Two things occurred to me as I dropped my kids off at school the other day. Two small, seemingly inconsequential things. Blink of an eye type stuff.
The first was hitting upon a quote that I found while scrolling down on my Twitter feed. It was something about committing to a daily writing routine. I get lots of writerly quotes in my timeline. This was one I had probably read several times before. Yeah, I get it – find a time to write and just do it. Gotcha.
The other thing that happened was when I was done dropping off the boys -I saw one of the mothers in her running gear, about to embark on a run.
That’s it. Dull as dishwasher water stuff. No fireworks there. Duds.
But then it hit me – both these things were very well connected, and came to remind me of something bigger. You see, I had spoken to that mother a few months ago, when I was really starting to get into my running. I noticed that she was often dressed in her outfit ready to head out, so I figured she knew a little something about the running game. And she shared her story with me one day – she initially took up running to lose the weight from her pregnancy, and then just fell into it for good. She runs 5K every day, except for Saturday, which is 20K. So she clocks 50K a week. Every week. Every. Single. Week. Rain or shine, meteors or zombies, Spanish Flu or Godzilla attacks. Every week she cranks out those kilometers, like a boss. A champ.
And as for the writing quote – well, yeah, I have heard that nugget of advice doled out by countless authors. Lately I have come to see that I am not a daily writer. I should be. My excuses spill out of me like diesel from a pump – I’m too busy, my work schedule is a mess, the kids always need attention, I have so much to do around the house, etc. But hey, I certainly find time to play around on the interweb and watch bad 80’s music videos (which is a special good type of bad, if you catch my synth-laden, hand-clapping, hair-crimping drift).
So where is all this leading up to?
One word: consistency.
Consistency was never my forté. Except for drinking and not being consistent. I was consistent in those things. Being an active alcoholic and inconsistency go hand in hand. I was inconsistent in my lies, my truths, my work habits, my appointment making, my finances, my parenting, my hygiene, my moods, my temperament, my sleep, my eating habits, my judgement and many other things. I had nothing even and level other than my need for alcohol. My selfishness. My need to be right all the time. Inconsistency is part of an alcoholic’s life. We cannot expect to lie, cheat, steal, drink, get drunk and live a life that is even-keeled and routine. Our routine was lack of routine, for many of us.
(I understand that for those who functioned perhaps a little bit better than most while still drinking, may argue this point – that you were always on time for work, that you were where you said you would be, showered regularly, etc. I put it to you that deep inside, there were many inconsistent thoughts and feeling tugging away at one another. I put it to you that at some point, that shiny “functioning” veneer eventually would have broken down and the slide downward would have grown grimmer.)
When I was at treatment, they had us on a daily routine. We had to wake up by a certain time. Shave. Shower. Make the bed. Fold your clothes. Order breakfast. Set the table. Eat. Do chores. Read. Go to class. And so on. Every single day. It was their way or the highway. What this did was two-fold – to instill a sense of routine and consistency in our lives, where there was only chaos. And to give us a sense of self-care and self-love. That was it. For many, bathing and vacuuming was something rarely seen. Having to shave meant looking at yourself in the mirror, and for many of us, we shunned looking at ourselves because it reminded us about how much of a piece of crap we were.
And that’s how others experienced us as well – unsure, unknowing, grasping onto the hope that we would start to turn things around and become some sort of normal. You know, there are some folks at my work who struggle to get into work at their scheduled time. The reasons are varied – sick family, missed the bus, not feeling well, forgot to check their shift, etc. These folks are the ones I think about when I go into work. Will they show up? And if so, what time? Should I be making alternate plans? Do I need to talk to them – again? And this is just one tiny thing. I can’t imagine what the spouses and loved ones of us knuckleheads who were in full blooming alcoholism went through. I am sure my wife would wonder if I got fired that day, or if our son was fed, or would I turn up at that birthday party as promised (again). Or if I was dead. Having that inconsistency in their alcoholic loved one’s life led to major inconsistency in theirs. We turned their lives upside down.
And we say that we’re not hurting anyone else but ourselves when we drink. Really?
