“If you don’t like the road you’re walking, start paving another one.” - Dolly Parton
At 54 years old, Steve Bishop knew it was time for a change. His life was slowly unraveling: He had lost his driver’s license, was estranged from his son, and was overcome with a sense of loneliness. He knew his drinking was wreaking havoc on his life, but the thought of quitting scared him. “The truth is I would rather have died than get sober,” said Bishop.
Bishop had been a drinker for 35 years. He relied on drinking to relax, have fun, and escape. He wondered if life would be better if he were to live it completely sober, but at 54 years old, he wasn’t sure if it would be. “I had drank away most of my life — was it going to reappear again? I had not talked to my kids in years — were they going to forgive me? I doubted it. What difference did it make to get sober now?”
With these thoughts at the forefront of his mind, Bishop was tempted to keep living the only way he ever knew how — as a heavy drinker. But luckily for him, a glimmer of hope was hidden beneath his fears and low expectations of sobriety, “maybe life would be better if I wasn’t so tired all the time? Maybe it would be nice to remember what I did yesterday?” Wondering about these things was enough to bring him to his first AA meeting, which he reluctantly attended with a friend. When it wasn’t so bad, he went again. Days turned into weeks. Weeks turned into months. At 54 years old, Bishop was going to meetings, not drinking, and learning a new way to live.
“Weird stuff started happening,” he recalls. “There was food in my refrigerator. I started reading again and I realized how much I missed it. I was able to save money, instead of drinking it all away.” With each sober day, Bishop’s quality of life improved. Perhaps most significantly, he was eventually reconnected with family, who were delighted to see the new and improved Steve. And his once-estranged son was so inspired by his dad’s new way of life, that he, too, adopted the sober lifestyle.
Bishop credits his age with helping him focus on what really matters–the here and now. “Chances are great I will be dead before I have 20 years sober. That helps me to concentrate on today. It is really all I have. I can’t go back and be young again. I have to make do with what I’ve got and my happiness depends mostly on me.” He is a new man, with a new attitude and an inspirational message for anyone willing to listen: It is never too late to start over.
Lindsay Cooke, a licensed mental health counselor in Boca Raton, Florida, has worked with many older clients, who are, at first, hesitant about a significant life change at an older age, but like Bishop, they find a glimmer of hope: “I have seen [their attitude] change when they begin to see positive results.” If you find yourself tempted to make a change later in life, here are some steps to take to get you started:
1. Practice acceptance.
In order to fully accept your situation for what it is, first identify what you can and can’t change (or control) in your current situation. No excuses, no complaining, no buts. Write this down and read it out loud. Remind yourself that no amount of emotion will change the circumstances of your situation. Then, take a deep breath and as you exhale, make a conscious decision to let go; let go of the anger, resentment or need to control the situation. Do this every day as needed, and make a conscious decision that you are 100 percent going to accept things just as they are.
2. Forget age.
Age is just a number; it is not an excuse. If you always wanted to try a spinning class or get a tattoo, go for it. Whatever you do, do not allow yourself to ever say (or think) but I am too old. Oh no, my friend, you are never too old. When age becomes an excuse, it is often an indication of being stuck in the past and/or future. Age is irrelevant when you stay focused on the here and now. Quit smoking at 60? Why not? You are just as likely to feel empowered by this at 60 as any other age, and to feel the health benefits as well.
3. Think positive and ask “What if?”
Pay attention to your thoughts, and as you notice them, write them down. Then, allow yourself to imagine what if. Change that thought directly into the best-case scenario. Let’s say your friends are pushing you to date again at 62. Enter negative thoughts: I just can’t, it doesn’t feel right, I will never connect with anyone else again. Now, take that and turn it into a what-if, and imagine the best-case scenario instead. What if I take the risk, meet someone who complements my life and warms my heart? Is this, then, in turn, worth the risk? Thoughts are powerful. One common misconception is that we do not have control over our own thoughts, but in reality, we do. So pay attention to your thoughts, ask a what-if. Then, shift them from negative to positive. This exercise gets easier with practice.
4. Make a plan.
Cooke says it is absolutely essential to “create a plan and stick to it no matter what. Ask for help from family members, friends and professionals who can assist in keeping you accountable.” This step is all about commitment, the key to which is staying in the moment. Don’t think forever. Don’t think about the past or the future. Think today. Make a plan and fully commit to it for today. If tomorrow you change your mind and want to return to your old ways, so be it, but hopefully you will find your glimmer of hope (and feel a little empowered), and that will be enough to keep you going.
Bishop has been sober for over 5 years, and he quit smoking 3 years ago at age 56. Today, he is beyond grateful for the glimmer of hope he had. It was strong enough to overcome the nagging voice that asked what’s the point? Today, he is surrounded by friends, supported by his family, and he gives back often by helping others. Most of all, he is happy. “I want to stick around for a few more years and see what life has [to offer] this old guy. My life is better now than I ever remember it being.”