I had my last beers on Christmas eve, more than four months ago. The new year came in, the winter persisted one, two months and part of a third month, and then spring broke through. I’m being driven further into my own mind and body not having that alcohol escape anymore. The tensions that I reacted to by drinking now lie out in the open. Some of the triggers weren’t even tensions, they could simply be the fact of the day drifting around to 3 p.m. and a bar and grill nearby.
In March I wrote about my selection of ways to repel from discomfort, and today I’m thinking about ways I’m learning to move toward discomfort. It is one of the most powerful practices I’ve ever explored. It’s gentler, but it’s like pressing on a knot in a muscle until it releases. There’s energy locked up in there. I’m coming to prefer the clear mind and loose body over continuing to guard my rigidities. At some level I chose them, and now I am chosing against them, choosing to leave the rigidities behind. For a very long time I’ve had the sense that it would take a lot less energy just to abandon them than it does to bounce back and forth between all the little walls I put up — those structures that think they’re protecting me. I’m kinda walking off that cliff.
I feel gradations in my ability to be present. There are four practices, or attitudes, or positions — from my vantage point of today — available when uncomfortable feelings rise up in me.
Neutrality. The most basic position I can take is simply to stay put. Not move away from the discomfort and not move toward it. The content of my thoughts or feelings doesn’t matter. I look at them. I accept that they exist. I practice staying put, with no arm reaching out for alcohol.
Staying put flies in the face of what feels like the core of who I am. The intense fixer, objector, analyzer, judger does not just stay motionless in the face of objectionable feelings. It tries to fix them or pushes them away with alcohol. Not to do so feels deeply dangerous — for sure, where the threat is contentment, which leads (in my inner drama) to frowns, criticism, and sarcasm (rejection) from the moms. Which to the primitive brain signals mortal danger. My inner reptile is really stretching itself to sit with uncomfortable feelings.
(But that feeling of danger? It’s an optical illusion. Ephemeral. You call its bluff and it’s gone (though sometimes not without leaving behind some regular old issues to be dealt with in regular old ways). On the other side of sitting with the discomforts is… safety.)
Friendliness. If I’m feeling slightly stronger or less threatened, I can go from neutrality to friendliness. Still no motion toward the discomfort, but my emotion toward the feeling is positive. While I’m sort of presenting these as progress — good, better, best — and while I feel that friendliness is a good thing to muster up, I actually feel that if I were to spend my entire life just staying put in a neutral way with my discomforts, I’ll have won the game. (Except that there is no game. But I digress.)
The friendliness means I’m starting to love my sensibilities. Rejoice in them, warm myself by their fire, absorb them, accept them, even when they’re freakin’ awkward or embarrassing.
Movement toward, or active friendliness. Curiosity. Here I’m leaning. For example, my attitude toward my real, heart-and-soul work — writing, essays, about science, technology, history, culture, psychology — has always been fear. Fear of failing, finding out that I write stupid shit that nobody wants to read and criticizes to their friends. What movement toward looks like is my asking myself what gives me pleasure and joy to investigate and jammer on about. It’s curiosity about myself, this part of me that makes me deeply uncomfortable (currently) but that I can’t live without.
While I did say that neutrality would be happily sufficient, I have to say there’s some relief in the leaning toward. Maybe it’s like an eggshell that’s impossible to break by squeezing because of the curve of the shell. Or arches that would never stand if the lines had to be straight. Leaning into a curve creates a structure of strength.
Creation of a safe, private space for the discomfort. Even more movement. I can actively invite the discomfort in. This is pretty useful, because by this point the discomfort has often dissipated. If it hasn’t, then it’s probably no longer some inner psycho drama but has cooled into just a real-world problem. Out of my gut and into the air. Available for real-world solutions or for simply waiting out.
If the discomfort that I’m creating private space for is contentment, then there we are. I’m nesting inside myself. This is the space that alcohol wouldn’t let me have. It insisted that its euphoric buzz would soothe me and create a place where I could play. Release me from outside pressures and bring me closer to myself. It insisted that, oh, 1000 times. It lied 1000 times. If I start drinking again, it’ll resume like clockwork with Lie #1001. It’s still taking some effort from me to not listen to that crap, but I’m grateful that I’m finding a way out.
Wwhhhoooo! If you’re still reading, thanks for sticking with me!
Have a good one.