Discomfort #5: Contentment

Over these last four months without alcohol, I’ve seen more and more clearly my drive to block my own joy. I go round and round, splashing cold water on my joy and delight and contentment wherever they pop up. It sounds crazy to say that joy is threatening, but it is. Why in the world?

Deepak Chopra advocates healing addiction through finding one’s bliss, but in my opinion he misses a major element of addiction, at least for some of us: we have intense internal reflexes against bliss, euphoria, pleasure, contentment. I have a reflex that reacts very strongly against my own naturally occurring joy. It sniffs out contentment or pleasure 500 miles away, and it acts lightning fast to destroy it. (This discomfort with comfort joins my other known four. Still counting.)

Eventually, drinking alcohol became my preferred method of self-sabotage. The alcohol was screwing more and more with my physiology and nervous system. As I reached my mid-40s, I still was only circling my work, my calling, vocation, whatever you want to call it. I was wasting time, and the time wasn’t going to come back.

Here are my thoughts on the why behind the self-sabotage, pieced together slowly over the years but crystalizing now.

First, I take some action toward contentment, perhaps it’s hours of solitude before the sun comes up or a Friday evening in my woodworking shop, alone, puttering among my tools. A committee of accusers/voices in my head comes out to attack. They get a whiff of what they consider selfish, and out they come, blazing. They react to anything they label selfish, self-centered, self-satisfied. (This is actually straight out of my mom’s attitudes, and her mother’s before her. I didn’t have to make this stuff up.)

These tapes aren’t that unusual. As a female, according to a script that was still strong a generation ago and should have withered and died by now but hasn’t, I’m supposed to be focused on others — what they need and what they think of me. The tapes also emanate, I believe, from a culture that, from what I can tell, at least the line I came from, was very insecure (Norwegian immigrants two/three generations back), as I wrote about recently. They were fearful and hyper concerned about fitting in, not being conspicuous, and not taking risks lest you fail and everybody says I-told-you-so. The fate worse than death.

I’ve internalized (and no doubt customized) these voices. When they get a whiff of individuality or creativity, especially if the person appears to be deluded in thinking they could actually act on their individuality in the public sphere (think: make a living through writing, teaching, making art) rather than confining it to the living room while you’re watching TV, they react, with force.

They think they’re protecting me, I’ll give them that. (We’ve had this conversation inside my head a number of times.)

I reject their version of protection now. But as long as I was drinking regularly, I was in their clutches. I think that alcohol played a couple of different roles, the versatile drug that it is. When I would wander over toward contentment, I would feel uncomfortable (for breaking the family rules) and douse that feeling with beer. Case in point, I had to have a beer or a glass of wine (a series of them) while I was painting my kitchen or puttering in my wood shop on those Friday and Saturday nights. I felt driven to drink while I was doing things that I love to do. Kicking back, relaxing, puttering, feeling free and content… I couldn’t tolerate it.

But I also used alcohol to create a sense of contentment. The ethanol-induced buzz. The short-lived ethanol-induced buzz. The short-lived, health-threatening and soul-sapping ethanol-induced buzz. It felt, at some level, so unacceptable to be peacefully with myself that the twisted merry-go-round was all I could do.

Now, having wrenched myself from the daily alcohol habit, I have the space to practice feeling contented, staying present with all of the knee-jerk emotional reactions, the inner shouting and shrieking about selfishness and its mortal dangers, the utter terror of going against old, mostly unspoken family traditions of suppression of individuality and joy. And I literally do practice — it’s fun! I recommend it. I’ll ask myself, “are you contented right now?” If I sit and wait long enough for the squirming to subside, and consider all of the wonderful elements of my life, the answer is always, at some level, yes. It’s sort of a hobby these days, letting my emotions and brain make new paths and connections as I get used to accepting my contentment and watching the circus it provokes. Popcorn, anyone?

I also practice saying “no, thank you” (over and over and over) to those voices that claim to be protecting me by getting me to sabotage myself. I thank them for their efforts, acknowledge that they have good intentions, and then tell them I’m choosing a different way. Often they’re perfectly fine with this and go off and play cards over in the corner. Not that they don’t come back later and try again. But their insistence is fading.

Have a good one!


6 thoughts on “Discomfort #5: Contentment

  1. I like how you talk to that voice. I admit, for a while I thought of it as a gremlin and I locked it up in a cage. That shut him up, sort of.

    Recently I realize he is just looking for attention. I have wrapped him up in and blanket and given him a soother to keep him quiet. It feels better to be kind. After all, that voice is part of me as well.

    Regardless, once we realize we can disregard the voice we are clearly moving forward.




    • I did, too, Anne — try to lock it up, beat it back. Resist and deny. It felt like the only way to stay safe from those voices/muscles/attitudes that were trying to keep me “safe.” Argh, the layers. But, yes, it’s a part of us and there’s some important, interesting energy wrapped up in it. I like your image of wrapping him up in kindness.


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