In some circles it might be called compulsive disorders. In others, perseveration. In my world and definition, it’s called FOCUS.
The entrance to Xcaret Park in Mexico. Just follow the red line on the path.
It’s that ability to block all things out while we focus at the task at hand. It does mean giving your full, undivided attention and usually means a great deal of time dedicated in the pursuit. It is this focus that makes people successful and even famous. When I am in that zone, people don’t “oh and ah” at me and my dedication and determination, like I imagine they did with Steve Jobs, Madonna and the like. No, they say, rather disparagingly “Oh, that’s just Karen,” as if it were a disorder or something.
I learned about singleness of purpose in the 12 Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Yes, I did say the 12 Traditions, not the 12 Steps. They are the lessor known guidelines in the program. They are suggestions for groups of Alcoholics Anonymous to follow to ensure the continuity of the program. Essentially, they are to protect the greater good and survival of the program from it’s individual membership. I mean, we are afterall, alcoholics, and sometimes playing well together is very difficult. It’s simple, Tradition five states “Each group has but one primary purpose – to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.” You see, back in the 1930’s when AA was born, there was no ‘cure’ for alcoholism except locking alcoholics up in a mental institution or in jail, where by both accounts, they could not reach alcohol. Either that, or they would drink themselves to death. Then it was discovered that the one thing that could get one and keep one sober, was one alcoholic talking to another about their shared alcoholism. And hence AA, and a real solution to alcoholism, was born. So that singleness of purpose is entrenched in the existence of every person involved in the fellowship, at the group level, area level and beyond, because without that singleness of purpose, to help the alcoholic that is still suffering, we would get drunk and alcoholics anonymous would not survive.
This is where I first learned about this concept, at the young age of 22 years, when I walked through the doorway and into the fellowship of AA. It is with a desperation that one must enter the program and participate wholeheartedly and without reservation, lest one drink and die. Or live a life of misery on the street and/or in the jails. For an alcoholic, it often is a life and death struggle. But in an instance of clarity, a decision to change our paths and join AA, that singleness of purpose develops, where everything in our daily life is manoeuvred to support that change. It is that kind of focus that is the means by which I achieve my goals, support my decisions and overcome my obstacles. It is what ‘normal’ or ‘earth’ persons, as I think of non-alcoholics, would think of as being obsessed, focused, driven. I think of it as that singleness of purpose. FOCUS.
I didn’t really understand anything they said, talked about or wrote about in AA. And the singleness of purpose I wouldn’t understand for years. I just knew alcohol was destroying my body, mind, soul and life and I wanted to stop. I just hadn’t been able to stay stopped on my own. And so I abandoned everything. My old friends, my family, my way of thinking, the concepts, ideas and beliefs I had come to have. I abandoned myself completely and gave myself wholeheartedly to this program and way of life. Just like that. Sometimes it’s called a spiritual awakening, or a divine intervention, a moment of clarity or an ‘ah-ha’ moment.
For me it was clear. I had to do something different today.
I was told I only had to do this thing for 24 hours, just one day. I could drink tomorrow, just not today. The idea of not drinking for the rest of my life was too much to swallow. So, every morning I got up, I did what I was told to do, like prayers and readings, giving thanks and asking for help. Then I went to a meeting at lunch, hung out in the coffee shop with other unemployed recovering alcoholics discussing sobriety and then went to an evening meeting. Afterwards I would go home and do what I was told to do, like prayers and readings, giving thanks and asking for help. I did that day after day after day. I stayed sober for one day, and one day and one day. That, I was later to learn, was the singleness of purpose. Everything I thought and did revolved around me not taking a drink and moved me one minute closer to staying sober in that moment.
As I got older, I learned how to apply that singleness of purpose in my life. After the first of becoming sober, I have had three other times in my life when I have observed the singleness of purpose and changed my life dramatically. When I became vegan, when I became a police officer and when I became a photographer. Wow, that sounded weird, describing myself as a photographer. I digress. I hope to cover these areas a little more in-depth in future posts. How I got there, what it was like, what happened and what it’s like now. And no, this is not an open meeting of AA, but I am stealing their meeting format. Because you know, even if having that singleness of purpose gets you to the end, there are always lots of hurdles, up and downs and sometimes laughter along the way. I mean, nothing in life is ever that easy. And I know I often get in my own way.
Last year I celebrated 10,000 days of sobriety with some friends. It has been a journey. I know with certainty, that if I did not have my sobriety today, I would have nothing; not my dignity, not my job, not my wife, not my family, not my friends, not my home, not my car, not my dogs and especially not my camera or even the computer that puts this all together! But that is what I learned, a singleness of purpose,where the most important thing, everyday, is to guard my sobriety.