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I want you to imagine something. I want you to imagine what your perfect day would look like to you. How late would you sleep in? Drawing the curtains open and looking out a window, what would the weather look like outside? Take a deep breath through your nose. What does this day smell like? What would you eat for this day? Who would you spend your time with — or would you be alone? What would you do or where would you go? Anything special happen on this most perfect of days?
Close your eyes and imagine this day. Go ahead. No one’s looking.
Right. You’re back. Good.
What were you feeling when you closed your eyes to imagine the day? Hold on to that feeling for a minute.
Shift gears now.
Imagine what the most terrible, frustrating, infuriating and disappointing day would look like. When do you wake? What’s the weather like for this day? What sorts of bad things would happen? What would you eat, if at all? Who is there to grind every anxiety or unhappiness right in your face, smiling contently that they helped make it happen? How would you know that that day is the worst. day. ever?
I know a bad day is easier for me to imagine. I don’t even need to close my eyes; it’s there without much effort. The memory is raw & fresh, because the events of a bad day stick to you, like chewed gum sticks on the bottom of a shoe.
I can remember those days. I fear them. I hate the thought that they could return. Even worse, I hate the memory of every little thing that happen on those days—every wrong choice I made, every wrong person who inflicted pain on me, every wrong plotline or a series-of-events that should have gone differently.
If you’re like me, the second task is easier than the first. It doesn’t have to be. A day is only a day. Every moment is only a moment. There is no future and no past, only a constantly flowing moment. It’s much like a river—each day flowing past rocks and creating eddies and rapids, twisting with the current, ever-changing, gurgling.
I don’t think I’ve ever had a completely perfect day. I’ve had portions of the day that were good, even great. But never complete perfection, if I’m honest with myself.
I’m willing to bet that it’s similar for you too.
Would you like to know the secret to having more good days than bad?
It’s really simple, actually. And if you’re in recovery, you already have a leg up.
First, let me tell you a quick story: My oldest son, Josh, is on the autism spectrum. He also has a seizure disorder, has a language-processing disorder, and suffers from a multitude of other health and developmental challenges. He also has a unique way of seeing the world. For example, he obsesses about certain things he’s currently interested in. The game Minecraft has been a long-standing obsession of his. And pinball machines. And ventriloquist dummies. (But I’m heartily thankful his obsession with port-o-potties and outhouses passed into oblivion.)
His unique perspective about life can be both maddening and radically ingenious.
Just a couple of days ago, the sun glowed. The afternoon was lazy and our family was stirring to get in the open air. I took my boys outside with a Nerf football and we distributed ourselves across the street from each other into the neighbors’ yards to pass the ball.
My younger son Nathan is exceptionally athletic, a trait he no doubt gets from his mother. His form is impeccable. And although he occasionally misses the mark or flubs a catch, he knows the game and strives to play how everyone knows how one ought to play. Nathan is like his dad in that he likes to compete, throwing more challenging tosses to see if he can push the receiver to his limit.
And then there’s Josh.
The kid actually can throw okay, but he looks so gangly and odd doing it. He looks like a goofy, cartoonish stork tossing an acorn with its beak. The amazing thing is how consistently he throws and hits his mark. For Josh, his aim is to throw the ball exactly at your knees. It didn’t matter how distant I placed myself, his aim was mechanical—like a rifle. Zap! There he threw it, taking out my knees like a gangster with a shotgun and a point to prove.
“Josh, why don’t you throw the ball higher?” I asked.
And he kept coming back with the same answer: “I am!”
“No, Josh. You’re not. Throw the ball higher,” I said. I think his brother even moved closer to him. Didn’t matter. Josh got the ball, he threw it again right at our knees.
Finally, I got frustrated with him. I asked, “Why do you throw it so low, Josh?”
And what he answered astounds me even now.
“Because if I throw it above you, you might miss. If I hit the ground, it flies all over. When I throw it low, you always get it.”
The point is that Josh understood a different objective for our simple game of catch: we were there to have fun and to cooperate. He didn’t care what he looked like throwing the ball, how far he could throw, nor did he want to entertain a delusion of grandeur of him becoming a star athlete. The goal was to get the ball to the next person, period.
His simplified vision of that game is similar to the transformation that the Twelve Steps of recovery offers. The purpose of the Twelve Steps is to reorient an alcoholic or addict to move from an understanding of self-as-center to an understanding of Higher-Power-as-center.
The problem we have as alcoholics or addicts is that we believe that a “good day” or a “bad day” has an influence on our attitudes, our moods, our motivations, and our reactions. Drugs and alcohol are so attractive for us, because they’re really effective at changing our perception of the situation life offers! At first they are, anyway . . .
Moving from Step One—powerlessness over the addiction—to gaining power through a Higher Power, we find that the simple solution to “good days” and “bad days” is that it’s a false dichotomy; the game of catch is simpler than our perception of it.
Here’s what I mean—bad things will happen, guaranteed. Good things will happen too. Sometimes, the bad things ended up not being so bad after all, like the time when I was arrested for felony trespass in blackout. Or maybe it was the time I ended up in a drunk tank for a DUI in a basement cell in western North Dakota. The fact is that events are only events; they are the moving pieces in a constantly evolving game called life. It’s our perception of the “rules” of this game that is faulty.
Who you truly are lies underneath all the circumstances; the day has no bearing on your center. Recovery is about finding yourself in the moment, with whatever the moment might bring. It’s about a change in perspective. And it’s a task we in recovery have to continually train ourselves to do, because we’re not like my son, Josh . . . we don’t automatically get what the “game” is about—we need to continually live in service, go to meetings, work the program. Work it the way that works for you. That means listen to others, but realize that they don’t have all the answers either.
To do otherwise, we revert tossing the ball a wee bit further the next day, and the next. And the day too easily shoves us on our asses. To rephrase one of the many sayings in AA: it works if you work it.
What are your thoughts? How has a changed perspective in life transformed you or given you a new education?
After all, we’re all only simple human beings, trying to have the best day we can.
Daniel D. Maurer is the author of Sobriety: A Graphic Novel recently released by Hazelden Publishing. He’s a freelance writer and can make a mean latté and play the bagpipes… but not at the same time. He lives with his family in Saint Paul, MN. Daniel keeps the blog Transformation is Real on the site Dan the Story Man. There, he shares stories of personal transformation and transformative narratives.