The More I Drink, The Thirstier I Get

As I the years go by I find myself becoming more and more ambitious.  I recently reflected that the more I drink, the thirstier I get.  Leaving my first marriage, and betting everything that I could make my life mean something significant for myself and my kids gave me a sense of urgency that only seems to increase as I get older.  I had no idea what I was doing, but I was starting to conceive my why.  At that time, my early ideas of my purpose hinged on learning how to be free, and teaching my kids as I went.  I needed to find how I could be liberated from constraints with my time, my money, my relationships, and my work.  I was intent on learning how I could be my best self, no longer held back by the old working class identity that I had developed, but able to enjoy stretching into my wildest hopes and dreams. To this day I live to be a superhero to my kids, to show them how to be truly free in every way imaginable.

While freedom was the goal, they say that necessity is the mother of invention, and the need to support myself financially meant that working was essential.  My little sister had recently started selling vacuum cleaners door to door, and it turned out that she was quite the superstar.   The work was commission only which may not have suited some people.  For me though, it fitted my freedom ideals perfectly.  I got to be my own boss, owned by nobody, with my success riding only on me. With nothing more I could possibly lose, and only freedom to gain, I joined her thinking, “If she can do it, then so can I.”

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I was right!  I took to sales like a duck to water, and the extrovert in me thrived on cold-calling and socialising with customers and my sales crew all day long.  I missed my kids like crazy, but the more that it hurt to be away from them, the more motivated I got to sell vacuum cleaners.  At the end of my first few weeks I had earned my first sales award and it was to be presented at the monthly Award Night in Albury, where sales crews from all over the region joined to celebrate the month’s victories.  

I met Alec at that event, and was immediately disgusted at first by his arrogant swagger, and then by the two lackeys he had in tow.  They had bleached their hair blonde, seemingly to match his own ridiculous hair style.  Despite his entourage being comically absurd, I must admit that I did raise an eyebrow several times through the night as it became evident that he was a gun, cleaning up the bulk of the region’s awards.

The next month saw me working in Alec’s sales crew in Dubbo, NSW, and his mastery of sales skills were like fine pearls that he passed on to me through his training.  By the end of that first month I had earned more sales awards, and I felt like the Queen of the World.   I also quickly realised that I had an entrepreneurial streak, and put it to good use by selling my skills to my team: ironing, cleaning, telemarketing, and door knocking were all services I offered to my colleagues, and they made me some nice pocket money while I was away.  It was empowering for me at that time to see that other people found value in things that came naturally to me.

Alec and I spent lots of time together talking about all sorts of big, important things.  I told Alec all about my starry eyed hopes for the future, and my desperation at making this sales gig work.  After having left university against his parent’s wishes, and with his dad fighting cancer, he too was desperate for success.  Our ambitious imaginations were like fuel to each other’s fire, and after a few weeks we had grand plans of running our own sales region and working a crew together.  We had big dreams and every intention of getting there.  Most importantly, in sharing our crazy ambitions, we had fallen in love.  

Plan A is for Abandon

I think part of the reason for my success in finding happiness is my tendency towards abandon. I run at the point of no return like a wild bull at a gate.  My way of throwing myself into things means that I hurl every part of myself into my choices and opportunities.   Experience has taught me that the fullest joys and the richest rewards come when I don’t consider any alternative other than my chosen outcome.  I have learned that if I find myself considering a Plan B, I never really invested in a Plan A. Sitting on the fence is an extremely stressful, uncomfortable place to live.  And when you have lodged yourself there, it is very difficult to move into the next field where the grass is actually greener.

By the time I was 24 Wodonga had revealed itself to be a dead end that I had to escape.  Marrying so young was not one of my smarter plans, but this is a story that saw me come home strong in the end.   I married my loud, funny, extroverted husband Adam when I was nineteen years old and three months pregnant.  Adam was my best friend at the time, and to this day we remain close mates.  My first marriage lasted six and a half years, and these were marked by some unforgettable highlights.  I remember the thrill of skinny dipping in the Hume Weir, and the horror of running out of petrol when my husband was my sister’s  bridal car driver.  Giving birth to my two treasures was a wonderful experience to share with Adam, as were the family holidays we had in Apollo Bay.  We had friends who shared pizza and coke over card games that never seemed to end, and so many of our days and nights sparkled with laughing until we cried.

Adam and I were great at friendship, but terrible at marriage.  Our hopes for the future and ideas about “the good life” were worlds apart.  I wanted to build a big future that was nothing like my small past, but Adam was genuinely content to live day to day and week to week.  The frustration that this conflict caused both of us was infuriating, and eventually brought us to the end.

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I left on my daughter’s second birthday.  As Adam and the kids waved me goodbye from out the front of our little unit in Wodonga, I knew that success could only come if I found a way to build the life I wanted for myself and my children.  I knew I needed to get my two treasures back, but I had decided that if I couldn’t raise them with every freedom and opportunity imaginable, I didn’t want to raise them at all.  I needed this imaginary life so much that I risked everything to get it.

We are all our own first audience, and on that day as I watched myself leave my two children – my reasons for living – I could barely believe my eyes.  This was not the leading lady that I thought I was, and this was not the way I had expected the plot to play out.  This was an unexpected twist that had even me on the edge of my front row seat.

But on that day, I drew a line in the sand.  I put all of my eggs in the basket of the big, rich life I needed for myself and my kids.  I gambled everything that I could make my outsides match the ambitious insides that I had.  I gave everything to my desire for freedom, because this desire had been tearing my insides apart.  It was with abandon that I gave myself to the pursuit of a big life.  For the second time in my life, I had run away from home, and I never looked back.

Insides and Outsides

One of the fastest ways you can quench your own happiness is to allow time to pass on incongruence.  I learned a long time ago that my capacity to enjoy a rich, rewarding life relies on my ability to align who I am with where I am and what I do.  If you are unhappy with how your days are unfolding, there are only two things that can be changed:  your insides or your outsides.  The trick is knowing which one to deal with.

As the oldest of five in a volatile home, my childhood had taught me to make sure that everyone around me was ok first. This created three problems:

  1. I developed a perspective that put other people’s needs and wants ahead of my own, but
  2. My self-deprecating way of being was unsustainable and robbed me of the perspectives I needed to grow, so
  3. I was desperate to get out but didn’t know how to choose what I wanted

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It was with this potentially crippling baggage that I moved out of home at seventeen years young, into two-bedroom flat in Wodonga with my best friend. Our place was small, and in desperate need of sunlight, but being in the heart of this bustling rural town, it let me roll out of bed and sprint to work five minutes before my shift at Coles began.  The endless hours of work’s boredom were literally mind-numbing, and at times I had to choke back tears as I scanned groceries for people who thought only slightly less of me than I thought of myself.  My friends did provide some reprieve, and I have fond memories of crowding around candlelit meals of pizza, hot chips and two minute noodles.  I tried so hard to make those companions fill my gaping hole of emptiness, but I was like the people I am wary of today: I was a Holey Bucket, unable to be filled because other’s efforts just trickled out of my jarring cracks of incongruence.

Terror marked every night of the three hundred and sixty-five I spent in that flat.  I know I am not the only person who has grown up in a large family only to inherit the fear of being alone, but this knowledge offered zero comfort.  Every zooming car, shouting neighbour, and shuffling pedestrian caused a startle, as I tossed and turned my way through the dark hours.  Every morning saw me facing another new day of hopeless, directionless, dead end.  I was primed for the string of poor choices I would make … but I was armed with the tiny voice inside that told me to move into that flat in the first place.  I had no idea what I was doing, but I knew I had to change my outsides.