A cool breeze drifted in through the window, mingling with the meaty goodness coming from the short ribs roasting slowly in the cast iron skillet in the oven. The room was darker than it had been a month ago at the same time on a Sunday, the sun’s late afternoon orange glow casting longer shadows on the wood floor. Save the faint sound of a lawnmower in the distance and the occasional plane passing overhead, the house was silent, and I was reading.
My wife had taken my son to a birthday party and I was blessed with nearly three hours of uninterrupted quiet. I didn’t even put music on — an out of character move on my part, but welcome. Despite having a freshly brewed pour over coffee, I drifted off to sleep for a short 15 minute luxurious nap on the couch. This was exactly how I’d hoped that my Sunday would be; calm, peaceful, serene. No pressures, no agendas, no plans other than a slow pot of soup to make.
I thoroughly enjoyed my quiet time. It had been a long week. Perhaps the longest of my life — at least it sure seemed that way. I’d spent most of the week thinking about the momentous occasion of the anniversary of my decision to stop drinking. Most of the week had been one event after another; meetings for work, some of them late; phone calls, emails, text messages; errands, cub scouts, other family obligations. Despite the frenetic activity, the time dripped by slowly — the agonizing anticipation of the event.
One year seems like a big deal; it is a big deal. But in the final analysis, Friday, the 23rd of September, 2016 was a day like any other in the past twelve months. I got up. I did the things that I was supposed to do. I connected with people in the world. I read some things. I ate some food. I didn’t pick up a drink. I went to sleep.
Just another day.
On Saturday, I celebrated my anniversary at my home group and was blessed to have my family and friends around me. There were people who got up earlier than I did to travel in to be with me. One friend from high school came to be at my anniversary. Another, from the Twittersphere, made the journey. And of course, the people who had helped me the most, the people who were there day after day at 6:00 AM were there to hear my story.
Then in the afternoon, I went with my family to my niece’s birthday party. It turns out that my sobriety date is also my niece’s birthday. This is going to sound awful, but I didn’t realize that until this past week. This simple fact is a good reminder that it’s not all about me. That there are other people in this world, and they matter.
And yet, when my wife got home last night with my son, I struggled a bit.
“Can you bring down the laundry?”
What the fuck, can’t she see that I’m relaxing? I thought to myself as I took off my reading glasses and went up to get the laundry. Then I sat back down, and started to read again.
“Can you get him to take his shower?”
Seriously, I just got the fucking laundry. Why is she asking me to do all this stuff? Another thought which I kept to myself. And, then I paused.
And then, it hit me.
I’d been blessed with nearly three hours alone. In that time, I’d been able to do whatever I wanted and it was now time for me to do the right thing, without complaining and without fighting about it. It was time for me to put the book down and be a father. My wife wasn’t asking me to do anything unreasonable. She’d already given me the gift of time. There’d been no discussion about who would take the boy to the birthday party and there didn’t need to be a discussion about who would motivate him to clean his body.
Some say that the disease of addiction is a disease of more; a disease of never being satisfied. It’s easy to see this when we reflect on our active addiction. For me, there was never enough booze. The nights drinking only stopped when I ran out or when I passed out. It was never a conscious decision that I’d had enough.
What’s less apparent, is that this continues even after we quit the drink. It’s as if we are hardwired to crave things. We grasp at things that we can’t have. That’s what was going on in my mind when my wife got home last night. I wanted more quite, more solitude, more time to read my book.
In the past, I might have blown up when she asked me to help get my son clean and ready for bed. In fact, there really is no might about it — I would have lost it. And everyone, including me, would have wondered what the hell had happened to set the bomb off.
Over the past year, I’ve been blessed with many things. I’ve learned many skills, which I try to practice — sometimes with more success than others. These skills help me to keep my collective shit together. They help me to identify when I’ve had enough. One of these skills, is the ability to pause. To take a moment before reacting.
It’s amazing what happens when I actively practice this skill. More often than not, I realize that my initial reaction is not my best reaction. And when I realize this, I can make a choice to react in a better more positive way, like putting down my book and helping get my son read for bed.