Whether it’s alcohol or social media, if you have battled with addiction for any number of years, you know that it’s not enough to just stop. Stopping is relatively easy. The hard part is not to start again.
Bill Wilson, a co-founder of AA, saw thousands of people quit drinking after “working the 12-step program.” But he noticed over time that many of them eventually replaced their old addiction with a new one.
Why do we keep relapsing?
“How often have some of us begun to drink in this nonchalant way, and after the third or fourth, pounded on the bar and said to ourselves, “For God’s sake, how did I ever get started again?’”
AA’s Big Book, page 24.
Why do we keep relapsing? According to Bill Wilson, an addict will remain an addict as long as they believe in their power.
We go back to our self-destructive behavior because we believe that through it we can control things.
For example, I fall into passive aggression and start pouting every time I feel offended because I believe that this will induce the other person to meet my needs.
The reason I fall into workaholism again and again is because I believe that through overperforming I can control how much I get in life.
The reason I reach out for this next piece of chocolate against my better judgment is because I believe I can control my mood from outside in.
There is a simple 10-minute practice that undercuts the root of anxiety. Brene Brown, the world-famous shame and vulnerability guru, described it very well in Oprah Winfrey’s show when speaking of the inner workings of shame:
Destructive emotions feed on secrecy, silence, and judgment. Reversing this pattern involves:
Breaking the secrecy.
Getting empathy from someone who will not judge you.
A workable solution for anxiety is surprisingly counterintuitive
After struggling with anxiety for about 30 years, I finally found something that works. As of today, I have not been anxious for over a year — which is surprising, given the circumstances I have been through.
My first anxiety attack came at 21 when I was a senior in college — many years ago. It came totally out of the blue — it must have been triggered by a train of thought, which I totally didn’t notice. And it felt so bad, I had to excuse myself and go out to breathe it away.
Since then I would get it every once in a while — and always out of the blue. Trying to “figure it out” never helped. In fact, it made it worse. I couldn’t trace it to any external cause.
Of course, I did a bunch of things to get rid of it — consulted psychologists, exercised, memorized the Bible, read tons of books on self-help, philosophy, and religion. It helped… sort of…until the next attack.
For some people, life is boring when all goes well.
A lot of stress is self-inflicted stress. That is, we can avoid it if we choose to. But we choose not to. The reason is that our bodies “need” it. Often people don’t want to reduce stress because they use it as compensation for their nutritional deficiencies.
According to Dr. James L. Wilson, a leading specialist in nutritional balancing science, people who are constantly tired often use stress as a stimulant. Over time, they become addicted to stress and instinctively choose things, people, and situations where they can relive the level of stress they are used to.
Why people “need” stress as a stimulant
It sounds strange, but it is a well-established fact that people who grew up in abusive homes end up recreating the same degree of abuse in their adult relationships as they saw in their childhood.
They find partners who stress them out. They find jobs where they carry the brunt of the workload for pennies. They find friends who “need” them. They find people they can rescue.
They are ready to sacrifice themselves on every altar and feel bored when life goes well. Life should be tumultuous to be interesting. They need drama to feel good.
There is a scientific explanation for that
When the body experiences daily stress for an extended period of time, it loses some of the essential nutrients and minerals — like zinc that gets flushed out almost immediately through urine when we get stressed.
When the body is deficient in essential nutrients, its energy level decreases. In time, we develop cravings for things that can get us going despite fatigue — coffee, energy drinks, sugar, and stress.
Putting some stress on the body gives a temporary boost to adrenal hormones — primarily cortisol. Cortisol raises blood sugar, which, in turn, gives us some energy. We feel we can keep going.
“The soul does not grow by addition but by subtraction.”
I was looking at the lampshade that I was designing as part of my business. I liked the way it turned out. And yet, something made me doubt whether it was ready to go to the client. I couldn’t tell exactly what it was.
Was it the shape? The size?
Straining my mind for an answer, I suddenly felt some unease growing in me. I knew very well what it meant. It usually means that I am frustrated with how things are going and want quick results.
