“When the world never seems to be living up to your dream, it’s time you started finding out what everything is all about”
The summer of my 13th year, my friends and I spent our days at the Oceanside public pool. Reclining in sticky plastic chaise lounges, we coated ourselves in baby oil and turned like so many rotisserie chickens until we achieved the desired bronze. Lunches consisted of French fries with ketchup, squares of doughy concession-stand pizza, chewy sweet-tarts, and fun dip. If someone’s parents were out of town, we’d raid their liquor cabinet until, invariably, someone was holding someone else’s hair back.
Flash forward almost 25 years and my approach to the sun, trans fat, and refined sugar is decidedly different. Now I slather on the sunscreen, wear a wide-brimmed hat, and eat brightly colored foods only if they were born that way.
And, just a few years ago, I quit drinking. I was 33 when I had my last drink, as were the authors of some of my favorite alcoholism memoirs – Caroline Knapp, who wrote Drinking: A Love Story; Gail Caldwell, Knapp’s best friend and the author of Let’s Take the Long Way Home; and Heather King, who wrote Parched.
All of this has me thinking: What is it about getting older that forces us to re-evaluate our choices? We quit smoking, go to spin classes, floss…The evidence has always been there. But it’s usually not until we connect the dots between our actions and those unwanted reactions – sun spots, high cholesterol, gum disease, one too many hangovers, or much worse – that we finally place greater emphasis on long-term outcomes than on the deceptive seduction of immediate gratification.
In The Places that Scare You, Pema Chodron talks about the facts of life. Describing the causes of suffering, she points out our habit of looking for happiness in all the wrong places:
Because we experience short-lived satisfaction from [our addictions], we keep getting hooked. In repeating our quest for instant gratification, pursuing addictions of all kinds – some seemingly benign, some obviously lethal – we continue to reinforce old patterns of suffering. We strengthen dysfunctional patterns.
But, eventually we grow up. Whether at 13, 33, or 93, we wake up and face the truth. We always have a choice and, if we’re honest with ourselves, we usually know what the right one is.