Ask a child to finish the sentence ‘What if’ and they will probably come up with a fun, imaginative, affirmative reply. ‘What if’ for a child is full of endless possibilities. Yet as adult we often use ‘What if’ as a pessimistic precursor, which goes hand in hand with that other ominous statement ‘If only…..’.
When faced with a difficult situation it is a normal response to think about the ‘What if’s’ and when looking at a situation with hindsight, it is equally natural to consider the ‘If only’s’. For many of us though it’s only the worst possible scenarios or the most awful outcomes that come to mind. And if you’re anything like me, those images that are conjured up can become a form of self torture that do nothing more than hold you hostage in a state of fear.
Several years ago my long-term sober husband decided he could drink again. Dismissing my expressed concerns he was adamant that he could control his alcohol and that it wouldn’t affect our family. He couldn’t and it did.
Whilst he enjoyed his new found ‘freedom’ to do as he pleased, for me it was like being forced onto a train that I knew was going to crash. The months passed and my husband lived in complete denial of the damage being done by his addiction. Whilst for me, each and every day brought a new terror in the form of a ‘What if’.
‘What if ….. he crashes his car, what if he gets into a fight, what if he hurts someone, what if he hurts me? O f course these were always accompanied by the self-blaming ‘If only’s which had become a normality in our increasingly volatile family situation. ‘If only….I hadn’t said that, done that, behaved like that.
“The possibilities are numerous once we decide to act and not react.” ~ George Bernard Shaw.
It was only when my husband completely relapsed that it occurred to me that I had been allowing the ‘What if’s’ to lead the way. I had been so busy trying to keep the peace and reacting to every event that it wasn’t until crisis point that I realised I needed a radically different approach. There was nothing I could do to change the situation, but I could decide to change myself.
It started with changing my notion of ‘What if’. What if I said ‘Enough is enough’ and meant it? What if I drew up boundaries and stuck to them? And of course the victim mentality of ‘If only’ also had to change. For me the best way to stop lamenting the past was to make a conscious decision to close the door on the things that had gone before and look for a new door which would lead me to new opportunities.
“Change your thoughts and you change your world.” ~ Norman Vincent Peale
Obviously living my life by choice instead of chance didn’t happen overnight. And the hurt of those desperate months took much time, patience and prayer to resolve. But the lessons I learnt from the experience have been invaluable in dealing with other challenges since.
Today I don’t have to worry about ‘What if’, because I’m too excited about the ‘What next?’
With love and thanks to my husband, who found the courage and strength to overcome the relapse.