The Next Drink Will Not Be Different

Ben Affleck

Whenever I’d be involved in a conversation about celebrity look a likes, I’d always name Affleck. I’d enjoyed his movies and the various characters he’d attempted to fill over the years.  Recently, the NY Times did a great profile on the actor on the heels of his divorce with Jennifer Garner after thirteen years of marriage and three children.

A few of his quotes made me stop and think, not just for honesty sake but for the weight he’d put in them:

“People with compulsive behavior, and I am one, have this kind of basic discomfort all the time that they’re trying to make go away,” he said a couple of Sundays ago during a two-hour interview at a beach side spot in Los Angeles. “You’re trying to make yourself feel better with eating or drinking or sex or gambling or shopping or whatever. But that ends up making your life worse. Then you do more of it to make that discomfort go away. Then the real pain starts. It becomes a vicious cycle you can’t break. That’s at least what happened to me.”

and

“The older I’ve gotten, the more I recognize that my dad did the best he could,” Affleck said. “There’s a lot of alcoholism and mental illness in my family. The legacy of that is quite powerful and sometimes hard to shake.” Affleck’s younger brother, Casey, 44, has spoken about his own alcoholism and sobriety. Their paternal grandmother took her own life in a motel when she was 46. An uncle killed himself with a shotgun. An aunt was a heroin addict.

“It took me a long time to fundamentally, deeply, without a hint of doubt, admit to myself that I am an alcoholic,” Ben Affleck said. “The next drink will not be different.”

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Pic from the Times profile. 

Let’s dig in.

My generation is known as The Divorce Generation.  We were the first to eclipse the statistic that 50% of the marriages of our parents would end in divorce, myself included.  So what does that do? It generates what Affleck mentions in his quote, something his children will face now.

It creates that consistent discontent driving compulsions.  Pain nags, the feeling palpable. It is a burning, just under the skin, that something is coming.  A feeling the car is approaching a horizon that is actually a cliff, that the raft is approaching the waterfall in the distance and we hear the rapids. It creates unbalance and the urge to fill the space.

I turn mine into a reward mechanism. Let’s buy lunch, go to the movies, pick up a new book, let’s sit and decompress and not think for a while. Let’s spend because we deserve it.

We all find solace in something, in realization.  Val and I lean on faith, we’ve started trying to get physically, financially, and spiritually well with a purpose. Now, we’re not perfect by any means, and the old habits die hard behind ignorance. The trick is in the realization.  As Affleck says,

The next drink will not be different.

Fill in the blank with your coping mechanism of choice. Compulsions are driven on novelty. There’s a chance we are missing something.  The dopamine hit could be better, stronger.  The limit could go just a little bit deeper, because God, what a rush that was.  And in that rush, for a moment, we didn’t feel.

When we sit down, sit back and understand the next drink will not be different, the next impulse isn’t new, the next vice is the same prison as before, when we look in the mirror and acknowledge it, then the real work can be done.

I look in the eyes of my boys and know they’ll need their own strategies. Affleck and Garner may both be millionaires, but pain is real. Their children will face it down one day.  And money isn’t solution if we follow Affleck’s logic.

As Solomon writes in Ecclesiastics, we are eager to chase the wind.

The goal is truth. The goal is love. The goal is life and being present because it stops you from constantly leaning forward out of the moment and trying to find the next thing. Because the next thing won’t be different.

Aiden and I were watching Youtube this morning and he said, in the middle of the video, “smash that Like button, dad,” and I laughed.  That’s the moment. Grab those like gold because time passes.  Know that you are doing okay and things will get better.

Butterfly wings don’t always start hurricanes.

Sometimes they just catch sunlight.

 

The Clarity in Suffering

One night I sat across from my friend at the bar inside the Canal Street Pub. He had just finished getting a divorce.  We were talking about struggle and suffering and our relationships with God.  He looked at me and said:

“I’ve never felt or heard God as clear as I have right now.”

If you haven’t had the chance to do it, please check out my last few posts.  Our church suffered a major loss as our pastor Bryan Koch and his wife Lynn were in a motorcycle accident.  Lynn passed away and Bryan is still in ICU. The accident was last Sunday.  The day after the accident, my grandmother passed away in the hospital.

Now, Val and I have the same issues as every married couple. We deal with money problems, stress, the kids, and how to fill a summer now that elementary school is out for Carter. When things ramped up this pas week, I found the idea to be true.

There is a clarity in suffering.

