Keep Looking Forward
“I’m confused,” he said. “How am I supposed to do that? How on earth am I supposed to pick up that ball and do that?”
He had every reason to question his coach on the very moves he witnessed.
“Easy.” the gray haired man stated as he gently slammed the ball into his chest, “Just keep your eyes looking forward.”
With a sigh, Cal took the orange ball and tossed it in the air, witnessing it float gently upwards with a spin before it came to a temporary rest and sank back down. Clumsily catching the ball, he watched the others throw their ball down to the ground, bouncing it back up and right back into their hands; cycle and repeat. They weren’t even looking down at the ground, and yet they effortlessly bounced the ball up and down, one thud after another. Squeaking their shoes as they spun around each other, they tossed the ball high into the air to be either swatted down by another player, caught, or somehow slip through the loop and down the net. High fives and shouts of encouragement among the members echoed as they raced to the other side of the court, and then the process simply repeated.
This was entirely knew from what he’d grown up with. The ball he was used to using was hard, solid, and weighed fifteen pounds, a considerable amount heavier than the twenty ounce, air-filled ball he was holding. He could hear it echo through his memories and feel the smooth, slick ball fly from his hand, racing down the alley and CLACK! smacking into the pins on the other end with a very distinct crashing sound. Moments later, his ball would return on a belt through a tube, and he’d begin the process over again. That was something he understood and was good at, and he knew it.
Why had his coach insisted that he take up basket ball? He thought it was a ridiculous request, being asked to play a sport he’d never played before in his life! He was a professional bowler, not a pro basket ball player! He’d never held a basket ball before in his entire life, until his coach handed it to him. But his coach insisted. Besides, how hard could it be? The guys on the court sure didn’t seem to have any problems with it.
Mimicking the other players, he hurled the ball down to the ground, and with it’s distinctive thud, and much to Cal’s surprise, it flew back up very quickly and nearly pummeled him in the face. He glanced around, only to find a couple of players staring at him with snickers on their face. To prove he knew what he was doing, Cal turned, and prepared to run and dribble. He’d show these guys that he knew what to do, it couldn’t be that hard. Once again, but more gently, he threw the ball down and took a step forward, kicking the basket ball to the other side of the court. This stopped the practice game with some laughter and finger pointing, leaving Cal standing there in embarrassment.
Coach walked up to Cal with another ball, gently slammed it into his chest, and said, “Just keep your eyes looking forward.” Coach knew that Cal had never played a single basket ball game in his life. It would be a long time before Cal could actually hope to play with any kind of usefulness to the team, and Coach knew that. So, what was the point?
It’s not that Cal didn’t have confidence or skill; he was good, very good -- at bowling. That’s what he’d been doing since he was very young! But that’s all he did. He didn’t know how to interact or work with others as a team; learn to exchange ideas, concepts, and a single, shared goal; he’d always just done it on his own. And it suited him. All too well. But it didn't allow him to connect with others. He wasn’t living life, because he couldn’t cope or interact with other people. And it was killing him inside.
That’s how it is with many of us in addiction. Maybe we were raised with limited knowledge on many things in life, or we didn’t know how to teamwork, or how to simply try something knew; we were afraid of it and unsure we’d benefit, or even survive. We had gained other skills, and perhaps we were very good at them — but that was it, just a few skills, or even “wrong” skills. Now how do we deal with the rest of life?
Character defects are replaced, or repurposed, when we ask our Higher Power to remove them. It’s a painful thing many times, but sometimes, it isn’t the character defects that we need to replaced or repurposed. Sometimes, it’s simply learning life skills. Period. Like Jeff, for instance.
Jeff was raised in a very overprotected family and had very little socialization. It wasn’t the fault of anyone in particular, it’s just how it was in Jeff’s life, and although he had brothers to play with, he often found himself all alone. He liked it that way. He was able to do what he wanted, play where he wanted, and control the situations the way he wanted to control them (for the most part). But this also left Jeff lonely. Fearfully lonely.
He had to figure out why things were the way the were all on his own — or, he thought he had to do it all on his own. This conclusion lead to a development where he didn’t ask, because he knew he could figure it out on his own; he didn’t want to be humiliated and laughed at. He would work the problems over and over in his mind until he came up with the answer, and often the answer was correct. But sometimes, it wasn’t, and after finding out that he was embarrassingly wrong a number of times, he’d concluded that the best way to prevent the embarrassment was to simply avoid it. To avoid it, he simply didn’t get into situations where it could happen. This lead to a serious void of necessary life experiences, things he eventually discovered that he was going to have to learn.
Fast forwarding many years, and Jeff found himself facing these requirements-of-life. This lead him to situations where he was forced to deal with specific issues, certain feelings, and new emotions he simply didn’t understand. This made it very difficult for him because other people expected him to know what he'd never been shown or experienced. How was he supposed to know, there was no training course or booklet on that kind of stuff. He didn’t know what the answers were, nor had he acquired the reasoning that it was acceptable to simply ask. Believing that the answers he sought could be found only within him, he tried, time and again, to find them. Many times, he was indeed correct. But again, many more times he was not.
These were new areas for him, things he didn’t know how to deal with, things he was highly unsure of, and frankly, things that frightened him. But by now, Jeff knew he could not avoid the issues; they had to be faced head on, so he accepted that fact and began to learn.
Like Cal, Jeff had a set of very valuable skills, and he was even highly confident in those skills, but these skills didn’t necessarily pertain to the new surroundings and environment that he was being forced to face. The only thing he could do was start… and practice. This meant that he would screw up a lot, but he was just as determined and convinced that he could learn if people were patient and willing to help him. Sometimes, it would be as painful getting a basket ball in the face, or being rejected by an interest, but the lessons had to be learned to cope with new feelings, personalities, and unknown situations — wether basket ball or life itself.
As compassionate, loving human beings, they've had to take into account where the other person may have come from. Where one may have great skills in one area, they may completely lack skills in another area. It will take time for them to learn the new skill and to cope with the people they are faced with. They can't expect someone to understand how something is supposed to work if that person has never dealt with it before. Period.
Cal finally got several bounces in a row as he ran down the court, only to plow into his own teammate, crashing to them both to the ground and throwing the ball out of bounds.
“Cal!” Jeff called out.
“I told you, keep your eyes looking forward. You might kick the ball a few more times, but you’ll eventually be able to guide it — if you just keep looking forward.”