“The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide that you are not going to stay where you are”
I’ve never made New Years Resolutions.
It’s sort of surprising, considering I’m the King of Procrastination, always waiting to do something (why start today? I’ll just wait until and do it later!). I am usually rather spontaneous in my decisions, though. If I get it in my mind that I want something now, I usually just act on it (unfortunately, at times, without much forethought or research).
I’m more of a Feet-First-Right-About-Now-Sounds-Good-Resolutionist.
December 28th, 2017 I decided to become vegan. “Plant based” to be exact. I had been watching some documentaries and came to finally admitting how much I’d been poisoning myself with not only alcohol, but the food I was consuming. I didn’t have to give it much thought. I just took the first step, and here I am 55 days in already. After being scientifically and honestly educated on what my body really needs, and how to starve cancer through diet, I was able to flip the switch and just no longer eat animal products.
It wasn’t so easy when I tried to flip the switch and just “no longer drink alcohol”.
That “switch” is the motherboard of all motherboards. 10,000 subtle dials and levers all needing to align in unison to unlock the escape hatch.
But that’s not what’s on my mind today.
Last week I enrolled in an 8 week “Fundamentals of Addiction” online course through the Canadian Association of Mental Health that starts at the end of April. It’s an introductory course, as the name would suggest, and it’s scratching the itch I’ve had for years to be in school, learning something new.
problem challenge – with quite literally everything – is finishing what I’ve started.
Or even just starting what I’ve said I was going to do.
How sad that I’m already concerned about my commitment to the course and my ability to stick with something for once and see it through to the end – because of my track record. I wouldn’t say I get bored with things – quite the opposite, actually. When I really get into something, I tend to look like a frantic squirrel darting across a busy highway with blinders on, unable to make up it’s damned mind.
Commitment is following through with what you said you were going to do, long after the mood you said it in has passed.
I think and talk a lot about being present. Just being okay with being here, right now.
Worrying about my future 10, 20 years from now, and thinking things like “who would want to hire a 60 year old wedding photographer?” are pretty counterproductive to the mindfulness approach of just being comfortable right here and now.
Or is it?
Is being decisive in this moment, to create moments of future happiness, the opposite of being present? Or am I just using my present moment to create pleasant, present moments in the future?
Chances are I’m just overthinking everything as usual.
In any case, I don’t have any goals of doing anything specific with that course, or expectations of where it might lead me. But I love learning. And I love writing. And I love the idea of being able to learn things that may help me on my own journey through addiction and recovery, and hopefully learn things that I can pull into my writing, too.
Enrolling in that course is just a first step. I have no need to understand or even see the whole staircase or any of the steps that may or could follow. One of the magical parts of being sober is that you start hearing the good voices inside you again – those little omens of intuition that rise up when you’re listening, pulling you towards something you’re supposed to do, or someone you’re supposed to meet, or somewhere you’re supposed to go.
You can’t hear your gut instincts when you’re drunk every day. The bar brawl that alcohol creates inside you drowns them all out, and eventually, they stop talking.
It’s pretty amazing, with the clarity that comes when you can manage sobriety for a little while, the things you start to hear, and the feelings you start to feel. Once the life comes back to your senses – common sense included – everything begins to light up.
Back to those first steps. (Are you beginning to see how accurate that squirrel on the highway analogy is for how my brain works?)
Those first steps are always the scariest. They’re the heaviest ones, carrying the most weight, stamping your intentions like a footprint or a signature: I am here. I am committing to doing this.
And it feels so much better when you take those inspired (scary) first steps in the moments when you are still feeling inspired. No waiting. No procrastinating. I am doing this. It doesn’t matter whether they’re steps towards losing 10 lbs, becoming alcohol free, or that you’ll start washing the dishes as you make them dirty. It doesn’t matter whether they’re first steps towards something overwhelming big or incredibly small.
Every first step, regardless of what it is towards, resonates the same to your soul.
Every first step translates into: I want to do this. I need to do this. I am doing this.
And all the butterflies in your belly take flight.
