Changing History


...and don't hang out with those Bill and Ted guys, kiddo.  And get me some shares in Apple...cheap!

…and don’t hang out with those Bill and Ted guys, kiddo. And while you’re back there, get me some shares in Starbucks…cheap!

Imagine being able to change history.  Your history.  Now, we know we can’t change the events of the past…they’re done.  Finito.  Sayonara.  Adios, Charlie.  What’s done is done.   The future – sure we can change some of that.  It unfolds underneath us and can be shifted and morphed by our actions and behaviours, but often the externals of the world press upon us and put things into our path which we are powerless to change.  An ill loved one, an unexpected letter, an emergency, a promotion at work, a new person walks into our life, etc. are things that often catch us off guard and have to be responded to in the appropriate (or inappropriate) way.  And of course the present – well, depending on your view of the present, it’s either now and gone and happened in the instant we are in it, or, we can make the incremental and hummingbird-like adjustments as we move throughout the day.  Turn left instead of right.  Answer the phone or don’t.  Decide to react angrily rather than out of love and tolerance.  The present is a stream that is broken into staccato semiquavers that play out as the moment flows to the next.

So then, how does one change history?  Look back to the past, I say.  Yes, the same past whose events cannot be given a Cosmic Mulligan.   Or is it so cast in stone that there is no wiggle room of any kind?  Is there a way of changing the past through the motions of the present?  Is there a way of resetting some of the pain and hurt and way that we viewed things from the past?  Is there some Telchinian trickery and blak magik that is able to unpreserve the past in a manner that is in tune to the spirit and mind of The Now?  At the risk of coming off Barnum & Bailey-ish…yes.

Kind of.

The past can be frightening.  Just look at me and my chums tearing it up on a leap year.  I am the one with the

The past can be frightening. Just look at me and my guvs and geezers tearing it up on a leap year. I am the one beside the chap with the chops.

When my first son was born, it was a life-changing event for me, as it is for all new parents with new children.  I was now a father.  No longer a reckless hack at life.  At least that is what I thought a the time.  I remember the evening that I brought my son and my wife back from the hospital.  It was cold outside, and I fumbled with the car seat buckles.  Anxious and unsure of what to do with this newborn, I was careful in lifting him into the house.  My wife went to our room to rest, so I was left with my little boy.  Alone.  Eyes open yet closed, he ensnared my spirit and heart with his vulnerability, with his energy, and with the simple fact that he’d been just been transported to yet another new place in his young life.  And that he was ours.  He had been removed from the cherished spiritual world and brought into the material.  I cradled and rocked this boy, this wee soul, and as we both looked at one another – he through dim light, me through a mist of tears, tears of both joy and of melancholy, I swore to him and to myself that I wouldn’t never drink again. Ever.  I told myself that that was the moment I would end my drinking career.  It would mark my early retirement.

This never happened, of course.  The insidious nature of my alcoholism pushed away even the most sacred of this love and trust, crashed through the bond of blood and engaged my bloated ego to pick up the bottle again.  I gained an engorged liver to match my engorged self-righteousness and pride.  I continued to promise myself and my son that today would be the last day.  And then the next today.  And the today that followed the upcoming week.  I was unable to stop, regardless of the greatest thing to happen to me in my fractured life.  Even the emergence of a little child could not break the chains of my alcoholism.  I couldn’t stop drinking and I couldn’t stop being the old me, even for the sake of this beautiful and innocent boy.  I prayed nightly for my sobriety, even as I railed against God for bringing this poor baby to a wretched father like me.  What did this little angel do to deserve a pathetic excuse for a father and human like me?  Damn you, God.

Who knew that guns are the real way to keep the family together?  You can keep your free love, open communication and patchouli oil to yourselves, hippies.

Who knew that guns are the real way to keep the family together? You can keep your free love, open communication and patchouli oil to yourselves, hippies.

That you can say is part of my story.  A small part.  A painful part.  There is nothing I can do to take back the fact that I drank while this little child was in my life.  I wasn’t fully present for him, or anyone, for that fact.  And it got worse after that…much worse.  I mention this because I carried this burden with me not only throughout my active drinking days, but also into my sobriety.  For years I carried this history in my back pocket, like a worn handkerchief.  I stared at it often, resenting myself, regretting moment after moment, playing it all over in my head day after day, like a spool trapped in a loop.

And if you were to look further into that back pocket, you would also find my one calling card.  The only card in the deck, in fact.  Good enough deck for solitaire, but lousy for poker (you could say, though, I had the Crazy Eights and Gin Rummy down pat).  And on that card, you would  find one word embossed on it – “victim”.  That too was my history, my story.  I was a victim of bullying, I was a victim of circumstances, I was a victim when it came to other people.  Oh such sorrow!  Everything in my life boiled down to being a victim and then feeling the after effects long after the victimization.  And on and on it went.  Carved into granulite with a chisel of resentment.

