What Thinking is to Feeling

French philosopher and all-around¬†top notch thinker¬†R√©n√© Descartes once said, “Je pense, donc je suis,”¬†[I think, therefore I am].¬†This is a wonderful notion when¬†our thoughts aren’t obsessive. But what happens when we no longer have the luxury of making our interminable thoughts who we are? How do we separate what we think to be true about ourselves from who we actually¬†are?

I spoke with a good friend of mine from the program today.¬†She shared with me her struggles¬†against negative thinking. Our conversation veered into how our thought patterns as women too-easily¬†become opportunities for negative self-talk. We talked about how hard it is to separate our images from our hearts and souls within. She told me how she practices saying “my body feels sick,” as opposed to saying “I am sick.” I found this simple action to be quite profound. It reminded me of what my sponsor used to say, that a part of her feels sad or disappointed, but that an emotion does not consume her entire being. The French say “J’ai faim,” meaning¬†“I have hunger,” rather than “I am hungry.” Language–whether spoken out loud or within–is everything.

Lately, I’ve experienced obsessive thoughts of my own. Though I was diagnosed with OCD in early sobriety, I know that part of what is going on is spiritual malaise. I have become distrustful of the processes I am currently participating in: finding my feet in the 12-step community in Virginia, filing for bankruptcy by the end of 2015, being in love in a long-distance relationship. All of these things are big opportunities for growth and change–arguably the two biggest¬†buzz words in recovery–both of which¬†bring on a torrent of unrest and unease within my psychic chambers.

Two friends recently sent me an article that outlines the science behind happiness. I jumped at the chance to see science backing what I have found to be true so far: positive thinking affects positive change. Neuroscientists found four rituals that help us change the shape our thoughts before they turn sour: practice gratitude, label negative feelings, make decisions and touch people (not in a lude or lascivious manner). These thought behaviors stimulate serotonin and dopamine production, not to mention eradicate self-pity and discouragement. Who’d have thunk it?

Sensory overload helps with a brain like mine. It’s almost like exposure therapy when I drown my thoughts with very loud music or extremely bright colors. I have never felt more at peace than when I visited LACMA a few months into sobriety. I joined a friend who wanted to check out the new¬†James Terrell exhibit. It is nearly impossible for me to explain the peace I felt, being overtaken by silence and color. My entire body breathed a sigh of relief with every gradual change in the neon landscape.

I am grateful to the art of science. I have more of an appreciation for it now that I¬†believe in¬†a Higher Power and/or God. I know that more often than not, my thinking tends to stymie¬†my progress.¬†I am sober to feel better about myself and to have the chance to share my joy with others–not to stew over the “what ifs” or the “coulda, woulda, shouldas” that make me miserable. I am grateful to friends who appreciate the science behind what we all want in our lives: to be happy.

When I think (happy), I am (happy), at least, over time. Just a small amendment to a great thought. Way to be, Descartes.

xx

Photo courtesy of LACMA

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Off The Sauce September

Did you know that September is National Recovery Month?

WE GET A WHOLE MONTH.

I remember when I got a chip for 30 days of sobriety in April of 2014. I had never made it 30 hours sober–much less 30 days–before that. At the time,¬†I had a humorous case of the nervous sweats and an incurable desire to wreck every double-shot, Trenta iced coffee from here¬†to eternity. I numbed myself with phone calls, constant coffee to the face, Now and Laters, entire economy-sized jars of pickles, HBO Go and Netflix. I walked over a mile one way¬†every morning to my home group meeting at Caf√© Tropical on Sunset Blvd, leaving my¬†apartment by 6:15 am to make the 7am meeting (and to have time for two smokes beforehand with my friends). I chose the morning¬†AA slot due to¬†its magical charms and my utter disbelief that I could be up that early and not still be legally drunk.

sbxAn entire month sober–that¬†blew my fucking mind.

