It must be one of those days… today I’m thinking about writing. Like you do.
So many people write the story of their recovery, their descent into addiction and finding light at the end of that tunnel.
I feel that if I wrote mine, it would resemble the written equivalent of modern jazz… a cacophony of phrases, expressions, memories, hopes and fears. That, in itself, might not be a bad thing, but it’s that pre-conception that still stops me from attempting to do it.
Then I met Shawn. Or, to be more precise, read Shawn.
His story, entitled “Unbecoming” stopped me in my tracks. So many home truths, so many recognitions… and written in a style that more resembles an orchestra, than my jumbled old jazz!
Shawn has kindly agreed to let us publish his work, and I’m pretty sure that you’ll think the same as I did when you read it.
Shawn – thanks for sharing with us, you’re an inspiration!
Once upon a time, there was a boy named Shawn, who was given a plastic and awe-inspiring magic kit when he was very young.
He grew up in the generation of David Bowie’s “The Labyrinth”, Jim Henson’s “The Dark Crystal”, and Wolfgang Petersen’s “The NeverEnding Story”.
He loved to draw and write, and chronically skipped out on any and all gym classes or anything sports-related in favour of fairytales and Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books.
By SJ Vandee, March 24th 2018
From an early age, we are trained to always be working towards “becoming someone”. To know how to answer the question of what we want to be when we grow up.
To become someone somehow better than we are, with a tidy label to define our choice: I am a teacher. I am a writer. I am a mechanic. I am a mother.
It’s probably fair to say that none of us grew up saying I can’t wait to become an alcoholic. We don’t set out to abuse alcohol in the same way we set out to become a farmer or a chemist. There are no text books to read that prepare you for How to Drink Effectively at 11am or exams to write that prove your knowledge of North America’s Most Harrowing Hangovers.
It just happens, and one day you wake up and realize you’ve become top of your class.
The problem is, it was never a class you wanted to take.
I remember the slow waking process of coming to realize that I had never signed up for all of this. That I had become someone (some thing?) I had never set out to be. That not once did I add “ability to drink 4 litres of wine before 8pm every day” to my wishlist, but somehow, it happened. It’s not like you can just accidentally become a firefighter or unknowingly turn into a nuclear scientist. But you can easily become someone who loses their control over alcohol. If you’re here and you’re reading this – you know. And I’m pretty sure it was never on your short-list of Who You Want To Be When You Grow Up, either.
Do you remember who you were before the world told you who you should be?
Maybe the journey isn’t so much about becoming anything. Maybe it’s about unbecoming everything that you actually aren’t, so you can be who you were meant to be in the first place.
The you that your intentions aimed for, but somehow missed.
In our goal-setting society, shaping our life into something we love usually starts with making clear goals: learning new skills, trying new things, stepping outside of our comfort zones. Adding more and more to who we are, like unnecessary accessories to an already beautiful outfit.
What if we turned our idea of what “becoming” actually is inside out, and started peeling away what no longer serves us (and what we likely didn’t sign up for in the first place),instead of piling more things on top of it? It’s like wanting to redecorate your living room, but instead of clearing things out, you just fill it with more and more furniture. Tchotchkes that collect dust, and rolled up rugs that trip you up. It becomes overwhelming, cluttered and claustrophobic.
Without knowing, we hoard beliefs of who we are supposed to be as readily as we collect garbage that overflows our homes.
And that’s the stuff that drives you to drink.
You have to remove everything first, and get to the bare bones of the room. It has to unbecome what it is before it can become a space you want to sit in. You need to lay it all out and keep only the pieces you chose for yourself, tossing all the hand-me-downs and things you never asked for (but took in anyhow) to the curb.
It’s fair to say I am made up of more pieces I never intended to become, than pieces I did.
The first step of unbecoming is to start dragging that shit out as you trip over it. And by shit, I mean all those thoughts and feelings that stop you and weigh you down. The I’m-Not-Good-Enough’s and What’s-My-Problem’s. If you aren’t feeling good – chances are there’s something playing on repeat in your head. It all starts with awareness, and stopping to notice what you’re actually thinking about as that gross feeling trips you up in the first place.
You need to drag those thoughts and false beliefs out like an ugly sofa that the cat scratched to shreds and take a good, close look at it – is this really what I want? Is this where I want to sit?
We need to stop owning that shit. We need to drag it into the light and call it out as the garbage that it is, tossing it in the bin or out the window and onto the lawn like your cheating ex’s clothes. Get rid of it. Overtime, the algorithm that feeds us our thoughts takes note that we’re no longer entertaining the self-destruction anymore, and those negative thoughts eventually with time go away.