We all have had our stories.  Still do. Old stories, told over and over again in our minds, spilled out to anyone at the bar who would listen, spit out whenever we are further wronged.  New chapters added as they came up.  Our stories focussed more on those who wronged us and less on what our part was.  Our stories got fuzzied and stained by further anger, fear, worry and spite.  Our stories, seemingly set in kilned clay, adapted to our inner landscape.  They helped to separate us from others, to show us that we were different, that we were justified in our drinking habits…and that no one ever would understand us.  Divided even further from our true selves, our stories dug us deeper into a place where the darkness fostered even more darkness.

You know, there just aren't enough Lucky Charms and magic bath bombs to make even something like this go away.

You know, there just aren’t enough Full House Christmas Reunion Specials and gold-dusted cinnamon apple scented bath bombs to make even something like this go away. Let’s hope that history does not repeat itself…for the children’s sake.

So is that end of the tale, then?  Do I sit in the mindset that the past is just that and I can’t do anything about it?  I saw things as being permanent.  Obelisks to mark the failures of my life.  A psalm song from the Book of Loser, in the minor key of jackass.  But what I have learned in the last year of so has been nothing short of transformative for me, and that is I do get to change that past.  Not the actions per se – they certainly are fossilized for social studies students to study and archive at their whim.  But the magic remains in how I change the perspective of the past.  I get to shift the old reality into a new reality.  I get to change history, my history, as I know it.

When I found myself on a park bench earlier this year, the place where I met myself, drawn to the light of the moon and light of the Spirit, I found self-forgiveness. And in that self-forgiveness, I was not only freed from how I felt about my old transgressions, but I was also freed from the shackles of the sense of failure that I had about my life, and of my behaviour.  I didn’t absolve myself of my actions – I still had to take responsibility – but it changed how I looked at myself for all those years.  Working through my inventory and making amends also cleaned up a lot of that too.  I no longer needed to carry that victim card.  I could also toss out shame, guilt, and remorse while I was at it.  The cross no longer fit me and it was lay aside to build a garden bed…to allow growth rather than crushing it.  And in doing this, my whole history changed.  I didn’t feel the lapsed human any more.  I wasn’t a shitty dad.  I wasn’t a person who was terminally unique and apart from his own light.  I saw that I was simply a sick man and a broken spirit, and that the Creator never abandoned me.  I was the one who was blocked off from Him.

My history never involved sausage linked beauty pageants.  But for some strange reason, I wish it did.

My history never involved sausage linked beauty pageants. But for some strange reason, I wish it did.

It also reminds me of one place that I used to work, a place where I was very active in my alcoholism.  The folks there were nice enough to me, but felt that they treated me in a way that I didn’t deserve.  I felt that they pitied me, that they didn’t take me seriously, that I was just a burden to them.  I truly believed they just tolerated me, that they were all against me, and that they pretended to like me because they had to.  I felt alone, disgruntled and angry.  I stamped that victim ticket over and over like a Subway Sandwich Restaurant points card, except the only reward I received was more isolation, resentment and self-pity.  I eventually quit that place, and while they took me out for a good bye dinner and said kind things, I still felt like I was nothing to them. Now, that was my story.  If you asked me even a year or so into my sobriety about that time in my life, I would have spun a lovely yarn where it would seem that I was a baby seal getting clubbed by vindictive Danes and truculent Russians.

But here is where history changes.

When I went back to make my amends to two of the people at that place of work, this is what I found out: that they were very worried about me.  That they had gone to HR and asked if there was anything they could do for me.  They were afraid to talk to me about what was going on for me.  They turned many a blind eye to my behaviour because they knew something was wrong with me and didn’t want to see me go.  They discussed among themselves what they could do to help me.  They did all they could to include me and make me feel part of the team because they sensed I felt different.  They cared about me like I had not seen in such a long time.  Upon hearing this, my heart lifted, my soul soared and history changed for me.  My story had completely changed.  The facts remained in many ways, but the complexion and hues were different.  When I tell the story now, I look at my part, where I was acting like a jerk, where I was unreliable as a co-worker and employee, where I was not present and useful.  I see what it was like through their eyes.  I am not a victim, nor a villain.  Just a player in a scene, and now I see it with fresh eyes and an unburdened spirit.

My awakening was something like this, but not at all like this.  Kinda creepy, really.  Actually reminds me of my hangovers. Boo!

My awakening was something like this, but not at all like this. Kinda creepy, really. Actually reminds me of my hangovers, except this dude’s eyes are a lot clearer than mine ever were.

