Updated: Feb 18, 2020
"KEEP IT SIMPLE STUPID!"
I can still hear my Dad hollering those words back at me on the bandstand while I was playing drums for him as a youngster. While he usually omitted the word "stupid", I was able to comprehend his sentiment highlighting my inexperience and, at times, reckless nature while performing. "JUST PLAY THE BEAT!" "SPEED UP!" "SLOW DOWN!" and on and on.
Though my Dad and I were very close, I found myself on many set-breaks very down on myself. I desperately wanted his approval. Early on I failed to understand that which seemed so obvious and inherent to him, things I only fleetingly suspected in retrospect. I didn't understand concepts like; "It's the notes you don't play that matter" and "Say more with less" (this blog is not a testament to my grasp of that concept) As time passed I began to pay more attention to what was being asked of me. My initial desire to please him was sufficient in the light of it evolving into a need to take responsibility to meet my own standards. I started to catch myself prior to becoming overly self-indulgent on stage, and would choose instead to focus on the fundamentals of performing. This allowed me to serve the song, which in turn served those around me and put me in harmony with what was being collectively expressed. As I became more and more "in-tune" with how to execute my role, my desire to participate and seek that connection grew. My perception opened up. I felt as if I was a "part of" rather than always feeling like I couldn't crack the lock that everyone else seemingly had the code to. Simply put, I followed the direction of someone who knew how to navigate territory foreign to me, and I found me. Simple direction. Direction so self-evident, I would overlook it for years until I was forced with the option of staying stuck or becoming teachable.
Setting aside facts like; that was a long time before I recovered, self-destruction was in full swing with Dad and beginning to find a place in my life, and I still had years of "research" to do, I think there were definitive principles from that experience I've learned to value. They parallel my recovery very much today. I had a counselor at a rehab tell me, "First thought wrong!" "Michael, remember, first thought wrong!" Well, come to find ol' 'Peg-Leg' Dennis at the Harmony House was right. I often liken my thinking process to a quarterback going through his progressions during a pass-play; option 1 is covered, option 2 is covered, option 3 is covered, my running back is just underneath 5 yards away from me, he's been open the whole time so I dump it off to him. The most simple solution is available most of the time if I can make my way back to it before i get pummeled by Von Miller. If you don't understand the football analogy don't worry - it just means I complicate stuff. Sometimes it's my first 3, 4, or 5 thoughts that are wrong. Sometimes I'm lucky and experience intuition.
I highlighted the words 'fundamental' and 'practical' up-top so I wanna get to the point.
There is great wisdom in recovery, but how often are those gems overlooked or not on-call during times of disturbance? Here's one that I've gotten much mileage from that you may have heard; H.A.L.T. - Don't get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. This acronym seems to convey all the over simplicity that baffled me in the pre-contemplation, contemplation, and early action stages of recovery. "It can't be that simple!" "Don't you know how much time I've squandered in painful and intense thought trying to figure this thing out!?!?" But as I transition into the maintenance leg of recovery I can still experience mindlessness. A lot of the time the most effective solutions that I forget about are found right under my nose.
4 practical ways of taking the edge off in recovery:
1. Eat (hungry)
We that have grown accustom-to and developed a reliance-upon an instantaneous and extreme alteration to our perception may be less sensitive to more subtle changes. The fact is, hunger changes our perception. I read somewhere that with hungry animals, their senses are heightened, it leads to diminished inhibitions and an impulsive propensity to taking risks. In the wild they may try and take down a food source that is generally too dangerous. With us perhaps our body reads normal hunger as more intense than it is, to where our judgement is clouded in other areas. My bud Al always had snacks near by, generally nuts, granola bars, fruits, cheeses etc. He died 36 years sober and taught me a lot about taking the time to practice self-care. Take the time to keep your body/brain fueled. Practicing mindfulness is good way to awaken to your body. If we learn to listen more than we talk we can begin to hear ourselves (and each other) more clearly and respond more effectively. We begin to undergo lessons in practicality the more and more we treat ourselves with compassion. We become aware of the space between the notes of life. We begin to comprehend and value its silent message. Often times it's simply saying, "EAT!!!" Hunger can lead to being "hangry" which leads us to the next preventative measure to avoid emotional relapse.
