I heard the words “Robert is dying” spoken for the first time the other day. The context was that we are all dying but that my death is accelerated by cancer. Although the statement was made in a wholly appropriate manner and one of great concern, it struck me as odd.
I do not think of myself as dying. In fact, and particularly since my cancer diagnosis, I consider myself to be more intentionally alive. Today, the genesis of much of my thinking about life stems from getting sober in 1984.
While in the detox unit back then, I came to appreciate the dying process I lived for years through my addiction to alcohol. I went through life completely anesthetized. For example, instead of grieving when my maternal grandmother died, I got drunk. I noted the highway to my job had several bridge abutments I could crash into should I decide to act on my suicidal fantasies. I recall running down a road in an alcohol induced hallucination, firmly believing that if I stopped running, my brain would leave my head and I could not get it back. And then, there was the regular isolation and alienation I experienced. Then, I was truly dying.
But in the summer of 1984, there was a spark of hope and desire to try to live. I laid in the detox ward only wanting to function as regular member of society. I wanted to do things like go to work every day; remember going to bed at night and not be hungover in the morning; or have an honest conversation with someone where I was not trying to run a scam.
As I wrote previously, since then, my recovery path has not been linear – more like a spiral – but the overall trajectory is intentional, choosing to live, and having hope in the process. That hope is the absolute bedrock of my existence today.
So am I dying today more than any other 65 year old mortal? I think not. As I have posted over the past few weeks, I am choosing to more intentionally live my time each day, whether that is riding my bike, cooking a pot of soup, digitizing maps, watching Netflix, writing an article, or sitting and relaxing on the back porch with my wife, Emma and dog, Grace. I do not just exist, waiting to prove that I am mortal.
Today Emma and I talked about changing a spring couple thousand mile bike ride along the Great River Road for a few hundred miles of the Natchez Trace – a more realistic possibility. But then I have another CAT scan scheduled and a visit to the oncologist on November 22nd that could result in chemotherapy and disrupt those best laid plans.
In my morning gratitude list, I often write “the opportunity to make choices for another day” – that to me is a big part of why I am living and not dying, today.
These are lessons I am blessed with from living one-day-at-a-time for many years through a 12 step recovery program.