This phrase “left to your own devices” dates back to the late 19th Century and has prevalently been used in common vernacular for many decades. This expression generally means that if a person is left alone (to his or her own devices), and given the chance, that person will probably do something at least mildly sneaky or duplicitous. Sound familiar to those of us in recovery? There is little question that when a person is alone with themselves or hanging out with a questionable crowd of peers who may not have our best recovery interests at heart, there can be a strong influence to relapse. This applies particularly during the early days and weeks of our attempt to distance ourselves from our addictive substance. The symptoms of physical and mental withdrawal do not go away quickly, that is for sure. Most of us did not land overnight in a state of addiction or alcoholism. Some real time, effort, negative choices, a lot of money, physical decline accompanied by considerable pain and hurt are what usually comprise a person’s descent into such the illness of addiction.
When all alone with ourselves, we may cunningly feel that we can get away with a ‘minimal’ relapse and no one will find out. Just one or two drinks and I promise I will stop; one or two pills and I’ll get right off them and go clean for a few days so the narcotic residue does not show in a test. Those of us in recovery know these scenarios quite well. We also are very familiar with the dubious ‘peer’ pressure we receive when out, partying with our typical crowd of ‘using’ or ‘drinking’ pals, enticing us and encouraging us to use again. Or, at the very least, such a group of individuals creates an atmosphere that indirectly incites us to use or drink again when we know very well that we are relapsing and sledding down that slippery slope directly back into addiction. Why would such a group of associates want to admit that they have an issue with drugging or drinking? Why would they even care if you were to use again or not? They may feel that they have nothing to lose by their partying, then why should you?
Let’s ask the following question of ourselves. At what point do we see ourselves rationalizing a relapse and making it easy for us to do so? Are we someone that is in a perpetual pattern of relapsing, detoxing, going through a recovery program and then relapsing again? I have noticed a very interesting and familiar pattern when someone starts using or drinking again. This is especially in plain view when one must honestly disclose a relapse to their own recovery or support group. We tend to beat ourselves up, sometimes very powerfully and destructively – don’t we? There is so much pain, embarrassment; disappointment with oneself, a depressing sense of starting over (yet again) that overtakes us. We mistrust ourselves even more. Why? Because in a sense, we have violated our own inner commitment to remain sober and clean and this violation hurts and is a setback mentally, physically and spiritually – and our loved ones lose faith in us and distrust us – sometimes to the point of ending the relationship. How does this pattern become ever easier to repeat? This pattern of thinking and behavior gives us another chance to dabble in our drug of choice and never really create a wholesome pattern of true recovery.
This is such a tough area to discuss. On the one hand, when we do in fact return to using or drinking again, however brief a period this may be, and then want to resume sobriety, we certainly want and expect to be received back into our family or a recovery group with open arms, support and fellowship. Nurturance and care is the hallmark of groups such as AA and Smart Recovery and many other professional organizations – and for family and loved ones, Al-Anon is a lifeline. It is among these people that we realize who our true friends really are. People in recovery are continually learning to forgive themselves and are always there awaiting your renewed honesty and recommitment to your own sobriety. However, even with the warmth and acceptance, we receive upon renewing our commitment to recovery, there are intense battles still present within our own minds. Depression, anxiety, mistrust of ourselves are examples of the short list of consequences of a relapse. A basic “what’s the use of trying” can easily overtake us especially if the relapse sequence is repeated over and over again. We simply have not allowed ourselves to cross the great abyss with a long enough period away from using and drinking, to realize the rewards of remaining clean and sober and making it a way of life – permanently.
It is not during the hours and minutes of a recovery meeting that present the challenge to someone on the path of sobriety. It is the critical moments in between that become the real dynamic challenge to our health, our well-being and our commitment to remain clean and sober when we’re on our own. What kind of thought can we insert into our minds that can provide an instance of honest decision making and wise choices? What can allow that small voice within to be noticed by our own conscience and take prominence over those knee-jerk taunts to start using again? When left to our own devices, is there some way to replace those sneaky, duplicitous choices with our firm resolution to remain on the path of Unconditional Recovery? If we are experiencing difficulty accomplishing this, we must ask ourselves -- why is this the case? Get into your thought process during these periods and share with your recovery group just what happens in the moments before returning to using again.
Let’s get real - there is no such thing as getting away with something. Many of us have been brought up to think there is because we feel protected by appearances – if no one really knows or finds out about what we did, we somehow feel we have gotten away with our shiftiness and dishonesty. However, this is far from the truth. Sure, there are many individuals engaged in such ego games, as is easily apparent throughout our society and frequently and openly accepted. To be left to our own devices in recovery and then relapse while hoping that no one will find out – well, suffice it to say – our own conscience knows. We fool no one but ourselves. We violate no one but our own self. We empower no one but empower our addiction and a belief that we cannot free ourselves from our addiction. Such behavior also displays that you care more about what people think about you than what you actually think and feel about yourself.
A relapse is very serious. No, it is certainly not the end of the world or ever considered a reason to give up, or a finale to your ability or chances to recover. Quite the contrary – so many individuals have proven otherwise and are now living a positive life, a thriving life – clean and sober – even after having multiple relapses. The mantra we must always recall is that it is never too late to become clean and sober – we must never give up – we must always retry and keep on trying. Why? Because living free from addiction, one day at a time is always possible for you. This is a choice for you every moment. Those in recovery offer their love, fellowship and deep understanding every day as well – one day and one moment at a time. You do not have to believe in a God to comprehend this because you have your own inner conscience and feelings that must always find a way to breathe freely in the open, honest air of our own truth.
I would like to offer final suggestion and challenge to you for this holiday season – especially if you are feeling prone to giving yourself permission to relapse. Why not make a potential return to using or drinking again the ‘most difficult’ choice you have ever made. It is your life and health at stake. Wake yourself up at the moment before using and ask yourself, do you really need to relapse? Try not rationalizing that you can do it for a while and then give sobriety another attempt – later. Instead of being left to your own devices as a permission-giving premise, push yourself through your own barriers and choose wisely. Reach out to others who can truly help you and have your true welfare in mind. Let your conscience have a voice within you. Let it breathe its whispers to you when alone, to not go backward. Let your true inner voice that wants you to be free have precedence over the addictive voices. Is it difficult to accomplish this – perhaps, at first? Is it impossible? Clearly, the answer is no – it is far from being impossible. Do you have the ability, the inner strength and resolve to turn away from the permission-giving impulse to start using and drinking? Of course you do. This is your life and the decision to remain clean and sober must ultimately be made by you.
This holiday season, don’t allow the pressures that may seem to overwhelm you – whether they be family gatherings, finances, whatever – be a rationalization/excuse to use again. Until next time . . . be true to yourself.
A good friend of mine who is in recovery from alcohol abuse was recently commenting on some of my blog postings. He was quite forthright and expressed to me he liked reading my postings and got a lot from them, and I mentioned that I was quite appreciative of his positive comments. Then he paused a moment and asked if I minded if he could offer some criticism. I, of course, said please, I am always open to any helpful commentary, in fact, I welcome such. He stated that I do express a lot of understanding, empathy, and love in my blog postings, which he appreciated. But, perhaps I could at times write with a bit more force, more toughness. His feeling is that individuals that are dealing with addiction issues sometimes need to hear some real straight talk, not harsh, mind you, but stringent, right to the point kind of talk. I thanked him and conveyed that I would consider his suggestion and deeply reflect upon it, which I have. I feel he has a good point and I think I know what he means.
When anyone has just entered upon the first days and weeks of an attempted recovery from addiction or alcoholism, I feel it is so important to receive support and compassion from their support group. Whether it is a traditional AA meeting, a Smart Recovery meeting, or an Intensive Outpatient Treatment program, the understanding, and fellowship that someone receives are so needed, and it is always real and sincere. Those first few days trying to remove oneself from using are by no means easy, and you feel so vulnerable and fragile. Thus, support during this period is essential and is entirely forthcoming, and any person considering entering upon the recovery path needs to know just how much care, and encouragement will greet you immediately. The entire recovery fellowship is terrific, and the people you will meet and come in contact with are indeed the ‘salt of the earth.’
