One of my favorite aspects of the social media platform for sobriety is seeing the "Then vs. Now" photos and stories people post. Sometimes the differences are so drastic it is hard to believe. Other times, the visual changes aren't as powerful as the emotional ones. Nevertheless, the changes are impossible to ignore and I feel proud of everyone who has experienced them and who has had the courage to put themselves out there in the hopes of helping others. There are times in my day-to-day life where I forget about the differences between how I used to live and how I live now. There are other times when I stop and reflect on how much has changed and how grateful I am for all those changes. Yet, other times, I am absolutely dumbfounded by the vast differences between my life back then, and my life now.
My partner and I were talking the other day about what it means to live a happy, productive, and fulfilling life. The conversation initiated when I made a comment regarding how much time I wasted throughout my years of drinking. She asked me what the difference is between then and now. For me, the answer to this question lies in where and how I spent my time. Interestingly, this is true for both my physical and mental states. What I mean is, where I spent my time physically as in location as well as where I spent my time emotionally. Likewise, how I spent my time physically as in my activity as well as how I spent my time emotionally. Sometimes the differences can be subtle, but even in those subtle differences, enormous benefits await. Never in my life have I experienced so many positive changes in not only the way I interact with the world, but also in how I see the world, and you can too.
The most fascinating part of trying to remember the things I did while drinking is
I have a hard time remembering the things I did while drinking
One thing I have tried to remain consistent with, in my sober journey and in my writing about my journey is to NOT talk about the negatives of the past. I believe there is much more benefit in concentrating on the present and the future. With this in mind, I will not spend much time talking about the specifics of the "then." Instead, I will focus more on how the "then" differs from the "now." For me, the biggest most overarching difference can be summed up in one word: time. You cannot know how valuable time is until you begin using it effectively. My "then" consisted of squandering time like it was useless and something for which I couldn't be bothered. Looking back, I think that was part of the problem. I didn't understand how much importance, joy, and happiness existed in time, but then, hindsight will always be 20/20, won't it? Here is how my perception of time has changed since I quit drinking.
First, I will talk about how my perception of time has changed in regard to physicality. It's easier to conceive and picture physical things and actions. The most fascinating part of trying to remember the things I did while drinking is I have a hard time remembering the things I did while drinking. Now, I have to concede in saying I did accomplish quite a lot in my life while drinking. I went to and finished college at the age of 37 as a working, married, father. I personally raised over twenty thousand dollars for cancer research, I wrote produced, and played all the instruments for a five-song metal demo at the beginning of the century, I lived in Hawaii for eight years. I have also done some amazing things professionally: underwater construction, scuba diving instruction, non-profit work, worked on a horse ranch overlooking Monterey Bay in California, I have written several books, and most recently I began and maintained a successful teaching career. Nevertheless, while I have achieved some things in my life, all the time in between all of those things was wasted and forgotten. I have a hard time remembering how else I spent my time other than those things because mostly I was either drinking, waiting to drink, or recovering from drinking. Time wasted.
Changing the way we think about, perceive, and experience the world is truly
the most important aspect of any successful and long-term change
Now, my physical actions and the things I spend my time on are not only productive and healthy but they are also remembered and I am truly grateful for all of them. Instead of waking up hungover and making excuses for when I can begin drinking again to mitigate how horrible I feel, I am setting intentions, expressing gratitude, working to better myself, my family, and my life. I am learning new things, getting better at other things, and focusing on living my life as opposed to simply enduring it. For the better part of my adult life, I did not know how interactive life is, but we have to be present and able to experience it. I used to laugh at people who said there was not enough time in the day. It never made sense to me. Now I understand it because when we take advantage of our time by engaging in meaningful activities we love, all we want is more time to do more of that, which is called living.
The other side of time is how we spend our time emotionally. Now, this one is a little trickier because if you are like me, and you wasted much of your emotional life on things that don't matter, being angry, focusing on the negative, and generally feeling unhappy and lost, then this is not an easy habit to break, but it can be done, I promise. If I am honest, I do not know which is worse: wasting physical time or emotional time. I think, based on my previous statement, wasting emotional time is more damaging because it is definitely the harder one to correct. We can correct physical habits by literally changing our movements and over time muscle memory can help to change the way we do things. Emotionally, this is true as well, but the power of our mind is both our greatest strength and our greatest weakness. Changing the way we think about, perceive, and experience the world is truly the most important aspect of any successful and long-term change.
We can change the channel of our thoughts as easily as we change the channel
on the television, if we want to
While my physical life has dramatically changed for the better and more positive, because of the power of our minds and the amount of time I spent wasting time emotionally, my emotional health is a little slower to catch up with my physical health. Here is what I have done and continue to do to help change my bad emotional habits to more positive ones. First, I try to express my gratitude for all the positive things in my life every day. I don't always remember, but I try to make it a priority because I believe in the idea that positive thinking and gratitude create more positive outcomes.
Next, I try to surround myself with positive people I either admire or feel I can learn from. Listening to other's positivity reminds me to remain positive too. When I feel myself drift toward negative thoughts or feelings, I practice recognizing those feelings and then concentrating on what my family calls changing the channel. It sounds corny, but it really works. We can change the channel of our thoughts as easily as we change the channel on the television if we want to. The people with whom we surround ourselves can make or break how we experience our world. My partner and my son are two of the most positive influences in my life and I feel lucky and grateful to have them in my life. Not to mention, the amazingly supportive people I have met and maintain friendships within the sober community.
There is never a day that goes by where I am not fully aware of and engaging
with time in positive ways
Another thing I try to do is to see, acknowledge, and point out positive people, things, events, and moments whenever they occur. There is a difference between seeing something positive and acknowledging it. Acknowledging the positive forces us to engage with it and therefore learn from it as well. Often, especially in addiction, we disregard our emotions by masking, numbing, and ignoring them through the use of our addictions. Simply allowing ourselves to be aware of and engage with our emotions is the single most powerful thing we can do to help improve our emotional health and how we spend our time emotionally.
In summary, what is the biggest difference between then and now for me? Time. I take advantage of my time, I appreciate time, and I am grateful for time every day. There is never a day that goes by where I am not fully aware of and engaging with time in positive ways. Can I improve how I spend and experience time? Always, and it is in that simple acknowledgment of truth that I am certain to never waste my physical or emotional time again.