Thinking About and Helping Others

My moods are like anyone else’s.  They come and go, sometimes without any real reason.  The past few days I’ve had a hard time accepting all that addiction and mental illness has taken from me.  Essentially all of my 20s have been spent battling addiction or anxiety.   I have a tenancy to catastrophize my situation by thinking I’m so much worse off than anyone else or that everyone else is so much happier than I am.  I tell myself, “If only I had this…if only I could change that.” But the reality is that happiness begins inside of you and is not dependent on outside circumstances.

The recent, tragic loss of Robin Williams only goes to show us that even many celebrities who “have it all” are still lonely and unhappy.  No matter how many times I tried telling myself to snap out of it and stop thinking negatively, nothing ever worked until today.  I was reading through Alcoholics Anonymous  and read a passage that I’ve probably read a hundred times, but for some reason it struck me today.  “Our very lives, as ex-problem drinkers, depend upon our constant thought of others and how we may help meet their needs.”   That was the secret I needed.  I get the most anxious, the most agitated, and the most unhappy about my life when I stop thinking of others and only focus on me.  When I get obsessed with how I’m feeling, what my wants are, and what I deserve out of life, I can only go downhill from there.  It is nearly impossible to be grateful when you are only thinking about yourself.  As long as I depend on my myself for my satisfaction and happiness, I will constantly be left unfulfilled.  If I depend on material things or even people for my happiness, at any time my happiness can be taken away.  It is only when I depend on the consistent source of love from God that I can feel comfortable in my own skin and can reach out to others and help improve their lives.  This, the Big Book says, is our ultimate purpose and the only way that we will remain sober.

How much of my energy is focused on myself? 

How often am I thinking of others and helping them to meet their needs?

Sobriety – The Promise Of A New Dawn

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When I first got sober, I had many misconceptions about what sobriety meant.  I told myself that once I got sober I would be happy, life would get easier, my problems would get better, etc.  In a nutshell, I thought that when I quit drinking I would be a completely different person and could start over.  Boy was I wrong.  Some of the things I hoped for did come true, but sobriety isn’t about escaping who you are.  Drunk or not, you’ve still got the same character defects.  They may not be exacerbated quite as much, but they’re still there.

In a way, life without drinking can actually be worse than life with drinking.  Let’s face it.  Being fucked up and feeling shitty sure feels better than being sober and feeling shitty.  But before you start thinking that I’m saying there’s no point in getting sober, let me tell you about the gift that sobriety holds- hope.  Yes, simple hope.  For me, that is the major difference between the two lives.  At any point when I was drinking, I would go to sleep knowing that tomorrow was going to be worse than today.  There was no doubt about it.  I would constantly keep trying to run from my troubles as they kept piling up deeper and deeper around me.  The best I knew I was ever going to feel was the moment before I went to sleep at night because it was guaranteed that waking up tomorrow was going to suck.  

In sobriety, it’s quite the opposite.  The one thing I love about being sober is that no matter what happens, life will be better once you wake up as long as you don’t drink.  I can have the worst day of my life, but still have hope that tomorrow I will have the opportunity to try again and that things won’t look so bleak.  Sobriety may not promise happiness right away or immunity to life’s pain, but it does offer the promise of a new dawn.  And that’s more than drinking ever gave me.

Just For Today

Sometimes recovery is one day at a time.

Sometimes it’s one hour at a time.

And sometimes, in the darkest depths of addiction, it’s one minute at a time.

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Most people have heard the phrase “one day at at a time” before, but few actually incorporate it into their daily lives, shrugging it off as just positive pep-talk.  But they are much more than that; they are the life-force as we push through the bleakness of our daily struggle.

I have never had a problem summoning the desire to quit any addiction I’ve ever had.  I am fine quitting for a day, week, or even a month, but at some point the struggle becomes too much for me to bear.  I lose hope and fall right back into the vicious cycle of addiction and self-loathing.

Think back to any moment when you’ve fallen after committing yourself to something, whether that be quitting an addiction, losing weight, or working out.  More often than not, it isn’t a lack of desire that causes failure, but lack of hope.  The minute I quit believing in a cause and feel that failure is inevitable, I quit.  I see the pain that I am feeling in a moment as something that will extend infinitely into the future and am fully convinced that three weeks from now I will still be feeling the same way.  With no hope of things getting better in the long-term, I would rather quit now and save myself three weeks of pain.

What “one day at a time” gives us is a reminder to be committed just for today.  It keeps hope alive by giving us a manageable goal, instead of one that’s too big for us to grasp.  Most people can handle short-term pain; it’s long-term pain that gets us thinking negatively and destroys our desire for recovery.  One step at time, one day at a time, we will wake astonished that we’ve climbed a mountain that we never would have attempted if we’d been aware of its height at the beginning of our journey.

Commit yourself to not giving in to temptation just for today.  Sleep.  Wake.  Repeat.

