This time two years ago I was 265 pounds.
This time one year ago I was smoking marijuana every day.
This time seven months ago I was fired from my job.
This time six months ago I was arrested.
This time four months ago I was suicidal.
This time three months ago I was in a mental hospital.
This time two months ago I moved into a homeless shelter.
This time last month I was unemployed, miserably unhappy, and alone.
Today, I am doing better mentally and physically than I have in the better part of six years. I currently weight 185 pounds; I haven’t smoked marijuana or drank alcohol in three months; I have two jobs, one of which satisfied my creative needs and the other which is easy to wake up for and provides great camaraderie and conversation; My legal situation is resolved; I now sleep like a baby and look forward to waking up in the morning; I am undergoing counseling and med management and move into my own apartment in less than a week; and finally, and perhaps best of all, I am in a healthy, growing relationship that has been mutually respectful and emotionally rewarding.
How did this happen?
Recovery – “recovery,” I’m inclined to say, as I don’t particularly agree that there was anything “wrong with me” in the first place – isn’t rocket science. Getting right with yourself and right with the world has been the go-to methodology for healthy, happy living since before the birth of Christ. Adages, parables, and spiritual texts abound from the outset of recorded history some seven thousand years ago; they have been refined, re-implemented and re-discovered by culture after culture, by martyr after martyr and sage after sage. Ultimately their advice boils down to that second sentence in this very paragraph:
Get right with yourself; Get right with the world.
These are the two fundamental domains at play in our existence – our Self, and the Place in which it resides. The first we can control, even though we often don’t want to believe it, let alone make the effort to do it. The latter is beyond us, a set of natural and societal constructs we did not choose nor willingly sign up for. Fighting against the Place with any expectation of “winning” is a foolish and misguided as standing before a tidal wave or tornado and trying to use mind bullets or a noetic force field to survive them; it’s akin to wrestling with a lion or riding a grizzly bear – there are, unfortunately, some things you just don’t do. Because it doesn’t work that way.
But what I came to understand over the past several years was that there was still my Self, and it was something I very much could control. I’m not saying I’ve got it down completely, or that anyone can ever truly exist in a state of perpetual nirvana; what I do know is that, contrary to the Place we didn’t choose and can’t control, we have the ability to exercise tremendous influence over our individual persons (Selves), and when we consciously choose to do so we touch the surface of that first domain – the shocking, awesome limitlessness of what we can accomplish.
I lost almost 100 pounds by simply giving a shit. I didn’t exercise – not once. I chose not to drink soda, I chose to listen to my body and stop eating when I felt full; I stopped letting impulse dictate my portions or diet. I ate what made me feel good, in an amount that made me feel good. That’s it. No calorie counting, no weird diets, no gung-ho running regimen.
I stopped drinking and smoking in the same way – I paid f*cking attention, and that attention allowed to me to acknowledge that neither substance was doing me any good. I was unhappy. I binge ate. I got into trouble. And, more than anything, I felt like garbage all the time. So I stopped.
Likewise with work. I stopped feeling sorry for myself. I was tired of feeling like a loser or a worthless piece of crap. I got off my ass and put in applications. I did the work. I utilized the resources I had until then refused to acknowledge I had. I stopped pushing opportunities away. I admitted I was afraid of the burden of success. I embraced my cowardice and forgave myself. I understood what it meant to say, “tomorrow’s another day.” I finally grasped the concept “The lower you are, the higher you can go.” I simply looked at my work situation from the opposite side of the microscope.
With those same resources, I got myself into a shelter. I followed the rules and honored my responsibilities. Whenever possible I went the extra mile to make other residents’ lives easier. When a particular person became a problem, I didn’t make it my problem. I stood up for myself and stopped taking on the burden of someone else being an asshole.
Because of these actions I’m now less than a week from getting an apartment. I am making and saving money. I am climbing bit by bit out of the hole I made from myself. And, wonderful surprise that it’s been, I’ve met someone in a somewhat similar situation with similar perspective. They have needs I can fulfill, but they don’t take advantage of my time or energy. They listen. They care. This makes it easy to not take advantage of their time or energy, east to listen, and easy to care. It’s impossible to say who started doing this first – but it doesn’t matter. I get her. I like her. She seems to get and like me.
Of course, I will inevitably reach a point where I feel worthless again; I’ll inevitably gain weight, or change jobs, or struggle to pay bills in a given month; I’ll get into a fight with this person – probably over something stupid, and I’ll probably be inclined to be selfish and childish about it. I’ll probably be offered drugs or alcohol, or I may find myself in the parking lot of a liquor store. I might even partake and feel like shit about myself. And even if by some miracle none of these things happen, I can rest assured at some point, in some capacity, I’m going to fuck up. Some things just work that way.
But, after going through what I’ve been through – the awful, low, brutality of it – I now understand happiness. I understand hard work. I understand the connectivity of people and relationships, and I understand there are selfish people who do not. I understand how to deal with them. For the most part I understand how to not let this become my personal problem.
I don’t know what’s going to happen, and sometimes this very “not knowing” can become hard to deal with. But there is tremendous beauty in not knowing, and for now at least, I see it.
I can’t control the Place. I also don’t need to accept it, as long as I am willing to acknowledge that it’s there. If I want to wrestle lions, I’m going to be unhappy. If I try to ride a grizzly bear, I’m going to come out of it in bad shape – some things just don’t work that way. But I can watch lions from a safe distance; I can camp where there are bears and probably come out A-OK. I can do just about anything I want except wrestle and ride, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s a pretty good god damned deal. That’s pretty damn fair, and I don’t have much to complain about.
Sometimes it feels like there’s literally nothing I can control. At those times it’s important to remember – the things I can control, the choice I can make – are equally if not more infinite and fantastically awesome. There is no shame in being screwed by the Place – things happen. That’s just how it is. You just might be unlucky; you might have been born into a shitty situation, or had something awful happen to you. Likewise you might have made mistakes – maybe even some similar to my own. Let it go. The only mistake is to not move forward changed.
It gets better, if you want it to. If you try. If you give a shit. If you prepare for the next time you wont. If you hold yourself to the standard of “Is this going me any good?” and “Is this doing the world any good?”
Believe it or not, there are such things that fall into both categories.
Some things just work that way.
Get right with yourself. Get right with the world. Cliche, right? There’s a reason. Easy said than done – which is exactly the point. It’s supposed to be hard – that’s what makes it worthwhile.