The dusty old box was tucked away at the back of the cupboard, and if I had not been having a spring clean I would never have found it. It was a little tired looking and each of the four corners had been secured with Sellotape to keep the contents safe inside. I opened the box for the first time in over 30 years to reveal the brightly coloured board split into squares numbered 1 – 100 and filled with pictures of ladders of hope and the dreaded slithery snakes of disappointment.
I remembered the hours of fun I had as a child. A gentle game of Snakes and Ladders, playing with the aim of reaching 100 by throwing a dice and moving along the numbers. If you were lucky you landed on a square which had a picture of the bottom rung of a ladder and you could climb up and get ahead and closer to your goal. If you were less lucky you landed on a square with a picture of a snake’s head and you had to slither all the way back down and further away from reaching the end.
Just like life really, as I thought of how the ups and downs of life events can give us a helping hand along the way or send us tumbling back down, but we never go back to the beginning. In life every step we take moves us forward, we may have setbacks, upsets, disappointments along the way but we never lose all the things we have already achieved and everything we have learned as we travel through life. Up to the point we encounter a snake we have learned and experienced and lived which means we may tumble down a few squares but every time we pick ourselves up we have more understanding and knowledge that will help us travel onwards through our journey.
My memories of playing Snakes and Ladders are all happy, it was a game of a challenge against the board, the Little House on the Prairie of Board Games. Everyone happy at the end. Unlike the nightmare of Monopoly, in order to win you have bankrupt everyone else along the way, greedily grabbing up all the prized property and charging people rent they cannot afford. My childhood memories of monopoly are of tears and tantrums before the board ended up in the air. It was never a peaceful ending to what should have been a happy family game.
If Monopoly represents society today with landlords and those who can afford property and the renters who never quite manage to get on the first rung of property ownership, then Snakes and Ladders represents our own personal life. Full of ups and downs, ladders of opportunity that appear before us as we learn that life is a journey, a long journey and there will always be the set back of a snake’s head to trip you up and send you tumbling down. In life as in the board game, for every snake there is a ladder and that no matter what life throws at us, as long as we keep throwing the dice and moving forward onto the next square, step by step we will progress forward one square at a time.
I checked the box again for the little cup and dice, still there along with 4 little figures. I picked the yellow one and set it on square one, put the dice in the cup, gave it a little kiss, and threw the dice, a 4. I moved my little representation of myself along the squares and found a ladder taking me up the next row. As I continued to throw the dice and move along the squares, I thought how similar this was to the journey travelled by anyone that has ever fought an addiction.
If the numbers represent the days, the first square is day 1, the day we stop our habit. We start out all enthusiastic and full of hope that this time we will do it, finally we will change our lives and achieve our goal and each day we take a step onto the next square. Some days feel good, maybe we reach a milestone and other days the addiction monster strikes and sends us tumbling back down the snake. The important thing is knowing that each time we tumble down we will never go back to square 1, because each time we quit our habit we gain knowledge and understanding or ourselves and of what we did wrong this time that we can correct. As long as each time we slip down a snake we regroup, reflect on what went wrong then that will be one snake’s head you can avoid the next time.
Every time you meet a snake and tumble down:
a) Figure our what you did wrong
b) Figure our what you were doing right to get as far as you did
c) Figure our what you can do next time so that you don’t repeat the same mistake again
d) Always keep moving forward in a positive direction, one step at a time
Life is not about how we many snakes we slither down, but how we respond when we do. Do you get depressed, stressed, do you blame everyone and everything else or do you stand up, dust yourself down and tell yourself, Ok that happened, now what do I do to keep moving forward, how do I make sure it never happens again? How do I get my life, my plans and my goals back on track.
On the journey to freedom from addiction there will always be snakes lying in wait, but remember that there will always be ladders waiting to give you a helping hand.
When you make the decision to put yourself on the board and stand on day 1 of the journey do not forget to take a backpack and fill it all the things you need to keep you moving step by step along the board, find self help books, you tube videos, audio books, podcasts and supportive friends and family so that you keep learning and understanding.
Day 1 is square 1, when you put yourself on the board, it is only the start of your journey, it is a great start, but you have not achieved anything yet. The achievement comes when you get to 100, when you have achieved your goal. The day you know that no matter what kind of snake life throws at you will never, ever slip back down.