“You have the life you’re willing to put up with.” — Gary John Bishop
Right now, I’m happy — but I know that could change at a moment’s notice. That’s life. And I’m prepared for that change if it happens.
But a couple of years ago, I couldn’t say I was close to anything that looked like happiness — even contentment was worlds away. In fact, I would consider myself to have been on the opposite end. I was depressed, anxiety-ridden, drinking too much, full of anger, and an overall complete mess. I was having chest pains due to stress, insomnia due to all the anxiety, and extreme loneliness due to isolating myself. I was as low as low could be.
So I could at least be present when I had my kids, I would schedule my binge-drinking when they weren’t with me. The weekends were perfect for a 12-pack and even during the week wasn’t safe from a few beers. If I missed work, then so be it. I hated my job anyway, and after years of working at the same place, I was fortunate enough to have the sick leave to burn. I felt I had earned the right to drink when I wanted and missing work was just a casualty of that right.
But the hangovers — both from the drinking and life itself — become too much after a while. I was either going to completely destroy myself or I would change.
And I did one hell of a job trying to destroy myself. The alcohol, the depression, the anxiety. I didn’t take care of my health, my body, or my mind. I chewed tobacco for 25+ years because I was indestructible — even though I saw signs of the damage it was doing. I continued to drink even when blood tests revealed my liver wasn’t in the best shape. I didn’t get help when I knew I needed it and stayed in my own toxic environment doing nothing to get out.
I let the past creep up on me and allowed the future to keep me afraid. And I became comfortable with my miserable life.
Until I thought about what the alternative to that life would look like.
“If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.” — Lao Tzu
The alternative to the miserable life I was living is where I’m at now. It’s taking care of my body, my health, and my mind. It’s nurturing relationships which I cherish. It’s not being alright with a miserable life. My current life reminds me I don’t want to go back to the life I had — and I’m doing everything in my power to keep it that way.
Now, the alternative to waking up hung-over with a splitting headache and puke in the toilet is getting up early and running. Because I became tired of always feeling like shit.
The alternative to spending my nights drinking and wasting hours on mindless tasks is reading and learning about subjects I want to know more about — including learning about myself.
The alternative to having daily anxiety and being mired in depression is figuring out what I needed to do to manage both. I did that through running, writing, and understanding everything I thought mattered really doesn’t.
The alternative to hating everything and everyone was to embrace empathy and love — and show it to those around me as much as possible. I also realized I’m worthy of that love, too.
The alternative to hating myself was to have self-compassion and realize we are all imperfect. I learned to go easy on myself — even if I thought it wasn’t deserved.
The alternative to remaining in a job I hated was to find something which brings me joy — and work hard at it so I don’t have to go back to a place which is toxic for me and my health.
The alternative to my current life is going back to being miserable — and that is not acceptable to me anymore. I don’t want that life again because I now know what other side looks and feels like. And it’s a completely different feeling.
Now, I build myself up instead of trying to destroy myself. I always keep the alternative of being miserable in the back of my mind when I want to give up or do something which does not benefit me.
I decided I want my current life more than the life I was living. And I make the choices every day to keep me here — because I know I will regret it if I don’t work to stay where I’m at.
You have to decide to either continue living the life you are now or decide whether you want the alternative. For me, the alternative to my current life is not something I will entertain. I’m not going back to that life, and I will do whatever it takes to remain where I’m at. Because right now, I love the life I’m living. I’m happy with my life, and most importantly, myself.
So I want you to ask yourself this:
If you’re currently happy in life — what does the alternative to that look like? And how can you avoid that alternative?
If you’re currently unhappy in life — what does the alternative to that look like? And how can you get there?
Decide which life you want. I have. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
Jeff Barton is a writer, ultra-runner, lover of books and zombies, a practitioner of positive thinking, and most importantly, a dad. Living and loving life one day at a time. You can find him at jeffthewriter.com and jefftherunner.com.
Image courtesy of Maksim Goncharenok.