Getting Better, One Day at a Time

A friend told me about eating out with her “sarcastic” friend—we all have one—when they saw a toddler, bundled up in winter layers, bounce off a closed glass door and fall because the child had not perceived the door.

The sarcastic friend said, sotto voce, “Get used to that, kid.”

Life is a clear, freshly cleaned, plate glass door that no one notices is a door, even with a shiny metal door handle at every-door-you’ve-ever-seen’s-door-handle-height on it, because we are too busy thinking about life until someone bonks into it. Loudly.

When are we too young to learn that? or too old to be reminded?

I bonked into my own life, repeatedly. Another friend has an analogy: Whenever he lived like he thought he was the “captain of his own ship,” he would run it aground, back it up, direct it in what he thought was a new direction, fire up the engines and re-launch full speed ahead, only to find that it was not a new direction at all and he had re-grounded it in the same spot, but deeper in the muck.

Ten years ago, my SMA symptoms were probably beginning to manifest themselves but I was still walking everywhere, and even if I did notice any changes I was not someone who was going to say anything out loud about them to another human being. I had terrible leg cramps. My right leg would spasm out from under me if I stood still for long, but it had done that for years; my reflexes would catch me and pop me back into place. That happens to everyone, right? I fell in my own apartment, a single-level, one bedroom, hard-to-fall-down-in apartment and twisted that ankle sometime in 2004. SMA? or something else?

It is possible it was my leg misfiring, a neuromuscular something-or-other, as well as something else. In 2004, I was still active in another disease, alcoholism; that stumble that I mentioned is not something that I actually remember as I was in a brownout that night, an ambulatory blackout. I remember awaking in pain and with a foot too swollen to put a shoe on it. Ice and aspirin and I was fine within days or never.

AA_Anniversary_Medallion_Cobalt_BlueHad my alcoholism not gone into remission four and a half years ago through a lot of work, I would not: be writing; know about SMA; know that I was born with SMA; or be walking at all, probably. I would not have the income that I have (Social Security Disability), which is a very small stipend but it is regular; I would not know eighty percent of the people I now call friends; I would not be in the relationship that has outlasted the few relationships I had ever adventured my way into and out of over the years.

I would not be walking because I would not know what was happening, would not have complained to anyone, much less a doctor, and probably would be on a walker by now instead of a cane. I would have silently suffered with a fear that my condition was one I “had drunk myself into,” which would probably frequently be a thought immediately preceding another guilt-riddled binge. (SMA is a genetic disease, and its symptoms would have appeared when they did even if I had been a teetotalling professional athlete.) When I was active, I liked feeling bad, feeling guilty, feeling self-pity, even, because I liked the relief for those feelings that I had in a bottle. I enjoyed feelings, good and bad, only insofar as I could suppress them.

Alcoholism is a disease, a psychological and physical one, in which craving supplants all emotions and that emotion directs all actions. All addictions seem to share that simple self-centered rule and draw vitality from this circular emotional logic. The solution is simple but difficult; for me it involved getting involved with life, doing for others, with others, and noticing that I am not the center of the universe and that you all are not my creations, figments of my imagination. The trick was getting me to want that, to notice that I did not know or had forgotten all this.

About ten years ago, maybe eleven, I tried to contact my future self, the 2014 edition of me with several years of sobriety. I called the A.A. hotline and some nice person listened to me for a bit and then he told me he would get me in the morning and bring me to a meeting. I of course did not go. The first step in recovery is to admit “we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.” I knew my life was becoming a wreck already, even with a good job, but … I knew nothing else. Ten years ago I was on Step Zero—I knew that MY life was wrong somehow—but I did not come into recovery until 2010; I do not wish those six years on anyone, even people I detest.

I do not wish SMA on anyone, even people I detest, too. The beautiful thing about bonking into real life is that the best people I know are alcoholics and addicts taking their recovery seriously and people with neuromuscular diseases—like SMA and SCA and Friedreich’s ataxia—people who expand their lives and their possibilities even as their boat changes course on them and coach me to do so, too.

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The WordPress Daily Prompt for November 15 asks, “Present-day you meets 10-years-ago you for coffee. Share with your younger self the most challenging thing, the most rewarding thing, and the most fun thing they have to look forward to.”

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9 comments

  1. wscottling · November 15, 2014

    I think I’ve bonked into that door a couple of hundred times myself. >_>

    Liked by 1 person

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  3. dcrelief · November 16, 2014

    Hi Mark. Happy ‘non-navel’ birthday! I enjoyed your sharing. Thought I’d drop in my own answer to the prompt. Hope you don’t mind.

    Hello, I am the future you -I reside in 2014. There are many changes coming. Things you’re going to love, things you’re going to shed tears over, but great joy and moments of laughter will once again fill your life.
    Though you struggle today with shedding those 23 perscriptions – you will succed. You will be healthier and learn to prevent many physical issues from returning. You worry too much about those pain meds you avoid, as you’ll be celebrating 25 years being clean and sober in 2014! In fact you won’t even realize it’s been that long. Other things will be occupying space in your head.

    Your Dad will pass away, and though it’s a sad moment, you’ll discover he left you the home. The very home you moved into at the age of 13. You know every tree because you’ve climbed them all. It will seem daunting at first because you are alone. But then you’ll remember that your were always alone there. Brothers always off with friends, and no girls in the neighborhood for you to play with. That world you developed then, coupled with the progress from 2004, will enable you be to quite content. I promise you this is a most rewarding moment.

    You’ll have the most fun finding ways to show gratitude to a creator of your own understanding. There will be many and yet you will continue to push for more. Living here will become a blessing larger than you could ever imagine. Get ready for all the neighbors who welcome you. Read, rest, and stay in communication with your higher power, so that life is so much easier to live… easier to give… for that has always been your dream.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Swoosieque · November 16, 2014

    You are such an inspiration! Congratulations on the sobriety and understanding that alcoholism is a disease and seeking treatment is the most successful way to conquer it day by day. I admire you deeply. Bless you and thank you for sharing this! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  5. camparigirl · November 17, 2014

    Beautiful and corageous share.

    Liked by 1 person

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