Updated: Jan 1, 2021
Originally, I said I would write about sitting with discomfort in this series. However, I already wrote a three-part blog series about the idea of sitting with discomfort. In it, I walked the reader through my experience leading up to learning how to sit with discomfort, and I laid out the way I approach discomfort when it occurs. While I do not think I can stress enough the importance of being able to sit with discomfort in sobriety, I do not see the need to write about it again here now. I will say, however, it is a necessary component in our preparation for our sober resolutions. One of the biggest aspects of sobriety I hear people talk about is dealing with cravings, withdrawals, and stress. Like everything else in sobriety, the level and degree of all these things are different for every single person. Not only that but how everyone deals with them are completely different as well. So, how do we learn how to handle the day-to-day stresses of life when we are trying to get and remain sober? Well, the first thing I would recommend is to read my three-part blog series on Sitting with Discomfort. While I know I am plugging my own work, I have had an enormous amount of positive feedback about how this has helped people in recovery. Feel free to take it or leave it.
The next thing I would do is really dig into our why's and relationship with alcohol. I do not think there is a more prominent component to successful sobriety than truly understanding why we drink and what our relationship with alcohol really is. Another blog I have received an incredible amount of positive feedback on was my blog on Finding our Why's. In this blog, I asked the reader to delve deeper into their personal reasons for drinking. As I have said many times before, if we think our reasons for drinking have anything to do with alcohol, I do not believe we are on the right track. Our drinking did become a problem, but why we drank was and is the root of our problem.
Now that we have revisited ways to sit with discomfort and we have dug further into the whys of our drinking and relationships with alcohol, it is time to talk in more detail about the perceptions we hold. We need to learn how to reframe our perceptions to support more successful sobriety. Remember, the skill of sitting with discomfort is more of a last resort. It is what we do when all else fails and we need to maintain a semblance of control over our desire to drink. The more favorable option is to never allow ourselves to get to the point of last resort. Of course, this is easier said than done, but let's give it a try anyway.
While everyone is different and we all deal with and perceive things differently, there is no arguing the fact that we all have to deal with bad feelings on a daily basis. The problem is not necessarily the events that cause bad feelings, it is simply how we deal with and perceive them. For example, if I drop and break my favorite glass, I will feel bad. I will probably be bummed out for a little while, but I will most likely not allow the bad feeling associated with the accident to overtake and ruin my day. On the contrary, if I drop and break my computer, there is a much higher probability I will allow the bad feelings associated with the accident to overtake my emotions. Why? Well, we could easily say the cost of the two items is much different. It would make sense we would feel worse over the broken computer than the broken glass. Okay, that's fine, but let's take this to another level. Let's suppose the glass I broke was crystal and belonged to my great grandmother whom I adored and who left it to me when she passed away. Would the broken computer cause more distress or would the broken heirloom? It's all up to our perception of their worth to us.
How we perceive things, actions, and behaviors is completely individual and a choice. This generally rubs people the wrong way because we do not like to think we have a choice over how we feel and react to things. I'm sorry but we do. In fact, we have a choice about pretty much every aspect of our sobriety. Perception is a choice, and it can be changed. For example, while feeling bad, sad, and even depressed over breaking my grandmother's crystal glass is completely warranted, there is no reason my feelings should ruin my entire day or worse, cause me to drink in sobriety. I will undoubtedly feel bad, there is really no way around that fact. But, what I do with my bad feelings makes all the difference in the world.
As addicts, most of us started using to numb our feelings. The feelings we sought to numb were generally bad feelings or feelings associated with bad memories. After we began numbing our feelings, it slowly became easier and easier to continue using this method for numbing some feelings we may not have originally needed to numb. It just worked, and it worked far too well. With this unnecessary use of numbing our feelings also came an addiction to the substance, we were using to numb ourselves. Over time, we then began coming up with reasons to numb our feelings, whether they were warranted or not. I personally remember caving in my attempts at sobriety for things I personally made up in my head. We can justify anything if we want to badly enough. Addiction, of course, certainly fits this mold.
Shifting our perception
Let's go back to my grandmother's heirloom. Yes, I broke it, and I felt incredibly sad. I have two choices: I can fret over it and think about all the history and meaning the glass held slowly causing me to sink deeper and deeper into depression about what an idiot I was; or, I can recognize the situation for what it truly is; an accident. I can choose to understand my grandmother would not want me to feel so badly over the broken glass. I can choose to believe the glass probably did not hold as much meaning for her as it did for me. I can choose to feel bad but also to move on knowing my action held no disrespect toward my grandmother whatsoever. I can choose the level of my discomfort. By doing this, I am also choosing the positive or negative effect it has on me.
What does this have to do with sobriety? Everything. How we perceive ourselves and the world around us carries an enormous amount of weight in sobriety. The above is a simple example of how I can shift my perception about a scenario to affect how the scenario affects me on a personal level. We can do this with many aspects of our lives. How we perceive ourselves is even more important than how we perceive events. Finish this sentence, "When confronted with a problem, my ability to adequately and effectively solve the problem is ____________________. How you fill in the blank determines a lot about the perception you hold of yourself and your ability to solve problems. Most likely, you have gathered evidence to support your answer, in your mind. Thankfully, the evidence we gather to support the perceptions we hold of ourselves is subjective. Most often, we tend to find evidence to support the belief we already hold and not evidence to support the contrary. Therein lies one of the biggest problems of sobriety.
How many things can you come up with where you hold a negative perception about something? It could be the state of the world, our inability to do something, a personality trait, how we think someone sees us, or any other aspect of our lives or the world. Would you be surprised if I told you the negative perceptions we hold for most of these things are held by choice? If I believe, based on personally gathered evidence, I never succeed at anything, am I correct? If I only focus on the evidence I have collected that supports my never succeeding, then yes, I am correct. What if I allow myself to collect other evidence too? What if I allow myself to collect evidence such as finishing college, getting a promotion, having a good relationship, or being a good parent. Does this evidence support my belief I never succeed at anything? No, It supports the opposite. All I have to do is shift my perception to allow myself the ability to see other evidence. When I do that, I allow myself the ability to change my perception based on new information I previously disregarded.
I am going to write more about this idea of how our perceptions affect our sobriety in my coming blogs. I believe this is a great way to prepare ourselves for the upcoming sober resolution many of us are aspiring to. You don't have to wait for the blogs, though. Start making a list of negative perceptions you hold about yourself or the world. Then, take some time to try and discern ways to alter your perceptions of those things. I have been amazed by how little effort it actually takes to make perception shifts about many of the negative beliefs I have held. I am not going to say it doesn't take a little practice, it does, but like anything, with practice comes success, and with success comes confidence. The more confidence we have the easier it becomes to change the way we perceive ourselves and the world around us.
"What amazes me is how far some people will go to justify their behavior to themselves, just to preserve that self-perception." - Christopher Golden