So coming into this new found sobriety, I found myself getting consistent, and finding myself with capital gains from all that investing of time and effort. I hit meetings, I started doing the work, I went to after care, I went to therapy, I did readings and meditations – all regularly. Huh? For a slug like me who only drank regularly (shall we define “regularly” when it comes to alcoholic drinking? ha ha), having this scheduled self-love and self-respect was way out of line. You might as well have asked me to speak Korean and fly backwards. But then again, I didn’t want to drink and die, so I would have done whatever it took. And I did.
Consistency in my recovery and doing what was needed gave me a shot of self-esteem. It gave me hope. It gave me the outlook of someone who was on the mend, not going around the bend. It charted a new course of contentment and steered me away from the craggy shores of self-loathing, laziness and settling for second best. It brought me value in putting in the effort and reaping the rewards of it. It reminded me of how I used to practice my band instrument in high school – day in, day out. I dedicated myself to it. I did it when I didn’t feel like doing it. And it brought me to a place where I felt good about myself, about my performance, about my place on this dirt road life.
Consistency in my day-to-day life now is a blessing. My wife knows that when I say I am going to be somewhere, I am going to be there…at the time I said I would be. I am consistent in my feelings and attitude. I am not pulling an emotional “Where’s Waldo?” like I used to. I am consistent in being present. I am consistent in getting to work on time, in performing to and above expectations. I am consistent in being aware of others and respecting them. I am probably consistent enough to be borderline dull. But I’ll take that any day over the wreckage of ol’ Hurricane Paul.
If you’re a parent, you’ll know that all parenting books preach a few vital keys in how we raise our children. And one of those things is, you guessed it, consistency. Being uniform and constant in our dealings with the wee ones gives them a soft place to land. It gives them direction and order. It gives them a safe space, and knowing that we will follow through with what we say – whether it be reward or discipline. And those are the things I never really offered in any way, to anyone. Not even myself.
There was a blogger (I can’t remember who – my apologies) who talked about parenting ourselves (was it Karen? Kristen? Anyone else that starts with the letter K? Oh wait, I think it was Amy. I’ll figure this out.) And that comes to mind now as I think about how being undeviating and steady in my own life allows my wounded self to find that safe place. It allows me to foster a light of gentleness to myself and consideration for growth.
The great thing about being consistent is that it also helps me overcome my fear of commitment. Now that’s a topic for an entire post (or book!), but suffice to say committing wasn’t something I was fond of (unless committing a crime, or committing to another drunken Charlie Sheen kind of day). My fears of committing to any sort of routine fed my self-loathing. Who was I to commit to something that would improve my life, or my feeling of self-worth? What if I failed spectacularly? Tell Dr. Phil to cram it with walnuts too, while you’re at it.
So being consistent also means I am putting a healthy sense of being into my being and doing. I am taking action. I am telling myself and others that I am going to do as I do, not as I say I do. There’s a cosmic payoff in this. A jackpot that springs forth shiny coins from within. Being part of a community, being accountable, being responsible, being presentable…all these things to a productive, serene and comfortable Paul. Not a Neurotic Ned with jars of urine underneath the bed and a weathered copy of “How to Build the Perfect Atomic Bomb Shelter in 30 Days”.
For others, my consistency means they know what they’re getting with me. I have boundaries, I have an even temperament (for the most part!), I have an active sense of empathy and humour, I am approachable and I am dependable (for the most part!). They don’t feel they are juggling vials of nitroglycerin, TNT and tiki torches. It’s like going to Starbucks or McDonald’s- you know what you’re coming for and you know what it’s going to be like. Always the same. And that’s what I try to aim for. Without boring the bejesus out of you.
I am always consistent? Hells nah. No way. I am inconsistent with a lot of things still – my meeting attendance, some of my step work, my meditation, my punctuality, my emotional engagement with others, my eating habits, my writing…and then some. But it’s a Goliath’s (or maybe David’s?) stone’s toss better than I was before, where I was rightly filed under “Impressively Destructive Hot Mess – Male”.
These days, you’ll find me filed under “Work in Progress”. Hopefully I’ll stay consistent in that.
* The post title comes from an Oscar Wilde quote. Wilde, quite cheekily, was poking fun at those who would rather declare themselves “imaginative” rather than putting forth the effort of being consistent.