And it still does. I celebrate 18 months sober on September 17. My heart grew one size bigger with the realization that I get to celebrate this milestone during the one month a year that is dedicated to shining a light on addiction and recovery. I recognize the magnitude of this shit–it is¬†my right and responsibility to speak up. I am one person in recovery out of millions. I am alive and well today because I got help for my addiction to alcohol.

My enthusiasm for recovery hasn’t smoldered, but it has morphed into something far better than I could have imagined. The best and most beautiful gift of my sobriety is¬†the freedom to be available to other people. I connect with new people¬†and old friends who have resurfaced in my life now that I am not a complete C U Next Tuesday. It seems there is no shortage of love to go around. Forgiveness¬†and acceptance are¬†the prime suspects for my criminally large joyfulness.

I’m stepping up my game this month. Gratitude lists all the fuck over social media at least once a day, accompanied by topical memes and pictures of pandas (Google “panda daycare”– a surefire way to get you¬†really happy, really fast). I’m doubling my meetings this coming week (my attendance is more sparse than I would like it to be). I am calling, writing¬†or texting¬†at least one person in recovery every day. I am following up on a story I wrote about the Unite to Face Addiction Rally¬†by attending it¬†in DC October¬†4.¬†Lastly, I am “talking to Bowie” on a super frequent basis–i.e., praying a bunch for people and showing my flamboyant love to whomever is around to receive it. I am making myself more available, is the thing.

So let’s do this.

xo

Go On, Give A Little

It took the better part of a year for me to realize that though my own orbit is speckled with all kinds of cool people and things, the world does not, in fact, revolve around me. The trouble with being overly sensitive or too hell-bent on self-improvement is that I inadvertently become the center of my own universe, and for someone with a brain wired like mine, that can only mean trouble.

The most important lesson sobriety has taught me is that the only way I stay better emotionally and spiritually is by being there for someone else. This bit annoys me to a certain degree, considering that I am not a saint and there are many people who I feel do not deserve my unique blend of kindness and generosity. This may or may not make me a betch but I have had to learn not to over commit to people who aren’t really there for anyone other than themselves. That being said, exercising discipline by calling people I might not know that well or sitting with them for coffee to actually listen to how they are doing, has eroded my ego quite a bit. It is a lesson to me that I have such an ego problem in the first place, but once I saw my fears as the real ego-culprits, I felt much better about knowing my own character defects.

When I am helping someone work through an issue, I cannot possibly focus on my own problems. It is virtually impossible to do two things at once. Though I tend to carry on full-blown conversations with myself in my mind, nine times out of ten, a conversation with someone else is almost always more interesting because it is unpredictable. I practice listening, particularly when I do not want to because it is my way of learning selflessness while donning my best attentive face.

I would be remiss if I didn’t note here how my friends and relative strangers have been incredibly generous and thoughtful to me with their time and resources. I have gotten a premier education in selflessness through these people who I would be lucky enough to even attempt to emulate. For today, at least, I’ll give in and give it a try.

Photo courtesy of Alana Jones-Mann

Humor in the Divine

I used to recoil at the thought or suggestion of meditation.¬†I never gave much credence to time spent alone because the idea of me spending more time with myself than was necessary felt unbearable. I did not see the freedom in stillness, nor did I believe I could ever find spirituality within myself. I spent my days and nights seeking meaning and happiness in the external–I relied solely on people, places and things to do my bidding for me in the world. I also secretly sought happiness in everything except following my intuition or believing in a power greater than myself.

Trust that still, small voice…have faith. You will find a way.

Diane Mariechild.

I do not know who Diane Mariechild is, but she has a really decent point. I realized tonight after speaking and meditating with other recovering alcoholics that the way I reconnect to my higher power and quiet intuition is through humor. I cannot digest such heaping doses of spirituality without laughing at the absurdity in taking myself or this life too seriously. The more sobriety I experience, the funnier things become. I have a friend who reminds me that the icy fortress that once encased my heart continues to melt through tears, and I believe even more so through humor. I feel happiest when I am around people who are intelligent and funny. In my experience, the more a person is willing to exercise rigorous honesty with themselves and the world, the more likely it is that they have a great sense of humor.