So, how about some tough talk, okay? If you are a person who is continuing to drink or use and are having problems with such use, please listen up. Your drinking and using are just going to get worse. Addiction will ultimately destroy your life, physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. And, the terrible destruction does not end with just you. Spouses, significant others, friends, family, business associates – all will be affected, in one way or another, with varying degrees of intensity, by your addiction. What becomes so frustrating and often infuriating for those around you, is that you can stop and get help – yet, too many, often refuse to get the help they need, help that is so close by.
Addiction, as we should all know by now, has no boundaries – it affects people from all walks and stages of life, regardless of race, economic class, age or sex. The attention that the opioid crisis is finally receiving now in this country, Canada, the UK, as well as other affected countries are evidently bringing to light the urgent severity of this emergency. As much as there have been continual strides made by law enforcement over the past decades to curb illegal drugs entering our country, there is another alarming component contributing to this crisis, major pharmaceutical firms. This outright conspiring between major pharmaceutical companies and unethical, licensed doctors, freely distributing pain medications, has fueled the epidemic leading directly to less expensive, illegal heroin and crack cocaine use. The motivation behind this is greed and money, whether for the drug cartels or those involved with the pharmaceutical industry.
Additional contributing factors to our opioid crisis have to do with improper health-care in our country, especially for those who cannot afford better coverage. Pain meds have been prescribed freely and copiously to people who are actually in need of physical therapy or other types of treatments. Bottom line, many people are making fortunes at the expense of human life. Is this criminal, oh yes, it is criminal. But, it is more than this – it is savage and despicable and inhumane. This dilemma represents another aspect of our failing society – we have lost track of the importance of each human being. It is quite apparent that there are too many greedy people in this world, from members of the drug cartel to street gangs to professional doctors and nicely attired board members tending watch over the complicit pharmaceutical companies, which have not only lost their moral compass but do not desire to have one.
When I think of the ‘shame’ that some people in our society wish to cast upon those who suffer from addiction issues, I become quite dismayed, often frustrated with individuals willing to do such labeling. It shows ignorance and total lack of compassion. Shouldn’t their attention and focus of ire be towards those that have conspired surreptitiously to produce the opioid crisis? At least, the enormous, record-breaking profits garnered over the years by individual firms should be partially returned to help those suffering at the hands of such spurious, shady company policies. The time has come for these pharmaceutical companies to try and make at least some reparations for their egregious and deplorable policies. Where are the law-makers in this country and why have these companies been allowed to drive this opioid epidemic into such an out-of-control frenzied crisis?
Now, back to those who are right now, using and drinking their lives into further hell. I believe it is always essential for anyone suffering from alcoholism or addiction issues, to take some personal responsibility and ownership for their actions. Indeed, alcohol and pain meds are readily available – if someone wants to drink or use, they can find a way to do such. But, this is not to place ‘blame’ on people who drink and use. It is, however, important for anyone entering recovery to take a good look at themselves, acknowledge their role in getting to the place they are now, and take an inventory of those people that they have harmed and hurt by falling prey to addiction. It does not help a person struggling with alcoholism, for instance, to say that there are beer ads on TV at every point and there is a bar right across the street from where they live. Indeed, a person now using heroin is not going to eradicate their addiction by merely blaming the pharmaceutical industry for the multitudes of pain meds they received or still might be capable of obtaining from legally written prescriptions. Nor, is it even worth mentioning the other big culprit, drug dealers. The world of drug dealing, buying, and selling, is an alleyway leading to an awful life, for all involved. It’s a filthy business, and often the drugs sold are dirty and can kill one.
So, continuing with the tougher talk on this blog – well, if you are using these drugs and are addicted, or if you have crossed over that ambiguous boundary from alcohol abuse to alcoholism, your life is undoubtedly filled with a sense of hopelessness, desperation, sadness, and sorrow. And, I do feel for you, very much so. It is an awful place to be. Your living surroundings, if you are not homeless, are probably a disheveled mess, with empty bottles, cans everywhere, piling up. Or you might have used needles, spoons, candles, the usual mix of paraphernalia – all the utensils belonging to a destructive dead-end. Your thoughts filled with anxiousness and strategies for acquiring your next fix or drink. Chances are, your family and friends have disowned you, you could be jobless or hiding your addiction and barely holding on to your employment. Your obsession is destroying your body; you wake up nauseous, trembling all over, terrible headaches, fever, chills, dehydrated, barely wanting or willing to gaze out towards the sun and see why you are alive. Your mind becomes wasted, cluttered with debris, and chatter, self-loathing with one thought in mind - how to score your next fix or get another measly bottle of cheap liquor. You have become disconnected from any spirituality, and you are a lost soul. Folks, this state I am describing is earthly hell. Words here are unable to express the direness of this abyss.
But, there is help for you. Please listen up. Do not give up on yourself. However, you must make the first move - and, you can do it. Detoxing and embarking on a road free from this misery is available. You are worth it, despite what your inner, self-loathing messages are telling you. Please let the following thoughts into your consciousness – you are a human being, you are a precious creation – you, your mind, body, and soul are wonders of the ages, magnificent beyond imagination. You have lost your way on the path of life. Many people lose sight of their inner selves and fall into addiction. It is so easy for this to happen in this day and age. There are many people in recovery, ready to embrace you and nurture you back to living life again. Forgive yourself, let some light and fresh air enter into your body and soul. Let love come into your heart again and realize you do have another chance at living free from addiction and alcohol. You are worth it, beyond any monetary value. Your life and soul are priceless. I am sending love out to those who are suffering in this moment, and I am in fact, writing these words of love, understanding, support, and compassion – to you – to you – please take this moment and realize you can get help. You are not destined to die from an overdose or because you no longer care if you live or not. Let that small voice of your soul trickle a reminder through your foggy consciousness, that you are significant, worthy – you are loved, and it is up to you to discover this. To do so, you must first care for yourself, and take that first step towards recovering your body, mind, and soul. Till next time……
If you’re struggling with addiction of any kind, right now, in this moment, please consider choosing this day to embark upon living clean and sober. Just ponder the suggestion for a moment, and the better and healthier life possibilities you are keeping at bay through your continued use. And, if I may suggest, try seeking out from the enormous array of established, sympathetic, therapeutic services, the help and support you need – resources that are in direct proximity to you, right now. I could go on and on with compelling arguments purporting why such a decision would be the wisest and healthiest one of your life. Unfortunately, when caught in the midst of drug or alcohol addiction, it is so hard to see outside that secluded and opaque window. The obsessive cravings besiege your entire existence, and you live each day within a mere shadow of real life-presence. All energy is spent trying to obtain your next bottle or fix while attempting to keep your crisis hidden from others. It’s a dark, narrow cell of confinement, and it is thoroughly painful and will continue to be until the decision to change is made.
Do not fool yourself with any of the temporary ‘pleasures’ or ‘relief’ you experience in those first moments following your most recent consumption. You are being duped, in a big way. I know, if you allow your honest self to resonate for a moment, you will agree. I’ve been where you are now, and so have many others who are thriving today without using or drinking. But, there is that great abyss that you must first cross. Again, please take note that there is at this moment, incredible, excellent support ready to help you across this chasm of detox and entering a recovery program. The decision can and must be made by you.
Believe me, when I say, that embarking upon the path of Unconditional Recovery, or your first day of sobriety is not as far away or out-of-reach as your mind and body are telling you. The resources we have today to detox, get clean and/or sober are phenomenal. What lies beyond the great abyss is more attainable than you might think. Many have crossed this daunting void, successfully, and so can you - now. Just consider, please, while you read ahead. Giving up alcohol and drugs can and will be the most wonderful decision you ever make.
