Got A Life

Teaching high school boys keeps me feeling young, usually because the casual and passing conversations of students are my window into what is hip. And no, hip is not still used like that. It is now used like this: “I’m hip to that” meaning “I get it.”

I heard a conversation in the parking lot last week that caught my attention. Someone said, “you need to get a life,” to someone else, and I thought, How about that? The phrase “Get A Life” has survived the long-distance sprint of adolescent slang. Its sibling “Carpe Diem” was knocked down and dragged out by “Y.O.L.O.” And their parent “Suck the marrow out of life” now implies something completely different—I don’t recommend trying to revive it.

Apparently, you still need to “get a life.”


When I was a teenager, getting a life meant having something to do on the weekend. It meant having friends to hang out with and parties to go to. And in the limited perspective of youth, I thought it was everything. I thought I worked hard and got grades and showed up for those other parts of life in order to have my life on the weekend.

It was part of the “work hard, play hard” culture I grew up in. As I sunk into drug and alcohol dependency, I played harder and harder. As a result, I had to work harder. Work and play was a cause and effect relationship, the command—work—and its reward—play—were the motivations I knew.

I had a realization about five years into sobriety: I only worked as hard as I did in order to maintain my drinking and eventual using. If my name was in the town’s police report on page 8, I wanted it in on the honor roll on page 7 as a diversionary tactic of sorts. That, along with growing up with hard-working role models all around me, developed my work ethic. But, it was not sustainable.

I remember my stepfather saying to me after dropping me off with some friends one weekend, “You can’t burn the candle at both ends.” I thought to myself, Yes you can. You just hold the candle sideways.

Getting a life has come to mean something very different to me, now that I am a sober adult.


Slang is driven by the pubescent desire to stand apart, I think. Teenagers need to feel that what they’re doing sets them apart from their parents and their grandparents. In the strange way that fate operates, by trying to set themselves apart through language, they are doing exactly what their parents and grandparents did when they were teenagers. They fall straight into the long line of young and defiant men and women who came before them.

How devastating and freeing it would be to the teenage psyche to understand that their time, their movement, will one day be in the boring pages of a textbook, or discussed while sipping lemonade amidst yawns on rocking chairs, or described with the preface, “Back in my day.” Their world and all its significance would crumble. And they could be free in the knowledge that they are no different than those who came before them, free to accept that they are part of something bigger.

Like those that came before them, they are restless to discover who they are. That’s what all the work and play are for. We inundate youth with opportunity, and let the flood wash them up somewhere.

The peer pressure to get a life is translating onto screens in the form of social media. If you like to work, you get good grades. If you like to play, you get more followers. It’s a lame model. Getting followers can’t mean you have a life. And I think those truly living understand that. Life is enough without the screens that like and share it. In fact, it’s when we try to add to it, with this social synthesis technology, that we pull ourselves away from it.


Getting a life means accepting who I am. I understand that today; I didn’t back then. Knowing who I am frees me from the urge to experiment with who I’m not. My identity is no longer a thesis I am trying to prove. The freedom I know as a result is the greatest freedom I have ever known. Before I knew that I was an alcoholic and an addict, how could I have a life? How could I operate in ignorance and call it living? That simple but harrowing admission started the life I live today. It is a life beyond my wildest imagination because being at one with yourself requires your full imagination, attention, and focus. Work and play melt together.

Because I know myself, I am free to live my life and no one else’s.

My name is Mark, and I am an alcoholic and addict. I am a husband. A father. I am a teacher and a coach. I love to come to the poker table sober. I read books like the world is ending tomorrow, and I write like tomorrow may never come. I dance in public even when others laugh at me. I have a persistent fear that I will die before my words fully express the splendor of the life I have discovered. I go to church with my family on Sundays and teach my children how to pray. People are the most important thing in my life, so I do my best to treat them all with respect and love and tolerance. When someone asks for money, I give them some without judging what they might use it for. I act like I don’t care about what you think of me, but I still do. I wake up early; I go to bed late—sometimes both, but always one or the other. I stay clean and sober by helping others stay clean and sober. I am mindful to give God room to work and I try not to claim God’s victories in others for myself. I have a blog where I convince people that ordinary life is a miracle. I have mental health issues. I need a lot of help, so I ask for it. I fall short at times in all my roles, but I am free to do so because it is my life and I am showing up for it.

I have a life because I know myself.

There is no need to desire someone else’s.


21 Responses to “Got A Life

  • Mark Decker (Sr)
    7 months ago

    Beautifully said, Mark!

