As little as four years ago, I knew I would never be like the man in this picture. Because he has a child.
Four years ago I was in what would turn out to be the tail end of a struggle with addiction from the inside. I was obsessed with alcohol. Though I wanted to put other things first, alcohol came first in all things for me. I would try to put my friends, my promises, my family first. Really, honestly try. But whatever I knew I should be doing, somehow it always became more important that I be drunk. I drank because I was unhappy and I was unhappy because I drank, and I did not know how to break the cycle. My obsession brought me to see the cycle itself as the problem, to see alcohol as the thing to blame, but it was only a tool. It was a fast, easy way to forget my unhappiness for a time, and like most things that are fast and easy it provided only a temporary, unsatisfactory fix that failed to address the real issues.
Since I could not yet see that, I saw instead a quick, easy explanation. An excuse, really.
I was simply a broken, fatally flawed human being. Something was wrong with my body and my mind; something organic and unfixable. As such, I believed that it was my duty not to pass those terrible flaws on to another generation. I would let them die with me. I thought that four years ago when I was a binge alcoholic, nine years ago when I began drinking like that, fourteen years ago when I got out of the hospital and began five years of white-knuckle sobriety with no help, support, or counseling, nineteen years ago when I began the daily alcoholic drinking that would land me in the hospital near death kicking off that white-knuckle experience.
For nearly twenty years it was easier to believe that I was simply defective. Because then I would not have to do the work it takes to be a decent human being. For me, somehow, ‘work’ was something bad, something unenjoyable, something forced upon a person. If I had to work for it, it wasn’t worth having.
I carried a right view of work with me the whole time and never saw it. When I believed I had a good reason to work, I always worked hard. When I enjoyed what I was doing, I worked hard. I have read thousands of books because I enjoyed them and valued their message; are reading and analyzing and remembering not work? I have fixed broken cars and tilled gardens and potted plants, written and executed fantasy role-playing adventures for others and are those things not work? I pursued and earned an academic degree, and is that not work?
I have chased a lonely death I thought I deserved through pain and deprivation and fear, defying negative experience after negative experience… and that was definitely work, let me tell you.
I always felt something was wrong, something was off. Because, I suppose, it was staring me in the face. I am a fairly perceptive person, it takes a lot of work also to deny the obvious. That there was nothing wrong with me. That the wrong in my life was the result of making the superficially easy choice for the sake of fast results over and over again.
The wrong in my life wasn’t alcohol at all. It was in refusing to acknowledge that I was a worthwhile human being. It was in refusing to acknowledge that accepting the responsibility to foster the good in myself was what I needed, not a quick fix from a bottle.
It was in refusing to acknowledge that I could live up to the man in that picture after all. Refusing to acknowledge that I was not somehow doomed to failure. Refusing to acknowledge that I, after all, had something to give.
A little over three and a half years ago, I began to work. By working a program of recovery from addiction, I came to realize that I was not broken and worthless, but had merely buried my worth.
That man up there, my father, was not a perfect man. He made mistakes. Doing the best he knew how, he still made mistakes. My mother is the same. Doing her best, she still made mistakes. Humans do that. Because we are human. Once I resented the mistakes, because I simply did not accept what it means to be human. I wanted reality to be different; I wanted to challenge it. That generally doesn’t work out too well, and it didn’t.
Mistakes used to terrify me; they still worry me at times. They should concern us, or we will forget to avoid the ones we can. But I used to obsess over them. When I was drinking, I did not think I should have a child simply because I would be human like my parents and make mistakes. That’s the bottom line, beneath all of the explanations. And yesterday I learned that I have a son due to be born in three months.
Somehow, I’m not terrified. I know I will do my best. I know my wife will as well. I know we will make mistakes, and some day our child will ask why. Because that’s another things humans do.
Life is going to happen, and the bottom line is when I committed to living in recovery from alcoholism, I committed to living. Perhaps for the first time in my life, a conscious commitment to accept everything that means, uncertainty, mistakes, and all. Not just to accept it, but to embrace it and love it.
That’s what is waiting for little negative-three-month-old Victor. Acceptance, love, and the knowledge that life is uncertain, that the unexpected will happen and that we will all do our genuine best with it. What else is it all about?