How do we change as we age?
This is a question I've asked myself a lot as life continues to unfold around me.
At 45 years and seven months old I am pleased to have retained most of my hair. I say "most" because there was a time I can remember--not so long ago--where I had to wet my hair brush to get it through my thick Armenian-Polish coif. But those days are behind me now and it seems I can almost brush my hair straight with just the fingers on my hands. When I get a haircut and the stylist pulls out the little mirror seeking my approval on the way the back looks I always get a little jumpy to see how "Hurricane Fred" is doing, the eye of the storm swirling around the northern regions on my scalp.
But these changes are part of life. These are biological certainties that we can't avoid, hard as some of us try.
My skin gets some help from a certain line of natural skin care products that I am lucky enough to have a seemingly endless supply of. But even as much as I cleanse, tone and moisturize I still look like a man my age: 45 years and seven months. It's part of life and I feel lucky to still be here after my years of use and abuse.
And though one can tell a lot from appearances I know all too well that just because our outward self looks healthy, inside things may not be so rosy.
We have a beautiful seven foot tall Christmas tree in our living room. Its incandescent glow and sparkly garlands give off an appearance of joy, health and happiness. But all I need to do is bend down and reach my hand inside the tree holder to see that it has sucked up all the water I fed it yesterday and is probably screaming for dear life. "Somebody water me!!! You cut me down for no reason and now I have no sun, wind, stars, minerals or water!! FEEED MEEEEEEE!"
And so I water this beautiful specimen of nature and symbol of this winter holiday and it makes Jodi and myself smile every day for three or four week of the year. It was grown for this purpose and that makes it a little easier to know it will only last so long. But as quickly as we prop it up in its stand and cover it with silver, gold, lights and love we know it is rapidly deteriorating.
Time takes its toll on us all.
To me now as it ever was I find that I don't understand concepts unless I can see how they work. When somebody starts explaining something to me I easily gloss over and start to slip away. I try my best to stay in the moment and keep my connection with them solid. But all through my life it's been this way.
I think that's one of the big reasons that this online journal has helped keep me sober. I've been able to work through the reasons why I did what I did in order to understand why I had to stop. Somebody tells me "You gotta quit drinking, buddy. You're gonna kill yourself," and I just wave my hand and say, "Oh, believe me I know," and move on. But digging in deep and picking out moments in my life where certain substances became synonymous with rewards and affirmation? Deciphering and pinpointing moments where I clearly chose insanity over clarity? That kind of stuff really opens my eyes and helps me understand what it's all about.
But this question of how we change as we age, this is also a very helpful conversation to have to make future decisions in a more productive way.
I think that when I was younger I was really good at making my family worry about me. In fact I kind of perfected it. And I don't really know why this was something I let happen. Now that I am older and have those crazy years behind me I can't even fathom thinking that it was somehow okay to allow the two most important people in my life to sit across from each other and talk for hours about how best to get me to "clean up my act." And I know pretty well how the conversations would go. My aunt would show my mother an article she found in the paper on a new drug or intensive treatment to curb alcoholism. My mother would start to cry and say "He'll never do it, Lynn," or something to that effect. My aunt thought she knew me; my mom actually did.
Because when I was younger, interspersed with managing restaurants and playing around the country with my rock band, worrying and upsetting my family was what I did.
But everyone gets older and sometimes our old habits have a way of changing.
Today would be my Aunt Lynda's 68th birthday. Being the youngest of three siblings I suppose she kind of figured she might be the last to pass, but certainly not the youngest. My Uncle was 68, my mother was 65.
But my aunt died just shy of her 61st birthday.
That said, Lynda Jean Johnson was the only one to see me grow up. What I mean to say is that even though she only was around for the first seven months of it she was the only one in my immediate family to live to see me quit drinking. And at age 37 this development was quite possibly the most important and life-changing decision I could have made not only for myself but for everyone around me. Because choosing this path changed everything.
I became responsible with my money.
I became concerned for my weight and for my health.
I began to see my way through problems and not just ways around them.
I understood that there was somebody inside me that was worth loving.
I saw the time in front of me as being more valuable than the time behind me and therefore I refused to live in the past.
I realized who in my life I had filled with dread and worry for years and years and I tried to make things as right as I could.
And most importantly I discovered how I changed as I aged because I could see laid out in front of me who I had become.
I had become . . . them.
All the years of trying to distance myself from my mom and aunt with drugs and drink and dangerous living, all of that had emanated from a deep seated fear that I was just like my family. How outrageous! How preposterous! I couldn't be like them! They were well-respected school teachers who changed people's lives in a single year by connecting and trying to instill in their students a confidence that they may not have been afforded by their family and peers.
These normal people who made every single holiday or milestone extra special for those around them, who kept a steady supply of balloons, streamers, gift bags, kazoos, funny hats, silly signs and greeting cards . . . I wasn't like them.
I was cool, man.
I was different.
I was dangerous and dark!
I was a rock star and I lived the life!
I had a death wish.
I was not any of those things.
I was just . . . like . . . them.
Well what do you know?
It took me 37 long years to realize this simple fact: that being them is not a curse but a blessing! That being them is something to strive for. That being them is not only becoming scarcer every day but that being them can change people! That being them and holding the door or picking up a quarter that somebody dropped or writing a thank you note or bringing home a balloon on a special day or calling somebody on their birthday or just checking in with someone you haven't heard from in a while . . .
That any of these things is just being who I am: Frederick Alexander Johnson.
And as hard as I fought it for almost four decades I finally gave in and came to and it all made sense for one brilliant and beautiful moment. And that's all it took for me to understand what to do moving forward.
For me, just doing what I've been doing seems to be working. Because instead of making people around me worry about me and just generally being a punk, I'm staying clean and sober and helping others do the same.
I'm giving guitar lessons just like I told my aunt I would in her last few months of her life.
I try to never take my partner for granted. I try to encourage rather than nag. And I celebrate every day we can be together because I have felt like the luckiest man on earth since the day we met.
That is no lie.
That is love.
And they were love.
And I am them.
For once. For all. Forever.
I want to dedicate this post to, of course, my Aunt Lynda. Though her birthday was precariously close to Christmas my mom made damn sure that it was as singular of an event as possible.
And on this day as I do every year I will donate to one of her favorite cat charities, Habitat For Cats.
She loved her cats almost as much as she loved me.
Happy Birthday, Aunty.
I love you, I miss you, I'll see you again someday.
For the rest of you, thank you all so very much for reading. Enjoy the holiday season and try to be safe in this crazy old world.
Lynda J. Johnson December 15, 1947-September 07, 2008.