Things have changed since 2016 – and rather surprisingly when a massive personal milestone arrived the other day it wasn’t me that remembered it.
As we walked down the street hand in hand my partner said to me ‘isn’t it the four year anniversary of when you gave up drinking today?’
She was right.
It had completely slipped my mind that on the 26th January 2016 I put down an empty wine glass and I never filled it up again.
Two days later my mother died – and in probably the most desolate emotional wasteland I could have chosen to do it in I began to cope with sobriety. In doing so I kicked a habit that had (at its worst point during her illness) had seen me regularly consume three bottles of wine or more a night.
For quite a while a counter has always been in the background of my mind – that continually added day after day, month after month and year after year.
The counter had temporarily switched off however.
I was in a happy place with someone I love and was going for a walk because we both enjoy exercising together. I didn’t care that I’d been sober for four years because I no longer see it as something that’s an issue.
I don’t count the days so much any more because I can’t imagine being that man now.
I’m just me, and me is sober.
My partner touched my hand again tonight as I sat down to write – because she knows that this date is significant not just because of the lack of alcohol in my life – but also the memory of my mother, and how she passed away.
‘Are you OK?’ she said.
I must have looked thoughtful – but I wasn’t down.
Time heals many wounds.
For newer readers that haven’t been with me since the start I have to be frank and say that my mother wasn’t a positive force in my life – and while no-one should be able to say that the death of a parent was a relief, in my case I’m sad to say that it was.
When my mother died it felt like a massive burden that had been there since I was a child had been removed from my shoulders. However – the demise of someone with whom you shared little else than continual animosity is not really a pleasant event no matter how much you disliked them.
You can see someone that wronged you pass beneath the waves and feel little remorse about their passing – but what you’re left with is often something far more complex. There’s often a tangled web of guilt, regrets, self examination, deep seated pain and more than a little anger to come to terms with.
If someone has wronged you – and I mean really wronged you throught your life – often it seems reasonable to hold on to the anger they’ve caused, because this is how you dealt with the problem when the cause of it was still around.
Such anger often acts to keep us safe, and bolsters our inner strength to resist or to overcome problems.
But when they’re gone….
The cause of all the emotional turmoil is suddenly removed and what remains is a directionless anger that serves no purpose.
It often has nowhere to go but inward.
Often the only person hurt by anger is the one left behind – because the dead will never know or be able to respond to it. They will never see the fires of your wasted and unproductive energy that still burn bright because of their memory.
I don’t believe my mother has gone anywhere but into the atmosphere as dust (I’m not religious) and therefore I decided early on that I would not waste any more time thinking about the things that she’d said or done to me.
Her power and her grip on me dissolved the day she died and whether I realised it at that moment or not I was suddenly and forever free.
I’m still free to live my life, sober, fit, happy and complete – and when I sleep these days it’s not alone. It’s in the arms of someone that cares for me and that I share my true feelings with every moment that we’re together.
Whilst driving to Aberystwyth the other day she and I were engaging in ‘road trip’ talk, and part of that idle nattering involved asking each other whether we would change anything about the lives we’d lived before we met eachother.
‘Do you have any regrets?’ I asked her.
The question provided much back and forth discussion along the route – and for the most part it seemed that there was little if anything we would do differently in our lives, because even the things that (at the time) seemed awful had (with the fullness of time) proven to be beneficial.
Even the harshest abuses and adversity had (like steel in a furnace) tempered our mettle and made us the people that sat before one another.
Even the heartache of having a mother like I did ultimately proved to be a bonus.
Whilst I’d have dearly loved to let go of the guilt I held onto for decades about being a ‘failure of a son’ a lot earlier than I did, the truth of it is that through all of the self destruction it caused I learned how to be a better person.
Although my mother’s example was a negative one over time it genuinely helped me become the man I am today. I saw her attitudes to life and others slowly destroy isolate, her over the course of her life and because of this example I consciously by chose to take different, more productive paths.
Directly because of the damage she caused my life turned out pretty great in the end.
I chose to make people a priority instead of viewing them as obstacles or adversaries to be outsmarted and I never find that this lets me down.
I trust people as much as I can.
I make it my default.
I give people the benefit of the doubt and let them show me that my trust is well founded.
I try to be honest and thoughtful as well as kind to others because I never know how my efforts will reverberate out into the world and touch other people.
Sometimes it even affects the people that you care about – and when I was still 31st I went to visit my father.
He’d always been able to walk further than me and I had become used to him being fitter and more able than myself. However when I saw him in August 2016 I was shocked, because he was struggling to move with me from bench to bench along the sea front and needed to sit down regularly.
Amazingly I was fitter than he was – and it worried me.
His health had suffered much like my own – and in between the times that I’d been able to visit or he’d travelled to see me my father had struggled with his own demons and gained a lot of weight too.
He told me when I joined Slimming World that he was in the region of 20st – and remarked casually that I needed to lose him if I was to reach my goal.
At the time I remember thinking it was impossible – but as I lost more and more weight I have to admit that there was a growing sadness that I couldn’t change others the same way that I was changing myself.
Whilst random people online saw me as an inspiration and used me to fuel their own change the people that I really wanted to jump on board and make changes with me in my family continued to struggle.
My Dad did initially try Slimming World – but the willpower wasn’t there and he faltered. Then (he says because he realised that I had become lighter than he was) something magical happened.
My father started to lose weight all of his own accord and he continued to do so slowly and methodically until many months later he too had lost almost eight stone.
This is what we looked like together in Aberystwyth on Sunday.
My mom was a difficult woman and she caused a lot of people a lot of pain for many years – but it doesn’t matter.
This photo is what I consider to be her legacy and it’s why there’s no anger or hatred inside me like there was in her.
By letting go of personal pain and embracing a better way all of the people left behind changed for the better.
I spent a while looking at the photo above – and for the life of me I couldn’t think of what it reminded me of – but then it hit me.
It was another photo of myself and my dad – taken many many years before everything started to go awry and when I was infinitely lighter than him.
He looks the same – and his happiness hasn’t changed. Although we’re apart more often than together these days that bond hadn’t been broken by my mother’s influence – despite her efforts.
But I digress.
I’m feeling reflective.
It’s four years on.
I’m still sober, I’m still happy, and life is good.
I don’t need possessions or money and I live a simpler life where my feet carry me from A to B.
I send out the best of myself into the world and just trust that it won’t be taken the wrong way and hope that I accidentally help someone somewhere that needs a kind word.
After all – that’s what life is about.
It’s the journey that matters – not the mistakes.