There is an inner journey that every alcoholic and recovering drug addict must take in order to find real peace in their lives.
This is because the outside world will always be random, chaotic, and potentially stressful. Not that there will always be negative things in your life, but just that the random nature of life is going to, at times, throw a curve ball your way. It can’t all be rainbows and unicorns. We all have our good days and our bad days. Given enough time in recovery, anyone will experience both some ups and some downs. It is inevitable.
Of course it is easy to deal with the good times, when everything is going smoothly. The challenge in recovery is to deal with the bumps in the road without becoming discouraged or relapsing.
And because the outside world is always going to have that element of random chaos to it, there really have to be two strategies that everyone in recovery employs:
1) Working to change your external situation. Changing people, places, and things. Rearranging your life to reduce the stress and bring you peace.
2) Working on the inner journey, so that you can still handle the stress that will inevitably come your way, no matter how hard you try to change the external world.
So in other words, you most certainly should try to change and control (to an extent) the people, places, and things in your life. I don’t go hand out at the corner bar or the crack house any more. I don’t generally invite toxic people into my life. I don’t keep booze in my fridge. Those are things in my external world that I have (some) control over. It would be crazy not to take action on some of those things.
But I also realize that I can’t control everything, and the world can be cold, cruel, and chaotic. A close friend of mine relapsed and died in recovery. That was totally out of my control–I couldn’t stop it or prevent it in any way. And then I had to find a way to deal with it.
Now let me ask you an important question:
Do you think there was a good way for me to deal with my friend’s death in the external world? Or would that be more of an inner journey kind of thing?
If you guessed “inner journey,” then you are right.
In fact, I think the only way to deal with something like in the external world would be to go put drugs or alcohol into my body to numb the pain. And we all know what a lousy solution that would turn out to be.
So there are times when you need to change the external world (people, places, and things) and there are times when you need to look more closely at the inner journey.
Both are important. But this article is all about the inner journey and how you can use it to your advantage to stay sober.
Figuring out your path in early sobriety based on listening to your inner voice
First of all I think it is very important in early recovery to start listening to your inner voice. Your intuition. The silence that you hear when you meditate.
At first it doesn’t really seem like there is much point in doing this. I certainly came away from my first few experiments in meditation being completely uninspired. I said “I can’t be doing that right, it seems sort of lame and nothing really happens.” Well, that is sort of the point. There are millions of different techniques out there for meditation but if you simply sit quietly and “watch your thoughts” and don’t really try to do anything or focus on anything in particular, then you are not necessarily doing it wrong. I have heard some very high level meditation people claim that there is really no wrong way to meditate.
Some people get angry at themselves because they think they are supposed to totally clear their mind and have no thoughts at all. This is wrong. Random thoughts will probably pop into your head, and that’s fine. Just watch them pop in and see them. Don’t judge them. Just let them go, then return your mind to the silence, to the blank. But don’t get angry because thoughts keep popping up. Your mind is designed to keep doing that. Let it be. Just watch it in between the stillness. There is benefit to doing this.
One of the things that I noticed when I started meditating every day is that the world became noisier. After I would meditate I would walk around and everything seemed much louder to me. And so I think it was a way to shift myself to zero in on a much quieter life, to avoid the noise and the stress. So in a sense the inner journey was forcing me to rethink the people, places, and things in my life.
Meditation and finding a path to emotional balance
One of the things that I got out of meditation was emotional balance.
If you meditate for a decent period of time every day then it gives you power. You can feel the power flowing through your body later on in the day and you feel like a super hero. At least I do.
Now I noticed this a bit when I was doing seated meditation but I also notice it when I later started distance running.
I am sure there are people who will argue that distance running has nothing to do with meditation. I would disagree with that argument and claim that such people are very wrong. I happen to run distances outdoors with no headphones through the countryside. Just me and the open road. It is absolutely a form of meditation. There are some monks in the world who say that distance running is superior to most forms of seated meditation. Who are we to argue with monks? Running seems to bring me emotional balance and that is a powerful thing indeed.
