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Fond memories of past experiences are sentimental ways of avoiding the present moment. Addicts struggle to live in the present. They often reminisce about how much better past experiences were compared to the present day.
As an addict, wistful recall of childhood days tempt me to desire for yesterday once more. Yet, when I penetrate yesterday’s fantasy with reality, past memories melt into the reality of yesterday’s struggles. Norman Rockwell made the past far more alluring in his paintings than reality could support. Nostalgic moments are seldom in reality the way you remember them.
Sometimes I think about the festive celebration our family would have around Thanksgiving. I always looked forward because it seemed like everyone would prioritize being home. My mom would go all out preparing a 25-lb turkey and a 10-lb ham. There would be a minimum of 12 kids plus 2 parents and then the older kids’ partners, girlfriends, and mom always invited another needy family. There were always a lot of people.
The anticipation and build-up began the weekend before with my mom planning and preparing the food. I couldn’t wait until my older brothers got home. I wanted to see how I could compete. We would have foot races in the street. I remember the first time I didn’t finish last. We would eat around noon and watch the Thanksgiving Day Detroit Lions football game. They always lost, or so it seemed. The truth is, they have won more games than any other team on Turkey Day only because they have played more than any other team. So nostalgia can run deep in the corridors of my mind around this national holiday. However, when I peel back the nostalgia there is reality.
Some experiences were not so good. My older brothers Jimmy and David would often have a lot of tension with each other. One year, a physical fight broke out between the two during the traditional touch football game we always had in the street. We used the entire block on 17th Street. On one end the manhole cover on Essex was the goal line and the manhole cover on Dakota was the other goal line. We used the driveways as first-down markers. There were five of us brothers plus Bill Selby who lived in the corner house. He had been the high school quarterback. He threw a pass to my brother Jim who was being covered by my brother Dave. Jim complained that Dave was all over him with pass interference. Their argument escalated into a big fight. No one intervened and it got really ugly. There was tremendous tension around the dining room table that day. I remember my mom repeating her familiar mantra “Why can’t we enjoy Thanksgiving like other families do?” I was the only one who watched the Lions get beat that day!
You will have your own memories that fuel longing and pining for days that will never be again. For sure, nostalgia is a nice feeling that can bring fondness for past experiences. It can become problematic when people live in the past and fail to face today’s reality. Some old-timers fiercely defend how much better things were in past days. It seems that any generation of adults say that kids today are a lot more disrespectful than when they grew up. Really? I grew up in the ’60s! We made love in public, never took a bath, and thought it was invigorating to streak at major sporting events! Nostalgia has a way of distorting the way we see things.
A few years ago I created the motto “Yesterday ended last night”. Things in the past are not generally better than today. For me, the ’60s ended fifty-plus years ago! Think about how much more memorable Woodstock would have been if we could have just borrowed from today our cell phones to take pictures and used Instagram to post what was going on, maybe even livestream the entire event! The truth is that it is time to move on. Yesterday ended last night and it’s time to turn the light on and embrace today’s reality.
Recently I visited St. Louis and spent the night at Union Station, the old train depot. When I was a kid I would visit my oldest brother who was eleven years older than me and worked downtown in St. Louis. When I visited he would let me go to work with him. The train station was near his office. I would spend the entire day walking through the train station when it was very busy with people getting on and off trains and scurrying everywhere. There was always a lot of excitement of people arriving and departing. The names of the trains were fascinating–the City of New Orleans, the Silver Streak Zephyr, and the Banner Blue. I would daydream about what it would be like to board one of those trains and go on a trip. In reality, I learned that passenger trains seem to always enter a city with views of the more trashed areas and not very scenic.
On this occasion, the flashback of childhood memories at Union Station brought me to today’s reality. Soon there will be a day when the train will leave the station without me. This is a metaphor for many life experiences like routine changes, career changes, and the end of life. Relationships also move to different levels of experience. What you once experienced will be no more. Yesterday will have ended last night. It will be important to embrace the now and let go of the past. Yesterday was good and laid a solid foundation for today’s experiences. It is important in addiction recovery to note that we cannot recapture what is no more. The minutes or hours we spend dwelling on what was or should have been only steal away from all that presently is. Today stands before us with promise. Growth opportunities are guaranteed, as is all the spiritual help we need to handle any situation this day offers. I invite you to close the door to yesterday and open your heart to the promise of today’s growth experience.