One of the principal rationales individuals employ not to seek the help so urgently needed is the belief that you will endure shame, embarrassment, and humiliation when others find out about your dilemma. The truth is, you probably will.
Those of us in the recovery community know much about this fear, and it’s often a topic of discussion at meetings. There is excellent material attempting to educate society about the perils of addiction; particularly understanding addiction as a disease, like many other types of diseases such as diabetes. I applaud these efforts helping to enlighten people and finally facilitate bringing ‘addiction’ out of any closet of embarrassment or shame. Due to the current opioid epidemic, this need of familiarizing the public with a better understanding of all forms of addiction is urgent. But as an individual, you will probably feel shame once you begin to heal and that’s normal. The degree of guilt you may feel will subside, especially when surrounded by the healing support of others.
Remember, we all tend to be highly critical of ourselves – anyone is – whether dealing with addiction issues or not. When starting on the recovery path, there ensues a healing process – a result of taking responsibility for yourself and your past actions, and becoming honest with yourself and others. Is this challenging and tough at the outset – yes, it is. But, it is also very relieving no longer allowing the endless lies to engulf us. We eventually will naturally wish to make amends to those we have hurt, and that will probably involve some embarrassment and self-effacement. Acquiescing towards an internal state of humility is a good thing and feels quite organically nurturing to our inner being. It also means you are on the right track. It is worth mentioning that ‘humility’ is an often misused and misunderstood word. During recovery, we learn the true essence of this state of humility, and it is quite inspiring and uplifting. It is also an essential ingredient to being human and finding our true self away from our false egos.
Many people do not suffer from any form of alcohol or drug abuse. And some of these individuals are likely to point the finger at someone who is struggling with addiction. They might try to infer that an alcoholic or addict brought the problem onto themselves, it is their fault. Some may claim that such a person is weak and merely suffering the payback of their deliberate decision to use. While I too, understand this misconception and was sometimes the brunt of such an attitude, especially during my early recovery; I would like to appeal to the better nature of such people and implore them to consider a kinder and more compassionate and informed approach to anyone struggling. There remains a great misunderstanding in our society today regarding alcoholism and addiction.
Our world today is struggling with many forms of despair and hopelessness. When I think of conditions such as poverty, unemployment, unthinkable, daily acts of violence, disease, economic inequality, the overall cruelty of man against humanity, it is overwhelming and challenges us to the very core of our human existence. I am not an alarmist nor did I ever try to justify what caused my addiction to alcohol – I take complete ownership of what I did and what happened to me. That’s me, that’s who I am – I blame no one, not my parents, not my upbringing, not my spouse, my friends or my next door neighbor. I do not blame myself either. Words such as blame, pointing the finger, justify, guilt, shame are words associated with this disease. I have found great compassion for my struggles and what happened to me in life. I see how and why I descended into alcoholism. I am not ashamed of it – not now. I have found a profound forgiveness for myself and a real sense of healthy humility. Believe me, when I say, I plunged to the bottom depths of life itself, physically, mentally and spiritually. I am someone who can honestly say; I hit rock bottom.
So, what exactly went wrong with me? How did I travel the path I did, with certain notable, yet modest achievements along the way, then descending into the throes of addiction, causing suffering to me, of course, but also hurting my loved ones? What happened? Suffice it to say, life happened. I was sensitive to the outer world and became disillusioned. I had a good, sharp mind, but never learned how to quiet my mind and suffered greatly from anxiety, then depression. The only anecdote I was familiar with was using alcohol and marijuana. My somewhat innocuous use over the years gradually progressed to a more unhealthy lifestyle, and finally, I traversed through the painful stages of abuse and finally full addiction. I was not aware of what my alcohol use was doing to me – I never thought of giving up the one thing that I thought was helping my nerves – are you kidding?
My story is like so many other stories I hear from those who are in successful recovery today and continue to expand their lives free from the false belief that one must use ‘something’ to get through a day. Our society is at a critical crossroads, and I believe that people are much more sensitive and vulnerable to the many challenges of the world around them. Often, our egos conceal so much of our emotions and sentiments, not only from others but ourselves. We are taught to appear strong and resilient and to push ourselves even when our inner being is struggling, anxious or in a condition of dis-easement. Our outer lives can often become estranged from our interior, spiritual self, and I see this as one of the paramount causes why so many people wish to alleviate their fretfulness and suffering through the use of drugs and alcohol.
I can wholeheartedly and sincerely assert that compassion, kindness, and understanding are the ingredients that can help at this time. We need less finger-pointing at others, we certainly need fewer secrets, and without question, we need to stop branding others with derogatory labels. If you are someone who is struggling today and feel ashamed or embarrassed by your current condition, take heart and know that a helping hand is just that phone call away. You can have, and you deserve a better life, free from the scourges of addiction. For me, now that I am living clean and sober, life is much more about giving to others and helping others. The great poet, fiction writer, painter, and thinker, Rabindranath Tagore said it best, “I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold; service was joy.” Until next time, reach out to help yourself or someone . . . One Day at a Time.
I am very excited about sharing with you the next series of blog postings during this latter part of the Summer. These will be about the relationship of our thoughts to addiction as well as how wonderful the practice of daily mindfulness training will facilitate our Unconditional Recovery. Also, I am now convinced after consistent training and practice, that there are distinct and powerful benefits to be derived from applying steady breathing with relaxed concentration techniques. At the outset here, let me confidently assert that the continued practice of mindfulness directly addresses the critical issues of our thought processes before substance use and abuse, and hopefully these next postings will offer a crucial stepping-stone to your healing during recovery.
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.
Most of us today are constantly connected to multiple social and news media sources through the internet, cell phones, etc. What happens in our world daily is brought to our attention whether we like it or not. I marvel at the technology today and have embraced much of it. There are obviously good and bad sides to having so much information readily available. For instance, I was just walking down a busy street in Washington, DC the other day, during working hours and was a bit taken back by the number of people I saw who were glued to their cell phones. It was a beautiful spring day in Washington, sunny, mid-70s, flowers everywhere – just a vibrant day. Some people were aware of their surroundings and enjoying the sun as we have had so much rain over the last few months. But, so many people were just talking on their phones or staring at whatever was on their phone screens. Believe me, this has been me too – I’m not pointing a finger at anyone because I could have certainly been someone doing the same with my cellphone. But, it did seem to me that there was an inordinate number of individuals, everywhere in fact, on park benches or walking – even driving their cars -- who were immersed in their phones – a shut-off valve from what’s happening around you in ‘real-time.’
As I have often mentioned in previous posts, when you are in recovery, your mindset and inner disposition are paramount to maintaining Unconditional Recovery. With so much that is happening in the world today, every day, it is so easy to let ourselves become overwhelmed by the negativity, violence, and hatred we see and hear about every hour. We are a new generation of people living with this incessant exposure to world events through social media.
This past weekend I experienced a few incidents that were upsetting. I was travelling in rural Virginia, through the beautiful foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, on windy roads passing farms and pastures and stopped for some coffee at a small cafe. There was a posting of a missing dog and it turned out to be the dog belonging to the owner of the cafe. Apparently, someone over the previous weekend had abducted five, small dogs from various pet guardians -- right off their properties when the owners were not looking – just snatched them away for what we could only imagine are nefarious reasons. Everyone had contacted local police, various animal welfare groups along with ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), etc. in an effort to have their beloved pets returned safely home (and to catch the perpetrator(s)).
Then later that same night, I heard about the awful and despicable attacks in London and watched the news into the wee hours of the morning. I was grateful to be made aware of these occurrences – the dog snatching and the terrorist attacks – I want to know about these things happening in the world – I never want to be a person that avoids knowing the truth about life around me – the good, the bad and the ugly and awful. I used to drink alcohol when encountering such types of negative events. And, I thought long and hard about how easy it would be for someone who is new to recovery or maybe several years into recovery, and upon hearing or seeing information about these types of events to resume using or drinking again.
