It’s my birthday tomorrow. I’ll be 38. Creeping up on me over the last few years has been the dawning realisation that eventually (drum roll please), I am going to die.
I have always known this to be the case since I was a little girl, but back then it was the kind of acceptance where mentally you exclude yourself from the situation, i.e. no acceptance at all. We are born, we grow old, we die, but apart from that, I’ll be here forever – gross delusion, one might call it.
Sometime around the age of 30, that all changed. I became deeply aware of my own mortality, a cognition which provided, in part, the motivation I needed to stop drinking. Now, a couple of years of sobriety later, this acknowledgement of my own ultimate demise is never too far from my consciousness. I consider it often and occasionally feel fairly overwhelmed by the force it. The world will keep on spinning, the sun will continue to rise and set, people will go about their business and build things and have children and go on holiday and buy stuff and take out mortgages and attend school and visit the dentist and the hairdresser, and I won’t be here – ever again.
One thing I have realised as an ex-drinker is that regularly quaffing booze acts as something of a barrier to these thoughts. Especially when you drink on a daily basis, the addiction process operates sufficiently well in limiting how far one thinks – the major concern is to make it through to the next drink, thus reducing the scope of one’s thoughts, and once that next glass has been filled the mind-numbing process begins all over again. Mornings are adequately taken care of thanks to the low-level but all-too-noticeable hangovers, and onwards the little cycle proceeds. What an alcohol dependency initiates in us is a shrinking of the reaches of our minds.
And I often wonder, is this (at least in part) the reason why we, as human beings, have been attracted to mind-altering substances for so many thousands of years? Why so many of us seem utterly compelled to escape our reality, that reality being that we all, one day, will be no more?
Other animals are in the dark with regards to their limited life span. They are not weighted down with the knowledge that their very existence will, one day, be of no relevance at all.
That is, for me, an epic and startlingly difficult concept to grasp.
Without excessive amounts of alcohol numbing and fogging and confusing my headspace, I am a far more profound thinker than I ever was before. And despite the lack of booze resulting in a greater awareness of my own mortality, I believe I am living a richer life, and am filled with a deeper level of gratitude, than would ever have been possible as a boozer.
When I hit the ripe old age of 38 tomorrow, these thoughts will be prevalent in my mind; I am alive and healthy, I have my freedom, I am surrounded by people I love, I understand myself, I know where I want to be and who I am striving to be, I am not constrained by any influences other than those I choose to be constrained by, I learn from my mistakes, I am making progress, I recognise my weaknesses and know how to work at improving on them.
On my birthday I will be intensely thankful for living – and the finite nature of that life makes it all the more valuable.