Chuang Tzu, an ancient Chinese philosopher, told a parable of an archer who “needed to win.” At first, he was shooting just for fun and seldom missed.
When he was offered a reward, a brass buckle, he became nervous. Then, he was offered a prize of gold and went blind – started seeing two targets.
His skill didn’t change, but the prize divided him. He cared more about winning than shooting. The need to win drained him of power.
I also knew what my mind was doing. It was set on winning. On results. Not on the fun of designing. My unease made me blind – I couldn’t see what was lacking in the lampshade.
I stopped and took a breath. I needed a break. “The soul does not grow by addition but by subtraction,” the famous quote crossed my mind.
It felt counterintuitive – I had a deadline to meet. The project was due the next day. Just thinking about it gave me more anxiety. I was desperately grasping for control.
Sitting down in a chair by the window, I turned away from the lampshade. Do I really need to get it done today? What if I let it go and stay inactive for a while? The thought sent shivers down my spine. I could lose the client if I didn’t ship it on time.
But there was something else behind it all that I feared even more. Deep down in my heart, there was a little perfectionist who couldn’t bear the thought of not meeting someone’s expectations.
It was my self-image, my EGO, I was holding on to. It was my ego that made me so uneasy. I knew I needed to let go. I will stop striving for results and will trust my creative instincts.
Taking the leap of faith, I finished the last of my coffee and stepped out for a bike ride.
For the rest of the day, I was watching my mind intently – it would shoot back to the lampshade again and again. But, after some time of silence, it slowly loosened its grip.
I sat by the window, watching the kids play with a plastic bag that they inflated like a balloon. My wife was busy in the kitchen making pancakes – the Russian style! And then, finally, my mind was empty. For a while, I wasn’t thinking about anything in particular.
Noticing the smells, the rustling of the plastic bag, the laughter of the boys, I was becoming increasingly aware of what was going on around me. And there was peace, undisturbed by any thinking.
The next morning, I walked into the room and looked at the lampshade. And suddenly – bang! I got it. It struck me like lightning. It was a simple solution that only an empty mind could produce.
We are moving back to our Harvey-flooded house in a week’s time. It’s been a year and a half since we were displaced. I have moved three times in my life, and I have come to a point where I find it more unnerving than rewarding. Not that I dislike adventure and discovery – it’s just that I’ve had too much of it. I like to come back to something familiar, without having to change the entire wiring of my brain over the whereabouts of the forks. I like things to be within my arm’s reach. I like the familiar things to be within my eye’s glance. I like my future to be within my imagination’s scope.
Yet, move we will. Moving things around is like uprooting trees. My couch must have grown roots into my bedroom floor by now, and the poor fellow will probably screech and squeak as I yank it out of its native soil. My bookshelf will look so orphaned without the books, which will end up in boxes. A gaping hole in its heart will be hard to look at for a whole two hours until the books find their way home. The spoons and cutlery will be dinging against each other as they fight over their place in the new kitchen drawers.
Yet, move we will. We can’t do without moving. We can’t do without some unrooting. We can’t do without some dinging and some finding your place under the sun. They say, there’s nothing new under the sun. But when you have been moving around for quite some time, you almost want to say there’s nothing old under the sun. But we will get through and rediscover our old nest. We will send down new roots after some screeching and squeaking. The gaping holes in our hearts will be filled with new and old books. The new place will become the familiar place, but, after a while, our souls will suddenly overflow with the desire for new adventures and discoveries. Aren’t we a strange mix of resisting change and yet yearning for it?
We hate being uprooted and yet can’t seem to settle in for what we have. We want to rest our eyes on something familiar and yet crave for the scope of our imagination to ever expand to new horizons. I guess I will take it easy, and start preparing for my unavoidable move, little by little. One box at a time, one screech at a trip, one ding at a walk.