And you’ll have taken a small step in unbecoming.
It doesn’t happen overnight. Unbecoming takes time. It’s an ongoing unravelling of all the beliefs we’ve been wound up in, undone with gentle (and sometimes painful) honesty. And as you remove more and more things that you were never meant to carry, you’ll have a life that’s increasingly more and more abundant.
It’s curious math, subtracting from the whole and ending up with more than you started with. Where do you even start to sort out an equation like that?
Back where it all started.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
I’m certain if you asked 1000 people that question, most people without overthinking it would come up with a loud and resounding “To be happy”. That’s where everything we actually want to become is rooted. When we ask ourselves or others what career path to choose, it almost always starts with “Well, what would make you happy”. We all share the unfailing desire to simply be happy. No one sets out to intentionally create or invite unhappiness into their life.
And yet, we do, and here we are – sitting in cluttered overstuffed rooms – uncomfortable and wanting to be sitting somewhere, anywhere, else.
What I’m learning is that happiness happens naturally when three simple (okay, maybe not simple, but important) things fall into harmony:
- What you are thinking
- What you are saying
- What you are doing
When those three notes play together they make the most beautiful music, and it will almost always sound like what you wanted to become when you grew up: happy. It’s when one or all of those notes aren’t in harmony with the others that the music starts to sound more like a piano that just fell from the sky.
First, I had to
recognize admit that I was unhappy (the opposite of what I’d hope to become)and tired of covering my ears against the ugly music I was creating by drinking to excess. I had to look at the biggest pieces of furniture I kept tripping over and remove them first from that overcrowded room I was stuck in.
And I was able to do that by taking an inventory.
What was I thinking? I want to feel better. I want to feel like I’m in control of my life, instead of being sucked into this pit every day. I want to save some money. I just want to be happy.
What was I saying? Things like “I’m fine!” or “Today is the last day” or “I’m not drinking tomorrow” and my favourite “I can stop anytime I want to.” All those things, and a lot of other lies.
What was I doing? Going to the liquor store every day. Procrastinating. Numbing. Avoiding. Over-spending. Drinking more than ever.
It was glaringly obvious that I wasn’t setting my life up to sound like the most beautiful symphony you’ve ever heard. All my notes were off and my orchestra was not only in shambles, but the entire brass section was drunk. It’s as though there were 3 different people in charge of my life: one for my thoughts, one for my words and another for my actions.
I had unknowingly become three people.
- The person I wanted to be
- The person everyone else wanted me to be
- The person I had become
Shit had to change. I had to unbecome the divided mess I was doing a sloppy job of juggling.
Through the slow and ongoing alignment of making sure that what I’m thinking, saying and doing are in harmony, I am finally beginning to become what I always wanted to be when I grew up.
So long as there was that drunken division between my thoughts, words and actions, I was always going to be unhappy. There would always be conflict.
Getting rid of alcohol was the first step in clearing out that over-crowded room I had barricaded myself in. It was also the biggest, ugliest piece of furniture that took up the most space, and was also blocking the exit. By removing it, it gave way to finally being able to see all the other areas where things had piled up, giving me room to lay them out and sort through them one by one, keeping what serves me and saying goodbye to what no longer does.
Ideas like what my bank balance should look like, what I myself should actually look like (damn you, Men’s Health magazine), what a productive day should be made of, what my self-worth is actually worth, what defines a career, and most importantly, what personal happiness actually looks like. It’s only now with the clarity of mind that comes with sobriety that I can begin unbecoming all those ideals that I never wanted and were never mine to own.
So I can become who I was before I became who I thought I should be.
The longer I’m sober, the less fucks I’m giving – it’s the paradox of drinking. We chase a bottle to put a cork in our cares, and all it gives back are even more upsetting and uncomfortable situations like the ones we were trying to avoid.
My “room” is getting a little less cluttered every day. It’s not perfect, but I’ve managed to drag a lot of the big ugly things to the curb, where they belong. I still have a lot of piles of crap to go through, but this room – my life – is slowly turning into a space I can breathe in again.
The first trick is being certain that what I’m thinking, saying and doing are in harmony, and that they are contributing to, or leading towards, happiness.
The second trick is to stop taking in everyone else’s furniture.
Shawn is a writer and photographer, based in Ontario, Canada. (You can take a look at his work below.)
In his blog, Life In Detox, he describes a stumbling, fumbling journey of recovery from 4 litres of wine a day for twenty years to kick ass, alcohol-free sobriety (and all the speed bumps in between).
“It’s like I’ve always chosen Door #1 each and every time, and kept winning a damned toaster oven when meanwhile a shiny brand new car has always been waiting for me behind Door #2.”