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  • Writer's pictureBill Stauffer

Gratitude Friday 4/9/21 - Being 56

I turned 56 years old on Monday. Amazing, particularly in consideration that my life plan at age 16 revolved around an impending nuclear winter. I had no need in the hubris of youth and the blinders of addiction to consider for a future beyond the moment, not in any serious way. Eminent mass extinction precludes the need for future planning. I was banking on it. As is evident, nuclear annihilation did not happen on my short timetable. Admittedly, in hindsight, my master plan had some flaws.

With some irony, recovery and living with a today orientation led to considering an actual future that included me surviving beyond 30. It was scary to consider and more than a little overwhelming at the time. I did the thing where you get through the day and break things down into manageable chunks. In this way, I went from barely graduating high school in a convoluted way (more on that in a future post) to holding an advanced education and actually having a life that took some effort and is worth living. I learned we grow when challenged constructively, I lesson I continue to absorb every day. The evidence of post traumatic growth and the “better than well” recovery dynamic are all around me.

I know I am supposed to rue growing older, and yes, it is true that things ache now that I was not even aware existed when I was eighteen. And it is also true that my stamina is not exactly the same. But save the tears. I am roughly twice the age when my master plan was to not exist anymore, and life ended up better than what I thought was in my cards. It turns out living is a worthy effort, not a remote destination. Truth be told on that last point, better than my wildest dreams. I did not dare to dream big in my early years, a common mistake I would urge young people to avoid. Sage advice from a dear friend a few years back was to always bet on yourself. I was betting the house against myself in those early years. I was wrong on that one. Grateful for that.

If this was a pinball video game, I am in an extended bonus round. With an extra life, one in recovery where I am free to be me and to live life instead of numbing it all out. The gift of recovery. This for a guy whose motto was “better living through chemistry” and thought it would be a quick round and I would sink down the middle of the table after maybe a flip or two and not much to show for it all. A game that flashed TILT as play ended. Lights out, game over.

Perhaps that is why I have historically gone big on my birthday, with no shame. Pre-pandemic, I would essentially plan out a Birthday month. This generally included dinners from around mid-March through late April, I think I got about 25 birthday dinners one “birth month.” And why not. I am on that extra life, on bonus round all a direct result of being in recovery. Life is amazing, particularly considering the alternative.

One of the things I have learned is that age is a relative thing. There was a famous social activist by the name of Jack Wienberg who once said “don’t trust anyone over 30.” This sounds like wisdom to a 20-year-old. I thought 30 was old age at 15. From my current perspective, 30 looks like the end of the puppy years. I was 29 years old when my mother died at age 56. I thought that 56 was old, then. I was actually still a puppy. Sitting here today, 56 is young. This is one of the ways that time changes perspectives. But also, truth be told, I still have the voice of a young person in my own head, at least on most days. Thankfully, I have another voice of lived experience that rules that kid voice out. Grateful for a developed executive function which is not characteristic of youth, at least mine.

This birthday resonates a little differently this year as I am 56. Fifty-six. It is an odd milestone. My mother and my older brother both died at my current age. They did not get bonus rounds, although I had wished it so very much for both of them. There were chapters that they did not get to write in their own lives or experience in our lives. Being that age myself now and not feeling old changes how I see this. They both died at far too young an age.

I am not sure how much time I have left in my bonus round. It could be many years, or perhaps not. None of us really knows when that big dirt nap is in our cards. I hope I have a lot more time with you all. There are so many of you who have touched my life in so many meaningful ways. I am grateful for you. I am grateful for my bonus round, and I am grateful my time did not end with a short game with the lights flashing TILT as the ball rolled down the middle.

I would like to think I made better use of this time than I would have without some early life lessons in what is really important in life. Grateful for all the birthday well wishes! Grateful for Julie Miller who helped me get through the pandemic year and make all of the dinners special! Grateful today to be 56 and everything that comes with that, including the achy knees. And perhaps a birthday dinner or two, or even ten.

What are you grateful for today?

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