When I was drinking, I lived pretty much day by day. Not in a good 'mindfulness' sense, but in a rather toxic way. Either I was recovering from the last drinking session, or planning the next (or both simultaneously), and I didn't really get a great deal further than that.
Since I quit, my horizons have telescoped outwards - both forwards and back. I spend a lot more time and effort planning for the future (see yesterdays post on The Possibility List), but I also spend more time haunted by flashbacks from the past.
Some of these flashbacks are the inevitable bad things I did while drunk. But many of them are the sepia tinted memories of childhood, which often make me want to weep with nostalgia. Why is it that sorting out our present makes us spend so much time in the past?
I had one of these flashbacks recently. I was driving the car and a song came on the radio. It was the incomparable Edith Piaf singing Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien (I have no regrets).
(Please, please click here and turn the volume up high).
This song reminded me of one of my father's favourite stories. It was 1962. He was a handsome, hugely talented, twenty four year old who'd just been posted to Brussels by the British Civil Service.
One evening, Dad was offered a theatre ticket by a colleague who was stuck in the office and couldn't go. It was a show at the Gaite (which was later turned into one of my favourite nightclubs. It's probably now a luxury apartment complex...).
Dad knew nothing about the show, but he did know that the theatre always served a carafe of wine and a cassoulet for every theatre goer to accompany the performance (there was a wooden ledge running in front of all the seats which served as a table). Given that he was a bachelor and unable to even boil an egg, a free meal was too good an opportunity to miss.
Dad tucked into his dinner, rather hoping for a Moulin Rouge type of spectacle with lots of long legs, perky bosoms and feathers. Instead a raddled old lady stepped onto the stage, alone, and walked up to the microphone. He started to regret his decision, and to plan an early exit.
Then she opened her mouth and started to sing. Only my father could end up seeing the legendary Edith Piaf by accident!
After I was reminded of this story I looked up Edith on Wikipedia. Yes, you guessed it: she was one of us....
She died less than a year after Dad saw her sing. And she wasn't the old lady he remembers. When he saw her she was forty-six years old. Exactly the same age as me.
Edith had a tragic life. She was named after the British nurse, Edith Cavell, who was executed exactly 100 years ago yesterday for helping allied soldiers escape from German occupied Belgium. Her mother abandoned her at birth, and she was bought up in a bordello by her grandmother and a bevvy of prostitutes.
Edith was blind for four years of her childhood. At seventeen she had her own daughter, Marcelle, who she also abandoned. Marcelle died of meningitis aged two. It is rumoured that Piaf slept with a man to pay for her funeral.
The love of Edith's life died in a plane crash in 1949, on his way to meet her.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Edith became addicted to alcohol and morphine. Despite three attempts at rehab she couldn't beat her demons. She died at the age of forty-seven from liver cancer.
In memory of Edith, I try to have no regrets. I cannot regret a decade, or more, of my life. A lot of it was a great deal of fun. I had three wonderful children, and managed, somehow, to do a half decent job of getting them through early childhood. My past got me to where I am now, and that's a pretty good place to be.
Regrets can haunt you. They can paralyse you, and stop you moving forward. That's why 'making amends' is so fundamental to AA (see my post on Making Amends).
Don't be held back by regrets of the past. If you are, make amends and move forwards. The key thing is to make sure that you have a future that you won't regret.
Sadly, Edith's last words, as her liver killed her in a final act of revenge, were not non, je ne regrette rien. Her last words were "Every damn thing you do in this life, you have to pay for."
Don't let that happen to you.
Love SM x