There are many places that my history has changed – how my parents raised me, how I grew up, how my school life was, etc.  All have changed as I continue trudging the path with eyes open and awareness intact.  My old life, while still rocky in places, is set on a different foundation now.  My old ideas and perceptions continue to shift and glide the more I uncover and peel back the layers of my self and grow in my spiritual journey.  I am not a victim.  I can be victimized at times, but I am not a victim.  The common denominator in my life, good and bad, is me.  So how do I look back and interpret the past?  How do I want to see it, and how much of that is truth?  It’s an ongoing process, and while I am not looking to sanitize the past or gaze longingly on it, I am aware of where I have come from, and how I choose to see it.

And while I am able to occasionally drift back and see things with a new pair of glasses, it’s the present that matters.  The choices that I make, the counsel that I take, the communion with the Creator and others I seek, the continued challenge in growing and learning  – these are the things that allow me to expand and breathe into my new life.  These are the lessons I can pass on to others.  These are the tools I use to erase and smash the old conceptions of me and slowly unveil the me that I was created to be.  The one where light shines strongest.  We all have that light.  It just takes unpeeling to see more of it.

More shall be revealed.  Let others bask in your light.

Shine on.

27 responses to “Changing History

  1. i like how you can go back, examine past crap and still swing back to present and know that it’s the present that matters. it’s the present that matters. i often say something trite like “every day forward is a day further away from ‘that time before’ and into ‘this new better time here'” … but really, the only thing we can really focus on is now. the present. the decisions we make today. thanks for this thoughtful reminder.

    • Thanks Belle – you’re right about the present being most important. That is where I “am” right now, so that has more bearing on what is going on than reflecting on the past, or worrying about the future.

      I enjoy having you here…thanks for the wonderful comments 🙂

      Paul.

  2. I love this post SO much and not just because of your consistently fabulous use of photos (that Pan’s Labyrinth one is such a perfect match for your message and your wit!).
    How lovely were your former colleagues? They got you, they just didn’t know how to get to you through the fog of your addiction. I can’t imagine how much it must have meant to them to have you return and show them how far you’ve come.
    I find I’m actually very forgiving of past f**k-ups, and that is simply because I know they are in the past. It’s nice to know I’ll be looking back on this present and my future past with a lot less cringing. Okay…off now because I’m about to get tangled up in past imperfect and future conditionals!
    Thanks for another great read. 🙂

    • Thanks! I *do* have some fun with the pics, if truth be told. I love that Pan’s Labyrinth one too – I have been waiting to use that one for a while now.

      And yes, my former colleagues were wonderful. I am still very grateful to them.

      I love what you said about the past imperfects and future conditional…so correct and so funny. Thank you for livening up things for me here 🙂

      Blessings,
      Paul

  3. I wish I were half as evolved as you are Paul. Even after all this time I have a hard time letting go, forgiving and moving on. I’m still trying to get there and one day I know I will.

    Beautiful post.

    Sherry

    • Oh Sherry, I don’t think so, but that’s awfully nice of you to say so. I often write about these things not so much as a stamp of my progress, but as a reminder to myself. Sort of a long winded post-it note to myself. I struggle through all these things, and sometimes turn corners, and sometimes not. I am growing, and look to all others, like you, to gleam wisdom and experience so that I can learn something. We’re all in it together 🙂

      Thank you for being here.

      Paul

  4. It’s powerful to think that the past can (in part, at least) be reinterpreted, and that reinterpretation actually changes it. I think interpreting the past and imagining the future is a big part of what it is to be a person, and that’s always filtered though how we’re thinking in the present. Thanks for offering a beautiful and inspiring commentary on such an important subject.

  5. Paul, if I could name the one and only thing that still regularly haunts me, it’s my visceral reaction to past events. It has gotten better, but it’s still not the reaction I desire. This post helps… a lot. I am hopeful that the memory of your words help the next time the past comes a-knockin. I’ll let you know, but, in the meantime, a heartfelt thank you for this beautiful post.

    • Hey Josie – I have read some of your thoughts on this topic, in terms of your visceral reactions, and I understand where you are coming from. It’s hard to change X amount of years reacting one way, or filtering things through one lens, and then changing it completely overnight. There are many things that leave an emotional residue, and I can only pray for progress, because I know I won’t get perfection.

      I hope that we all get to that point in our lives where we look back and see that we were just broken, yet beautiful souls. And living the best we can right here, right now, where it’s important.

      Thank you for the wonderful comments.