Once upon a time there lived a giant by the name of Yant. He was so huge that he could easily step over wide rivers. But that’s not what he loved to do – his favorite pastime was to sit on the bank of the river watching tiny boats sailing by. When the boats were passing the spot where he sat, he would often, just for the fun of it, bend over the river, pretending to be a bridge. He would plant his legs on one bank, lean over and put his hands on the other. He loved this game of a bridge and spent hours at it. Often, those who happened to sail by underneath his big round belly, would lift up their heads and say to each other: “That’s a good bridge, no doubt about it.”
The giant did not mind. He knew who he was – a giant, not a bridge. But it happened quite often that, whenever a boat was passing by, the people onboard would hear his stomach rumble after a hearty meal and say to each other: “This bridge is very well built. What an incredible traffic capacity. Hear all this noise?”
Actually, while the giant was playing his game, there were cars, buses and bikes running up and down his back all day long. And why not? After all, people need some way to get over the river. Very soon, however, he found out that, whenever he “was a bridge”, there was a constant flow of traffic on his back – so he decided not to straighten up until the day was over and there was no one left up there. After all, he didn’t want anybody to get hurt. But as soon as it was night, he would unbend himself, stretch his limbs, sit down comfortably on his favorite spot by the edge of the river, and strike up a conversation with his old friend as he watched her quiet waters gracefully flowing by. Continue reading “The Bridge Who Was a Giant”
The swimming pool was teeming with people. Bright luminescent bikinis, squealing children, laughing dads, chattering moms, all jumbled up together in a thick soup of incessant movement, stirring, whirling, mixing, blending.
On one side of the pool, there was a man sitting by the edge of the water with a long pole, fishing. His face was hidden in a thick beard. He seemed totally detached from what was going on around, watching intently the red bobber on the undulating surface of the pool. A guard hastily jumped down from his tower and ran towards the man.
“Sir,” he said with an air of utter amazement, “what are you doing? This is a swimming pool!”
The man didn’t budge.
“This is not allowed!” “This is…,” he stumbled, “you’ve got hooks out there, people can get hurt!”
In the blue-blue sea there lived a fish called Self-fish. What a strange name, you might say. Who gives such a name? Well, it’s actually a whole group of fish. They are called “Self-fish” by other sea creatures who are sure about themselves that they don’t belong to this category.
She knew very well who she was – Self-fish. Of that she was reminded daily.
“Stop thinking about yourself all the time. You never care about others,” the others chided.
“Why are you looking at yourself all the time?”
“If you weren’t Self-fish, you would have had more compassion on our poor nerves.”
“Why am I Self-fish?” thought Self-fish. “I have to change. From now on I will think about others all the time.”
And that’s what she did. Tired of being shamed and blamed, she decided she would be looking out for the interest of others. She was hoping that others would start appreciating her more and more and would finally stop calling her Self-fish. But the more she tried to please them, the less they seemed pleased. In fact, they blamed her all the more. “You should think more about others and less about yourself! Shame on you, Self-fish.” Continue reading “The Song of the Void: The Self-fish story”
No doubt, there is a time when you need to be a parent to your children, but there comes a time when you can become their friend. Being a parent is about exercising control, being a friend is about letting go of control. Being a parent means you attach a child to yourself, being a friend means you let them go so they can come back to you of their own accord. The paradox of parenting is that you bind a child to yourself when they are little, so that you can let them go when they grow up.
When I think about my relationships with my kids, I have to come to grips with one thing – if I wish to be their friend, not just a parent, they must choose me for a friend. Unlike parents, friends are chosen, not given. And this has to be a free choice on their part, with no compulsion, coercion or manipulation on mine. Such is the nature of friendship – it’s a free choice, not out of necessity or obligation, but because a person’s soul resonates with your heart and mind.
C.S. Lewis wrote: “I have no duty to be anyone’s Friend and no man in the world has a duty to be mine. No claims, no shadow of necessity. Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself.” Friendship can only thrive when someone’s inner world is attractive to you in and of itself. It’s true that my children are 100% dependent on me, and I could have forced them to “be my friend”. But that’s not what I want. I don’t want to say to them: “Be my friend, or you will regret it.” Friendship, unlike parenthood, is the opposite of dependence. Continue reading “How to Be a Friend to Your Own Child”