thoughts come back with a vengeance. When there is resistance.
And that’s been going on lately.
I’ve been here before, though. I doubt myself, I start to wonder what the hell is wrong with me, I want to isolate, and then finally I struggle and push and stretch out, strain and cry out, and then…peace. Like grey drapes that have been pulled aside to let light in, I am in a new phase. I have transitioned. I am where I now need to be…once again. I’ve been front loaded and catapulted into a new and wonderful phase where I can be of service to others, not an obstacle to myself. I am not as worried about how I am seen by others. I am not missing out on things – I am seeing what I am required to see. It’s like there is a point where the work is done, where it hits the mark it needs to hit, where it’s finally time for the Divine telling me “that’ll do pig, that’ll do”. I’m given a nudge.
And I feel the nudge come from inside. And it comes from Him. And it’s never wrong. Just enough. I’m there.