That’s why I wanted to post this particular blog. There will always be incidents that occur in life, for any of us, in recovery or not, that will make us feel saddened, angry, disheartened, depressed or all of these emotions at once. What I did to respond to my own quiet despair over hearing about the dog abductions, and then the tragedy in London, was to take some time out. I prayed for the victims and their families in London, just as I did two weeks earlier with the terrorist attacks in Manchester. I prayed for the little dogs and their grieving owners. I prayed for myself and tried to quiet my own desperate mind from those daunting questions of ‘why’ – why is there so much hatred and violence and evil acts happening all around us? After praying for a considerable amount of time I drank a full glass of spring water and started my deep breathing exercises. I finally quieted my mind from the multiple inner disturbances that assailed me. One of my rescue cats jumped up into my lap and I sat with her while she purred and I stroked her tiny head. I continued to focus on my deep breathing and calming my mind. And, as is usual, the time and effort worked. I got centered, felt my heart and the love I have for life, creation, the tender souls around me, both animals and people, the good folks I know and the countless numbers of individuals in the world who are wonderful, loving people who steadfastly exist in stark contrast to the hateful people in our world. I then prayed again for the little dogs and their owners and families, and I prayed again for the victims of the horrific acts in London. The same social media that exposes us to the sorrows of this world also exposes us to the outpouring of kindness and selfless acts by wonderful people all over the world -- and it’s vital that we balance the ‘news’ and shared posts with information that nourishes our hearts and minds.
I got up from my chair and felt revitalized and centered to continue my life, one day at a time, one moment at a time – living a life of Unconditional Recovery and knowing full well, that the air I breath, the water I drink, the prayers I offer and the meditations regarding the goodness of life are helping me stay balanced and not give in to the sorrows of the world. I too can help make this world a better place – but it begins with me. Until next time . . . keep the faith.
I was reading this morning from a wonderful book I recently bought called “1,000 Little Things Happy Successful People Do Differently” by Marc & Angel Chernoff. They also have an excellent daily blog which I highly recommend that contains sound, positive and simple advice for creating a new mindset when it comes to living our lives. One of their topics was, “The most effective way to move away from something you don’t want, is to move toward something you DO want.” This one sentence speaks volumes and is so easily applicable to those of us in recovery. An easy example that Marc and Angel use to begin their discussion of this is the desire for a chocolate donut. If you are attempting to lose weight, for instance, and you say to yourself, “Don’t think about eating that chocolate donut,” suffice it to say you are going to be thinking about the chocolate donut, not just when you try to command yourself NOT to think about eating it, but often moments after such a comment. The inner mind has a tendency to rebel from such commands as don’t, must, should, etc.
Now, when it comes to our attempts to avoid and abstain from using, often when we say things like, “Don’t think about having that drink,” we end up often obsessing about the drink, triggering those complex inner mechanisms that attempt to spur us and entice us into a relapse. One of the best keys to freeing ourselves from this type of compulsive inner chatter, is to gently move our mind toward something we do want. Perhaps we are thirsty and an effervescent glass of sparkling Saratoga water poured over ice with a lemon slice would greatly satisfy our momentary thirst. It is so refreshing and hydrating to our bodies. And, let us not forget that when we are in recovery, whether it is Day 1 or Day 1000 or 10,000 – our minds can trick us into romanticizing just how good that substance would feel if we could only imbibe one more time. This trick is quite simply a complete lie. Whenever this ‘hoax’ presents itself, go ahead and let it have its brief moment of attempted revival and say to yourself that I am so much better off without succumbing to this urge. The worst, hardest day or moment sober is certainly infinitely better than our romanticized version of the best day using. Let this mischievous thought pass – because it will if we let it. Sometimes, just getting up from our stationary position -–a chair, the couch, the bed – walking and breathing deeply, is such a positive technique to say goodbye to any type of urging thought.
I firmly believe that many of us never really learned how to ‘think’ or should I say, think beneficially for ourselves. We often did not learn mindful techniques to free our thoughts from a negative or destructive form of thought pattern, sometimes obsessive in nature, towards a helpful and positive mindset. Sure, we learned how to memorize, calculate, take tests, move through school and into the workplace, often adapting our mind skills to what was needed for that moment. That’s all fine and well, and I definitely am not criticizing this. I did the same throughout my life. What I am simply trying to point out is that when it comes to thinking positively – we didn’t really learn how to turn away certain thoughts and introduce other inner reflections and ‘brainwaves,’ and modifying our attitude and outlook – in the moment. Moreover, it is not about controlling our thoughts – just like saying, “don’t do this or don’t think about that” - it is about gently shifting our transient contemplation toward an altered, positive, constructive path. Remember, each thought we have that passes through our minds, produces a correlative set of physical, emotional and biological reactions. When we obsess over a thought, such as ‘taking that pill,’ a pill that we know would produce an immediate relapse, we often are stuck right there with that one thought, spinning and percolating within ourselves. This type of thinking process is draining to our inner energy and often becomes the culprit towards making recovery so very difficult. And, let me please point out – recovery is often as difficult as we want to make it. I would never underplay the pain and challenges that ensue during the early days of setting foot on the recovery path. That would be romanticizing what early recovery is. There are distinct challenges, heartaches and tumultuous periods when freeing ourselves from addiction. But, there is also so much support present and around us. And if we are determined to help ourselves along this new journey, many of those supposed pitfalls and sufferings can be put to rest or at least assuaged, and the positive aspects of living sober and clean will become increasingly apparent to ourselves.
Let’s try today, to focus on positive things we want in our lives and start to gently move our minds towards making these ideas manifest into a reality for ourselves. Writing a daily list in a journal is quite helpful for some. Movement, physically and mentally, is so very important towards sustaining our optimistic journey in recovery. That’s why getting up out of our chair, bed, couch, etc. and walking, moving, exercising, breathing, eating healthy, reading uplifting and encouraging material is so vital. One of the best things any of us can do in recovery that will always change our daily outlook is to go to a meeting. A simple reading, a simple "share" among good people and healthy fellowship, will always prove to be a practice of learning to move our mindset from a negative and potentially destructive posture, towards a healthy and freeing one – one day at a time.
Until next time, practice thinking positive thoughts, stay sober and clean, go to a meeting and share, breath the outdoor air often, move the body, and contemplate the happier life you are moving toward through your daily pledge of Unconditional Recovery….One Day At A Time….One Moment At A Time. You deserve the happiness that ensues from living clean and sober and those around you deserve to see once again the real you.
Today, honoring the arrival of Spring, I want to take time and expound upon the many wonderful reasons for a person to embrace Unconditional Recovery. We are often encouraged during our early days of living sober and clean, to take it One Day at a Time. In fact, this is the preferred mantra for anyone who is stepping upon the path of freedom from addiction – I always like to say to myself: “One Day at a Time -- One Moment at a Time.” This attitude is really a part of expanding our consciousness towards becoming more aware of the moment we are experiencing -- the now. One day at a time allows a person to be ‘mindful’ of the present and embrace this day of sobriety. There is that all-too-common concern expressed and felt during the first days of recovery – that is, wondering if my current abstinence means a lifetime of sobriety. This worry will dissipate once a person realizes that life happens now, not tomorrow. If you can be sober and clean right now, there is no reason you cannot continue – unless you chose otherwise.
We know during those first days and weeks of pulling away from our addictive use that thinking of long-term sobriety can be painful and can unwittingly set us up for failure. After all, we are attempting to separate ourselves from a substance that appears to be our ‘friend’ but is actually a menacing, destructive relationship – most definitely, not a friend. By embracing your recovery slowly, one day at a time, you can truly embark on a new journey in life – today. We must make sure we do everything we need to do and are encouraged to do. We must strive to regularly attend our meetings, meditate and pray often, exercise, nourish our body, mind and soul, and stay away from people and places that might tempt us back to using. Recovery means changing our life patterns from what they had been. No one can expect new and promising results from living life the same way they did when using and drinking. Tomorrow will certainly come, and we will face those challenges when they arrive. This is excellent advice for anyone regardless of being addicted to drugs and alcohol, but is especially a real proven avenue for anyone in early recovery.
