I was always concerned about my son.
As a baby and infant, he seemed to take a long time to hit the landmarks that they measure the wee ones by. Or at least, that’s how I felt when I was comparing him to other kids his age. It took him a while before he walked. He was hugging corners while others his age were at track meets. It took him time to get potty trained. Meanwhile, his friend who was six months younger than him, was happily winning gold medals in Ceramic Bowl Tinkery while I was still restocking on bulk diapers and Mega Wipes. Same could be said with drawing, block building and an appreciation for the ninja arts.
There is one thing, though, that I can say about him – whenever he makes a transition to a new stage in life, he doesn’t turn back. Once those diapers were off, that was it. I used those then useless wipes to wash the tears of joy knowing I wouldn’t have to clean him again (I should have saved them for when the second kid arrived…ugh). He is still like that. He has a certain amount of time that he needs to process and take in and actually act on the new way before committing to it.
I can honestly say that he gets that from yours truly. Not sure if that’s a good thing, but bambino will adjust.
It’s been just over one thousand days that I have been sober now. I don’t normally count days – one thousand is just a nice round number, is all. I used to count at the beginning, though. Stretching the hours through white knuckles and a boat-load of hope to eke out yet one more day tired me out. If my watch had milliseconds, I would have counted them too. But I needed tangible and concrete ways to keep score, as if score mattered. Alcohol occupied 9131 days of my life (but whose counting?). A few days of sobriety may not amounted to much in the grand scheme of things, but I was alive.
I wasn’t exactly living, but I was alive.
Like my son, there were a lot of things I needed to learn. A lot. I remember being very early in my recovery and volunteering at his pre-school. I helped the teachers with lunches, cleaning up, wiping noses, putting on snow pants and washing hands. I watched as the children learned basic values and principles – friendship, sharing, appreciation, gratitude, tidiness. I stood gobsmacked one day as I realized I myself was learning the same things. In many ways, I was still an infant. L’enfant terrible transforming amongst the neon coloured Play-Do and zoo animal puzzles.
Life lessons moved me to new places. My world shook up and heated up and rattled about like a shuttle on re-entry after being in space for so long. Things that I saw in others move at cheetah-like speed, I experienced moving at glacial speed in me (that is why I have always felt my spirit guide is a turtle). I saw shifts in my fellow alkie mates that happened months later in me. Things like talking to others “normally”, creating friendships, forgiving themselves, etc. I used to get annoyed and upset and impatient. Why did it have to take so long to learn my lessons? Why me?
“Why not me?” is the other legitimate question.
But like my son and his life’s markers, I too needed time to process things. I still do. I won’t change in this way, I know it. And I have come to peace with this. I may not be patient with this at times, but I accept it. It’s just how it is with me, just as my son’s late-blooming love for things that explode and make people die (“to die their whole bodies”, as he would say) is just how he rolls.
And like a spider’s precious sac of eggs, the greater lessons encompasses and hold all those smaller lessons with grace and restrained strength. The greater lessons are the ones I wrestle with now. Or, they wrestle with me until I succumb, surrender and accept. Take it in, like bad medicine, buttercup. And what are these lessons?
I have no clue, frankly. If I knew them, I wouldn’t be pontificating about them. If I had them nailed down and charted out, I would be a guru with a long beard sitting on a mountaintop waiting for the seekers to touch my feet and gaze into my eyes as they blubbered away about life. If I had these lessons mastered, I would no doubt be dead already, as I would have nothing else to learn on this earthly plane.
One thing I have learned, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of, is that everything I don’t know can fit in an airplane hangar. Millions of them. Lined up like dominoes, echoing with the nothingness of what I don’t know. And that’s fine. You see, I was a dude who thought he knew it all, and the biggest smack down my recovery has done is to tell me I know Jack Shit about F*ck All. Ego doesn’t like that, but that’s the New World Order, sunshine. I get to start all over at the crayon and watercolour table and just try not to poke my eye out with a #7 brush.
The good news is that with all this new roomy real estate in me, I get to learn some good stuff. Back to basics. It started with not drinking, learning self-care (bathing!) and not trying to claw my brain out through my ears. And then moved on up from there. I used to have questions. Lots of questions –
How can I do this?
What will happen to that court case?
How long can I keep this up?
Why didn’t I kill myself when I had a chance?
What will happen if I drink again?
Will I get my family back?
Why does God hate me?
Immediate, clutching-at-my-own-collar type questions. Questions that ate me up and kept me up at night. Questions that poked at me while I walked around asleep to the world. Some answers came easily, some with some unwanted reflection. Some just dissipated.
These days, I just ask different questions. That is what one thousand days has given me – new questions. And unlike some of those earlier questions, there are no easy answers. No immediate relief. No sense that a cosmic egg-timer has been turned over and at the end I get to draw a new Pictionary® sketch. This game goes on until the Dungeon Master deems it done.
So the greater lessons are what sit with me now. I am just now, a scant two-and-a-half years into this deal, realizing I don’t have any answers. It’s a strange and marvellous thing to be happy realizing. It’s unnerving and yet liberating. Saying “I don’t know” brings me as much joy as “another round, barkeep” used to do back in the day. The I-don’t-know-ness of my life keeps me sane. It keeps me tuned into the Source that does know it all. I get the occasional breadcrumbs – just enough to keep the fox hunt interesting – and that’s okay. I am fine with that. I need to be fine with that, in fact.
For me, right now, living is about entering the abyss. Strapped in, ready to disco duck. And what comes my way is through others, through the simple things, through keeping a perspective that allows me to focus on what’s important and zoom out on unimportant. Wear the world as a loose garment.
I unlearn to learn – addition by subtraction.
Yesterday I sat with my son, now six years-old, at the dining room table. He in his pj’s, sick and home from school, me off of work. He asked me what half-an-hour meant, as I told him that his Nana would be there in that time to watch over him as I ran errands. I showed him on a little clock how time worked. Hour hand, minute hand. Moving of the clock, of time. I saw transitions. Motion. Forward movement. A future boundless. He just saw numbers and smiled at their new meaning. I loved that he understood this simple thing. And I loved that I saw what he saw – that today was just a day full of hours, of boundless opportunities. No need to count days when there is so much in just on single day.
That little lesson stuck with him. The big lesson taught to me by my child may take time for me to get. But the lesson is there, waiting, ready to be unwrapped as time marches on.
A little less room in the hangar these days.