We are schooled in the West to expect each day to bring us happiness and perfection, and when these ideals fail to materialise we often feel disheartened and annoyed with ourselves, as if we are a failure. There’s an easy assumption to jump to when you decide to quit drinking, which is this: the booze was behind all my mistakes, it was the drinking that brought on the depression and the anxiety, it was all down to alcohol. And now that the drink is gone, everything will fall nicely into place.
Except things rarely pan out like this, at least not all the time and on every single day. Yesterday, for instance, turned out to be something of a flat day for me. I awoke with the kind of paranoid fear that only parents will ever experience owing to the fact that my three-year-old had had a fall off the top of a slide at an adventure playground on Sunday afternoon. She was fine when I put her to bed (we’d given her the once over and everything was ok apart from a couple of big bruises) and yet I was convinced, when I woke up at about 6am, that she wasn’t fine at all and that some delayed reaction to the fall may have occurred during the night. I raced into her room and found her lying in her pink bed; eyes fluttering open, cute smile on her face and voicing an invitation for me to climb in beside her and Boris the Bear.
As the morning went on I felt tired and weary, owing to the fact that I’d had a restless night worrying about my daughter. By lunchtime, my eyes were stinging from the need to sleep and I couldn’t concentrate on much. This dragged my mood down into the doldrums and I subsequently cancelled my boot camp class at the gym, booked for 6.30pm.
Daughter Number One then arrived home from school to find me moaning on about being so tired that I couldn’t take her to the gym after all, and that I was going to have an early night instead and do absolutely nothing. She swiftly changed my mind (she was coming too, poor girl – pumping iron with a beefcake instructor barking loudly in your ear to move faster, lift heavier and stretch further is not many people’s idea of a fun evening) with a few short, sharp words, and I rebooked the arduous session.
My eldest daughter and I don’t get masses of time together these days as she has social engagements and work commitments that don’t involve her mum, and I have her energetic sister to keep entertained plus a heavy workload to manage. So it was very nice to spend some quality time together in this place of agonising physical hardship, sweating like pigs and groaning over the ridiculously heavy weights we were supposed to be lifting. We arrived home, exhausted but happy, and slumped in front of the television for a while before bed.
It wasn’t a day filled with hugely exciting things. It wasn’t a day during which momentous events took place, or even a day that presented anything new. It was a day in which I mostly felt very tired, slightly dissatisfied at times and even fed up at others.
But by the end of it, I felt blissfully happy, and I pondered why this was as I lay in the dark in my bed, aching like a bas***d from the boot camp session.
This is what I came up with: the love and deep satisfaction we derive from long term, committed relationships such as those we have with our children, partners and other family members (if we are lucky), bring us vast oceans of happiness and contentment. These relationships require effort but the pay-off is massive. Love is ultimately what we, as humans, are set up to prioritise over all other elements of our existence. It’s what leads us to procreate and continue the species. It’s what enables us to provide a secure and nurturing environment in which we can raise happy and healthy children. Love, demonstrated to those around us and to ourselves, is the prerequisite for our self-actualisation and to be truly fulfilled in life.
There’s no magic recipe, a secret formula that will deliver a constant supply of laughs and smiles. It’s just that when we live a real existence, one that isn’t interrupted regularly by the shit that alcohol reliably brings with it, we can focus on exercising love. And when we do, we are rewarded by good, functional relationships with the people around us. Which makes us happy.
It’s not rocket science. It’s just love.