I practice meditation daily, spending anywhere from 12 to 20 minutes silent and still. Depending on my mental state, I am either completely distracted or perfectly content. When I first got sober, the thoughts and feelings that came up after 20 minutes of torturous silence were far too much for me to handle without self-given permission to relax a little. With the help of some friends who suggested I take it easy, I was able to back off from the impossible task of perfecting a lifelong practice. It turns out that spirituality has absolutely nothing to do with perfection. In fact, I believe perfection and spirituality are mutually exclusive.

My Golden Rule: If it is funny, it is probably true…and it gets funnier.

IMG_0181

 

Along Gratitudinal Lines

I will be the first to admit that riding the bus in LA brings out just about every negative or unsavory thought and emotion from deep within my psyche, where I have managed to keep them at bay for almost a year’s time. When I board the bus to find my seat, my senses are almost always immediately assaulted by one noxious odor after another. I have some real questions here, people…like why does it always smell like someone up and defecated in the middle of the isle? Is this the best place for you to pass gas, in confined corridors? Real questions.

Forgive me, my privilege is showing.

I’ve gotten on the right bus going the wrong direction; I’ve taken the bus on time and have gotten off three stops too early, having to walk a mile out of the way to my destination, and it’s only been a week. Up until a couple of weeks ago, I’d been terrified to expose my directional weaknesses to avoid the inevitable hiccups of public transportation. The truth is, I don’t have the money to spoil myself on Lyft rides, let alone car payments. I feel most challenged to pivot straight to gratitude when I am at the mercy of the public transportation system. I know myself well enough to know that when I am ungrateful, my brain starts overpowering my spirit, and that reminds me a great deal of how I justified my drinking in the first place.

One such night last week stood out to me where I needed gratitude to protect and defend my sanity. I watched myself pitch a major internal bitch fit, followed swiftly by a categorical Terrible-Two’s toddler-like meltdown. I had accidentally ridden 20 minutes in the wrong direction, which gave my brain permission to shift into self-pity that I couldn’t better my situation at that moment, not to mention disappointment in my attitude. This is where my sober brain took over to show me a split-second of reasonableness. I knew from experience what a cute couple acceptance and gratitude made. I have written at least one gratitude list a day for the better part of a year to practice for moments like these that threaten my serenity. I dried my tears, silently praying to my higher power to say “Thank you”. I continued, saying “Thank you for my health and safety. Thank you for this bus driver. Thank you for keeping me sober in this time of distress”. I witnessed the chemistry of my thoughts change. I realized after a solid 10-minutes of exercising gratitude, I felt MUCH better.

I have every reason in the world to be grateful. Everything happening in this span of 24 hours is just as temporary for me as it is for everyone else, even those who drive their very own cars. This is the time to wake up to the beauty that it is to be a 28-year-old female in the middle of Tinsel Town with the coolest people I have ever met as friends. Seeing my surroundings as they are, not as I would have them to be, makes the margin of ingratitude that much smaller. My gift as a human is to tune out all of the distractions–including my own thoughts and feelings–that fool me into thinking things are not exactly as they should be at this very moment. I once had a coworker/mentor tell me that when I got to be so dismissive of my own reality that I was “just trippin”. I laugh a little when I see how silly it is to get myself all whipped into a mental lather about how much I don’t have or how much I need to still do to be successful. I am exactly where I need to be. And so are you.

xx

 

Say Uncle

Friday, that’s what’s good. I started this morning unwittingly speaking to a group of recovering alcoholics about my process of surrender. This is my very favorite topic to discuss because in the past six months, external forces in my life have all but pistol-whipped me into a constant state of bowing (or Bowie-ing ūüĎĆ) before the Powers that Be. Never before has it been so impossibly clear to me that my reactive state to things outside of my control will not work when the universe responds better to a calmer, non-reactor. I wrote about my tussle with Fate here.