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In church, we witnessed a congregation of almost 3,000 people gather on Wednesday night to pray in unity for Bryan and his family.  At the reception following my grandmother’s funeral there was a board of photos. As I looked over the pictures, spanning the 99 years of my grandmother’s life and our family, my dad eventually appeared at my side. I started asking him about specific pictures and he told me exactly what was happening in them.

The memories came clear and vivid.  We laughed at old times. Others at the reception stopped to look with us.  In those moments, you feel the bonds of family.

Suffering gives us a target. When things go well we can get scattered.  When the bottom falls out, we have a target. We have a clear and present need. God opens a door for us to experience his presence.

Suffering gives us a reason. We look to God in the good and bad.  We are driven towards the everlasting when we are reminded that everything else is temporary. People ask, “Where was God?” The answer can take a lifetime to realize and communicate.

Suffering gives us a result. The more I go, the more I believe that suffering is a part of faith.  Don’t believe those that tell you a life of faith is one of paradise.  Our struggles are the building blocks of faith. We must go through the fire to see how God pulls us through. The ending is not quick but it is worth it.

We will see joy once again. We will have peace and understand faith. We will get to the next chapter.

Until then, we give thanks in all things because it is the ultimate victory, the push against the hurricane of this world that threatens to blow us off course. It is our recourse, our unity, our chance to show we are in this world and not of it.

If you are in the midst of suffering tonight, turn to God and be honest.  He can take it.  Let it out and, if you can’t sleep tonight, do it again.  You will make it through.  I promise.

~Matt

I wrote a small e-book about struggle based on my experiences in life, marriage and family. It is available for free. Check it out and let me know what you think. You’ll find it at the link below.

Just Keep Fighting: Staying Unified Part 2

In our fourth post, we are looking at marriage again as a follow-up to our second post about Staying Unified. Enjoy!

Growing up as a guy in the suburbs of Philadelphia, you knew about Rocky.  You knew about the movies. You went to the Philadelphia Art Museum on a field trip and ran up the steps, stopping at the top and shadowboxing, arms then raised up in victory. The movie, and sequels, were classic underdog stories.  Rocky represented the city, the fight of the downtrodden, the backbone that would raise a man up from the dirt and help him see his dream. You couldn’t attend a sporting event and not hear the theme.  Rocky showed us all the value of fighting, of stepping in the ring and not going out until the enemy is defeated.

Today, a friend told me her marriage was ending.

My heart broke as Val and I both know the family. Divorce is ugly. Marriages take effort, especially when kids are in the mix.  They take time and focused movement towards a goal. They take one eye on the present, and one on the future. I spent the remainder of the day thinking about the situation.  As a writer, I naturally gravitate towards empathy. As much as I tried to put myself in her shoes, I could not. Her life changed today and it will never go back to the way it was before.

After work, Val and I talked about it.  Here are a few ways we pinpointed to keep fighting and never lose hope:

~Have Goals: A marriage is like a business.  All successful businesses have plans. They look to next week, next quarter, and next year.  They think about what is coming and adjust focus accordingly. You must, as a couple, have goals. You must be able to picture the future and, in the hard times, remind each other of the idealized end result. Write it down. Hang it in the bedroom or kitchen. Make it clear and present. Know that, when everything weighs you down, you have a direction you are headed.  It can help to snap you out of the funk.

~Date Again: When we had the boys, the dating stopped.  We have friends that have date nights every week.  With our work schedule, it just isn’t possible. We needed to make time and make the most of the time to go out to dinner, coffee, or even a walk. Don’t forget what it was like to date. Don’t forget the magic of the first days, when every glance was a mystery to be unraveled and every touch was electric. Love. Be in love and show love. Buy the flowers. Dress up. Make the effort and pour it into your relationship and, when you are out, try not to talk about the kids.  Make it about you and your partner and you can find that spark again.

~Fight Smart: Every marriage can build up negative energies.  We’ve felt it many times. Something will create tension and it will build until it is let out and addressed.  Now we’ve both raised our voices and said things that were cutting but, in the end, we made a plan to go forward and handle the issue that caused the fight in the first place.  Never, I repeat, never drop the word divorce in the conversation. When that comes out, it can’t be removed or unheard. State your case, listen to theirs, handle the issue and move on. When you fight smart, the dark times can pass quicker and you’ll emerge stronger on the other end.

I’m praying for this family and blessed to have a wife that is willing to stick it out until the end. As you go into the weekend, remember that marriage takes effort, kids are work, and your spouse is your teammate to get it done.  You can run together, climb the stairs, and shadowbox on the Art Museum steps.  It would make a great date night!

~Matt and Val