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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.