I generally enjoy change. I enjoy change to such an extent that it has become a bad habit. Bored at work? Change your job. Not succeeding here? Change your residence. Not doing well in school? Change your enrollment status. I have spent literal decades dreaming of change and seeing myself transformed, almost as if by magic, to somebody that I could be proud of, somebody successful or somebody that I simply find more interesting. I’ve envisioned myself as a masterful musician and spent money lavishly on musical instruments. There are apps on my phone like Duolingo from that one time when I dreamt of being bilingual. There are books on my shelves, spanning subjects from American history to mathematics and astronomy from those moments in my life when I was going to become a true enlightenment intellectual. The word “change” conjures imagery of new beginnings and happy outcomes. I thrived for years on change.
The problem is, I thrived on the noun, not the verb.
That’s right. Change is easy when it is a noun. It’s fantastical thinking that things are just going to somehow work out. The noun form of change can be seen as an outcome or a certain positive feeling. In my mind, change was always just sort of going to happen. I knew in my deepest of hearts that my life would change to for the better at some point and that the misery of whatever present state I was in would be summarily defeated. Change can be quick and dramatic such as moving to a new city or buying a gym membership. Change, purely as a noun, also just sort of happens whether we like it or not and we usually don’t have as much control over it as we would like to imagine.
The really positive changes we so often want to make in life come from the act of changing. “Change” in its verb form is messy, complicated, time consuming and, well, just generally really hard. Life’s biggest changes, the ones that are really worth it and feel good, are the product of of choices made and actions taken in the present. The funny thing about a verb is that it is a very “present moment” sort of thing. You can’t change what you did yesterday any more than you can change what you will do tomorrow. You can only change what you are doing right now. You can want to change with every fiber in your body but if you don’t put that body to work affecting the changes you wish to see in your life then you’re simply keeping the car in idle. You’re burning precious fuel but you’re getting nowhere. Staying idle is easy and it’s nice to know that you could, at any moment, decide to stomp on the accelerator and go speeding down the highway to another destination. You’ve got everything you need right in front of you and yet you continue waiting for the “proper moment” or the sudden impulse to put the car in gear.
I’ve spent most of my life doing that. I couldn’t wait to change from an underachieving young man to the model of late-blooming success. I couldn’t wait to be sober and defy the odds by defeating my alcoholism once and for all. I couldn’t wait to have a great job with tremendous opportunity for growth and earning potential. I just didn’t do anything to make those things happen.
The business of changing is not soft or cuddly, particularly when you’re changing those parts of yourself that you don’t like about you. It feels good to buy a gym membership but lifting weights and running on a treadmill can be downright miserable, at least if you’re like me. I want to lose weight and be happier but I have to be willing to do something about it everyday and to be consistent. I’d really like to be a successful master plumber someday and to possibly even be self-employed. That would be a really great change in my life. The changing part, however, can just sort of suck. To be a master plumber I have to stack days and work hard, I have to dedicate myself to learning everything I can about the trade. I have to spend a lot of days doing boring, mundane shit that I don’t want to do. I must accept plumbing as my single career path rather than bouncing from career aspiration to career aspiration in search of the easier, softer way.
Action. Commitment. Dedication. Perseverance. These are the building blocks of change and I have spent the vast majority of my life avoiding them and simply sitting in my garage with the car running, waiting for my big break! The only problem was that my garage was filling up with carbon monoxide and I was coming perilously close to never even getting the opportunity to go anywhere.
This brings me to the subject of relapse. Yep, I did it again. Yesterday afternoon I got totally wasted and this evening I had to go pick up another twenty-four hour chip from an A.A. meeting. I dreamed so much about change and being sober that I forgot to actually fully devote myself to changing and being sober.
Last year, at right about this time, I set out to stop drinking. That was a huge change but I had no idea that the change from drunkenness to sobriety is actually rather easy. The hard part is changing from a crazy alcoholic to a functioning adult human-being. I’ve relapsed more times than I can count now and I think a big reason for those slips is my unparalleled desire for change followed immediately by lackluster desire to start actually changing anything. I wanted the benefits of sobriety and I didn’t think I’d have to work that hard to get them. My goal was total change with minimal effort. Well, guess what? It doesn’t work that way. You’re either all in or you’re out in the cold. You can’t be inside and outside simultaneously.
This is not to say that there haven’t been positive changes since then. Quite to the contrary, my life is exceedingly better if for no other reason than I’m actually becoming more aware of the changes I need to make in my life on a daily basis. Even if I still have difficulty getting the car out of the driveway, I at least have a destination entered into Waze.
It has become absolutely apparent to me that the changes I want so badly in my life are not going to come quickly or easily. I spent the better part of three decades shattering every aspect of my life into the tiniest pieces I possibly could and it is going to take an extraordinary amount of time and effort to make things right. Honestly, step one is just admitting that most of the shattered bits on the floor are simply not worth saving anymore. Putting them back together is unrealistic. The only real option I have is to gather new materials (good habits) and starting rebuilding. Step two is recognizing that it’s going to be really hard and that I can’t do it by myself. In the case of my sobriety, I need to toss out every idea I have of how “David wants to do it” because I’ve tried that for about a year now and I’ve always ended up drunk. Things will not get better if I don’t accept the knowledge and advice of others and to simply do what they tell me. If they say read the literature, call your sponsor and at least one other drunk and go to a meeting every day than damn it, that’s what I need to do. It worked for them and my way doesn’t work for me so it would probably behoove me to start doing it their way. To continue with the car metaphor, I should take the route that Waze is providing and that everybody else has used and stop screwing around with the map in my head that isn’t only outdated, but doesn’t even represent the city I’m in right now!
So. Change doesn’t happen unless you change. I get that. Change isn’t making a cute list of everything you need to do to get to your destination point. That’s certainly a precursor to it but it doesn’t get you any closer to the objective. I don’t know what I’m doing but it’s wrong. It’s time to stop living comfortably in the noun and start aggressively living life in pursuit of the verb.
My sobriety date is February 7, 2020. It can stay that way if I start being the change I wish to see, one day at a time, rather than just imagining it.