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  • Writer's pictureBill Stauffer

Gratitude Friday 01/06/23 – Tabula Rasa? Not Really

“In the New Year, never forget to thank to your past years because they enabled you to reach today! Without the stairs of the past, you cannot arrive at the future!” ― Mehmet Murat ildan

It is a New Year, in many ways a new beginning. Is a New Year really a blank slate? I wonder if we really want to think about this time of year as truly a tabula rasa. We bring all the prior years with us into this one. All the challenges faced and endured and every success we have managed to snatch from defeat. There is no point in which we are entirely blank or empty state in the process of life from the first moments of existence. We come preloaded with software that helps us to take in and understand our world from day one. Each of us are born with personality traits that shape how we respond to the world. We are informed and influenced by everything that happens to us over the course of life.

We all learn as we go through our years through trial and errors. We adapt the lessons we learn to each new day. If you are like me, you generally learn much more about how to handle life from the mistakes we make or the trials we are handed than the things that go well. When we say goodbye to years like the last, we leave it with everything we experienced on either side of the ledger with the opportunity to forge ahead with the lessons we have learned further back on the trail.

Some of those years have been easier than others. The last few have been among the most challenging for me. But I got through them. I learned some important lessons along the way. I ended up having some pretty amazing professional accomplishments and traveled the country talking about recovery history and how we can focus addiction and recovery efforts more fully focused on getting people into long term recovery. It was a real highlight to talk about our history and considering how our history informs our field and our future.

We are shaped by our genetics, our parents, friends, and the communities we live in. Nature and nurture. Recently we have begun to understand more deeply how genetics play a role. If a horrible event happened to your ancestors, you “learn” it on a very deep level. As noted in this Atlantic monthly article on epigenetics, “the stress on the system moves the machinery to put down or not put down epigenetic markers.”

Deeply traumatic experiences of our ancestors may wire us to live more hyper-vigilantly because of preprogrammed focus on risks. If the world is filled with tigers who will eat you, you can come into life prewired to scan the grass for hiding beasts. This can be helpful, or it may be a hindrance. Even though we all come with this prewiring, we are remarkable creatures. We can decide to rewire ourselves through what we do. If we are hypervigilant and it is not serving us, we can do things that ratchet down hypervigilance and other trauma responses by practicing things that calm us down. We have the capacity to change. A recovery lesson for me and a cause for hope for all of us.

In reflecting on a new year, would we truly want what we have experienced wiped away, so everything is blank? I read this linked quote from Christopher Hitchings as he spoke about meeting sole survivor of mass genocide on what it really means to have everything erased. On deeper reflection, I am grateful that a new year is not an entirely fresh start, but rather a new opportunity for growth. For me it is V58.1, built on the foundation of prior 57 models, all 365 of those. I am grateful I made it to this version, I nearly got discontinued through my own foibles and life events in earlier iterations.

The truth is that there is less time ahead on the road that in the journey behind me. Not all my dreams and aspirations of youth have come to be. At this age, there are some that will never happen. I am not destined to be an Olympian no matter what I do at this point. It is also true that twists on that road led to places and experiences I could not have ever imagined. I suspect as much from 2023. It will not end in the way that my internal narrative suggests as I stand here at the threshold. But I suspect that as long as I keep moving forward and give my best effort, the outcome will be a good one. I guess on the Erikson’s 8 stage model that at this point I am shooting for generativity with an eye towards and end game of integrity. Stagnation and despair do not have to be in the cards for any of us.

Some of my favorite memories last year were hanging out with Julie, taking in some indie films or dinner at some of our favorite spots. I loved exploring the forests of Eastern PA on my ebike, and even captured a short video of a lifer bird, this Barred Owl in the Great Swamp of New Jersey. My takeaway is that some of the simplest experiences were the most memorable. I can take from this and apply the importance of more time to set aside to enjoy just being.

I am grateful to be here to close out the first week of 2023. If the cards are with me, fifty-one more weeks ahead, and if the cards go against me, I can choose to live this day as my best version. Not perfect, but a more perfect version than in earlier versions for sure. If I have not said so before, Happy New Year to you! I hope you also strive to be more of what you want and less of what is getting in the way of being the best you.

What are you grateful for today?

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