If you lost your job, home, and all hope, how would you rebuild your life?
In 2005, I put myself in that situation. I was a suicidal alcoholic with a foreclosed home, no job and no family to help me out. The county sheriff showed up at my door with two men who moved everything from my house to the curb. I picked what I needed out of the pile and left the rest for the garbage men. As I drove away from my house, I looked in the rearview mirror and watched my old life disappear.
That night I slept in my car that was parked in the back of a truck stop parking lot. That’s where I lived for the next nine months while I got back on my feet.
That was a low point in my life, and I decided that I would either rebuild my life on solid principles and live a good life, or I would kill myself. The life I lived until then was filled with pain and despair of my making. I made a pact with myself and God that if I tried my best, my honest best, and my life didn’t turn around, then I would be able to check out of life knowing that ‘the good life’ was not an option for me.
I changed many of my bad habits back then. Three of them were foundational building blocks that continue to have a high impact on my life to this very day.
1. Gratitude is an action. I learned this lesson in a 12 step meeting I joined. My life had become all talk and no action. I had been lying to myself saying I was thankful for my car, my relationships, my health, etc. while letting those things die from neglect. Simply put, I was immature, lazy and selfish.
You see, relationships and material things all take time and money to maintain and build. Just like giving a plant water will keep it alive, changing the oil in your car and calling a friend will keep the car going and your friendships strong. Up until that point in my life, I didn’t care. I was a taker.
This destructive attitude slowly destroyed my assets through lack of maintenance, and I always had to replace things and repair relationships because of my thoughtlessness. This had to change for me to live a good life. Another part of being grateful was for me to recognizing all the gifts I had in my life.
2. Count your blessings. Since I lived in my car, it was easy to feel sorry for myself. And, feeling sorry for myself made me feel powerless, hopeless and frustrated, which would then make me want to drink. I knew I had to change my thinking, and it was suggested that I write down on paper everything I was grateful for. I didn’t think it would take long since I didn’t have anything.
So one night–parked in a dark corner of the truck stop–I turned on my dome light, got a pen and piece of paper and wrote: I am grateful for………um ( I looked up)… a roof over my head, even though it’s a sunroof.” This caused me to laugh and lighten up a bit. Then I thought, hey, I’ve got running water, as long as I run across the parking lot into the truck stop to get it! Once again, I got a laugh, and I started to discover how much I truly have and the list grew and grew.
I wrote down that I was thankful for the ability to read, to write, to walk, to see, to breathe clean air, to taste good food, to drive on paved roads, for the county library, the county recreational facility where I showered. For Barnes and Noble and Starbucks where I could use the bathrooms, for the county park where I could take a walk in nature, etc.
This gratitude list gave me a sense of empowerment. I was exercising my power to choose gratitude and love over fear. It relieved me from the stress and anxiety I felt while living in my car. It alleviated the constant negative thoughts that I carried with me that caused me to feel depressed and suicidal. It made me aware of all the choices I had.
I got extreme with gratitude and I was able to put myself in awe of life. And, being in awe of life was where I wanted to be.
Most importantly practicing gratitude is the cure for fear. Fear can creep up in many ways. One way, I’ve found, was through watching TV.
3. I quit watching TV. This was easy for me since I was living in my car. Cutting TV helped me keep my expectations in check. On tv, everybody is rich, good looking, interesting and dates supermodels. The commercials are designed to make the viewer unhappy unless they buy whatever they are selling. Cable news would piss me off or worry me about some coming catastrophe and I’d have to keep watching to stay ‘informed’.
Watching TV also isolated me. Instead of going to social functions and doing things with friends, I would watch a football game, or whatever else was on. Since I missed social functions, I would feel bored and alone because I was bored and alone.
Eliminating TV opened up time to make new friends, go have dinner or coffee with them, play more music, write more and spend more time in nature. It made my life better, and that is what I wanted. It lowered my expectations of life and freed me from some of my materialistic desires while I gained a greater sense of connectedness and peace.
It’s been close to ten years since I last slept in my car. I live in an apartment on the affluent side of town, just south of Nashville, TN. I own three businesses, have lots of friends, play in a band and have written a book. I’m living the good life I once dreamed of. And, the good life started when I changed my habits.
Read more of my story at SuttonParks.com.
Photo: Flickr/ Antonio Ponte