      Paul

  6. Well you have out done yourself with another Great Mater-Piece! Changing our History to me in Recovery is to Look, find, and OWN our Character Defects, owning them and our past, and become better then we were…..Cleaning out the cobb webs of the diseased Habits and Behaviors, and Living In the Moment, One Day At a Time! Even though we have NO control over People, Places, and Things, isn’t an Excuse for us to help others, and put some Positive Vibes back out in the World……Loved this Paul!! xoxo
    *Catherine*

    • Well said, Catherine. I can’t add much more to what you said. I renounced my so called “flaws” and pinned the blame on others for how I was. It was everything and everyone else but me, and I didn’t, nay, couldn’t take on what was mine to take. Recovery has let me tackle that and show me for what I truly was…and am. Not a blame game or anything like that…but just truth.

      Thanks again for the wonderful comments!

      Blessings,
      Paul

  7. Ahhh, I can so relate to the beginning there and your son being born, I swore off drinking too when my daughter was born and, well, it didn’t happen then either. But it did eventually happen! And that is the most amazing part! Now, after a bit in sobriety, I often feel like I get to redo my past and her past too, especially the past that is not so pleasant to remember. And these times that I get to recreate, they way I wish they were then, these times, hopefully, will be the good old days that she will remember!

    Thank you Paul, great post!

    • Glad you’re here and also staying present in your own present. I think we as parents feel a stronger guilt when children are involved, and especially when they are at an age when they know something isn’t well. Having said that, I know many of us who have not only reconnected (or even just connected) with their children, it’s a much stronger union that it ever was.

      Keep making wonderful memories, Maggie.

      Thank you for the lovely words.

      Paul

  8. Great post, Paul. Thanks so much for the tips on getting past the past! It’s something i’m still working on, but recently i learned that, just as i’m not qualified to judge others as i don’t know their stories, neither am i allowed to judge past Me, because he made the decisions he did for whatever reasons he had, and it’s not fair of present me to go back to specific moments and judge. Thanks again, brother!

    • I love what you say about judgement there, Al. It all resonates with me, and it reminds me that I have to be gentle towards the old, sick me as well. I think with all this honesty and thoroughness, we also tend to lash ourselves a bit, and remember that yes, we do have to be hard on ourselves to really crack things open, there is also room for self-compassion. And that then extends to others.

      Wonderful stuff, Al…thank you.

      Paul

  9. Hey Buddy!
    Yes, we can change the past because perception is everything and as we change, others perceptions of us, even past perceptions, shift. They see that we weren’t the people they thought we were, we couldn’t have been or else we wouldn’t be who we are now. The alcoholic us was never the real us, we knew that. We kept screaming it in our heads, “This isn’t me! This isn’t me!” I think that others know that also and that is why it is so hard for our loved ones to sit their and watch alcohol destroy the “real” us.

    But it didn’t destroy us, we didn’t let it. So who could look back now at who we were than and who we are now and not say, “Damn, that person is amazing.”

    • I love these comments, Kary May – I really dig what you say about how others perceive us. I forgot about that angle completely! Yes! You are no doubt correct in how others perhaps shift their own ways of seeing us. I can’t say for sure, I am not them, but my gut tells me that yes, we are seen differently. In fact, I CAN say that, because when I have made amends, I have had people tell me that, and they can see it in me at that moment…that I am different.

      Thank YOU for being the amazing person you are, KM.

      Blessings,
      Paul

  10. This is what my writing is for – to look back and get that new look on history.

    I often write from the perspective of the person who WAS NOT ME in the situation. I get inside their head, I look at me and my behaviour and words through their eyes, and then I try to think about how I’d feel (if I were them). This is something I have become very good at – and I am now a much more sympathetic and empathetic person. I always, always try to look at it from another side.

    Awesome post, Paul! This one really spoke too me – and the sausage link beauty pageant was wonderfully odd 😉

    • Yes, the sausage lady is an interesting pic. I wonder who came up with that one? Anyway, thatnks again for your wonderful comments. I like the idea of writing from the other side of things…gives a whole new perspective on things, doesn’t it? Very Canadian…lol. And you certainly do have a lot of empathy and sympathy. I could tell when we chatted over coffee 🙂

      Blessings,
      Paul

  11. I’ve been batting around this exact topic in my head and in conversation since the meeting Friday night. I’ve thought to write about it, but hadn’t gotten the words together yet. And here you just put it out there so perfectly. I’ll probably still write on it, all GD&T style, when I get a chance. Obviously this is something I need to work on lately, seeing as it keeps coming up. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

    • please do write it – I love new perspectives on things. And boy, do I need me some learnin’. The GD&T style is fantastic…love it.

      It’s funny how a thing will rattle around a bit, and/or it is put in our path over and over again? our HP isn’t always subtle! Thanks for being here – means a lot to me 🙂

      Paul

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