You know that photo? The one you kept because it’s a flattering shot, but you don’t really like looking at it because it also contains memories of hidden but unpleasant emotions? The one in which you’re smiling on the outside but crying on the inside? You know that photo, right? Go get it. (We’ll wait.)
I have a photo like that, too. It was taken on a trip to Catalina Island the year before I quit drinking, around the time that the urge to isolate was becoming overwhelming. We were hosting a number of guests at a happy hour in our condo before taking our convoy of golf carts to town for dinner (visitors drive golf carts, not cars, on Catalina – such a fun vacation spot!). It was the first day of the trip and everyone was excited, and in the photo (below) I am shown raising a glass to our guests.
My eyes are hollow in that picture, and behind them is an unhappy person. I want everyone to leave. I am dreading the days ahead with all these people; people I like, people I respect, people I want to hide from. I want to be alone so I can do things my way. This whole week is messing with my routine, my perfect cycle of when and how and why I do everything.
My hair is full, my arm doesn’t show the wobbly bits, and I am wearing that scarf I bought in San Francisco. By all accounts it is a nice enough picture, but it hurts me to look at it. It brings back so much sadness.
So you have your photo, and I have mine, and we agree that it was taken during a time when our outsides did not match our insides.
Now find (or take) another photo, a more recent one that shows how far you’ve come. A clear-eyed picture that represents freedom from that pain. A sober joy photo. A picture of authenticity. (If you’re tech-savvy enough, spend a moment combining them into a side-by-side image. If you’re old school, a cork board and two pins will work, too.)
Keep this before-and-after collage as a reminder of where you came from and why you love your new life. Look back at it when you start to wonder if you could moderate, or when someone asks you if it was “that bad”. Remember that you had the inside knowledge then and you have it now. The rest of the world may say we haven’t changed – they saw us smiling and toasting, they now see us still smiling. But only we know the rest of the story.