“There’s a reason the windshield is much bigger than the rearview mirror. Where you are going is so much better than where you have been.”
Have you ever tried to drive down the highway looking at nothing but the rearview mirror?
It’s as though you’re asking for a car crash.
It doesn’t work.
You need to know where you are, and where you are heading. Where you’ve been doesn’t matter anymore (unless you’ve just passed a service station and you need a bathroom, then there’s some value in turning back. Anyone who has travelled with me will unfortunately vouch for this.)
My decision to become alcohol free was borne of a dark place made up of walls plastered with the past, and a lofty, soaring ceiling made up of my desire for a better future. And me, sitting on the damp dirt floor of what felt like (and was) a prison.
There I was, never present, torn between where I had trapped myself and where I wanted to be. Until I could finally focus and turn my eyes away from the walls of past regrets and failures that formed my cage, I wasn’t able to turn my eyes upward and aim at climbing out.
The longer I stared at the walls, the taller they became.
A million years ago, when I was first learning to drive, I clearly remember Betty (my Drivers Ed. Instructor) explaining how in order to stay between the lines, it was best to look towards and follow the car in front of you. Now, this approach only works if the car you are following knows what the hell they’re doing.
In my experience though, no one has led me into a ditch yet.
You know those evenings when it’s snowing so hard and you’re driving somewhere? Those nightmare drives where you’re absolutely swallowed by tunnel vision, where everything is blinding and you’re clinging to the taillights of the stranger in front of you?
That’s how it feels getting to this point of sobriety.
Keeping my eyes locked on the road and the people before me.
Because I want to be where they are.
Despite the snowstorm around me, getting there requires following with a little courage and a lot of blind faith in the path left from those in front of me; driving forward, riddled with butterflies, white knuckles and a pinch of thrill all at the same time – but knowing that we’re getting there.
If that driver in front me started staring at my headlights in their rearview, there’d be a really good chance we’d all end up steering ourselves into a ditch, or worse.
It only works – moving forward, and getting there – by looking at what’s right in front of your face and where you are headed – not behind you.
We don’t have eyes in the back of our heads because we aren’t headed that way.
Rearview mirrors can be shifty little things though – like circus mirrors. They warp and distort where you came from, somehow making everything seem more shiny than it was. They make emotions and memories appear larger than they were, and sugar coat them to lure you back.
It’s like how my Grandparents would always refer to their life back in the “Old Country” as something that always sounded like Disneyland, despite barely having 2 pennies to rub together and blisters from decades of simply trying to get by.
But their memories sparkled. The grass was always greener back home.
They were convinced that everything was Bigger and Better in Belgium.
That’s how the rearview mirror tries to get your attention, by dangling bedazzled and blinding memories to distract you and drive you off the road.
The more you stare, the more fixated you become. And the more fixated you become, the more you start to believe that things were better than they actually ever were.
Looking backwards, everything becomes censored. Drunken nights full of laughs rise to the top, and the feelings of death the next day somehow sink to the bottom. Celebrations and glasses clinking start to resonate and remind you of how much fun you once had; the rearview mirror has no room for reminders of the times alcohol made you say things you shouldn’t have, done things you wished you hadn’t, or for the thousands upon thousands of dollars of poison you drank.
“It has been a mistake living my life in the past. One cannot ride a horse backwards and still hold its reins.”
― Richard Paul Evans
It’s tempting, looking back. And at times, it’s actually healthy. Knowing where you came from is humbling and grounding, but clinging to it is a recipe for disaster, driving you into the figurative ditch.
So long as you believe your past was better than your present or future you may as well just pull over, get out, and walk back. You’re going to be driving all over the damned highway since you’re looking anywhere and everywhere but at the road ahead.
And if you’re anything like me, you’ve
spent wasted more than enough time being that guy on the road – hopefully just figuratively, but probably and sadly, literally too. The drunk driver, swerving everywhere and putting everything and everyone in your path in danger.
At first, when I was just learning to drive this sober highway, I admit I was everywhere. On the shoulder, staring in the rearview, hoping there was a licensed bar ahead where I could even just smell some booze in the air. I was driving through the snowstorm totally blind. It wasn’t until I started following the taillights before me that I was able to start feeling confident that I wasn’t going to crash afterall, and that I wasn’t alone on this highway.
From books like Annie Grace’s “This Naked Mind” and Catherine Gray’s “The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober” to the vibrant and vulnerable online communities of everyone else on this road, such as “Recovery Elevator“, “The Alcohol Experiment“, and “Club Soda UK” – they’ve all given me taillights to follow.
And the more I look forward, the more taillights I see.
There’s so much more to look forward to, knowing I’m not alone on the highway in the midst of a snowstorm – but part of a caravan slowly and surely moving forward and guiding each other as we go.
The only use I have for my rearview mirror anymore is to see how far I’ve come.