My Crash
The Toyota crash that lives on in LA infamy

It makes me cringe when I think about where I was mentally six months ago. I woke up each morning sending intentions to Bowie for good measure, then immediately ruminating over my financial messiness. Almost as if The Force heard me and decided to laugh one day, I was involved in a major head-on collision that directly insured financial meltdown and general chaos. I will forever remember the feeling of absolute certainty that this was not how I go out–whether by death or by relapse. I don’t know how or why that thought came to me, but the second before I saw the truck barrel toward me, I felt myself release control and accept that I was not going to die and I did not have to drink over this. I fully cop to the possibility that I was undergoing shock, yet my intuition tells me that I was watching myself undergo a profound shift in perception. I saw my life exactly as it was in that moment, even if it was at point-blank range.

Without disclosing too many details, I will just say that I could no longer continue at my former job without an available vehicle. Cut-to: no job, no way to afford my apartment, out by the first week of February. At this juncture in my already-storied sobriety, I see that my instinct to suit up for an arm-wrestling tournament with the Universe is futile and self-defeating. With all of the courage and support from friends I can muster, I Say Uncle. You win, magnificent unicorn of a higher power. Today, my choice is to either feel sorry for myself or to stay open to being pleasantly surprised by life. I am but a passenger.

 

A Cloud of A Different Color

My name is Lucy, and I am a recovering alcoholic. ¬†Today I made the executive decision to write my experiences as a person relatively new to sobriety because it occurred to me that my truth could quite possibly help someone–or at the very least, provide some insight into a sometimes-nebulous way of life. ¬†I pay no mind to the fears about speaking up I’ve held onto in the past; the dramatic spiritual shifts in perception I’ve experienced in the past 10+ months compel me to move forward give less f*@#s.

I run in some pretty fabulous circles. Most of my friends are sober buddies who happen to be very artistic and exceedingly intelligent. One of the common experiences some of these people have had in the first few months of their sobriety is what’s known as the “pink cloud” effect. The pink cloud describes a state of sudden blissfulness where mornings cease to include righteous hangovers or hapless attempts to figure out what was said or done the night before. I personally did not experience this state of boundless joy. My experience in the first few weeks of sobriety included gnawing anxiety, a car that stalled on the freeway twice, terrifying nightmares, a semi-permanent caffeine buzz, self-doubt and a curious desire to purchase and smoke 1,475,857,000,324 packs of cigarettes (much like my preference to not count my drinks, I refused to limit my nicotine intake…which may or may not still be the case).

While my external surroundings have grown ever-so-impermanent (more on that at a later date) the one constant I have come to rely upon is my growing faith in a power greater than myself. Before I mislead you, let me be very clear: the higher power I chose for myself is David Bowie, not any kind of G-d or religious figure. Bowie’s attitude is that of a flamboyant, outrageous, thoughtful, talented, sexualized, spiritualized, incandescent punk, one that I can only hope to internalize. I strive for such a glamorous, nonplussed way of thinking and being. In my early sobriety, I’ve needed to see God as a state of mind, not as a biblical reference. I have encountered extreme difficulties in the last few months that I could have never weathered without knowledge that some idea or some person much more powerful and fabulous than myself could keep me sober.

The overall crux of this sobriety thing is helping other people by being of service, whether that means calling other recovering alcoholics to check in, or to show up for our families when they need us. Basically, to stop being selfish pricks motivated solely by self-pity and compulsive behaviors. I continue reaching out to other people to stay out of the tangled mess that my mind sometimes becomes, but mostly I like to feel understood over feeling utterly alone in the barren wasteland of an obsessive brain.

I wish I could stay up to write more, but then I’d be lying and I’d owe someone an amends. I need to be up by 6AM to spend my time with other recovering alcoholics, swapping war stories and trading information about what we know to be true.

 

Photo courtesy of Flashbak