Saturday, March 5, 2011

Liberating the Enslaved Mind

The good news: Rod had just been promoted at work. The bad news: it was creating havoc with his addiction.

He was under more pressure. He felt like he had to work harder than ever to live up to new expectations. He was afraid that his boss might conclude that he’d made a mistake in hiring Rod, the only guy on the new executive team without an MBA.

As a result, Rod was always second-guessing himself when he wanted to take a full-lunch break or go in to work on time instead of early. “I gotta get this done.” “I gotta keep working.” “I can’t let that go until tomorrow.”

As I heard him describe the previous couple of weeks, it sounded to me like he was in “gotta” mode all day long now. It didn’t surprise me to hear him say that by the end of the day his brain was lapsing back into its most self-destructive “gotta” trance: “I gotta find some porn!”

“I’m up late, Phyllis is sleeping, and I feel like I gotta eat something else to help me wind down. I gotta watch something else before I’ll feel relaxed enough to sleep. But another bowl of Cheerios and one more episode of CSI don’t always do the trick. I’m still up, still antsy. That’s when I fall back into porn.”

Rod didn’t just need to just handle his evenings differently, he needed to handle his entire days differently. Here’s what I suggested:

12-Step adherents call it surrender. Zen folks call it freeing ourselves from attachments. Whatever you call it, here’s how to do it--at least here’s how Rod descred it the next time I talked to him:

“I just kept reminding that I don’t control everything. Whether I accept that or not, it’s true, so I might as well accept it. I may not perform well enough to keep my job. People do get fired, that’s part of life. I’ve been fired before, and it wasn’t the end of the world. Whether I do keep my job or not isn’t entirely under my control. Every time I leave work on time or put off until tomorrow reviewing a database from one of our teams I’m running a risk. However, life’s not all about work, not all about keeping this job. Several times a day I’ve been letting go of all my efforts to make good things happen. I take a minute to relax and focus on what I have already accomplished, everything I already have available to enjoy in my life. I smell the roses. The entirety of the remainder of my life is not dependent on how things go here and now. ”

Not everyone needs structure in order to step back and surrender, but some of us really benefit from it. One of my clients has a mindfulness gong ap on his Droid that goes off at random times, reminding him to stay attentive in the present moment. Rod had a reminder cue set on his calendar for half-past every hour. He would pushed himself away from his desk and take deep breaths. He reminded himself that oxygen was a gift from above, not from his boss and not based on his performance. Air would be available to him whenever he needed it and wherever he went for the rest of his life. For three or four breaths he would really drink in that gift instead of as though through he was sucking it through a coffee straw. After a half minute or so, he would pull his chair back up to the desk and get started on his work again, in a fresher, more relaxed frame of mind.

Control is the hallmark of addiction. That which we try to control ends up controlling us. When we become obsessive and compulsive about anything in life, we fan the flames of the very fire that can jump the break and become the wildfire of our worst habit. Or, to put it another way, we place our own mind in the very shackles our addiction will later use to lead it around against our will.

If we want to get over addiction, we need to confront our need for control and loosen our grip around the neck of life. Fortunately, even when we take our little break from being the general manager of the universe, the big blue globe keeps on turning.

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