As your journey continues, you will come to realize the many personal relationships that have been harmed or destroyed by your previous uncontrollable behavior. Although, this is not an easy stage, it is a necessary phase of the sober journey that allows you to own what you have done. You have hurt yourself and others, and you must take ownership of this. Then the healing can truly begin. We make amends for the negative deeds we brought onto others, we seek forgiveness of ourselves and kindly and patiently ask others to forgive us. As we become more self-assured of our promise to remain sober, we will notice that others around us - family, friends, coworkers - will begin to trust us once again. We should not try to rush or force others to forgive us and trust us. We can only commence with our own forgiveness of ourselves and learn to trust our inner conviction. It will indeed take some time for this process to happen, but again, the most important element to focus upon is the healing of our inner being.
Now, let me confidently express some of the wonderful changes that can and will occur the longer you remain on your recovery journey. I am four and a half years into my own sobriety and my personal life has changed immensely since those dark years of alcohol addiction. My home life is the best it has ever been. I am now self-employed and the business is thriving. My physical and mental health, which had deteriorated to a deadly level during my last years of drinking, is healing more each day. I am now getting in the best shape of my life by eating healthy foods and exercising. I no longer have high blood pressure and my liver, stomach, pancreas, kidneys, heart and brain are repairing themselves. I am so thankful and grateful for this restoration of my body, mind and spirit and I am forgiving myself for the terrible harm I engendered upon myself. I have been given another chance to live – to live wisely and embrace the gift of life itself.
I have stepped onto the open road of sobriety, forever humbled by my treacherous experiences while consumed by alcoholism and I take complete ownership of my descent into alcohol abuse. This feels right, feels truthful and healthy. Because of this, I now believe in myself, and believe in the higher power within. I am now honest always, candid about what I do and how I feel, today, in this moment. I am open to new thoughts and experiences, always filling my mind and soul with inspirational readings. Now, I am successfully grounded in health and clean living, eating the best nourishing foods, drinking only those beneficial liquids that hydrate and sustain the body, deeply breathing the outdoor air, and, taking mindful notice of the splendid beauty in nature.
Being grateful for all that I have within and without is essential. Finally, I am eager to lend a helping hand to anyone in need. I have empathy and compassion for those suffering from their current state of addiction and am ready to support them on their quest for healing and rebuilding their lives. We are not searching for a ‘cure’ to addiction, we are pursuing a life ‘free’ from addiction, one day at a time, listening and attuning to this moment and embracing what is contained in the now. It takes patience, practice, fellowship with others, compassion for ourselves, forgiveness, perseverance, kindness and love. I pledge to myself each day that there is no condition that would allow me to drink or use again. I will continue on the pathway of Unconditional Recovery, forever. It is an avenue that leads to fulfillment, balance, awareness and harmonizing with all that life contains.
I will leave you with some wonderful, inspirational words from the great poet, Walt Whitman, and his poem, “Song of the Open Road.” Happy Spring! And, until next time, stay clean and sober -- One Day at a Time!
Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.
Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune,
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,
Strong and content I travel the open road.
You air that serves me with breath to speak!
You objects that call from diffusion my meanings and give them shape!
You light that wraps me and all things in delicate equable showers!
I am larger, better than I thought,
I did not know I held so much goodness.
All seems beautiful to me,
The efflux of the soul is happiness, here is happiness,
I think it pervades the open air, waiting at all times,
Now it flows unto us, we are rightly charged.
Camerado, I give you my hand!
I give you my love more precious than money,
I give you myself before preaching or law;
Will you give me yourself? will you come travel with me?
Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?
Allons! The road is before us.
It is safe—I have tried it--
my own feet have tried it well—be not detain’d!
- Walt Whitman (at his best)
I’m wondering if there are words I can write that can, in this moment, truly reach into the heart and mind of someone who is addicted to drugs and/or alcohol, and persuade them to get the help they need? Better yet, let me get very conversational here and speak personally, not objectively, namely to you. I first want to explain the obvious title’s twist on the famous play and movie, “A Streetcar Named Desire,” by Tennessee Williams. Maybe you have jumped aboard this vehicle named for ‘desire’ because you think it is a means of entering into a world of longing and craving, and, finally - gratification. While not wanting to admit the truth to yourself, you have actually leapt aboard a dangerous streetcar leading you to a world of endless despair, filled with pain, self-abuse, and treachery.
I’m not trying to be cute or minimally creative here. I want so much to reach out to you – now. Somehow, I want to discover the language, that can penetrate through the barriers you may be trying to erect – self-imposed walls that keep you removed from the truth of the menacing actions you are engaged in through your perpetual use of drugs and alcohol. I’m not sure if I can do this. Often what happens when anyone tries to persuade another caught in the midst of addiction, to stop using, such attempts easily fall upon indifferent or even hostile ears. And, the truth be told, it is so easy for someone, like myself here, to unwittingly sound preachy or superior – like, look at me – I’m no longer addicted, I did it, why can’t you? Or, I’m just an outsider, writing a recovery blog, not a part of your current social or inner circle, or even among your own peers. Why should you afford me, my words, a single second of consideration? Anyway, if you are using now, or getting ready to venture out to a party or sitting alone somewhere anxiously awaiting your next dose of something - a bottle, pill, pipe or needle close by – why would you allow anything to alter your next, obvious move?
The use of language and words are a primary means of communication between people. Yet, although you may fully comprehend and understand a given language and the inference of meaning behind the use of words in sentences – spoken by you or to you – we are never assured that the full meaning of these sentences have any effect upon us. We all carry with us a host of ‘filters’ in our minds that can either regard or disregard comments – this is necessary at times and a part of self-protection and our right to accept or not accept words presented to us at a given moment. Granted, we are surrounded by so many forms of electronic communications in each given day, we must have some ‘filters’ to what we are exposed to and afford ourselves some limits on reacting to each and everything we hear.
So, when is it that you do allow yourself to stop and listen to something being said? When do you relinquish the filters, just enough, to permit your inner being to not just hear but to listen? Moreover, after consenting to really listen, when do you decide to ‘act’ upon such promptings. And, is your action one that will be good for you or result in negative consequences – healthy or unhealthy – humane or inhumane – forward movement or backwards movement? People have choices and make decisions every day – for better – for worse. And, this especially holds true for someone coping with addiction. I can be talking to you, trying to persuade you to stop using or drinking – yet, you choose to continue to harm yourself. You may even agree with what I am saying – but, you choose to capitulate to the urges you feel and dismiss, even for now, the advice being offered. Words are so often useless and ineffective.
But, look around you. Even with all of the expected rejection of helpful advice from others, people are in fact entering into recovery every day and ultimately succeeding. I’ve seen people in AA meetings who were drunk during the meeting. We’ve all seen others at NA meetings who were high on something. And, to a casual observer, this may appear quite incongruous. But, seeds are being planted all the time. You never know when one of those seeds finally sprouts and shines that important ray of hope through all the pain and turmoil you may be presently experiencing. Those of us participating within the recovery community want to help. And, guess what? The help that is out there is plentiful, honest and sincere, true and capable of reaching into your heart.
