Keeping up with the Joneses

I haven’t written in a long time because we’ve been building our house, painting every inch of it, and moving 30 years’ worth of stuff (which we still aren’t finished with).  It’s been a busy busy year, and the summer passed me by with hardly a beach day, no gardening, and not even one sail. But, we are in our beautiful new house next door to our old house, and I’m teaching in my new studio, which is very exciting.

I am pleased to report that I have been free and clear of ethanol now for nearly three years, and have had no desire to drink since around 3 or 4 months after stopping. I enjoy cocktail time just about every night with my switchflipper of sparkling water and Q tonic while my husband has a few beers, and I am very happy and satisfied to be a non-drinker. I love being alert and aware. But that’s not what this post is about. This post is about addiction in general, and what might make one fall back into old patterns.

In the process of moving, suddenly nothing was familiar. Even though I was only next door, all of my stuff was in boxes that I hadn’t packed (much of it still is); I couldn’t find anything, and the amount of stuff to deal with, along with the heat and humidity, was overwhelming. Every time I went to my old house to clean out closets and cabinets, clean, and get stuff, I was struck with waves of anxiety. The overwhelming layers of tasks seemed almost insurmountable as we chipped away at it. Still haven’t tackled the cellar…

Everything was in a new place including me. There was a lot of functional fixedness like reaching for things in the wrong places, turning handles the wrong way, standing in a room wondering what I was doing there… It was like trying to get to an appointment on time while driving a different car in a foreign country on the wrong side of the road and unable to read the street signs.

I was so distressed I was forgetting to breathe! I wasn’t taking time to meditate. I didn’t think I had the time.

So, what did I do? When my husband was smoking, as he often does at the end of the day, I said, “Gimme a cigarette,” and he, knowing I’m not to be argued with, did.

I looked at it as he handed me the lighter, knowing full well that this one small act would lead me to another brief smoking ordeal. It had been well over a year since my last week-long smoking adventure. And as I held the cigarette, I knew full well what I was in for (but also in the back of my mind, I knew I had the power to stop). Just a couple of good hits of nicotine opened up those old familiar pathways. I smoked that cigarette knowingly and willingly. Why did I do it?

It only took a few days for me to realize how unsustainable it was – sore throat, swollen glands, itchy ears, striking morbidity, but still the compulsion persisted. What the heck?

I went through the process of getting very conscious and aware of the real truth about what I was doing, and pulled myself back out of the spiral quickly. And it was during that process, which actually takes a much shorter time than getting addicted ever did, that I came to understand why I had done it.

When we are faced with extreme discomfort or change, or even exhilaration, we tend to (unconsciously) want to find comfort in the familiar. We want a familiar place to land.

Even though most of my adult life has been smoke free, the long held addiction that was developed in my teens holds a place deep in my brain. So, although I did not understand it at the time, what I was doing was taking comfort in the familiar at a very primitive level.

So wound up and stressed out, I didn’t bother to take the time to find comfort in the best familiar place – the peace of breathing and silent meditation. And it was this familiar place that made stopping quite easy and pleasant.

As we all know, it doesn’t matter what you’re addicted to; the mechanics are the same. When you make a choice to imbibe in the substance (and it is a choice over which we have full control, and not a so-called “relapse” where you falsely relinquish your personal responsibility – don’t get me started…), you know for certain that you will awaken the beast that will create its own need and want to be fed until you stop feeding it. It’s that simple.

I knew full well what would happen. And I did it anyway. But, rather than seeing this as a weakness or failure, I really appreciate it as an amazing opportunity to realize the best landing place where real comfort and relaxation is found – in the familiar pause of a deep breath and the comfortable silence of a quiet mind.

Now mind you, that beast still knocks on my door, saying, “You can have one; you are so good at stopping,” that sneaky little bastard. To that, I reply, “Nice try, asshole.”

Keep up with those joneses. Stay conscious, and make sure to take a little time in your busy day to stretch, breathe, and experience authentic comfort and relaxation. When your primal urge is to land in a familiar place, just get quiet and breathe.

One thought on “Keeping up with the Joneses

  1. Hi, great post! I’ve been alcohol free for 3 1/2 years, but I have cigarettes in my drawer ‘just in case’. I smoke about a pack a year now. And I usually regret when I do. It’s interesting that staying with the breath is the best thing to do – so many former drinkers turn to meditation to help them get centred. Congrats on your new house!

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