When I was growing up and navigating my way through school I was what could be described as a high-achiever student. I always acquired top grades and began a somewhat predictable pattern of high-achieving performance in almost everything I did. My mind was able to remember facts, combine information and problem-solve. I had good mental retention levels, and like many students discovered a skill-set to pass tests and advance with good grades. From an academic perspective, I possessed a capable, efficient mind, and this seemed to bode well for living in society. We all have our inner selves, of course. As we develop our ego, we find ways to separate this inner self from the outer world, indeed preserving this inward self and shielding – sometimes hiding -- it from others to one degree or another. Over the course of time, we adopt opinions, beliefs, judgments, concepts, prejudices, desires and repulsions. We may also have certain kinds of patterns of thinking that include worries, anxiousness, and stresses, as well as thoughts of happiness, gratefulness, and pleasure. Depending upon a host of individuated circumstances, some societal, others genetic, and just those components that comprise ‘who we just are,' we develop personality traits, including wishes and desires. Certainly, the types of thought patterns we have will affect all aspects of our lives, inwardly and outwardly.
I was never able to turn ‘off’ my thoughts and discover a ‘quietude’ within my mind. Nor, was I able to sway my attention and awareness towards thought patterns that could bring me a sense of peace, calm, quietude or just plain acceptance. My feelings and reflections seemed just to happen, almost arising out of a void I had little control over. My patterns of thought would appear to be layered, often cluttered, except when I was devoting my full attention to a particular mental challenge, i.e. solving a specific problem or task. During these moments, I could easily focus my thinking. However, when left alone, various thought patterns would emerge, often at rapid speed, as thoughts tend to. As I got older and assumed more and more responsibilities in life, including work, my thoughts became stressful, and anxiety filled my existence. My drug of choice was alcohol, and I went from being an average drinker to a moderate one. Eventually, I drank more often and heavily, always trying to subdue the nerves and alleviate anxiety. Finally, I abused and became addicted to it. I know this is a common enough story and many have followed similar paths on their way to full-blown dependence.
There are so many psychological ‘tapes’ each of us plays in our mind. We may have sequences of remembrances, projections of what can happen in the future, stories we replay endlessly, self-criticism, even self-loathing that we carefully try to veil from others. I noticed that these could be related to occurrences that had previously happened or could occur in the future – all the while we are reacting physically and emotionally to these thoughts – most are not ever going to actually (the ‘worries about nothing’), or are just not occurring at the moment (the ‘memory-vault’).
My conclusion as I approach my five year anniversary of Unconditional Recovery is that I never, ever truly learned ‘how to think.’ And, I would confidently propose that many of us do not know how to bring in the kinds of thoughts that alleviate anxiety, curtail or eliminate, insensitive self-criticism, or diminish depressing ruminating.
In the upcoming posts, we will begin to untangle this dilemma more by exploring the relationship between our thoughts and addiction. We will come to realize and understand that what we tend to think about habitually, is as much a precursor leading to addiction as the substances themselves become. In other words, I wish to reveal just how powerful our thoughts can be at any moment and how they influence behavior and that our thoughts can be addictive. Our mental disposition and makeup can sway us towards deeper addiction or can be utilized to promote positive recovery. Please try to allow yourself to be open to concepts in the next few blog postings as we explore what the practice of mindfulness comprises and how simple it is – and to discover its rewards. It undoubtedly can become a dynamic technique that can help enormously with Unconditional Recovery and a full sense of well-being and health. All it takes is a simple 10 to 15 minutes a day of consistent practice. Believe me, your well-being and recovery are worth this commitment. Until next time . . . breathe deeply and start letting go of your negative, destructive thoughts.