But, if today is not that day for you, I understand. I get it – I really get it. I was you – I was that person who believed I was beyond reach. I would have shut out any ‘preachy’ words or advice from others. Just a few short years ago, I was in your condition – horribly addicted to alcohol, despite growing health problems, shaky hands and unending nausea and vomiting – every day. And, the sickening thing was, the only way my mind thought it could get through another hour or two, each day, was through consuming more alcohol to stop the shaky hands and decrease the intense nausea. Better yet, so much of my daily behavior was a futile attempt to appear ‘normal’ or ‘fine’ – making sure that no one knew about ‘my condition,’ my real condition. My perpetual use of my drug of choice – alcohol – was not making me feel good anymore – quite the opposite. I was now so deeply submerged into my abuse, that my drug consumption only allowed me to fragilely appear functional. I was playing a deadly game of hide and seek – then hide, hide more – until there was no more hiding. I could not see through the prison walls, not even for a moment. Rational, pragmatic, logical thinking or advice was beyond me and my behavior. The thought of stopping drinking did not even enter my mind – because I quite frankly, did not want to stop or knew how to stop. Finally, I alienated my closest relationships, the people I loved, my family, personal friends, business relationships, everyone. Could I see this or comprehend what I was really doing? Or, was I completely helpless except for that slight ray of light that only sporadically surfaced, offering a hint that help could in fact be found and was closer than I imagined. And, I suppose this ‘flicker of light’ is all that I would like these words to be – for someone, for you. I refuse to get preachy or use a type of approach that ‘demands’ that you must change your life now. Such tactics, I find, do not work too well – except for satisfying something in me more than offering something to you.
However, I will propose the following to you. You can change your life. You can decide this day to seek help, because, believe me, great help is there for you. You must first be bold and courageous though to take that first step, and admit to your inner self that you have become imprisoned by your addiction and before you can rationalize yourself into not getting help. You must become truthful to the actuality that you are on a streetcar of despair that has no intentions of letting you off. Your streetcar named ‘desire’ has lead you to a realm of utter despair. It is so painful to see you, anyone, in this state of pain and confusion, not knowing what to do next.
I recently read the news reports about the awful overdoses in Louisville, Kentucky – at last count, over 150 of them. What was even more disturbing is how few individuals, after experiencing their near-death encounter, actually sought recovery help afterwards. People were either afraid of legal ramifications, or being found-out, or worse – they simply did not want to stop using. Doesn’t this shake you? Are you horrified by the accounts from Louisville? I certainly am. But, any of us who have ever been addicted to alcohol or drugs, we know the truth – we just do not want to stop or know how to stop. And, tragically, the very help we need is so close by to us – a phone call, a knock on a door, reaching out to a friend – help is sometimes right in the same room with us.
You, your life is so important and you simply may not be able to see this truth right now. But, believe me, all those feelings and thoughts you have inside are all about you. If the outside world and those around you have treated you with little compassion, nurturance or love – I feel for you. You deserve more than that. You also deserve to live free and not shackled by your addiction. At best you are embarked on that streetcar again, imbibing in your drug of choice – and for what? – a moment’s sense of escape or relief – a tinge of a ‘good’ feeling – a temporary respite from facing yourself – settling for a twig of pleasure while denying yourself everything that there is within you? You have a right, a gift from the Creator, to live your life healthy and free from endless despair – the streetcar named despair – a life immersed in drugs and alcohol – keeping you from yourself while at the same time divorced from the outside world. Your life is worth so much more than this. You deserve so much more and it is in reach – only if you decide to take that first step towards recovery. There is love in the world around you – believe me – I know there is. There is caring help right in your own community, just waiting for you to open that door. There is love within you, despite whatever abuse you have succumbed to through your use of drugs and alcohol. There is so much more to life for you to experience than simply trying to survive another day on that treacherous ‘streetcar named despair’ – that destructive vehicle that seemingly will not stop to let you off. But, you can get off – you can exit anytime you decide that you are ready to stand up and account for yourself – give to yourself a real gift of life – a loving gift – the gift you deserve – embarking upon those first steps of your journey of recovery. Until next time, contemplate living your life with peace, serenity, compassion and love . . . One Day at a Time.
Suffice it to say, the current times we are living in are challenging, to say the least. I wanted to repost this May 2016 Blog – “Why Do I Matter?” in response to some of the more recent contentious happenings around the world. I know there are many individuals asking themselves this same type of question – Why Do I Matter? The fundamental principles defining our individual existence and consciousness on this planet are vital - spiritually, mentally, and physically. And, I have personally experienced no other period in my lifetime when compassionate, loving and intelligent answers to this question - Why Do I Matter - are more needed. The very foundation of how we consider ourselves, our significance, each day upon awakening, must be brought to light and reconfirmed within our own minds and soul. This is most pertinent for those of us in recovery attempting to rebuild our lives and substantiate the reasons we do in fact matter. This article is especially for those individuals still caught within the struggles of addiction, attempting to discover the resounding answers that validate their significance and purpose. I sincerely offer the following words to support and encourage you to begin today, if you have not already, upon your recovery path. This day, you can enter upon the true path of recovery and begin to free yourself from the perils of addiction and alcoholism, one day at a time. This can be your day to inaugurate a new life, a new beginning - for you, your family, friends and loved ones. Please read on.
Our internal dialogue can end up determining so much of our entire outlook on life. Often, we do not even know where these inner thoughts come from - or - what is the source of the emotion that make us feel the way we do. Many of us are not aware of this almost subconscious self-conversation since our thoughts speed along at such a rapid rate, and can layer on top of each other or collide together into an indiscernible ‘mood
.’ Sometimes we may feel blue or upbeat, or just indifferent, not really knowing exactly why. Our nervous system and chemistry can certainly play a role in determining our ever-changing emotional states. Conversely, these inner thoughts can set off an array of chemical and neurological reactions. It is a bit like the proverbial – what came first, the chicken or the egg? There are so many contributing variables to how we feel in any given moment. However, I would like to direct the purport of this blog to deciphering this inner dialogue, particularly how it may relate to defining who we are and how we feel about our own self in the world we live in.
I recently heard a young teenage girl, struggling with overcoming an ongoing addiction to opiates, express out-loud that she felt she did not matter. “Why should I matter, no one cares about me, no one knows who I am. I am just a nobody. Hell, I don’t even care about myself. I’m a nothing.”
Powerful and painful words to hear from anyone and yet, quite similar to the victimizing words uttered by anyone going through addiction or alcoholism. The more you drink, the more you hate yourself. The more you use, the more you lose yourself. The vital reasons for living become obscured from your inner field of vision. Unfortunately, the muffled cries of your inner self, trying to escape the addiction prison, often fall upon your own listless perception.
What does make us matter? Do I matter in this world, and why? There are some very interesting, yet varied social factors that are applied today both directly and indirectly when determining the ‘value’ of any human being. Let’s explore this more. If I am wealthy, certainly this can influence many aspects of my life – the kind of area I live in, the schools I may attend, the opportunities I may acquire simply because of my wealth. If I am an attractive, good-looking person, this can play an important role in my self-identification, depending of course on how great a value and importance I place on this outward perception of my body. If I have the opportunity of being educated and suited to learning in school, I then have yet another component influencing my self-perception and mental development. Certainly, if I am popular and people tend to like me, again my inner self may absorb this feedback, and in fact, may come to rely on its continuation. This kind of list can go on for pages, of course.
Now, let us flip or reverse these assertions. If I am born poor, and grow up in a struggling, destitute environment, how does this affect the vital perceptions of myself? Suppose I am not very competent with my studies, then what resulting consequences am I looking at? Suppose I am not physically attractive, perhaps awkward in my movements, what will happen in my life as I grow older? And, if people do not seem to like me and I become isolated in life at an early age and become an outcast or retreated loner – well, we can easily surmise the kind of resulting inner dialogue that may perpetually fill my mind to where it is the only awareness of myself.
Fortunately, there are many ingredients influencing our lives that shape us. One of the most important of these is love. If we are cared for, nourished with love and healthy affection, we may overcome many of the peripheral aspects of our environment. Look at the shining examples throughout history that have worked and grown through seemingly insurmountable obstacles only to achieve not just great personal success but also contribute so much to others. I often think of Helen Keller, who despite her blindness and deafness emerged as a force of love and beneficence to others as well as a wise and prolific human being. Most importantly, she did not do it alone.
