I expected big things to happen when I got sober two years ago. I expected weight loss and financial gain. I thought my marriage would improve and shame from over-drinking would diminish. I expected major, life-altering transition.
What I didn’t anticipate were the subtle, seemingly unimportant ways my life would transform in recovery. I spend a lot of time screaming about the dangers of anonymity and the death count from alcoholism. But when I’m quiet – when I take a break from screaming – when I lift my head up from my determination to battle the stigma – when I shut-up and listen, that’s when I am surprised by the unexpected.
We’ve had cold days these past couple of weeks in Denver. It has snowed a few times. Nothing major, just enough to get our attention. The days are short and the nights are long. There’s a word for this condition. It’s called January.
I stopped to bring an extension cord to my friend, Barb, who lives on the opposite end of my block. The sun was hanging low in the afternoon sky as I rang the doorbell. Barb ushered me in and asked me to give her my opinion on a small piece of furniture she was looking at online. We measured the space in her living room for the little cabinet and read the online reviews together. Barb has twenty plus years on me, and I was impressed at her internet browsing speed and agility.
Barb’s husband was napping during my visit. He is much older than Barb, and his health is failing rapidly. Caring for him is her full-time job. My family and I drag her trash and recycling to the curb before pick-up day, and we shovel her sidewalk so that the path is wide enough for Barb to support her husband as they walk to and from the detached garage. We mostly urge Barb to get more help caring for her husband. She has done the research, and she can manage the cost of in-home care or a move to a nursing home for her husband, but she is not ready for that yet. So she manages, but the stress and physical strain of caring for her dying husband is taking a toll on Barb. I worry.
After analyzing the situation with the piece of furniture, Barb told me about a tea party she attended over the weekend. She told me about acupuncture and pilates, and did her best to ease my concern for her. We listened to some delightful jazz music that I would never have chosen but enjoyed most thoroughly. We sat at the kitchen table and talked while Barb’s husband slept.
I didn’t have an agenda. I didn’t have any important points I wanted to be sure to make. I didn’t try to convince Barb to see things my way, and I didn’t interrupt when she told me about her concerns for her husband. I sat. I listened. I asked questions, and I was sincerely interested in the answers.
Despite the open curtains on half a dozen kitchen and living room windows, I didn’t notice that it was pitch black outside until I stood to leave. Barb walked me to the door and gave me a hug. She thanked me for the extension cord and the assistance with the decision about the cabinet. What I don’t think Barb will ever understand is that I would have been incapable of having that peaceful interaction just two years prior.
When I was drinking, I would have been anxious to get home for cocktail hour. I would have inserted my opinion more, and listened very little. I would not have been satisfied to leave without convincing Barb that she needed more help caring for her husband. My anxiety would have been masked by a calm demeanor, but it would have been roiling just below the surface.
And most importantly – most unfortunately – I would have hated every minute of that conversation. Alcohol would not have allowed me the pleasure.
I knew I was providing comfort to Barb as I sat at her kitchen table and mostly listened. But that’s not what was special about the interaction. The blessing of that conversation was how much I genuinely enjoyed it. I’m not talking about pride from doing a good deed. I’m talking about being exactly where I wanted to be doing exactly what I wanted to do on that winter afternoon.
It might have been nice for Barb to have me there to listen. It was glorious for me to be Barb’s listener.
You don’t have to be an alcoholic to drink enough to poison the joy out of life. The subtle, unexpected joy requires our full attention.
You know the saying, “If you blink, you might miss it?” If you drink, you might miss it, too.
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