  • Andrew Ahmad-Cooke
    7 months ago

    Again a lovely piece Mark. Although I think my pubescent desire was not to just to stand apart, but to stand much closer to certain people! 😉

  • Perhaps it was the perfect song playing through my headphones while I read this on the bus this morning – maybe it was my exhaustion from burning the candle at both ends – maybe it was just simply your words hitting that sweet spot today – but I have tears reading this this morning. Many times I have said this but I believe it is worth saying again: thank you for your eloquence.
    As always, your post motivates me – and today, it is to “get a life.”
    Today, I am grateful for your miraculously mundane life, and for your honest sharing of it.

    • Kristin your comment warms my heart! It is so kind of you to write that. That’s often how I feel in writing these things. I get all worked up and emotional and then I know I’m really going somewhere, so I keep going. I am in awe right now how we, humans, humans in recovery, and think and feel things, put them on paper or a screen, and share the thing with another. It’s always a little different for the person who’s reading it, but it strikes the same chord in general.

      I was at a meeting last night. Small one. We got to a second round of sharing because everybody shared with 15 minutes left. The second round was so much better than the first! Sometimes you need to get that first round out of the way to get to the good stuff. That’s what’s happened here, I think. The post came through, but the gems are happening below it, as we interact and reflect. It’s like the meeting after the meeting.

  • Love this. How far you have come. This is a beautiful piece mark. Honest, authentic, simply beautiful…filled with self acceptance and the wonderful life that you get to live each day.

  • SoberinKS
    6 months ago

    Love this Mark. I also teach. I love listening to my special ed kids misinterpret the “cool” kids. Keeps it real.
    I have a problem. The longer I am sober (still a baby at 3 1/2 yrs), the more difficult it has become for me to tolerate and politely participate in “small talk”. I’m engaged when I am working with students or when I am at a meeting or talking with another alcoholic/addict. Anytime I am talking or listening to someone talk about the 12 steps-I’m on fire. However, I don’t have any interest in gossip or small talk or complaining accompanied by hand wringing. This is leading to a new kind of isolation.

    • Could that new kind of isolating simply be solitude? There is a fine line between them. And it’s careful to experiment between the two. But, it sounds like you’re mind is just shifting away from the pettiness and pleasantries of everyday life. I relate to that a lot. I’m horrible with small talk and such nonsense. My wife tells me I have horrible social tact. I try and tell her it’s because I don’t give a shit about my social tact. I like solitude as well. I also believe that the disease in my mind wants me alone so it can kill me. So it’s that fine line. Keep doing what you’re doing? Stay close to the rooms and those in the rooms and keep sharing!

  • I love what you said about staying sober by helping others get and stay sober. Both my younger brother and my son have found others in their lives that were there for them, and now they can also be a giver. Step 12 is a very powerful tool!

    • That’s awesome Jo Ann! What a gift to see that transformation happen. This stuff truly works! It did for me and I’ve seen it for countless others.

  • johnny Spence
    6 months ago

    frecking brilliant Mark! ‘here I am right here in all my glory’ search for identity over! this just washed over me, pulling everything ive tried so hard to push down, flooding out, I was crying tears for joy, for this guy who’s been describing my thoughts for quite some time! Thank you Mark I haven’t felt like this in a while, to really feel. Awesome mate.

    • Man I’m so glad it struck that kind of chord John! I get that feeling a lot when I’m reading. There’s nothing like it!

  • Hi Mark!
    Thank you!
    I love this, because this is something I am still learning…to live my life!

  • Hey thanks for writing this Mark! I enjoyed and agree with the part about getting a life by accepting who you are. It’s like a totally stress free way to live!

    • It’s close to that “new freedom and new happiness” people talk about I think. Thanks Max! Good to hear from you.

  • Great post, Mark.

  • Nice Mark – great read this one 🙂
    “When someone asks for money, I give them some without judging what they might use it for”
    Someone said “excuse me” to me yesterday whilst I was waiting for my kids piano lesson to finish. I ignored them and walk on as I felt a bit shy and shocked. We don’t have many people asking for money in NZ like everywhere else I have lived (grew up in Malaysia as my dad was in the Air Force).

    I wanted to go back for about a hour or so after that…. no judgment, you are right

    Michelle xx

  • “Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.”

    To accept yourself is to be free. And liberated. It has taken me a good long while to realize this. It is far too easy to bring yourself down and try to be someone you are not.

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