This week, two blog posts about forever got me thinking about how I deal with the forever versus one day at a time issue. Amy at Sober-bia wrote a thoughtful piece about forever, which I liked a whole lot. And this morning, Running from the Booze wrote about having a hard time with "forever" and I found that to be just as true for me. I wondered, can both perspectives be right for me?
Mostly I think I am never going to drink again. I need to think I am making a change that will improve my life in an ongoing way, over time, and it's long-term. In that frame of mind, if I started to think I was not drinking now, but that tomorrow might be OK, then I wouldn't see the point of it all. So far, that’s usually been working for me. That’s sets me down smack in the middle of the forever camp, right? But not it’s not quite that straightforward.
Sometimes the future is too much to for me. Here’s an example: I have a friend who is on a month-long trip to Spain. It’s a well-deserved break for her, and I couldn’t be more pleased. The other night, I was looking at some pictures she’s posted online, and I spotted a glass of wine in one photo. There were 93 beautiful pictures of people, building, plants, street scenes, and so on. She is a great photographer, so there was plenty to see and enjoy in the photos. But I realized I had scanned all the tables in all 93 pictures and I had found exactly one glass of wine, and with that I was off on a sad string of thoughts about how someday I will travel again in Europe and when it happens I will not be able to have a glass of wine, and then I questioned whether I had to decide that for now, which led to me thinking that surely one wouldn’t hurt, I was in Spain (or should I go to France? Belgium?) after all, and why couldn’t I have one wee glass of wine on my vacation? I tell you, I was staring at this glass of wine and a whole possible future spun out in front of me, filled with tortured moments of not being able to have that glass of wine, and wanting it, very much wanting it. After a few moments, I got a grip. I thought, I don’t have the personal strength to deal with all these future moments right now, and so I won’t.
If I start this kind of thinking, then the terrifying weight of the future all starts to pile up on me and I start to think, maybe I can't face doing this forever. Which leads to me thinking, maybe I’m wrong about everything. Maybe I should just have a drink no wand get it over with. That's when I say, OK, I just have to live today. I don't have to have the strength to face every possible future challenge right now in this moment. But I'm not drinking now, and that's enough.
That’s my version of forever, and my version of one day at a time. It’s making a decision that orients me towards the future. At the same time, it’s accepting that the future is a bit abstract, and it includes all of the past and present, and I can only act in the present. It's a balance between the two, and I shift my thinking depending on what works. I think shifting between the two kinds of thinking is part of the process.
So the other night, when I realized I was staring at that wine on the Spanish table, and it really was knocking me for a loop, I turned off the pictures, poured myself some sparkling water with fresh-squeezed lime, and remembered that I am not now in Spain, France, or Belgium, and I am certainly not on vacation. I am home and sober. The next day (yesterday) I had to be fresh and rested to write the GRE, a truly nasty exam that’s required for grad school applications, and that was about as much future as I could carry for the moment.
As a postscript, I wrote the GRE yesterday. It took about 4 hours with virtually no breaks, and drew in part on the algebra and geometry I learned about 30 years ago and haven’t used since. It was both excruciating and OK. Afterwards I was exhausted, in exactly the state I would normally have really wanted to drink, just to celebrate the horrid thing being over. For the most part, I knew I wasn't going to drink. But I was sad that I couldn't, I could see that I was so tired that even thinking about it was pointless, and still I kind of wanted there to be champagne of something. Instead my partner met me at the test so we could bike home together, and then he made an amazing dinner and concocted three different bitter no-booze drinks for me over the course of the evening. We had a beautiful evening, and I fell into bed afterwards, sober and happy.
Now it’s Saturday, and I have work this weekend and schoolwork to catch upon for next week, all folded into the next two days. The looming threat of a possible future European vacation and the dreaded worry about what to drink while I’m on it has waned. I’m back to thinking in the long-term and doing what I'm doing right now. But I know I will be hit by this same thing over and over, and I will have to do a bit of hunkering down into the moment just to get through it when that happens. I think that’s how time works for people: we shift between the long view, as we make sense of our lives, and the short view, where all we can face is the living moment. Maybe there’s no need to decide between the two.
Thanks for reading. Hope you have a good weekend. Oops, so much for thinking about the future. I have to leave for work in twenty minutes!