Sunday, February 9, 2014

Break All the Rules of Addiction--Part 3

Follow addiction's rules and for sure you'll stay stuck. Keep breaking the rules and you might just get yourself kicked out of the ugly, cruel game.

Addiction's Rule #3: Stay Lost in the Loop. On Google Earth, the satellite view of the roundabout that circles the Arc de Triomphe in Paris shows cars driving six abreast in some places. Having gone an extra rotation or two myself in one of our little local roundabouts, I can only imagine what would feel like to be on the inside lane circling that grand arch, wanting to exit, trying to nudge over, unable to make my way out. Like a little moon, doomed to keep orbiting a giant planet. 

That's the way the addictive cycle can feel. We know our old habits don't serve us, yet we keep finding ourselves back in their orbit, unable to break the gravitational pull. 

When we give in to an urge, the monster of addiction devours our time, energy, and focus. But the energy we use up struggling against our urges is also consumed by that beast. So is the time we spend feeling guilty about our past lapses and worried we may not be able to resist next time. 

In the meantime, real life, with all its vitality and opportunity, continues to proceed as usual. As we're busily looping through these cycles of succumbing and resisting, delighting in the high of our addiction or abhorring its consequences, life does go on. Outside the six lane roundabout there are crepes to eat and the Louvre to explore.

To Break It: Notice What's Now. Whatever our mind might be doing related to our addiction, there is always another potential focus for our consciousness, invariably there-and-available to engage our attention.

It is the present reality.

Attending to reality is like eating fresh food; staying stuck in the loop of addiction is like re-swallowing vomit.

Interestingly enough, our attention is a fairly narrow throat. Seems we cannot swallow fresh food and vomit at the same time. And guess what? Between the two, fresh food gets the right of way. Scientists who study consciousness call it the "reality first" principle. When the brain has a choice between content coming from itself or input from the real world, it prioritizes input from the real world. Perhaps it's a reality override system designed to insure our survival. But we can use this principle to pop the rivets that bind our attention to addiction and engage ourselves back in real life. With real life comes a myriad of other interests and potential pursuits that are worthier of our attention. We can use the "reality first" principle to turn from addiction back to our lives, which are still right here waiting to be lived.

Your Daily Dose: The Breathe & Notice Game. As you play this game you'll be taking some nice, full breaths and noticing a few things in the present moment. Inhale and notice what you feel someplace in your body right now. Anyplace. If you don't notice anything, just move on. Take another breath and notice something you can see. Really focus on what it looks like at this very second. Let that go now, and with the next breath pay attention to one thing you can hear right now. Then inhale and focus on something you can feel against your skin, be it the armrest of your chair against your forearm or the sun warming the back of your neck. Finally, breathe and notice your current situation: "I'm waiting at the dentist's for my daughter." "It's Friday afternoon and I'm driving home--end of a long week." "I'm on the couch watching TV late at night."

Sometimes the Breathe & Notice Game shatters the trance of an unhelpful sentiment and brings us back to our senses. 

Some people want a smoke when they're stressed out; let's say that for you the worst trigger is boredom. It's your day off and no one else is home. Itching for a cigarette, you decide it's time to take a walk. Breathe and notice your lungs filling up as you walk. Inhale again and check out one of the yellow dashes in the middle of the gray asphalt road. Breathe and notice the sound of the semi truck revving to shift gears. As you're about to focus on how the sidewalk sidewalk feels under your feet, you see a Weeping Birch tree. Wait--is there such thing as a Weeping Birch? You'll be helping your dad with his yard this weekend; you'll have to ask him. He really knows his flora and fauna. Maybe he can tell you which tree would best shade your new backyard. The Breathe & Notice Game did it's job. You're back in real life, no longer lost in the loop. 

One day I was in a funk feeling ashamed about a voicemail I'd just left for a family friend. "Kathy, we heard you had a biopsy and are wondering how it went. When you get a chance, let us know." Well, it was a biopsy of her breast tissue. "Sheez, Mark, how about a little sensitivity? You don't just leave a message like that! You couldn't wait for Jenny to call? What if Carl picks up the message?" I had plenty to do, but I couldn't focus on other things. I'd get started on something and the shame would pop back in: How would you feel if someone left a message like that left for Jenny? How embarrassing. I was definitely lost in an unproductive loop. I sat down and took a breath. Tight in my chest. As I exhaled again I looked out the window and noticed the line of the trees against the snow on a peak of the Wasatch Mountains. Breathe again--there's the sound of my daughter chatting with her friend in the other room. Breathe and reach up to feel the skin on my cheek. As I stood up to go about my business again I thought, "Kathy may have cancer, and I'm worried about what she or Carl might think about a message I left on their voicemail?" I shook my head and smiled at the natural self-centeredness of the mind. I was out of the loop and didn't get swept up by it again. 

In the flow of consciousness, we simply cannot be caught in an eddy and traveling downstream at the same time. Either we are spinning with the rest of the flotsam and jetsam or flowing over the next rock, around a new bend and past landscape features on the shore we've never seen before. Noticing What's Now can help get us back in the flow of real life and on our way again.

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