I once heard a comedian say that we need to choose our words carefully because the term “global warming” sounds attractive to people who live in cold climates. Likewise, people new to recovery hear that they’re in for the “ride of their life” and to “hang on”, that there’s something called an “emotional roller-coaster” coming. Personally, I’ve always loved roller-coasters and so taking the “ride of my life” sounded pretty appealing to me. I blanked out the“emotional” part probably because my emotions had been in a sort of deep freeze. What I should have been asking, instead of nodding along was “What the hell are you guys talking about? What does this mean?”
Turns out it means living life on life’s terms. Experiencing emotions (the good, the bad, the ugly, joy, sorrow, heartbreak, disappointment) without running from them through escapist behavior or without getting high.
My initial detox was followed by the sensation that my nerve endings were completely exposed. Afterward, I began to float around on a pink cloud – ecstatic that my obsession to get high had miraculously disappeared. I glued myself to recovering addicts the first six months. This left little time to be alone with my mind.
Then my feelings thawed out and my mind got to work. One minute I’d be experiencing serenity and the next I’d be thinking about driving my car through the freeway guardrails. If this was the roller-coaster, I wanted back on the pink cloud.
Even with many years clean and finding comfort in the grey area (the place that exists when not riding the edges of emotional highs or lows), my mind is always on the lookout for ways to derail me. The difference today is that I know how to get myself off the (roller-coaster) ride before I create my own drama to add to the situation.
Addicts seem to have this in common: when things are going great, we anticipate disaster and when things are bad, we expect them to get worse. This can mean anything from falling for a new person and bracing ourselves to be dumped or feeling anxiety and spinning it to unbearable levels of despair without leaving our sofa. We really just want to feel good all the time. Unrealistic but – hell – we don’t cope well with change.
Addicts hate not being able to control the way they feel. When we got high, whatever drug or combo we picked determined how we would feel. We were in control. Without drugs, feelings can be scary and fear makes us feel even more out of control. Because we want instant relief, we try to figure out the magic step, magic meeting, magic conversation that will get us back to the serene place. We do these things and still feel overwhelmed. A voice in our head says “This is never going to get better” and points out that it’s actually getting worse. We start to believe we can’t handle it much longer. Disillusioned that the program isn’t working, we start to operate on self-centered fear. It’s a lot like getting tangled up in a net. The more we try to get out, the more tangled up we get. Now we start thinking, “Fuck it- fuck people, fuck meetings, I’m different, these people have no compassion, this shit doesn’t work” until the inevitable thought comes “If I have to feel this bad, I may as well be high”. So what’s the solution?
A good place to start is to recognize and admit that you’re powerless over this “feelings-control” default setting and its making you emotionally unmanageable. Make a decision to trust the process of recovery. I don’t know why but things tend to work out whenever I stop trying to control the outcome. Whenever I stop struggling, it becomes super clear what the next right action is. The drag about walking in blind faith is that I won’t know if the answer will come right away, in a few days, or weeks down the line. I hate waiting for anything but years of trial and error have taught me that it’s less painful to be in the not-knowing zone of hope than it is to be in the pain of trying to force shit to go my way. These days I opt for the least pain.
As soon as you make the decision to let go of the need to control your feelings or the outcome, take a long walk. Pay close attention to what’s in your line of vision. Get out of your head and into your body by being present in the moment to notice your surroundings. Take deep breaths as you walk- this means inhaling AND exhaling as far as you can go. You’ll notice when you get home how the stress has lessened. Watch a comedy and give yourself a few hours without having to figure shit out. A movie will buy you 90 minutes freedom from thinking about yourself. I’m not saying to abandon your responsibility to show up for your life – but give yourself a break and let go of the reigns. If you don’t let go, your mind will work itself back into a frenzy – unusually disproportionate to the situation at hand. By stepping back and bringing yourself into the moment and out of your self-obsession, you will intuitively know how to handle situations that overwhelm you. Sometimes taking action means letting go. It doesn’t sound like an action – but it’s the key to inner peace. and is equally successful for believers and Atheists alike.
Enjoy your week.
I want to take a minute to thank everyone for the encouraging comments and emails you’ve been sending. I appreciate them. Occasionally people send questions via the comment section. Please go to the top of the Recovery Blog on my website http://www.pattypowersnyc.com and send questions to the email listed.