“We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aid, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn.” Henry David Thoreau
One of my current preoccupations is narrowing the spectrum of my possible rewards or indulgences. I have worked hard all my life, whether as a musician, at a job or both. For many years I worked all day to pay the rent and finance whatever current musical project I was working on in the evening. I believed that as I worked hard, I had earned tangible compensations for my efforts.
In 2003, I stopped using heroin and cocaine; by this time, they were no longer a reward but a necessity, so it was life-changing to be free of them. In my euphoria, I was unaware that the scope of my reward system had narrowed a notch. Clunk. I hadn’t noticed because I was reaping the rewards a clean life brings: love, friendship and self-respect. As I have related in this blog before, alcoholism crept up on me over the next few years, with the consequent loss of self-respect and that of the people I love.
The next adjustment came when I was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes. Clunk – goodbye sugar and countless other delicious more savoury rewards. I believe my Diabetes is self-inflicted, a result of the sugar contained in the ocean of whisky I had been working my way through. It was also around this time that I had started to address my alcoholism, taking faltering steps from relapse to relapse. Chocolate I have found very hard to relinquish, especially due to the sugar cravings shared by most recovering alcoholics. The running jokes in my family began to revolve around discovered packets of M&Ms tucked away under my side of the bed, or an expensive piece of cheese hidden behind a more pedestrian item in the fridge. I went from secret alcoholic to secret food fiend.
I am still working on sugar, although my diabetes is at a more stable level now. Tobacco is the next clunk I know is approaching. I know I have to quit, there are financial reasons, let alone the health implications. Also, I no longer truly enjoy smoking, it is just the final piece of ill behaviour I allow myself. I think I am still smoking due to nostalgia. But tobacco is next, hopefully by the end of the year. Then I will be left with coffee, the obsession of most of the people in recovery I have met.
It was only when talking this through with my counsellor that I realised this narrowing of my system of rewards is mirrored by the narrowing of my expectations. Don’t get me wrong, I still have dreams. As Samuel Johnson says, “We love to expect, and whether expectation is either disappointed or gratified, we want to be again expecting.” I want to go on writing and making music. I want to hear new ideas and read books. I want to grow old with my wife and watch my daughter grow up and become a woman. I believe what I am beginning to understand and be grateful for, is the contentedness that is a result of a simple life.
My friend Mark Goodson writes very beautifully about this in his blog, Miracle of the Mundane. I too, am learning to celebrate the mundane. The day-to-day stuff that is sometimes left unnoticed. My pleasures at the moment include feeding my family. Nothing brings me more joy than cooking a delicious meal for my loved ones. I am happy in my role of Recovery Coordinator at The Edge Café, helping to build a small community project to support addicts in recovery like me. I am content playing music in a little local band – I no longer harbour any dreams of fame or world tours. I lost the joy of making music through drug addiction, the lifestyle involved and the unnatural pressures of making a living at it. I have rediscovered the joy of making very loud music every week, just for fun.
I suppose this new-found contentedness may be the result of reaching the ripe old age of fifty-five, but I believe the reasons are far more deeply rooted in my recovery and parenthood. All my expectations are bound up in my daughter’s future; the pressure on me now is to prolong my life so I can enjoy watching it.
“He who is contented is rich.” Lao Tzu