As someone who’s not an alcoholic, I’ve been to an unusual amount of AA meetings. In a community center. In a few church basements. In a park. Mostly as moral support. A few years back, I opened my events venue to a group when the church they’d been meeting at closed down. Certain concepts I’ve heard in AA have stuck with me over the years.
One Day At A Time
You can’t save your ass and your face at the same time
Most people would rather die than learn anything about themselves. In fact, they do.
For the past seven months, the one that’s been settling in my spirit is the deceptively simple adage: “Everywhere you go, there you are.”
From the sleepy seashore town I found in a happy accident to the two days camping on the Appalachian Trail to the bottom of a bottle in Ohio to the blazing heat that felt like home in Jamaica to the countless friend’s couches to the future horizon I’ve spent years staring longingly at…….my hopes, joys, fears, struggles, dreams, addictions, issues: all of them would follow me wherever I ended up. When I honestly peeled away these dreams — of running and running and running — all that was left was one desire. This gut-longing for home; one that’ll fill me with light and laughter and all the really beautiful things.
I don’t chase the horizon because the horizon is perfect.
I chase the horizon because my current environment isn’t.
My chasing after excitement is the same as an alcoholic longing for alcohol, a person after a traumatic breakup chasing a new boo, or a human yearning for death. We want peace. The alcohol would help us forget our current environment. A new partner would tinge our current environment with rose-tinted glasses. Death would instantly end our current environment. The closest I’ve heard people get to admitting what they really want is with suicide. “I just want the pain to stop.”
If I close my eyes, I see the ribbons attached to our dreams. One by one, we let them go, release them to the wind like errant balloons we’ve outgrown. There comes to all of us a quiet recognition that this is the only life we’ve got, and we’re spending it numb. Numbing through multiple ways. As I once wrote about myself “You’ve politely survived another day. Perhaps you will quietly make it through an entire existence.”
If we could just get to another state. If we could just move to another country. If we could just find our soulmate. If we could just die. If we could just get rich. If we could just sail around the world. If we could just have that one drink. The pain would stop and sometimes, it does. For a little while. Until it rushes back with a vengeance and we start the bargaining ‘what if’ process all over again.
Changing your environment without examining yourself is like raging futilely against the sands in your hourglass. Waiting around for your environment to change is even worse. This strips you of agency and breeds complacency and resentment. You’ll end up in a self-made prison cell no matter where you go. The thing about self-made prisons, however, is that you always have the key.
I’m not talking about accepting and embracing what you can’t control (actually a useful shift in mindset), but figuring out if what’s causing you pain is really not in your control. If you’re like me, you’ve let something that seemed significant at the moment hold you back from your dreams. You usually know exactly what that something is. Lack of confidence. Fear of disappointment. Other’s opinions. Community approval.
You berate yourself, but you can’t make the pivot. You shame yourself and end up feeling worse. The challenge of change is that giving yourself over to the new inevitably brings a painful letting go of the old. Old ideals. Old values. Old sense of self. When we say we can’t just make that change, what we’re really saying is “This somewhat, kind-of, fit me in the past. What if nothing else fits me half as well?”
See, I say I want an adventurous life, full of both hugs and kisses, and kicks and punches. I say I want excitement, passion, greatness, but I’m realizing that’s not quite true. I’m realizing I don’t want to write about adventures or even live them as much as I want a simple life filled with quiet pleasures. I don’t want exciting. Excitement is chaotic, and I’m only drawn to the fiery spectacle it creates, the smoke rising from the pyre. I rubberneck the thrills, but I don’t want to fill my Sundays with them.
Want a quick test to start finding out if it’s a self-made prison? If you say “I could never do that” as a knee-jerk reaction to a reasonable solution to whatever’s causing you pain, it might be within your control. See: being honest about your needs, leaving your comfort zone, building a comfort zone, working through trauma, stopping a harmful habit, leaving a bad relationship/marriage, etc…
You might need to learn to slow down. They might need to learn to take a risk. You might need to leave a relationship. They might need to be honest in their relationship. You might need to leave your comfort zone. They might need to learn how to make one. I’ve been lusting after excitement. You’ve been lusting after simplicity. The situations look different for everyone because home looks different for everyone.
Why do you want what you want? Same as anyone else. The desire to be safe, seen, and loved. The need to truly belong is in all of us, and we’ll seek out a variety of ways to get there. We’ll fight, educate, fuck, pray, meditate, create, have children, sweat, travel, marry, drink, and generally comb the entire world to find a space that feels like home.
All of us that are longing for that other mystical place: the global travels, the exotic food, the bottom of the bottle, the great relationship, where everything is perfect so we are perfect. We’re sure the green pastures with the salve for our deepest needs are there. It’s not. The grass is green wherever you choose to water it.
You’re already there.
One day at a time.