Viewing entries tagged
control

Chaos vs. Serenity

An addict lives in chaos. It comes in different degrees; the need to act out every weekend and make apologies on Monday, the need to sneak out of work for a few minutes/hours to satisfy the cravings, or the need to get up at 3:00 am and have a few drinks. It comes in various forms; “How am I going to keep all these lies that I’ve told straight?” , “Here’s ANOTHER number on my cell that I don’t recognize - who is it and what does HE want?” , “How am I going to explain (and pay for) the damages?” , or  “What day is it, and where the fuck am I?” Regardless of the particular circumstances, a life consumed by addiction is one that is permeated by chaos. 

    One of the biggest and most immediate perks of getting sober is that the individual no longer has to endure new consequences to addictive behaviors. No more hangovers. No more empty wallet in the morning. No new charges (from the police or the credit card companies). It is a powerful and exhilarating period of early sobriety, often referred to as the pink cloud. 

    The problem with the pink cloud is that it doesn’t last. There is a huge relief that comes from escaping the downward spiral that one’s life was turning into, but instead of segueing into a pervasive sense of ease, this relief frequently transitions into an overall sense of boredom. Chaos brings excitement and lots of activity that is sorely missed when it’s gone, although the addict may find it hard to admit that this is the case. Frequently, one finds it necessary to make a gratitude list. The list contains all the things life IS NOT, DOES NOT, and WILL NOT be, if one remains sober. It is examined and reexamined, hopefully on a daily basis, as a way to constantly remind oneself of how much better life is, now that the bad habits have been dropped. 

    But memory has a way of glorifying bad ideas and downplaying bad situations. The highs that were chased appear to be attainable and the consequences that were suffered appear to be avoidable. The possibility of successful reconnection with addictive behaviors dangles in an addict’s mind like the magic of Christmas morning to a six-year-old. And all the time that has been freed up by not participating in these behaviors gives the mind way too much time to ponder the pros and cons of caving into ever-present urges. 

    What an addict needs is a list of healthy habits that replace the old ones. He needs something to put time and effort into. Merely avoiding negative consequences does not create a fulfilling existence, nor does it provide healthy alternatives to the coping mechanisms that, up to now, are all he used. He needs to DO, to TRY, to EXERT, to SWEAT. The opposite to his previous life of avoidance is action. He needs to build a new life around ideas that drive him and ideals that inspire him. Even his response to the inevitable backlash from those who disagree with him gives the addict something to put his energy into and distract him from the old way of thinking. The negative energy that others may throw his way gives him something positive to work on. 

    If addiction’s agenda is to destroy everything it can get its claws into, the ultimate weapon an addict can yields against it is creation. And creation requires action on the part of the creator (and the Creator, but let’s not get off topic). It takes time. It demands mental and physical effort. By its very definition, the act of creating something entails work. And therein lies the huge benefit. When an addict immerses himself in work, he leaves little energy to fuel the urge to act out. 

    Conversely, when an addict focuses solely on everything his life DOES NOT HAVE or IS NOT ABOUT any longer (failed relationships, squandered potential, self-delusion, lies, manipulation, deceit) he is living a life based on lack. He lives in a void of discarded habits and lingering self-recrimination. He creates nothing, and how can you build on nothing? What is fulfilling in a void? The human psyche craves some sort of input, whether it be sensory, spiritual, or mental. An addict living in a bubble that provides none of these is far too susceptible to the call of old behaviors to fill it.

    As an alcoholic and addict, I have been in and out of recovery more times than I wish to admit. Every time I threw my hands up in frustration and returned to the rooms, I vowed to get a sponsor, a home group, a long list of numbers...everything they told me to do. I would follow suggestions for a few months, get bored and dissatisfied with the program of recovery I was exposed to, disconnect from the program, and eventually go out again. As much as I gained from 12 step recovery, I still felt there was something vital missing.

    When I went to prison for my fourth DUI, I began a long journey inward that continues to this day. Deep inside myself is where I connected with my higher power and began learning about myself, who I was, where I wanted to go, what I was meant to be and what I was meant to do in this life. It began a long process of gaining awareness through observation and sharing insights with others who were sick like me. The journey has been at times daunting, fraught with doubt and fear, confusing, enlightening, joyous, difficult, and a host of other emotionally-charged adjectives that change, at times, minute to minute. It has been almost all-consuming in its demands of my time and efforts. It has provided long-sought-after answers to many of my life’s questions. It has kept me sober, and it has provided great comfort in my sobriety.

    It has helped me create serenity in my life. 

    Your serenity depends on your ability to create something out of your deepest, brightest, highest self - not on your ability to avoid repeating the mistakes of your past. 

    Time to get to work. 