If my internal dialogue becomes filled with critical or demeaning thoughts about others, or myself certain states of consciousness will overtake me. It is no surprise that people who are highly critical of others are hiding their own internal criticism. Imagine a parent always criticizing their child’s physical appearance while not providing unconditional love and acceptance. Underneath this veil of contempt and lashing out is the parent’s own highly critical dialogue regarding their own self. What is often done to us in early life can be easily passed on to our own children if we have not sorted out the falsity that surrounded us and decide we are not going to repeat those negative patterns. The same is true with addictions – we know that it often ‘runs in families’ – an environmental, social influence.
So, does each one of us matter? The answer is yes. However, this answer can be carelessly rejected by our own mind. It is so easy to accept our insignificance more than our significance. Are we not just one person in a world with billions of people – a minute cog spinning in the wheel of life? And, if we do not lay claim to any notoriety, fame, wealth, beauty or success – how easy it can be for one to begin to utter those self-destructive internal thoughts – “I don’t matter, no-one knows who I am, no one cares about me, I’m just a nothing.” Over time, these messages to ourselves become a pernicious habit. We can in fact, lay claim to an internal dialogue that creates our own adopted inferiority complex regardless of whether we are born into a family where every seeming benefit is laid before us or whether we are born into a family struggling to meet daily needs.
It is important to reject these negative messages about our own self. We do not have to lay claim to fame and wealth to find love for ourselves. Often those who have achieved much in the world, be it fame, success, notoriety, become chained to such accomplishments and rely heavily on their continuance. Their internal thought processes of determining their self-worth may have easily lost sight of the important value of seeing themselves detached and removed from those outer labels. Essential to living a healthy life, physically and psychologically, is the ability to balance our own egos with an honest integration of knowing who we really are and how we treat others and our self through the course of daily living.
One moment of contemplation about the magnificence of a single human being, in this case, our own self, will dignify what our creation is. This can be and should become our meditation about who we are. The miracle of a single eye, our heart, our brain, our lungs, the feelings we have, our memory, our ability to think – is this not something wonderful and amazing and truly uplifting? Isn’t the phenomena and marvel of a single human being – the body, mind and soul – enough to establish our significance in the world? It should be and it can be, if we allow it to be so. Our perception can open up to a renaissance of what we regard as valuable and important. Listening to the kinds of thoughts we have internally about ourselves and others is a beginning. Rejecting many of the self-destructive and highly critical thoughts we can possess in any given day is like breathing in fresh air and drinking fresh water. Allowing thoughts of love, peace, nurturance, and compassion for ourselves and others can become a positive practice that will eventually become a habit that will affect our entire outlook on life. Self-esteem, self-actualization and love gains force as we practice it.
In any given moment, when the negative messages start pummeling our self-concept, causing a mood swing towards being down on ourselves, or feeling that we do not matter in this world – take a deep breath and allow these messages to have their moment. Start a practice of accepting such negative thoughts as simply a temporary and habitual chorus that will take some practice and time to leave. Do not attribute any more to such negative thoughts. Then, with your full concentration, say something to yourself that is caring and nurturing. I particularly like when I utter to myself, “I am a loved creature in this universe and I can be happy in this moment. I deserve to be content and stable. I accept myself for who I am in this moment.” These are positive, concise, straightforward messages to one’s self. The only thing to remember is that it takes practice. Over time, you will find that those nagging, disagreeable internal messages will be replaced by approving, loving reflection. You must try at first to believe in the possibility of what you are pronouncing to yourself – there obviously has to be some element of truth to your internal commentary.
For instance, if you really are a nasty, disagreeable person, and you utter that you are a good person – well, suffice it to say, you can say this message to your own mind a thousand times, but will you really come to accept it? Of course not. Better yet, if you are an alcoholic and you attempt to dupe yourself by continuing to affirm that you are not an alcoholic – no amount of habitual, repeated dialogue will convince your inner self. Our deepest consciousness can discern truth from fiction. A person can develop and foster this pre-disposition to replacing old behaviors with healthy ones. In order to accept these newer, positive thoughts and forms of conduct, one simply needs to believe in their honesty and truthfulness and accept them as a new standard of how to live with yourself.
It takes patience and diligence to change the kinds of thoughts we have. Replacing the negative inner dialogue with positive, loving thoughts will bring forth a new you. Until next time . . . keep the inner dialogue positive! [PH2]
There is such excellent material circulating in the recovery community regarding the practice of mindfulness and its corresponding breathing techniques. If any one of you reading the first lines of this article or even the title itself, find yourself immediately steering away from the topic, I kindly ask you to reconsider, even for a moment, and peruse ahead. I was that person, long before becoming addicted to alcohol, who had tried mindfulness more than a few times and just never really “got it.” I attempted it, felt that I had somehow failed, and eventually moved on, never uncovering the merits of the practice. Some of the causes of my disappointing venture had to do with how the topic was introduced to me years ago. The other principal explanations concerned my own novice mindset at the time. Rather than relaxing me or calming my mind and thoughts, instead, I would feel stilted and rigid, my thoughts crowding my mind and racing at break-neck speed -- even more than usual. I clearly had presumed some kind of austere concept of mindfulness where it was essential to sit in some pretzel-like configuration, chanting optional, and completely emptying my mind of all thoughts. I was going about it all wrong.
As my life morphed into fast-paced executive management, the idea of taking the time to practice a technique that could calm and still the mind became an obsolete desire. I was a double-A battery and good at what I did. Becoming like a well-oiled machine, I was the problem-solver, I made things happen, on time, moving through logistical complexities with the end satisfaction of a job well done. The only drawback, though, and I’m sure a lot of recovering individuals that immersed themselves in this kind of environment would attest, I was becoming unhinged, experiencing a dis-easement within. I increasingly turned to drinking to soothe the nerves, not really knowing any other way to handle my stress. I was very good for the company, but very bad for myself and my family. Happy hours, meeting the guys after work (work-hard, play-hard), followed by another few drinks at home began to define a life-style for me. I was such a highly functioning drinker, I always showed up at work on time and ready to commit to the ‘job at hand.’ Sound familiar? Well, the rest of the story is that life got worse and I hit that proverbial rock bottom – a very dark night of my soul. Yet, here I am now in my fifth year of complete sobriety, writing this article regarding one of the most valuable techniques I learned early on in my recovery that I now recommend for others – the practice of mindfulness and deep breathing.
There is abundant, compelling evidence that, with continued practice, the exercise of mindfulness techniques can provide an essential adjunct in recovery, facilitating a person’s ability to remain clean and sober. Better yet, applying mindfulness to one’s daily life has been shown to have wonderful, long-lasting benefits for our mind, physical health, emotions and spirit. To fully understand the way mindfulness and breathing can be accepted as this powerful component to healing from addiction, we must first include a quick overview of the nature of ‘thoughts’ and their relationship to our ability to recover. Simply put, positive, constructive thoughts contribute to specific, beneficial outcomes during our healing process. Whereas, negative thinking can result in derailing a person’s recovery.
The influence of thought can never be underestimated or casually tossed to the side as being insignificant in anyone’s life, whether coping with an addiction issue or not. Positive thinking, whether in business, family and home, school, athletics, pursuing one’s aspiration, or simply managing a given day, is not only vital, but shapes a person’s overall mental and emotional posture towards approaching life itself. A pattern of negative thinking can have disastrous effects on an individual, molding an adverse, negative mindset that can lead to an actual inferiority complex.
