Spring has finally sprung. If this is your first season change clean and sober I’m here to discuss a new trigger that is probably creating some discomfort for you. Sometimes it’s just reassuring to know that the weird shit tripping up your mood, your mind, and maybe even your overall wellbeing is nothing unusual in the realm of recovery. I always find comfort in knowing that my twisted assessment of my own mental health isn’t unique. In terms of recovery, identification is a step toward dismantling the power of disease-thinking (the stuff that can lead us away from recovery and toward relapse).Disease-thinking (our addict-mind) has a way of taking an hour of emotional discomfort and convincing us that these bad feelings are NEVER going to go away EVER, that life is going to suck always, that pain is here to stay. It’s almost comical when years into the recovery process you catch yourself investing in this lie until a light bulb goes on and you remember that you’re temporarily lost in a hall of mirrors and that – yes – this too shall pass.
The number one heart-stopper for people in recovery seems to be the first sighting of outdoor cafés that serves liquor. I mean – the whole package will hit you and wax poetic nostalgia – those balmy evenings or lazy Sunday afternoons lounging around killing a few margaritas or sangria or wine or beer or whatever you ever drank outside. In the memory you are peacefully alone and buzzed or having an amazing time with friends. You are younger, better looking, happier, fitter, richer, more playful – basically your memory will go back to a time when getting loaded was without consequences and when you really had your game on. And during that moment of memory you will feel your heart breaking and a voice will pop into your head that will tell you that this is where you draw the line. “How can you give up the outdoor summer partying? You will never stay sober. You will never again feel that happy.” The whole of your Being will be filled with longing. (Mind you – what I’m describing happens within seconds of catching a glimpse of that place from the corner of your eye but it will hit you with such force that it will be impossible to comprehend that it is simply a feeling and that it’s going to pass).
This is a perfect example of how the disease works. Total amnesia of all the pain and suffering that came along as a result of substance abuse. The focus is narrowed down to specific body memory of relaxation, joy, and probably a time where there was far less responsibility and accountability in your life. This is the siren song the Viking heard before he jumped ship.
I don’t know anyone clean who hasn’t felt this pull especially after a long winter. In a way there is some genuine grieving of youth involved and if you’re newly sober you will still be grieving the loss of your long -term relationship to drugs and alcohol. It’s important to talk about these feelings with someone to take the power out of them. It is also important to believe that this feeling will pass. I would suggest you begin creating new memories of outdoor cafes with sober friends and not to park yourself alone at one of your old haunts because – what’s that saying? If you hang around the barbershop too long, you’ll probably end up getting a haircut? In a few weeks you’ll cease to notice anything particularly seductive about these establishments.Until then, the initial sightings will trigger you the same way that passing your old drug-buying block or neighborhood bar did when you first got clean.
To snap out of the obsession find some nature – whether it’s a garden, a tree, the beach, the sky, or a green lawn and spend ten minutes there. Notice the details of the beautiful planet we get to live on. Take deep inhalations through your nose and pay attention to how the air feels entering your nostrils and how warm it feels when you exhale through your mouth. Make a mental gratitude list. Then get on with your day.
My first four years in recovery were spent in Los Angeles and weather never triggered me but ever since I moved back to NYC, I experience nostalgia for long ago good times whenever there’s a radical change of weather. Outdoor patios, the cozy warmth of a moodily-lit bar during a snowstorm, and even the sound of the ice cream truck will remind me of how much I loved getting high. Luckily I can still access the much more detailed story of all the suffering that occurred on all the other days so I don’t get too seduced by my strolls down memory lane – but they do still hit me because I’m an addict and my disease is always looking for a way to invalidate my life in the present moment so that my fantasy life of this painless past can sing to me until it can get me to jump my Viking ship. I’ve gotta take my hat off to the determination of the disease of addiction. It might be weakened to a minimal heartbeat but that f**ker wants to get its power over me back. It’s not a quitter. This is how I know I am not cured.
Feelings are like our internal weather – the “nature” part of our human nature. Sun, clouds, rain, wind sun again. Let them move through you and do not fear them. It is wonderful to be clean and alive and human. We are fortunate to be able to have feelings! After all, we know the price of the alternative.