How to Really Know Your Comfort Zone

You hear it, you read it, you see it posted. Everyone, everywhere is saying that your comfort zone is a place of non-productivity and developmental gridlock. They say that life begins at the end of your comfort zone or that change only occurs when you are on your feet, fully engaged, and off of the couch. They tell you to get comfortable with discomfort and that, to truly live, you need to thrive on uncertainty. Turn off the TV, get away from the computer, put away the cookies, take a shower, and prepare to enter the world outside your front door. Participate in something new and with people with whom you are unfamiliar. 

    As an advocate for positive change, I agree with all of the above. I know how hard it is to truly change, even for a person who really wants to do so. Therefore, I agree with the idea that most people benefit greatly from constant reminders that change takes a lot of work. And a lot of desire and dedication. Sometimes the people who most want to change are those who most greatly resist it, so it is natural to rely on the repetition of mantras and affirmations, almost to the point of harassment, as a means to get these people moving.

    However, if you look around enough, if you listen to what’s happening outside your own mind, if you seek answers from those who are (presumably) wiser, more enlightened, and closer to the “answers,” you begin to realize that a lot of people are just saying the same thing over and over. They keep rehashing the same old trite sayings. They show you a pretty picture of themselves doing yoga or eating a healthy meal or sitting on a beautiful beach. They tell you that all you have to do is listen to them and you will have
whatever it is you desire, usually in the form of a soul mate, a bunch of money, or a smoking hot body. 


    Far be it from me to belittle the very reasonable desire to have these goals in your life; when I was single, I looked for a mate, I have struggled with body image issues, and self-induced stress over money concerns has led me down some dark roads in my life. And certainly, I understand what it is like to be so incredibly stubborn and stuck in your ways that you would prefer to be on the easy and familiar ground of misery rather than on the difficult and uncertain road to happiness. So I understand why seeing and hearing these messages of hope over and over can spur a person on to make incredible changes in his life. It’s the constant tap on the shoulder, the smiling wave from the beach, the gentle whisper in the ear “Do you want to keep living your life this way? Is mediocrity all that you want, or are you willing to reach for extraordinary? Will you continue to stifle your heartfelt desires with the daily cocktail hour, or will you spread your wings and truly live?” A big wave will move from sand around, but the repetition of the tide will reshape the entire beach. 

    The problem arises when a person looks to another person to provide him with ALL the answers to his questions, to the ONLY solution to his problems. I see so much similarity among those who would bestow upon you THE way to happiness, because easy answers are conveniently passed around. The basic blueprint is to hit a few pain points then offer a simple solution with the promise of a shiny new life. Just sign up, and your future bliss is assured. 

    Certainly, some of these people will help you change your life. And many will tell you up front that they will help guide you, but they won’t do the work for you. But too many of them will take your money then throw a lot of recycled cliches at you, unconcerned about who you are as a unique individual, with nuances of personality, unexplained phobias, and flashes of brilliance. 

    This life is what you make of it. You can shine like the sun or stay in the shade. You can unleash your spirit and let it cruise throughout the solar system, or keep it close to home. You can mingle with and wade among all the people of the earth, or you can be stoically introverted. Who is to say which of these paths is right? Who is to say which of the infinite choices that lay in front of you, in this life, is the best? At any given time, in any given place, circumstances are uniquely yours, as are the questions that you have to answer. Or you may choose to ignore them all.

    You are the ultimate authority to decide what is best for you. When seeking advice, be sure to ponder it thoroughly before heeding it. A guide will help you find the answers that already lie within but which elude you. A charlatan will fill your head with pretty colors that quickly fade and leave you more confused and lost than before. And just because you hear something from many sources, that doesn’t mean it is advice that is wisely followed. Propagation through repetition of an idea does not denote personal accuracy or relevancy. 

    That being said, is all this comfort-zone-bashing beneficial to your particular life? Man has struggled and fought with other men, as well as with himself, since the day he emerged from the primordial ooze, to establish a place of safety, ease, and well-being : a comfort zone. We work hard to make a living, to ascertain our self-identity, to carve a space into our reality where we feel we belong. When we achieve these things, should we not enjoy them? Why struggle if you can’t enjoy the fruits of your labor? You built the zone, so take comfort in it! There is no reason not to revel in it, to lounge in it, to get naked and roll around in it.

    Until...

    Your comfort zone is the only place you dare to tread. The only reason that your comfort zone is comfortable is that everywhere and everything else terrifies you. You vaguely remember life before your comfort zone, but it has been so long since you ventured from the bubble, you no longer have any idea how you would get around “out there.” 

    The choice is, and always will be, entirely yours as to whether or not (or when, or how often) you leave your comfort zone. Should you decide to let someone else run your life, you still have made the decision to relinquish control. And you can always take it back. Just make the decision based on what drives you toward joy, as opposed to that which leads you from fear. Let your happiness steer your spirit through the times and places that you experience, whether anyone else agrees with your decisions or not (I don’t care how many weeks his book was on the NY Times best-seller list).

    Ain’t nothing wrong with chilling on the couch...