Understanding why first steps are so terrifyingly exciting comes down to seeing that they all offer the exact same thing:
The opportunity to no longer be standing where you’ve been standing for so long, because of your decision that you are no longer going to stay where you’ve been staying. Every first step is hinged to the possibility that you can make things different, and better, than how they are right now.
Nothing changes if nothing changes.
First steps are scary because once you’ve taken one, it opens the floodgates to the unknown and uncharted – and all the things that could possibly go wrong. We see ourselves failing. We see ourselves disappointing ourselves and others.
Because, let’s face it – most of us alcoholics, while we are “deep in it” are the best pessimists out there.
What if we started looking forward to things, instead of imagining everything that could go wrong? What if we started expecting success? What if we stopped trying to control everything for a change, which is where all the suffering that comes with alcoholism is rooted: actually being out of control. What if all of our tiny first steps were seen as monumental victories instead of the first step towards another chance for us to fail?
What if we stopped comparing possibilities to track records?
What’s important is taking the step now. Taking that first step when you are feeling inspired, when you can still hear the omens of intuition rumbling in your belly, before you’ve had time to pull out your laundry list of reasons of why you’ll fail and why it’s a bad idea.
I know that laundry list so well.
About a month ago, I signed up for a 21 Day Men’s Yoga-Shred online course. I have a thing for online courses, apparently. It goes without saying that I haven’t streamed one video yet or once turned myself into a table or a cobra.
Did I actually think when I signed up that it was something I was actually going to physically do every day while I was still drinking like it was my job? Because you know, being 2 bottles of wine in at 2pm on a Wednesday afternoon really lends itself to the downward dog.
I apparently did actually think I was going to do it, because I was motivated enough to take the first step.
I’m glad I took the first step of actually signing up – it must have been in one of those rare, quiet moments in the middle of that bar brawl inside me where things fell silent enough for me to hear my gut telling me to do it. Or maybe I was just tense and felt that stretching would do me some good. Or maybe I was feeling out of shape and the idea of a “shred” in 21 days seemed like a fast track to something I know will help me feel better.
It doesn’t matter.
What matters is that I took the first step. And that’s the cool thing about first steps – they’ll wait for you, marked with your intention that at some point, before you convinced yourself otherwise, you truly wanted to do it. Your footprint will still be there where you left it, pointing you in the direction of where, at some point, you wanted to go.
So long as you can view it as positive intention, instead of just another time you didn’t finish what you started, it’ll always be a step forward. Especially if you return to it time and again, until you’re able to take the next step, then the next.
January 31, 2017 I started this blog. I took the first step towards journaling my way through recovery by writing my first post, How Did I Get Here?
This post you are reading right now is my 109th since that day.
It’s amazing how many steps just naturally followed the terrifying first one of putting my vulnerability and addiction on display for everyone to see; of trying to write my way out of a bottle. Once I pushed through the hard and painful part of writing my first, telling sentence on this blog – the
simple loaded question of “How did I get here?“ – each step that has followed seems to have taken itself.
I took a very big step the other day day, and decided to print out all my posts from this blog in a terrifying attempt to compile them into something cohesive. It blew my mind to see nearly 400 pages of my thoughts and fears come together in one hard copy of crazy ramblings, drunken confessions and sober realizations.
It’s from those first five words that I wrote – How did I get here? – that 400 more pages began to fill themselves. If I hadn’t put them to paper (screen?) that day, I’d have nothing but a stack of blank paper and a tormented pile of prose inside me.
Imagine a world where everyone is addicted to fearlessly taking first steps, no longer comparing possibilities to track records.
Imagine the pages we’d fill in the Big Book of Success Stories if we all stopped being afraid of…well…everything. I’d still be eating animal products, I’d still be drinking 3 to 4 litres of wine a day. I wouldn’t know how to use my camera, and I wouldn’t be writing this post right now, because I’d have never started this blog.
The distance doesn’t matter.
The biggest step you’ll take is the first one.
Nothing changes if nothing changes.