On falling short
“Courage is not defined by those who fought and did not fall, but by those who fought, fell, and rose again.” — Adrienne Rich
What I’m about to tell you isn’t anywhere near as dramatic as what poet Adrienne Rich describes in the quotation above. But when I stumbled across it earlier this week, it felt like a phrase that perfectly captured something I’ve been experiencing, and what I imagine you have as well in your own life. (Maybe many times, in fact.)
Last fall, I wrote to you about how I wanted to spend the training cycle we followed together for the second half of the year — namely, that I wanted to dedicate it to stopping drinking. You all were incredibly supportive, and I was committed to it — especially with the help of some books and other reading that a few of you shared.
They helped, more than you know. The first couple of weeks weren’t easy; I felt my overall mood deflate for at least a week before coming back to its natural set point. After that, I cruised for 30 days, then 40 days and 50 days… I blew past 60 days, then 70 days. All without a single drop of alcohol, a stretch I hadn’t matched in a long, long time.
Then I got close to 80 days — and passed it! — but then a few days later, a little voice in the back of my head said, “maybe one glass wouldn’t hurt.” It was Thanksgiving, I was with family and friends, food and wine were plentiful, as was the celebratory mood of the holiday. A single glass of wine seemed so harmless, at least in the moment.
(Over the break I started watching Stanley Tucci’s Searching for Italy, a show that lulls you into a feeling of how wonderful wine and food are, especially against the backdrop of the Amalfi Coast. I can’t blame Tucci for my actions, but… it was persuasive.)
You can imagine what happened next: one gives way to two, and then another. And then, before you know it, I’m back where I started more than 80 days earlier. The boulder has rolled down to the bottom of the hill, again.
Don’t worry; nothing bad or embarrassing happened, I’m relieved to tell you. But I disappointed myself. Before the new year, my wife and I were talking about the changes we wanted to make to our diets and to our alcohol consumption — that we wanted to cut out the latter, especially. Something she said has stuck with me: “You know, we don’t need to wait until January 1st to do these things. We know what the right thing is to do… we can go ahead and do it today if we want. Why wait?”
Now, of course, we are doing the right things again. I’ve stopped drinking (again) and am trying to remain faithful to my running goals, though I’ve experienced a detour there as well.
A good friend of mine from when I was a teenager experienced serious struggles with drugs and alcohol. He left school for a few months while he attended a program that helped him get clean and sober; he ended up getting too far behind to complete his year, and had to re-take his classes all over again.
We didn’t become friends until our senior year of high school, so I didn’t have any first-hand experience with what he was like when he was under the influence. He was very open about it with me, though, and shared with me what it was like to get and stay sober.
I’ll never forget something he told me: “relapse is a part of recovery.” It’s normal for someone dealing with addiction to experience a lapse, and go back to drinking or using for a time. To be sure, it’s awful, he said. But he was emphatic that you should be really careful about judging someone who’s faltered on their recovery path — what you’re witnessing might not be failure, but a stumble on the way to a successful recovery.
That has stuck with me, all these years. I keep it in mind, because I struggle with my own fallibility, my failure to stick to what I know is the right thing to do. Why do I let myself stray from the path I know I ought to remain on? My friend’s answer, I think, would be not to worry about it too much or for too long; and to get up, dust yourself off, and — most importantly — get back on the path.
I hope you don’t mind this more personal post. A few readers asked how things had been going since I stopped drinking last fall, so I thought it would be best to be candid and open.
How do you handle it when you fall off the path you know you should be on? I’d love to hear how you’ve handled it.