One thing that I have been gloriously blessed with since I quit drinking 20 years ago is a good attitude. Cultivating a positive outlook is easy when things are going well, when everything just seems to “click” into place, but what happens when the wheels fall off? Not so much.
Before I even get into what to do during the rough times, the first and possibly most important attitude killer is “waiting for the other shoe to drop”. If you have a propensity to not enjoy the good times because you’re looking for the “bad stuff that’s just around the corner” to show up, you have got some serious work ahead of you because there is no other shoe that’s going to drop. Until you can grasp that, you can’t even enjoy it when things are going well because you’re always anticipating the bad. It’s as simple as that.
The only constant in life is change. Life is like the ocean, it ebbs and flows, the tide rises and eventually it drops. We must allow it to happen, while not waiting for the drop. I look at it this way: One way or another, when bad things happen they’re a shock to the system. You get your adrenaline going and you push through what you have to. It’s nothing more and nothing less (and the bigger problems are easier). I must remember that bad things happen to everyone. Nobody is immune, the only differences are in depth… With that accepted, then my problems can be put into proper perspective.
For example, over Thanksgiving weekend we found out that we had a busted drain pipe that runs under our kitchen slab. A good portion of the back quarter of my house flooded before there was even the slightest sign that anything was wrong. Immediately on noticing a problem, I had one of my guys come over to the house to help tear the flooring up. When I saw the scope, I called my insurance company and got everything rolling on that. I forked over the cash to have the plumbing fixed because it needed to be done immediately and I got the disaster company signed up pending acceptance by the insurance company… They’re trying to get out on a technicality. Rather than wait for the legal process to work itself out (and after speaking at length with my attorney about the situation), I got to demolishing the affected area – twice coming down with a 16 hour fever from coming in contact with the nasties that had been draining below my slab. Once that was done and had a few days to dry out, we sprayed everything down with chemicals to kill any possible mold and let it dry out. Over the next two weeks we got to putting the house back together… We’re painting right now. During all of this (which I did have the money for, but barely), we had Christmas but we had to make a choice to skip getting a tree – we simply couldn’t afford it with everything else. Now that we’re getting everything back together (floors and trim are next), our washing machine crapped out and the battery in my truck died yesterday. If that wasn’t enough, the shoelace on my damned boot even broke in half so I had to shovel the driveway and pick up my new battery with one stinkin’ boot hanging off of my foot – and I had to shovel the driveway because the damned snow blower won’t run without flooding. Folks, many people would get the impression that things are not going well in my life right now – but I laughed my ass off when I noticed the busted shoelace (the latest WTF moment)… I will get through this mess and be happier for it on the other side because life ebbs and flows, there are ups and downs. The only constant in life is change. I’m on the back side of the down, on the way up. If that isn’t reason for cheer, I don’t know what is – things are about to balance back out.
Twenty years ago I had a glorious awakening – I had created hell on earth for myself through drinking. When I quit and rebuilt my life, through God’s grace, I created a great life for my wife and I and now our children. No matter how bad things get, no matter what I lose or what is taken away, life won’t be that bad – the only possibility for me to sink back to that level is to pick up a drink. I’ve written about this before, when you’re lifted out of the hell you’ve created – when you’ve been as low as you can possibly get and still have the rest of your life to do better, it puts things in a light that most people don’t get to enjoy. A washing machine taking a crap is not the end of the world compared to having to climb out of the hole of alcoholism – keeping the big picture in mind is what’s really important. What if I couldn’t afford to plunk down the cash for a washer (I don’t have credit cards – we live debt free with the exception of the house and one car)? There are plenty of options out there. 18 months same as cash (that’s less than $35 a month for crying out loud). The point is that keeping the big picture perspective is required to maintain a decent attitude through the rough patches.
Finally, we’ve all heard the saying that happiness is an inside job. It’s a quaint and true sound bite but there’s a flip side to that, a negative (or bad) attitude is an inside job too. While what “happens” to me is an influence, what happens is not who I am and therefore what “happens” to me does not define how I react when “bad” things happen. Take the shoelace on my boot breaking (or the snow blower, snow, washing machine…take your pick). That one little thing on its own is no big deal, obviously, but put in context with everything else that’s going on in my life right now, it could have been the straw ten or fifteen years ago. So how do I laugh in the face of this mess? I put it in perspective. I won’t be worrying about any of this stuff in six months – if it doesn’t meet the six month test, I simply know I have to roll up my sleeves and work a little harder for a few weeks. If it does meet the six month test, then I know I need to roll up my sleeves and devote some time to resolving the issue, whatever it takes. In short, I’m never in a spot where a little action won’t fix what ails me.
Most important in this is faith – and this gets a little tricky for those who don’t have any. I truly believe that God won’t give me any more than I can handle. In other words, if it “happens” to me, I can handle it. When you walk through life knowing you can handle anything that comes your way, life is easier and the down times aren’t as stressful.
Living this way, of course, takes a lot of practice – but it’s worth it.