I understand a bit more every day about being connected. Alcoholics talk about how they were not “present” in their lives while drinking, and that has taken some time for me to understand. I always felt like I was present in my life because I was mostly hyper-vigilant about handling my responsibilities. As I’ve said before, much of this was due to needing to feel entitled to do what I wanted to do, with maybe a bit of guilt and perfectionism thrown in the mix.
There is an older gentleman in my neighborhood named Marty, he will be 90 in 14 days. Up until about a year ago he would walk the neighborhood and always stop to chat with us, usually we were in someone’s garage or front yard getting our party on. I have not seen Marty in a while. Last night, in the midst of the neighborhood party and fireworks, I went walking around looking for my wife and daughter. Marty was in his driveway watching the fireworks. This time I stopped and talked to him. Ironically, the first words out of his when I asked him how he was doing were “I’m just taking it one day at a time”. Marty shared with me that he is not doing well and that he is “ready to go”. He always said that jokingly, and he still looks in great shape, but he meant it this time. His wife of 62 years is now bedridden and he is now her sole caretaker. He doesn’t want to be here after his wife is gone. He is despondent because he does not feel well enough to walk anymore. He told me a story about his wife’s brother-in-law offered him $52,000 a year, indefinitely, to put them in a home – but he simply couldn’t accept a gift of that magnitude. I just listened. I didn’t try to offer him some sage advice, or fix his feelings, or tell him it was going to be ok – because I really don’t know if it will be ok for him.
If you were observing this exchange from afar, it would have looked just like the many other exchanges I have had with this man (except for the hug I gave him at the end), but on the inside it was really different. In the past when it was me walking by, it would have been “Hey Marty, how you doing?” as I tried to look really busy and focused to avoid a long conversation that would have delayed me from doing what I really wanted to do. If he had stopped at my place, i would have superficially been looking for something comforting to say so he would go away and I could find my next drink or my party friends. Yesterday, I just wanted to listen. I surprised myself. It struck me that this is what “being present” really means. I am not trying to brag on my recovery, because I really don’t take credit for the change. I don’t even understand what is happening, just that it is different than I’ve ever felt before. I do believe that setting the booze down allows this to happen, but is not the final solution. In order to set down the booze I had to become willing to look at myself and live life in a different way. Sometimes I succeed and sometimes not so much, but when I do succeed I feel connected in a way that I have never felt before.