To go back and be 14 again? Ruin it differently? Yes, I mean I really do. There are so many thing I would do differently…
I would apply to Stanford and Georgetown
I would have gone to Spain for a semester instead of co-dependently staying home with my boyfriend.
I would have been a travel writer
I would have not started drinking at 12…
But even as I write this list, even as I spend the mental energy to think about all the paths I didn’t take…I do not really want to be 14 again and do it differently. And I do not believe that I ruined my life. In so many ways, I just failed up until I got comfortable with failing up that it became the way of life for me.
I do regret not even applying to schools that I idolized. I mean who knows what could have happened if I had had the self esteem to even apply. I might have been rejected, but I might have gotten in…who knows.
I might have died in Spain. I mean I was about four years from the bottom of my alcoholism, so who knows what would have become of me, far away from home, let loose on the Spanish coast. I might have never returned…
I do wish that I could have ended it with that boyfriend long before I agreed to marry him and then cheat on him and call our wedding off two weeks before…that I regret. He was a good guy, loved me and put up with a lot of bullshit from me. I see now he was yet another casualty of unresolved trauma. I didn’t know that then, I was just barely surviving myself every day, drinking myself into a stupor every night. I am confident that had he not been there to keep me in line, I might not still be here. He was a critical guardian at a time that I desperately needed one.
I have long loved to travel, but the kind of travel that does not conform with convention. I do not want to travel and review spas and restaurants. I want to go off the grid and travel to places remote, wild and austere. Places that are unspoiled by modernity and people. Places where the people who reside there are reverent in their wish to live peacefully within the countryside, that exist in partnership with each other and the land.
It is not too late. I can still do this. In fact, I guess in some ways, I am doing it now. I travel and I write about it. So I guess while I am not making a living at doing it, I still get to. And perhaps that was the goal all along.
There is no way that I could not have started drinking at 12. There just isn’t. I have reviewed it in my mind so many times. Been over it and over it and over it. And there is no way that I could go back to 14 and not see how I could be anything less than what I was already. Trauma fortified me into a will run wild, a desperate and hungry drunk who needed the release alcohol provided just to function in life. I needed it to go to school, I needed it to come home, I needed it to date, I needed the sanctuary booze provided, the distance between you and me. Alcohol provided me sanctuary from the intimacy that felt like it would choke me out and kill me dead.
I can see that there really was no other way for me. I am, in fact, grateful for all of it. To see that there was no other path. This one mine. This one the only one I was supposed to tread and wishing it to be different, not only foolish, but violative of all that I am in this life today. I am me because of all the ways I “ruined”my life early on. And today, I wouldn’t change any of it.
So while going back to 14 and trying all over again seems like a lot to ask of myself now. I really do not have the energy (and I have a fucking lot of energy) to begin again. To grow up and older all over again. So even though I may have new ideas about how I could go back and ruin it differently, I see that ruining it is part of living. That it really doesn’t matter how it is ruined, it is what we do with all the ruin that allows us to grow past ourselves and into a person more to God’s liking.
And the greatest joke is that I can even call it ruined. I mean my life is amazing. Full. Rich. Deep. I have it all, really, ten times over. I love and am loved. I have more than one person could really ask for in this life. I am sober, remarkably sober day after day. I have been transformed from a hopeless drunk into a person who wakes every day, attempting to align her will with that of a benevolent loving kindness she has come to believe in. And, I endeavor, every day, to show up and try to share my experience, strength and hope with others who are similarly afflicted. If that isn’t a great life calling, I am not sure what is…
I will always have new ideas about how I could have done it differently…we all do. That is the benefit of aging, a new perspective on yourself which gives way to new ideas about how you lived, what you could have done differently, and the humor that comes when you realize that no, you actually couldn’t. This life in its entirety is your best effort…and mine looks the part.
I have worked hard and long to get here. This place where it isn’t all resolved and perfect, but mine. My life. My recovery. My attempt to lead an examined, purposeful life. All of it. And I needed every stupid shit thing that I did, said and lived to be part of the whole journey. And today, I am grateful that going back to 14 and starting over isn’t an option. I am grateful that instead, I get to be present to help my own 14 year old daughter take her turn. To see what she does with it. To share with her my life, so that she may evolve with perhaps less pain and trauma than I did. And that means everything today.
Having kids is a hard and often thankless job but through my own children, if I slow down and pay attention, I get to see my life through a new lens. I get to see how I am different, and they offer to me a new perspective on my life that I could not, would not have if I wasn’t their mother.
I think raising kids is the only way we ever get to go back in time. And that means that we have to be super careful that we do not conflate our path with theirs. This is not my do over, but, instead, my purpose is to guide them by sharing my experience to help them evolve better with perhaps less trauma, less pain…but knowing always that pain is the gift that no one wants to open. Pain is the price of living fully. One cannot play it safe and truly live. It just doesn’t happen like that.
So I do not want to be 14 again, the new ideas on how I could ruin my life really pale in comparison to how I have already fucked it up grandly. And I do not regret it today. I do not wish it to be different. My past examined, checked and re-experienced at each passing year in an effort to come to better know myself, so that I may deepen my understanding of others. I can share that with all of you, so that we all might be able to brave the distance that lies between us and move toward the terrifying intimate, away from the idea that there is perfection in anything less than the sum of our failures. My life was hatched out of ruin, and it is within all that ruin that I found myself, standing in the middle, breathing in and out and marveling at all I see. When I look around, I do not really see the ruin, I see myself, living each day at it comes and doing my best to love and bless it all.