Retiring from a drunkard’s life at 22 was quite possibly the brightest thing I’ve ever done. I won’t bother getting into the whole “mommy sat me on the toilet seat sideways” sob story (she didn’t really, I just think it sounds funny and accurately portrays my belief in excuses), suffice it to say, at 22 years old I was told by a physician that I had the liver of a 60-year-old drunk and that if I didn’t stop, I’d die – very early. He gave me eight years, max. And I had that discussion when I was 21 – I drank heavily for another full year.
So here I am, healthy as an ox. Now, in the group that I run in, it’s a common saying that if you sober up a horse thief, you’re still left with a horse thief. Believing that, I changed everything in my life after I made the decision to plug the jug. The people I hung out with, the way I thought, acted and believed, everything changed. For me that was the only way.
There is one great lesson I got early on and reading this blog post got me to thinking I should write about it here. I have a crazy thought pop into my head from out of nowhere from time to time. We’ll stick with drinking because it’s easy and should be pretty non-controversial as an example: It’s a hot summer’s day, I just got done cutting the grass, I’m hot and sweaty and this thought pops into my head: Man, a beer would taste pretty damn good right about now. Now, most normal people would saunter into the house, open the fridge, drink a beer and move on to the next task. I’m not that guy. I’d end up slobbering on the living room floor after drinking a case, blubbering about how nobody respects me. Shortly thereafter I’d urinate in my pants and pass out on the floor (to this day, I know this down to my baby toes). So, the question is how does one move on from that hopeless state?
I learned to accept that, from time to time, there will be a thought that pops into my head that is exactly the opposite of the right thing to do next. In fact, it happened quite regularly after I first quit. I can’t control that first thought from popping into my head, but I sure can control the second. So take the instance above – hot and sweaty, grass cut, man a beer would taste good – my second thought, after years of practice, goes right to the end result. Me, slobbering drunk whining about respect, then passed out…eventually dead of cirrhosis. Taking that end into account, that beer doesn’t sound so good so I have a glass of water instead.
There’s a little more to this though. How many out there have little arguments in your head? It’s typically depicted with a devil and an angel on your shoulder, trying to convince you that each is right and that the other is an idiot. I didn’t have an angel and a devil, I had a whole stinking committee and I can tell you now, that committee knew karate! I was absolutely powerless over that argument going on in my head and it always followed a similar pattern, or path. So here’s the long version:
Imagine you’re walking down a path (physically, but in your melon). Now I’ll switch this to me…I’m on the right path, things are going well and I’m happy. All of the sudden a thought pops in my head: I wonder if the wife is cheating on me (even though she hasn’t done anything to bring this thought about). That thought then becomes my responsibility. Now, I can head off of my current path and entertain the notion that my wife could possibly be cheating on me even though there is no reasonable evidence of it and after the committee has had its way, I’d end up divorced and lucky if I even get to see my kids on weekends (if I look down that path far enough). That’s one path – and I can tell you, I don’t want to walk down that one without something better than a thought popping into my head as evidence. Or I can do something to interrupt that sequence of thoughts and get back on the right path again. I’ve actually had this happen a time or two and I can tell you, my next thought was this: What’s wrong with me that I’m even going there? The answer was that I wasn’t giving my wife enough attention because I’d been going through an immense amount of stress at work. I redoubled my efforts by treating my wife like the queen that she is. Instead of a divorce, I ended up, er…with a happier wife. There are two very different paths and the dark path was averted simply by changing the tape that plays in my head.
I learned this by dealing with putting down alcohol, but it applies to every aspect of my life. In fact, I had an instance just a few minutes ago; I’ve just completed a very difficult project under a lot of stress, with a hard deadline. Now that I’m done, the powers that be are dragging their feet in paying up. I can go one of two ways with this. I can send them a nasty letter saying that I’m going to sue for my money, plus interest, plus damages and make a point, but that carries with it a better chance of simply prolonging the process and angering a customer (simply because I’m angry). If I think this far enough down the road, I’m bankrupt. In this case, I was mad enough to write the letter anyway, but I didn’t know that this was the wisest path to walk down so I consulted with my attorney before I sent it. I read it to him as I wrote it and we ended up coming up with something that shows urgency but won’t damage my relationship with my customer.
Take something simple, say I wake up in a bad mood. Work’s tough, the kids took forever to fall asleep, as did I… I wake up and the car won’t start. Now the normal me would just jump it and be on my way, but if I give the committee any time with that, everything that happens for the next 15 hours will be horrible and life will have dealt me a blow and everything will come crashing down in a matter of days. The other branch to that path is, “hey, life happens”. I dust myself off and push through it. This takes no preparation and no real effort (other than understanding what’s happening in the gray matter between one’s ears), just a little bit of practice at not letting the committee spin out of control.
In short, I want to be very careful about which path I’m walking on – especially when it’s in my melon, with a committee that would have me drunk, divorced and broke!
As my father used to say, “That and fifty cents will get you a cup of coffee”. When in doubt, act like a duck. Above water, look calm and collected. Underwater, paddle like hell.