On New Year’s Eve of last year, I wrote down my thoughts as I reflected on the previous 12 months. Posting that short note would be one of the very first times that I openly shared any of my words.
At that point in my life, I had recently crashed and burned in a drug-fueled meltdown, and was rebuilding from scratch. I was broke, unemployed, divorced, and newly sober. Every single day felt like stepping out of the shower and standing naked in the middle of a cold room. I was uncomfortable, raw, and had no idea which direction my life was about to travel.
When I started writing on New Year’s Eve of last year, I wasn’t sure what I was going to say, but I wanted to express how I was feeling at that moment. Even though I had seemingly lost everything, I felt a sense of happiness and freedom that I had never previously experienced. As Seneca once said:
“If my wealth goes away, it takes with it nothing but itself.”
I had finally surrendered to drugs and alcohol and fully accepted my circumstances and my disease. German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche describes this as amor fati — a love of fate.
“That one wants nothing to be different… Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it… but love it.”
Our circumstances don’t care how we feel about them, so we might as well accept and love our fate — then we can take action to improve our lives. This philosophy has helped me to see that all things happen for a reason and it’s within my ability to see the positive in every situation.
As this year draws to a close, I want to revisit my words from one year ago and provide a list of four things I’m giving up for the new year.
This year I am giving up on avoiding pain. I am the person that I am today — not in spite of my past painful experiences — but because of my past painful experiences. Changing the way I view my past has been fundamental to improving my life. Last year I wrote:
“I’ve learned that the most difficult times in your life can simultaneously be the greatest gifts. The things that I am most grateful for today are a consummation of my lowest lows.”
The next time you experience pain, acknowledge that it sucks and that you wish it didn’t happen–but then also be grateful that you are learning what pain is. You are growing because of it–the person on the other side will be a better version of you.
Also, remember that anger always outlasts pain. Don’t let anger or resentment distract you from the opportunity and lessons available to you in those moments.
Caring what other people think of me
I’m giving up on worrying about what other people think of me. Last year I wrote that I wanted to focus on my own efforts, and not the reactions of others:
“I’m also learning to focus on the effort, not the outcome. Acceptance that I can’t control other people or their reactions, only my own part. Ego wants to control everything, but doing the work is enough. Find serenity in knowing that you made the effort to become the best version of yourself. Outside recognition is only a bonus.”
When I was newly sober and starting to have success in all areas of my life, I reached out to my ex-wife. I wanted her to know how well I was doing and for her to be proud of me, or give me a pat on the back. Her reaction wasn’t what I had hoped, and she asked me to never reach out again. In retrospect, it was selfish of me to reach out at all, and it was unreasonable to have expectations of how she would react.
Even in sobriety, not everyone will have a positive reaction to my efforts. It’s important to not attach the things that I do to the expectation of healing a relationship or gaining forgiveness from another person. It requires humility to accept that I don’t control the reaction of others to me. Receiving praise for my efforts is a nice bonus, but not something to be expected or to attach my self-worth onto.
Thinking too small
I’m also giving up on believing that I can’t change the world. Over the past year, I’ve been searching for — and finding — purpose. Last year I wrote:
“One of my goals for the next year is to move with purpose instead of passion, and knowing the difference. I want to fall out of love with the image of what I think success looks like, and work towards real accomplishment.”
Although I’ve struggled with welcoming happiness and real accomplishment into my life, I now know that I deserve all of it. This year I am giving up on thinking too small–and I’ll be making sure that my actions continue to match my ambitions.
I’ve never heard of anyone completing recovery–or accomplishing anything in life perfectly. I know I haven’t even done it well. Author Gretchen Rubin said it best:
“Instead of pushing yourself to an impossible ‘perfect,’ and therefore getting nowhere, accept ‘good.’ Many things worth doing are worth doing badly.”
For me, my substance use disorder is not something cured with a well-planned and perfect treatment. My disease needs to be treated every single day with constant awareness and work. The important part is that I show up every day and make an effort, regardless of how I feel and how difficult it may be. There are many things in life worth doing that are worth doing poorly, and recovery is one of them. Don’t let perfect get in the way of better.