I had an interesting conversation with my sponsor yesterday. I should have written about it right then and there but time was tight and I didn’t. So my interesting conversation isn’t half so interesting now that I am trying to piece together what it was that I thought was so profound yesterday and the events that lead up to it. Here it goes anyway…
There is a paradox in my life. I despise stress, drama, crisis and chaos. At the same time, I have become addicted to it—or more accurately, to the adrenaline rush it creates in my brain. Conversely, I value peace and serenity. But, I find calm, ordinary, relaxing, peaceful life kind of boring and unfulfilling. How the heck did that happen???
The fact is that I went through many years of my life in a state of chaos. Some of it was my fault, but a lot of it was a simple bi-product of having six kids close together and a husband who was gone most of the time. Whether I liked it or not, crisis and drama were normal for me. It might have been something so simple as one baby having a dirty diaper at the same time another child decided to get in a fight with a sibling at the same time we were supposed to be loading into the car to get somewhere on time. What ever it was, the result was the same—stress that required a certain amount of adrenaline to deal with it. Now here is the bottom line: when you have to call on the adrenaline often enough for long enough, your body gets used to it. And when it is not there—even if there is not a need for it—life feels empty, meaningless and incomplete.
Of course it isn’t really meaningless—it is still perfectly meaningful. It is just that the body has learned to confuse that adrenaline rush with a normal feeling of well-being instead of what it really is—just an extra kick to make it through the immediate crisis. And so “normal” life begins to feel a little too hollow or unfulfilling.
I’ve learned some interesting things about myself. I can do hard. I can do impossible. But don’t ask me to do boring or mundane. Being bored or under-stimulated feels like a fate worse than death to me. As soon as I see boring on the horizon my mind frantically runs around looking for some big project or obsession that will eliminate the potential threat of any unsatisfying peaceful calm in my life.
How does this relate to food? In the early stages of my adult life I needed that adrenaline rush to cope with all the demands being heaped on me. I found that food was a great way to get that extra little kick I needed…some additional energy to cope with or accomplish the task at hand. Unfortunately, after using food as an “upper” for so long, that little kick became my new “normal” and when I wasn’t experiencing that hyper-high, I felt blah—like something was missing. It didn’t take long before I needed my food-drug-of-choice to feel a normal sense of well-being. Food and emotional well-being became inseparably connected. Once that connection was made I was in real trouble. It got to the point where anytime anything happened that caused any type of feeling or emotion, my first instinct was to stuff food in my mouth. I used food to cope with everything; to cope with my many (at that point in time, undiscovered) addictions…including my newly acquired addiction to stress and crisis.
Fast forward 5½ years into my OA recovery. I can’t use food as my drug of choice. I can’t stuff junk in my mouth when I am feeling something. I don’t eat to make myself feel better when life is unsatisfying or boring. So now what do I do? In my recovery meetings we talk about the blessings of finding peace and serenity in your life. But what if peace and serenity—which sound perilously like boring—secretly terrifies you?
Stress and constant crisis are not healthy. They are not supposed to feel normal. They are meant to signal a very temporary need to step up your level of action to deal with an immediate issue so that you can return to a state of peace and serenity as soon as possible. But it is a painful process to try and retrain a brain that has forgotten that peace and serenity really are supposed to be the norm.
So, I recently found myself in a dilemma. I suddenly went from seven consecutive weeks of travel and excitement to being home alone in a big, empty house. Even with all the “catching up” I had to do, that redefines B-O-R-I-N-G. The first few days home I could barely make myself get out of bed in the morning. Why bother? There was no crisis anywhere to be found. What was the point? I found myself trying to contrive something important enough that I could force myself to kick into high gear. But, it just wasn’t working.
It became very clear in a moment of pure inspiration that dealing with my addiction to an adrenaline rush had become even more pressing than my addiction to food. And in a second burst of inspiration—in the same day, no less—I had the answer. I had to change the way I started my day. Instead of laying in bed in a half-drowsy state trying to force myself to get up at it when what I really wanted to do was sleep for another half a day, I found another alternative—to lay calmly in bed and do my recovery reading, my meditation and then to get on my knees and pray specifically about the day ahead.
It is not a little coincidence that the Big Book and the resulting 12-step programs have always preached that as a basic tenet of recovery: (from AA Big Book pp86) “On awakening let us think about the twenty-four hours ahead. We consider our plans for the day. Before we begin, we ask God to direct our thinking…..” How simple is that? Wow. What a difference! I don’t have to force myself to jump up prematurely and run off into my day like a chicken with its head cut off. Neither do I have to give up and fall back to sleep as a way of escaping from the potential drudgery that lies ahead. Instead I can take a little block of time just for me—to focus and redirect my thinking, to set aside all my pre-dispositioned eccentricities, all my hyper-active craziness—and instead to relax and bask in the wonder of a new day full of new opportunities and a new readiness to let go of my own agenda and work off of His agenda.
I am only a week into this new approach to mornings, but I have already seen miracles. There are been several times where I had one plan in my brain and clear as a bell, the thought came to do something else—which proved to be exactly what I needed to do at that moment. Instead of getting up and running, I wake up, prepare mentally and spiritually for the day, and then ask to be guided to do “the next right thing.” It’s working. I like it.
Taking that extra time each morning for calm reflection has had a soothing effect on the rest of my day. I am finding that I don’t subconsciously seek out the stress and crisis as much as I used to. Instead of flipping into “hyper-manic mode”, I focus on applying “calm—but directed—efficiency” to the task at hand. Calm efficiency is so much more sane than the energetic craziness that has been such a part of my life. I think my inner-self might actually be beginning to believe that peace and serenity really is a superior state of being.
And just for today, I think I’ll keep working for that.