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The First Step
Where do I begin? Good question.
Easy answer: the beginning. Duh.
Yeah, I know. It’s usually the simplest stuff that gets us. Simple is not always easy, especially when our egos start rationalizing and complicating things. Egos are good at that – years of practice I suppose.
A friend of mine wanted to go to college; he was in his 40s. He looked at a stack of forms he had to fill out and was overwhelmed. He looked at his buddy and said, “I don’t even know where to start! Look at this pile of forms! Where do I begin? I don’t know most of this stuff! I’ll never be able to figure all of this stuff out!”
His buddy looked at the first page of the first form and said, “Hmm. Let’s see – it says here, ‘Name: last, first …’”, and looking at my friend he said, “Do you know your last name? How about your first name – do you know your first name?” My friend just laughed. Of course – start at the top of page one, and then move on.
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
Lao-tzu, The Way of Lao-tzu
Chinese philosopher (604 BC - 531 BC)
(Fromwww.quotationspage.com – thanks!)
We all do it of course – we get caught up so much in the enormity of the task before us that we just sit there, do nothing, and of course nothing happens. Nothing changes. And pretty soon life becomes unbearably changeless, cruel, and unforgiving. We blame God, our parents, our job, our girlfriend, etc. It’s not their fault of course – it’s ours. We’re trying to drive the car without touching the steering wheel, and we cry because it keeps going off the road. We don’t know it yet, but we are. We’re just sitting behind that wheel with our hands in the air, crying out in despair, afraid to take hold. “But I don’t know how!! I don’t know where to begin!” Right.
That’s the way it was for me in late summer 1990. Life had become unbearable - again. I knew something had to change, just as it had to change about 8 years earlier when I nearly overdosed on cocaine and hightailed it out of Michigan because of course I had to get away from all of my friends because they were the reason I overindulged in drugs & alcohol. And again in 1987, when I shut myself up in my apartment, turned off the phones, and cried & drank & drank & cried & then drank some more. And so there I was again in 1990 – life had turned horrible again, and again it wasn’t my fault.
I didn’t want to live any more – why bother? Everything I did turned to shit. No one understood. I knew I was insane but there was no big fat insurance policy to get me in to see a decent psychiatrist. And besides, what was a psychiatrist going to do for me anyway? I was too complicated and intelligent for the vast majority of people who were in the business of trying to help people. They couldn’t handle me. Hell, if I couldn’t figure me out, how could they? And don’t even talk about religion – I had been there, done that, and that, too, had turned to shit. I knew more about God & the Bible and religion than most of the “experts” anyway, so what could they do to help me? No - there was no hope.
My brother came to get me. I was completely drunk at 9 AM of course. He had tried everything he knew to help. Nothing he did - or could do - helped. He didn’t want me to die. He grabbed the drink from my hand and dumped it. He said he would give me a ride to detox if I wanted to go, but it was to be a one-way trip. There was no way he was bringing me back to the house. Did I want to go?
Who cares. What difference does it make. Why bother – just leave me alone.
“Do you want to go or don’t you?” Sure, why not.
We arrived and I saw a motley bunch of disheveled men & women sitting on a bench, smoking cigarettes. I didn’t want to be anywhere they were. I thought about turning the other way and walking to the bridge and sleeping under it. Who cared of I did or didn’t? I guess I did. I didn’t want to sleep under the bridge. So I swallowed my pride and walked in.
Walking into detox was my decision, no one else’s. My brother gave me a ride there, but he left the decision to me as to whether I would sign in or not. Someone was there to greet me when I walked in, but I could just as easily have walked back out. They gave me papers to sign – allowing me to get help. I didn’t have to sign them. I could have just cursed, walked out, and that would have been that. No, there was no getting around it. The decision to enter detox and give up alcohol – if only for that one day – was mine and mine alone.
I had taken the first step.
I haven’t taken a drink since then. I had no idea back in 1990 that life could be as unbelievably beautiful as it has become. I had no idea I would be able to stay away from booze for all this time. I had no idea so many people would ask for my advice, or listen when I told them what I thought, or would invite me into their homes and treat me as a respected guest, or hug me and tell me how important I was to them. I had no idea I would become a teacher, and that my efforts would affect the lives of so many teenagers. I had no idea that parents would call me and say thank you for helping my child. That day back in 1990 gave me nothing but an opportunity to take a step. I didn’t understand the step I was taking at all – but I knew it couldn’t be worse than where I had come from.
A month ago I left the town and the support group that had sobered me up and had kept me sober for 18 years, and moved back to the town where I took my first drink. Several dozen students and staff at the school I was working at poured their hearts out to me, telling me they were sorry I was leaving. Dozens of friends signed cards wishing me well. I received gifts, free dinners, and a million pounds of best wishes.
Today I am primary caregiver for my mother, who is afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease. The devastation of the disease is well known. I am not looking forward to seeing this disease progress and I am not looking forward to watching my mother die slowly, losing her senses step by step along the way until she can no longer recognize those of us who love her the most. But I know that, as with every other difficulty I’ve faced, the choice is mine as to how I handle each day. I don’t have to solve every problem or deal with every issue that can ever come up – all I have to do is take that first step toward a solution. Or, I can just wallow in my rut and feel sorry for myself.
The choice is mine.