What Harry Potter Can Teach Us About Addiction

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For the past three weeks, my mind and I have been at each other’s throats, and I’m quite sure I’m going to have to fucking kill it before it’s all said and done…Three weeks ago I quit my love affair with nicotine, and it’s been one hell of a ride.  Not only do you feel like shit physically, but there’s a constant battle raging in your head trying to keep (or regain) control of your mind.  The one thing that I have learned over battling multiple addictions is that before you quit any substance, you have to recognize that your mind is not “you”.  During the process of withdrawal, there is a definitive break between the spiritual “you” and the physical / mental “you”.  It’s a hard and lofty concept to understand.  Most people don’t which is one of the reasons they can’t break through their addiction.  I believe it’s vital to recovery and ultimately success in general.

Whether you are religious or not, there is no denying that if you don’t have a concept of a “God” or some type of higher realm of being, that the odds are stacked against you even higher than other addicts.  That doesn’t mean that it isn’t possible; it just makes things much more difficult.  It doesn’t really matter what you believe in, as long as it’s something other than yourself.  Anyone that has ever gone through the withdrawal process knows that it rips you to pieces.  It stretches you in more directions than you should mentally be able to stretch.  What’s left of you is only a fragment of the person you were before you quit whatever you were addicted to.  In a way it feels that you are actually wrestling with a demon for possession of your mind, shifting back and forth from good to evil multiple times a day, trying to not let it steal your soul.  Scary shit, right?  Well yeah, but there’s no other way to describe it.  Every time I see the ending of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, it makes me think of addiction.  Harry has been wrestling with his past all throughout the movie, afraid that because he has a connection to Lord Voldemort, he will become evil just like him.  After Voldemort realizes he is going to be unable to defeat Dumbledore, he goes after Harry’s mind.  Harry is suddenly battling for control over his mind, trying to keep evil from overtaking him.  Ultimately, love wins out, and Harry is able to not listen to the voices of hate in his head.  This is a perfect portrayal of addiction.

In order for Harry to defeat and remove Voldemort from his mind, he does not reach into his mind.  He reaches into his heart and spirit.  He disconnects himself from the physical and retreats into the spiritual realm where he can’t be controlled.  I believe this is the best way to handle addiction.  Many people are not aware of what is about to take place when they stop a substance they are addicted to.  You are about to be beaten into submission and forced on your knees.  You can try to battle addiction head-to-head, but don’t expect to come out sober.  If you can do it, more power to you.  But I know I (and most people) can’t. I have to have something more than human nature to defeat human nature.  Harry doesn’t try to overpower Voldemort.  He knows there is no way he can.  Volemort is just too powerful for him.  Instead, he fights him with something that he doesn’t have and that is a soul.  Addiction is a powerful beast, but just like Voldemort, it doesn’t have a soul.

All too often, we start off with good intentions.  I’m going to kick this habit, lose weight, advance my career, etc. but somewhere we lose our way and go right back to where we were.  I believe a lot of this is caused by being attached to our mind.  We believe that our mind is “us”, that the thoughts going through our heads are actually what we feel and believe.  Most of the time that is true, but when we face adversity or hardships, sometimes it isn’t.  At some point, the mind attaches itself to the body.  You start off wanting nothing more than to be free from addiction.  Withdrawal kicks in and you are able to hold out for a certain amount of time.  Suddenly, something changes inside you.  It’s too hard.  Why the hell am I doing this anyways?  This is just making me even more miserable than before. At least when I was using I was happy.  I can’t, stop trying to believe you can. Yes, your mind turns against you.  At this point, most people listen to those thoughts and assume that is how they actually feel.  Their mind is “them”, so they listen to it.  Then, they spend their days wondering why they can’t get sober.  This is where the spiritual comes in.  Recognize that the mind can only take you so far.  At some point it is going to turn into your enemy and fight against you.  At that point, you need a reservoir of power that the mind can’t touch to keep you moving forward.

This has been an extremely hard concept for me to understand, and I still have had to keep reminding myself it everyday the last few weeks when I’ve wanted nicotine bad. It also kept me drunk for a long time.  I continued to tell myself that if my mind wasn’t on board, than I couldn’t be.  If you are waiting for your mind to comply with “you” all the time, you’re going to die waiting.  It’s a scary thing to accept, but ultimately you are not in complete control of your mind all the time.  You can’t think yourself out of addiction, you must act.  Your frame of mind is very important, but let’s face it…you’re going to have some fucked up days.  You can try to stay positive as much as possible, but the addict mind is never consistent.  Sometimes 95% of you wants sobriety; sometimes it drops below 5%.  I don’t care how dedicated you are, if you have an addict mind, there are going to be days when you wake up pissed off and thinking “fuck the world”.  In that moment, if you believe that your mind is “you”, it’s not going to take much convincing to give up.