Near-Life Experiences

“Shall not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.” I heard that somewhere. Recently a friend was bemoaning the lack of romantic exploits in his past, that he could have cheated on past companions but did not; he said that he still regrets that he had been “too shy.”

“Why create regrets about mistakes you did not make?” I asked. Because I live in a comic book in my head, I added, “That’s some deathbed scene, telling your wife and kids that you only regret that you hadn’t screwed up more.” My friend did not invite me to leave his moving vehicle.

Perhaps mistakes are the spice that makes life interesting, but it seems to me that I do not need to be anyone else’s mistake.

My present relationship is the longest I have experienced, three years last week. I am 46, so this statement represents a lot of dumb work on my part. A quarter-century of it. A lot of effort went into the fight to remain self-obsessed and increasingly isolated.

My girlfriend told me about eating out with a “sarcastic” friend—we all have one—when the two of them watched a toddler who was 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.

Over a decade 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 was it something else? or was it nothing else?

It is possible that it was my leg misfiring, a neuromuscular something-or-other, or 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 a living memory because I was in a brownout that night, an ambulatory blackout. I remember waking 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.

Had my alcoholism not gone into remission 1928 days ago today 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. By the way, the math is this: 1928 days, one day at a time, is little more than five years. Not much time at all.

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 is happening, would not have complained to anyone, much less to a doctor, and probably would be on a walker by now instead of a cane. I would be silently suffering with a fear that my condition is 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, because I liked the relief for those feelings that I had in a bottle.

Alcoholism is a disease, a psychological and physical one, in which craving supplants all emotions and that emotion of craving 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 eleven years ago, maybe twelve, I tried to contact my future self, the 2015 edition of me who has 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. Of course I 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 subsequent six years on anyone, even people I detest. That is a thought that would never have crossed my mind or entered my heart once upon a time.

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

It’s all gravy, after all.

* * * *
Some of this first appeared in “Getting Better.”

The WordPress Daily Prompt for October 25 asks, “What’s your most prized possession?”

The WordPress Daily Prompt for May 27 asks, “We all have complicated histories. When was the last time your past experiences informed a major decision you’ve made?”

* * * *
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  1. Catherine Hamrick · May 27, 2015

    Kudos. Another solid piece. Well said. No more. No less.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ramya · May 27, 2015

    VEry well written. Liked the use of the title

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Martha Kennedy · May 27, 2015

    Nicely done. And brave.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Olga Brajnović · May 27, 2015

    What a powerful piece!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Athena · May 28, 2015

    “Bonking into real life …” – love that term!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. loisajay · May 30, 2015

    Nothing else to say, Mark. You said it all. Bonk.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. mj6969 · May 31, 2015

    A very thoughtful and open-hearted and inspired piece. Thank you Mark – it s perhaps the very thing I needed to read in this moment – and congrats to you on choosing to make a difference – to many people, perhaps more than you’ll ever know.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mark Aldrich · May 31, 2015

      Thank you for sharing that. It’s not often someone writes something so direct to me, so all I can write back is thank you.


  8. rogershipp · June 16, 2015

    Some of the best people I know as well….

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Pingback: The Day Before | The Gad About Town
  10. Swoosieque · October 25, 2015

    Congratulations on making the changes in your life which allow you to consciously live it with purpose. Your writing is beautiful.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. macbofisbil · October 27, 2015

    A very inspirational and well written piece. You have one of the best blogs in my opinion, always a cornerstone of my daily blogging days.


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