Don’t look back; something might be gaining on you.
~ Satchel Paige
In her wonderful book The Long Steep Path, Catherine Ryan Hyde writes of a three-day trek to Machu Picchu, during which the trail tops out on two mountain passes approaching 14,000 feet above sea level. She comments on the difficulty of simply breathing at that altitude, and the daunting sight of still more climb ahead. Than she writes:
I focused on the step I was taking. The current one. The now step. I did that over and over. And over. And over. Until I’d taken many more steps than I thought I had in me.
Then I turned around and looked back down the trail.
Wow, I thought, Wow! I’ve come a long way. I’ve climbed high already….And if I can do the part behind me, I can do the part in front of me
.Ms. Hyde, unsurprisingly, has been in recovery for a long time, and as inspirational reading goes, her book is hard to beat. (In fact, none of her books suck.) This passage got me to thinking that we spend a lot of time looking back, but mostly at the wrong things. We focus on the unskilled ways we behaved, and fail to give ourselves credit for how far we’ve come.
Before we got into our program, it was incredibly painful to look back at all — one of the main reasons we acted out. Then we began to work the steps, and by the time we came to Step Four it seemed as though we’d be overwhelmed by all our faults and the harm we’d done to ourselves and others.
But moving along this rather difficult part of our path to sobriety, it pays not to look at the mountain we have to climb, and not at the errors of the past, but rather at how far we’ve come. We made a decision (tentatively, but still…) to turn it over: we got a sponsor, we began working the steps. Most importantly of all, we remained abstinent so that we were able to accomplish those things! What a change from the “old me” of our addiction!
As a dear friend of mine is fond of saying, “The old me will drink again.” There’s no doubt in my mind that he’s right: the Old Bill will act out again if I let the unskilled acts and omissions of the past take over my head. But if I’m able to look down at my feet and appreciate the steps I’m taking forward, and look back and appreciate all the progress I’ve made….
Well, hell. There’s nowhere to go but up!