2. Cool off (angry)
Most irritations are to be felt. We shouldn't fear 'feeling' anymore. Most discomfort will pass if we've gained a new perception on life. However, life WILL happen, people WILL fall ill, people WILL die, life will become heavy at times. We can count on that. That's life. We endure and persevere. But what about those in-between times? There are times when people will really piss us off. Sometimes we have a right to be pissed. I'm of the belief that I have a right to my initial feeling. However, It's my responsibility as a man in recovery to utilize every tool I have at my disposal to be free of that anger, or at least to coexist with and accept it. I've found through tough lessons that I don't have the "luxury" of living in anger and resentment. I eventually find myself spiritually and mentally ill to the point that I start considering an anesthetic. Stinkin thinkin leads to drinkin thinkin and that leads to drinkin. I have a healthy fear of that.
Sometimes it's a lot of little things that start effecting me more than they should, and when enough of those things start piling up they can be equally as dangerous. I understand there are many roads to recovery. There's few that I'm a stranger to. However, I'm partial, I don't believe any process of recovery has had more of an impact on the subject of resentment than the 12 steps. Becoming painfully aware of the ism, or I.S.M., the I, Self, Me, is what AA hammers home and re-hammers home. Selfishness can be the cause of much discord, inversely, selflessness is often the answer to much of what ails me, but first I must see clearly the patterns of my thinking, feeling, and behaving that continuously lead to me feeling wronged. Change is tough when I can't see areas that need change, much less what I'm to replace it with. AA looks me square in the face and says, "This is what you get when this is what you do" That's personally what I need. I need the unwatered down truth because I'm often irritable and at times delusional. Though I try and delay my reaction and 'pause when agitated', there are times when I learn the hard way, when I see red, when I react rather than respond, when I fight fire with fire. Not a good formula for someone seeking serenity as a baseline for recovery. What do I do? I've learned how to take personal inventory. I have that as a tool. I have people I trust who will give me the truth no matter how it makes me feel, though the phone may feel heavy, I call. I have a meditation and prayer practice that I've come to rely on. Exercise is good too (they tell me). Whatever I do try and be proactive and stay in right action.
3. Connect (lonely)
Being in active addiction is an isolating and lonesome affair. Whatever path of recovery you are practicing it should involve new healthy relationships. The old idea of the lone-wolf taking on the world is poetically attractive but has it served you? Accepting ones self in all his/her humanness means feeling vulnerable at times and that may lead to wanting to hide or put on the old masks. It's important to have people that you know who are safe to be around, who are on the same path, who have your back, who will laugh at you until you learn to laugh at yourself. Find your people, pick em wisely "Show me your friends and I'll show you your future" is a good adage to keep in mind.
4. Rest (tired)
I know you work a lot. I know your family demands a lot of your time, I know you only have so much time to do all the other stuff that's important to you, but lack of rest can lead to all kinds of 'non-localized' pain we'll call it. I either seem to be all too aware of how tired I am or feel like I operate better under fatigue. Much like being loaded, I may feel like I am functioning at high capacity when tired. Then comes the literal or proverbial crash. I'm more prone to accidents when tired. Sometimes I confuse fatigue with depression. Sometimes I'm tired because I've rested too much. Sometimes I'm tired because I've burned up days upon days over analyzing life without a break to simply let go and just be. Whatever the case it's wise to practice balance and know when enough is enough and respond accordingly by kicking back and drifting off. Despite popular belief; there IS rest for the wicked.
So to sum up. Eat a snickers bar, check you anger, call a friend that makes you laugh, and then take a nap. You're welcome!
Note from editor: Michael isn't a scientist or a junior counselor. He's just sharing his experience. And he's a horrible editor