What Am I Living For?


If you want to identify me, ask me not where I live or what I like to eat, or how I comb my hair, but ask me what I think I am living for, in detail, and ask me what I think is keeping me from living fully the thing I want to live for…  ~ Thomas Merton

This was my response to that question during a retreat three months before I stopped drinking: I don’t know what I’m living for and I don’t even know what I want to live for. 10 weeks later, on March 12, 2007, I wrote the following in my journal: I’m so tired. I’ve got to get back to a good routine. My vitality is undermined by my bad habit. No one’s fault but mine. That was code for I’m drinking too much and I’m hiding my drinking from everyone. My journal up to that point is full of references to ‘reading’ and ‘books’ which both meant drinking. I lived by myself and no one would be reading my journals. But I was drinking alone, lying to everyone, writing in code and hiding the truth from whom? From myself. In a little over a week I would take my last drink.

This first step happened for me with 5 women in a pizza dive after my first AA meeting, March 21, 2007. All of the denial I’d been living with fell away as I identified with their stories. With the help of their tales, I saw that my life had revolved around my drinking and the drinking was making me depressed, keeping me from the life I could have and isolating me from others. The only thing I ever looked forward to was being alone and having my bottle of wine. Drinking had become what I was living for.

Somehow I had lost interest in the things I’d loved when I was younger and I had narrowed my entire life in my alcoholic thinking: eating only the foods that complimented my Merlot; only going to restaurants that served wine; only spending time with other people who drank like I did.

I kept my basement stocked with an interesting variety of red wines. That was my security. When the supply dwindled, I’d become anxious, restless until I had enough money to restock again. It was my focus. My favorite shopping trip was to going to the local wineries or running to the liquor store. I had lost sight of sane living, my life line tethered to wine.

When I had first pondered Merton’s question, it bothered me a little. I couldn’t put into words what I wanted to live for. I thought about it a lot. Then, in typical denial, I decided since I had no idea, it was just a dumb question.

Funny thing, though, it didn’t leave me. Merton’s question haunted me. Now I believe it’s because I realized on some level that what I wanted to live for was drinking. What was keeping me from living that goal? Absolutely nothing. I made sure of it.

Journal Questions

Thoughtfully reread the quote from Merton.

What are you living for? Break it down:

  • What do you look forward to each day/week/year?
  • What is the consistent activity or thread that weaves your day/week together? (not just things you enjoy, but what you are sure to get done)
  • When you get upset by disruption in your plans, what is it that you try the hardest not to sacrifice?
  • After the disruption, what do you do to recover?
  • What is your favorite shopping trip?
  • What need might you be seeking to fill by the purchases?
  • What people/places or things might your life be tethered to?
  • What do you want people to say about you when you’re gone from this world?
  • Step aside and pretend the above answers are from a stranger. Given the answers thus far, what does it sound like you are really living for?
  • What do you actually want to live for?
  • What do you think is keeping you from living fully?

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