Not because of something I did. But because of something harmful I stopped doing.
We never know what the markers in our life will look like. The last time we pass a certain street, see a certain friend, embrace a loved one. We only find out afterwards and try to make sense of it after the fact.
Which is what happened to me on this night exactly 27 years ago. In fact, it was October 18th at around 2:30 am.
I had moved back home with my mother and was a listless, beleaguered and bewildered soul. I thought a string of bad luck I had recently endured had led me to drink excessively.
Turns out, I had the string of bad luck because I was drinking excessively.
I was up late alone watching the movie Reuben, Reuben –again. A movie about a rumpled, drunken curly haired poet who had traded whatever talent he once had to sponge off others he was happy to take advantage of—and time was running out for him. I suspect at the time I believed I related to something noble in his character–some potential he had but was throwing away. In retrospect, I related to the excessive drinking and manipulation of others–and mostly frittering away a life that could much more. In the final scene (after the one below), Reuben attempts suicide and before he can change his mind, accidentally dies.
That night 27 years ago after the movie ended, I walked the last bottles of booze out to the condo’s garbage chute and ceremoniously dropped them down one by one. And walked back inside.
And I have not had a drink of alcohol since.
It was perhaps my most important life turning point. I have never seen the movie since, but every October 18th I think of it. And thank God the end of that movie also ended a misguided and unfortunate period in my life. And that I have since—as a result of leaving booze out of my life—led a life that has given me the “much more” I sensed I was losing.
Why do I mention this?
I don’t say it to boast. Removing behavior that harms yourself and your loved ones, is not praiseworthy as much as common sense –and the least you’d expect of yourself. I suppose I share this because I know there are others out there tonight who feel alienated, lost, and confused and who may even be romanticizing destructive behavior by drinking to escape it all.
To them I hope to say, There is nothing heroic or romantic about wasting your life and hurting others.
And if you don’t agree, I believe you are confusing desperation for depth and self-absorption for self-reliance. And foolhardiness for uniqueness. And you are probably going to be the last person in the room to realize this. And that’s OK. You are, like me, about average.
And that’s a good thing. Because help is available. More help than ever in history.
And all you have to do to access it is to set aside the brilliant future you falsely imagine for yourself long enough to notice the unbearable reality of your present circumstances—and then pick up the phone and dial directory assistance on the telephone (411).
And then don’t hang up until you ask for the help you need.
And then breathe a sigh of relief that the awful movie of your current life is about to end. And a new story about your real future is about to begin.
And the new story of your life will still star you –not as an actor playing some imaginary part you thought you were supposed to but performed badly. Rather, it will be you simply playing yourself. A much more natural role that will introduce you to yourself. And allow those same people in the room to finally get to be around the person they’ve been waiting for. And here’s the best part. Eventually, you’ll come to like this person, too
The new movie could be about how to appreciate the poetry of a life lived by humbly following our better instincts –rather than merely rhyming words in the intoxicated hope of sounding clever. Or just about anything we want it to be.
I hope you don’t miss out on it. I’m grateful every day—but especially on this day every year–that I am not missing out on mine.