Candidly stated, if I think I can free myself from the scourge of alcohol or drugs, I can. It certainly establishes a good beginning to recovery, plants a positive mindset, even if we are struggling during our initial detoxification and first few weeks. Conversely, if I begin a path of sobriety and inwardly have a nagging, pronounced belief that I cannot become sober or clean, such a thought pattern can sabotage a recovery attempt, often leading to a hasty relapse. Nothing is written in stone of course. The fact of the matter is then when anyone begins their personal healing journey, gradually distancing themselves from their addiction, they may be overwhelmed with persistent, doubting thoughts. This is why professional counselors and therapists are so essential at this phase. And, just as importantly, the sensitive and inspiring people we meet during recovery meetings allows us to share our deepest drug and alcohol related experiences, and to honesty express our mutual trials, tribulations, guilt and pain – forming a true network of fellowship and support.
We acknowledge that thoughts influence behavior. Without question there are certain kinds of thought patterns that accompany alcoholism and addiction. Many of us may have dabbled with an initial recovery attempt at some point in our lives. And, I use the word dabble because our heart and soul may not have really been behind our endeavor. We might have tried to ‘recover’ for a few days while surreptitiously seeking to somehow obtain that good old feeling again, just one more time, through indulging in our substance of choice. And in doing so, we got only a temporary relief from anxiety or stress. We can imbibe a drink or swallow a pill, or sniff or shoot a given substance, and finally must admit that our recovery efforts are once again placed on hold.
With addiction we simply cannot hang on that proverbial fence with part of us ‘trying’ to recover and the other part desiring to use again. Such a mindset will most likely give us permission to drink or use again, and we quickly find ourselves descending deeper into a real chamber of emotional discord, filled with anguish. Our thoughts become ‘addicted’ to shame, despair, self-loathing, the inability to quit, and finally, for some, our despair leads us to believe life is simply not worth living. This is an all too familiar pattern in the painful world of addiction.
So, how can the practice of mindfulness assist with our thinking during recovery? One of the main issues people may experience in life is the inability to manage or guide their thoughts. Remember, each thought that we have, no matter how quickly it passes through our mind, has a correlative physical, neurological, chemical and feeling response. If a specific thought or chain of thoughts continue to pass through our minds habitually, they can gain strength and become a habit. Thought threads can become like energized orbs, fueled by our own minds, often unconsciously. For instance, if I wake up in the morning and have a sense of worry or anxiety regarding a pending work assignment and if I continually ‘tag’ that thought with a quality of anxiousness, suffice it to say, that thought builds a force within, affecting mood and feelings. Often, it is easy to become attached to such orbs of thinking, especially if the thoughts are continually practiced and accepted as the ‘truth’ by our inner self. They can percolate underneath in our subconscious minds, shaping our mood and outlook.
I have heard many people in recovery meetings state that they were unable to ‘control’ their thoughts, they just seem to happen. In fact many of us drank alcohol or consumed drugs to attempt to ‘quiet’ our mind – obviously a practice that does not work or help. Being incapable of diminishing or restraining certain thought patterns that produce anxiety and stress, we can feel helpless. The irony is that we may feel doomed to live under the dictates of thoughts that our own minds produce. We arrive at the end of any given day, with a cacophony of random, often stressful thoughts, some more dynamically charged than others, and end up suffering physical and emotional dis-ease. Perhaps we have a headache, or stiff neck and shoulders, our jaw may hurt from tension, blood pressure may be high - and the list goes on. Attempting to ‘control’ anything in our life is often overrated, and can be a disempowering action that often fails us. Mindfulness is not about control, but about a gentle releasing. Most of us have learned quite well how to think, but few of us may know very little about how ‘not’ to think. Moreover, we may be completely deficient in being able to voluntarily choose our thoughts, shift thoughts or discard those nagging and persistent thoughts that cause stress.
A breakthrough occurred for me during my early recovery when I reflected upon first starting to play a musical instrument. I was barely able to make a recognizable sound during my first days and weeks. It took considerable practice before I was capable of adjoining a string of notes that others could tolerate without grimacing. In a powerful way, this recall of my experience learning how to play the trumpet, urged me to look into the true ‘art’ of mindfulness and breathing. After studying additional material, I realized my attitude and approach was flawed. All I really had to do was sit in a comfortable chair, in a quiet room. I lit a candle (not mandatory), I made sure I was free from outside distractions like my cell phone. Then, I started simply by inhaling slowly, and exhaling, in rhythm. I allowed myself to feel my body and hear my thoughts. I noticed my feet on the floor, my arms and hands relaxed in my lap. I gave myself a few moments of perceiving how tense my neck and shoulders felt. I continued to breathe slowly, taking deeper breaths, holding the breath for a few seconds, and then slowly exhaling. My thoughts slowed and I became more aware of what I was feeling and what kinds of thoughts I possessed. I was listening to my inner self. I did not have to produce a result, nor think about an expected outcome. I allowed myself to just sit in my quiet room, gaze at the burning candle, breathe, become aware of my physical being and my emotional self. Finally, I closed my eyes, and just listened to my breathing, noticing the rhythm of the inhalation and exhalation. The key to the gentle art of mindfulness is in the word ‘gentle’ – allowing our own awareness to calmly return to simply thinking and feeling the rhythm of our breathing, in and out. Or we can focus (gently) on perceiving the lit candle, noticing the flickering and dancing of the flame. We can certainly summon another image we would enjoy bringing into our awareness. Occasionally I would encourage myself, especially in the early days of practicing mindfulness, and affirm it is okay for me to take these few minutes just for myself. I asserted a positive, caring thought – for me, for my own health and well-being.
After around 15-20 minutes of this session (no rules here – shorter or longer time is just fine), I opened my eyes, looked at the lit candle, and noticed how beautiful the glow of its light was in my room. Surprisingly, I felt noticeably better. My body was more relaxed. That discord that often runs repeatedly through my awareness had lessened. I honestly felt a sense of calm and rejuvenation I had never experienced before. All I needed was the air I breathed, the chair I sat in, a quiet room, a lit candle and allowing my mind to relax. How simple it was and those beginning, early effects were wonderful and restorative.
It is important to realize that our brains have been thoroughly conditioned by the daily stresses we all encounter, to keep on going, despite fatigue. We become accustomed to not allowing ourselves to focus on one, singular thought for a reasonable amount of time. We usually are endeavoring to progress rapidly from one function to the next, often overlapping assignments, remembering what we have not completed and what we need to address – all in hurried succession. We often experience real stress when we are not focused on the job in the moment because we are thinking and feeling everything we still need to do. This may be good in some ways for the company you may be working for, but it is not good for you. Besides, it has been proven that when an individual is able to focus their mind on one given task, completing job at hand, we tend to actually become more efficient and our actual work improves – less mistakes and less tension. It is a wonderful revelation to finally give yourself the opportunity to perceive the congestion in your mind at the end of a day. This early accomplishment when practicing mindfulness is a powerful wake-up call. You can finally see for yourself just how unmanaged our minds can become and have been, and that we may in fact not be the director of our own thoughts.
Of course, practicing is essential and is easy. There are simply no expectations or evaluations being made – no rules. This time belongs to you. If you want to apply mindfulness, take a bubble bath. If sitting under a tree suits you – by all means, enjoy. You can practice mindfulness while stirring a pot of soup – seriously, get lost in the rhythmic swirl of the spoon in your hand as your gently stir the pot – a mini-meditation. Mindfulness promotes our inner ability to select the thoughts we want, to abandon thoughts, to shift our thoughts, to calm the succession of thoughts. It is in fact so much easier and quicker than becoming adept on a musical instrument. Don’t give up after your first couple of sessions – give it some time. Remember, our addiction was about immediate gratification whereas mindfulness is about giving you long-lasting effects and a new sense of calm. I have embraced this term, the gentle art of mindfulness, and consider it one of the most important tools supporting my continued recovery. I can avow, based on my own experience, as I journey successfully along the path of recovery, that the ‘gentle art’ of mindfulness possesses a dynamic healing power. It is simple, peaceful, soothing and fulfilling. The life benefits are enormous. It just takes practice and it works if you work it, one day at a time.