Saturday, February 8, 2014

Break All the Rules of Addiction--Part 2

We don't want to keep giving in to our urges and cravings. But we've learned we can't resist forever, either, and as soon as we stop bracing ourselves, we fall right back into our old habits again.

This series of posts give us some things to do on a daily basis that help more than merely trying harder to fight our addictions and resist our urges and cravings. It's based on the fact that there are certain patterns that need to be maintained for addiction to keep its power in our lives. To keep its hold on us, addiction must keep us following its rules. Fortunately, we have the power to rebel and free ourselves. And we can do it by working smarter, not harder.

Addiction's Rule #2: Don't Get Too Down. At its most basic level, overcoming addiction is about not doing when you feel like doing. Simply refraining in the heat of key moments. Most of the time it's easy to refrain from acting. We don't mind sitting still all the day long when we're out in the sunshine. The challenge is in our dark moments. What about when we're pinned down in the black shadows? Then we really want out. We feel like we need to get out. Can we really stand to do nothing then? If we don't do something about our situation and our emotions, they may continue to deteriorate--and they're bad enough already. Quick, do something before things get even worse!

Addiction insists: if you're down, don't just sit there! Do something to bring yourself back up. And by all means, whatever you do, don't let yourself drop even further!

Addiction seems like our enemy most of the time, but then we start to suffer the emotional bumps and bruises of everyday living, then anything that helps us escape or numb ourselves seems like a familiar friend in a time of need. Feeling unsettled and out of sorts? Lookie here: a tidy little way to feel better quick. A trap door out of having to deal with life, having to suffer. Addiction may be a last resort, but it sure seems better than--gulp--feeling even more down than we already are!

To Break It: Face Your Feelings. Facing life without the shock absorber of addiction means settling back and sitting through our discomforts. Tolerating tedium. Giving ourselves up to the grind of withdrawal. Weathering the storm and waiting for the sun to come out on its own again, instead of holding mother nature in a headlock until she grudgingly spits sunbeams into our waiting palm. Sobriety is about finally, willingly, accepting that life unfolds on its own terms, not ours. Facing our feelings means letting ourselves experience the entire natural range of human emotions, including those at the dark end of the spectrum.

Feeling a compulsion to act is like finding ourselves on a conveyor belt headed toward misery. We're starting to smell the misery already. And even taste it! Ew yuck! It feels like we're headed for more pain if we don't get busy moving in the opposite direction. Standing up to compulsion is sort of like sitting calmly on the conveyor belt in the lotus position, allowing it to carry us along. Saying, essentially, I am willing and ready to suffer discomfort rather than continue being a slave to the entire ordeal of scrambling and squirming and exerting myself to avoid it.

Your Daily Dose: The Neutral Gear Game. For a few minutes, sit still and do nothing. Notice your inclinations and desires as they parade by. "I need to turn up the heat in here. I should have gone to the bathroom before I started. My nose tickles--let me just give it a little scratch. I gotta tell the kids to turn down the volume on that TV. Did I remember to take the meat out of the freezer? My back hurts in this chair--I need to sit up straighter. Shoot, I never answered Sarah's urgent email!"

When we feel all these impulses and then continue to sit still, we break the link between wanting and getting, between urgency and action. Rather than being bullied by our feelings, we prove that we can stand up to them.

Fear tells us, "If you don't act when I loom over you, I'll give you the ultimate punishment: you get to suffer even more of me!" Playing the Neutral Gear Game demonstrates both to us and to our fear that we, and not it, are the ones who decide what we do. Low self-esteem tells us, "If you don't shape up and get busy and produce something admirable, I'll glom on tighter and smother you even more!" Playing the Neutral Gear Game says, "I may work on that project in a few minutes, but it will be because I choose to, and not because I'm prodded to do it by the hot poker of emotion that you keep jabbing into me."

As we face our feelings, we discover we're stronger than we realized. We learn we can take it. We see that it's okay to feel bad. We don't have to escape or numb our feelings, we can simply let them run their course. Once we can tolerate whatever feelings arise, we get to stay firmly ensconced in the driver's seat of our lives. That's so much better than being tied up in the trunk, being driven here and there whenever our strongest emotions decide to come around and bully us.

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