If ten years ago you had told 18-year-old Matt that by age 28 he would have dropped out of college, fumbled his way through a half decade of drugs, anger, a failed marriage, and come out on the other side stuck in a dead end career to pay the mortgage on a home that was now only worth half what it was when he bought it, he would have looked at you as though fire was coming out of your nostrils. He didn’t have a concept of failure. He had never had to try to achieve his goals. He was about due for like to give him a serious ass kicking.
The end of my first semester in college was a giant eye opener. For the first 18 years of my life I had been able to coast by gleaning more than enough information to excel academically by merely being in the room while teachers spoke. I graduated High School in the top 10% of my class without having done any homework since 3rd grade, and my ACT scores had ensured me nearly full ride in college. To me everything had always come easy, and I had no reason to suspect that college would be any different. Then I took my finals. One semester into my freshman year, and I already had failed almost all of my classes. I didn’t return for the second semester.
I must have been a much slower learner than I always thought I was because it took me almost a full decade to learn the lesson I should have learned in November of 2001. Life isn’t easy and it isn’t meant to be. After dropping out of college and moving to another city where people wouldn’t realize I was the living poster boy for wasted potential, I did everything I could to live as easily as possible. I took jobs that could be done by trained monkeys, ate only fast food or things that could be cooked entirely in a microwave, and I kept myself on schedule by popping pills to keep myself awake all day and then drinking myself to sleep each night. Life wasn’t particularly happy, but it was easy, and like anything too easy, eventually it almost killed me.
Drug addiction is a powerful, dangerous thing. It takes work to break free of its grasp, and even after you’ve managed to make it to being sober and clean, you have to continually work to keep from sliding back into that deep, dank, devouring dungeon. Each day becomes a grueling, arduous task filled with pitfalls and traps. You don’t have time to think about the future, and you sure as hell can’t dwell on the past. The only thing you can do is concentrate on why you’re still going and who you want to be. Friendships will be destroyed. Relationships will end.
All of that is prologue, though, to the real meat of the story. I’ve been sober now for five years, two months, three weeks to the day I’m writing this. By the time you’ll be reading it, it will have been just over 10 years to the day I graduated High School. I’ve been trudging along in the dark for so long that I had forgotten what it was like for things to be easy. It had been a long time, but I finally stopped, pulled my head out of my ass and took a look around me. I’m not where I want to be, now who I want to be.
I’m better off, though, for the decade I had. I know how to work, now, and I’m okay with failing. There is no more running away and taking the easy path seems antithetic. I can’t say that life will suddenly start snapping into place, or that all of my dreams are going to come true, but at least now I can say that I’m willing to actually try.
That’s not something I could have honestly said ten years ago.