Yesterday, I began talking about a technique that became very useful for me in my early stages of sobriety; sitting with discomfort. I remember the first time I used it with absolute clarity; it was after I quit nicotine. I had been dealing with a lot of family court issues and I was feeling stressed out about everything involved with those proceedings. I hadn't quit drinking at this point yet, but nicotine proved to be a very unexpected and evil adversary for me. I felt grouchy all the time and I put on twenty pounds in what felt like a matter of one or two weeks. I felt depressed, unhealthy, and angry at times too. It was not a good time for me. I felt weak and hopeless.
One day, after a volatile argument with my ex, I remember feeling that urge to use nicotine so strong I couldn't think of anything else. I was consumed with using and I thought there was no way I was going to be able to avoid giving in. I don't remember why I did this, but I remember just sitting down on a chair in the living room. I put my hands on my thighs and just sat there. I worked through some of the skills I learned in therapy and found myself letting go of the cravings and feelings of unrest slowly but deliberately. The deliberate piece, I believe, was the most poignant part of the experience. I actively engaged with my discomfort rather than letting it take over me. From that moment on, sitting with discomfort became my goto whenever I felt unease or discomfort. I still use it today and that's why I am sharing it with you.
I left off yesterday talking about the first step in sitting with discomfort: recognizing the urge, need, and craving. This step is crucial because without it we are left in a reactionary state which most often causes us to react in a way we end up regretting. This is because we did not consider the possible ramifications of our actions. Once we recognize what is happening, we can then move on to the next step in sitting with discomfort.
Acknowledge the discomfort
This sounds similar to the first step but it is quite different. Recognizing the craving and discomfort is just us taking a moment to realize there is a reason why we are not feeling good or normal. We recognize something is going on in our minds and bodies and that we do not like the feeling. Rather than simply doing what we usually do, try to numb the feeling, we instead take a moment to understand from where the feeling is coming and that we need to address it. Acknowledging the feeling is the most deliberate part of this technique. Acknowledging the feelings means we are actively engaging with them by saying to ourselves, or out loud if we wish, that we see the craving. That sounds a little weird but bear with me.
I remember when I first went to therapy and outlined some of the addictions and issues I wanted to deal with, one of them was personal, and I asked my therapist if that was going to be okay with her. Her response was that she looked at people's issues, addictions, emotions, etc... like separate and individual 'things' that require attention on a therapeutic level but the actual 'things' themselves were not where the focus was placed. The focus was placed on the understanding of those 'things' from an emotional standpoint, how to change the way we perceived them, and how they affected our lives. This stuck with me throughout the entirety of my therapeutic journey.
Take the Power Away
When acknowledging the cravings or discomfort, I saw them as a separate 'thing' that I could visually see and I let them sit there (quite literally) in front of me. By watching my feelings out in front of me I am able to acknowledge them but not give them any real credit. I take the power away from them because they are not part of me, they are separate from me. I don't know how to adequately describe the way I visualize those feelings, but they are colors and shapes. They start out red, orange, and yellow and they swirl around quickly in the beginning. The longer I sit there observing the feelings the cooler their colors become. They begin to move slower and slower until eventually, they disappear completely. Once the feelings of craving and discomfort have dissipated I reengage with my day feeling more confident, happy, and accomplished. I feel proud of myself because I did not give in to the feelings of discomfort that try repeatedly to throw me off my path.
Each time we overcome those feelings, the stronger we become. Ultimately, we will be able to flick those feelings off like an annoying little pesky fly that is desperately looking for somewhere to land. Sorry, little fella, your home is not with us.
To be continued...