There have been some times in my life when I was knocked off of my emotional square. Quite honestly I was in very real danger of potential relapse at the time because I was so emotionally wrecked. There was no way in the world I could sit down and “quiet my mind” for even 5 minutes without driving myself crazy. I was wrecked from a serious emotional event in my life.
So I went running. I ran until “my muscles burned and my veins pumped battery acid” (quote from Fight Club). It was all I could do at the time other than sit there like a lump of human being and cry to myself.
And it worked. That was my most dangerous day in terms of my recovery from an emotional perspective, and I did not relapse. I was able to get emotional balance by simply running myself ragged.
Your brain kind of knows that it is a big deal when you run 12 miles in a row without stopping. Your brain starts to figure out that something serious is happening. This is a major thing for your brain to endure. It has to kick into high gear when you are under strain for that long. And suddenly the volume knob on the rest of your life is turned way down. Because you put yourself through this thing and it was intense and therefore it is emotionally cleansing.
Of course this doesn’t work for everyone, and I don’t expect it to. Not everyone has to run a marathon to discover their inner journey.
On the other hand, everyone has to find the inner journey….somehow.
And so it is your responsibility to find that path. Maybe you will go to church and feel an amazing power there and find a connection. Maybe you will try seated meditation and it will really blow you away. Maybe you will work the 12 steps of AA and undergo a spiritual transformation like the founder of that program did. Or maybe you will some other path on the inner journey, and find a way to peace and emotional balance in your life.
Here is one thing you can do:
Go to a few different AA meetings. After the meetings, go up to people and ask them what they do every day outside of AA related stuff that helps them to stay sober. Keep asking people this same question over and over again until you have at least a few dozen different answers. I am sure you will hear things like “prayer” and “meditation” but you will also hear things like “exercise” and “volunteer” and “sponsor newcomers” and “read the bible” and “go to church” and on and on and on. So if you get 50 different answers and you try them all them all in your life, giving each one an honest and fair trial, then you will very likely find some way to break into this inner journey path.
We don’t know exactly what our solution will be. We have to dig around a bit for it. And that is OK, so long as you are willing to experiment. Willing to learn. Willing to be humble.
Willing to take suggestions.
Good strategy for getting your thoughts out: Journal every day
Here is a suggestion if you want to find the inner path to personal transformation:
Start writing it down.
Start a daily journal. I do it on the computer because I type quickly and I compose my thoughts easily as I type. So I journal every day on the computer and I have been doing so for over a decade. Talk about a powerful form of therapy. Again, this is not for everyone, it is just a suggestion. Take it or leave it. Or even better, take it for a set period (like 30 days for example) and then if you don’t like it, drop it and move on to a different suggestion. This is a very powerful way to live and experiment in recovery.
If you journal every day then it slowly changes you. Because now you are watching your life as well as living it. This has a profound effect on a person over time. I think it may have been Aristotle who said “the unexamined life is not worth living.” So when you write in a journal every day you are examining your life.
It doesn’t really matter to much what you are writing every day so long as you are putting your thoughts out there. Making a gratitude list is a good start and always has benefit. Writing down your true feelings, such as your fears and your anxiety, is also very beneficial.
You gain a massive amount of clarity if you do this every single day. You don’t even really have to go back and read it if you don’t want to. I usually never do. Sometimes I glance through some old journal entries just to kill a few minutes, and find myself smiling to see how much I have grown, how far I have come. How can you appreciate the growth you are making if you never even see it? Writing in a journal gives you a way to see it later on when you look back.
In regards to the inner journey: Let’s say that you try to meditate one day and your mind is racing so much that you cannot find any peace or contentment whatsoever. It is a total nightmare trying to meditate.
If this is the case then go write your thoughts down in a journal. Just get everything out there on the page. Put down what you are worried about and why. Get it all out there. Write it all down. Spill it on to the page like a madman.
Now, go back and try to meditate again. And just notice how different it is now. Notice how much quieter your mind has become. Notice the difference, and understand the power of writing in that journal every day. It is a bit like picking up the etch-a-sketch and shaking it clean each day. It frees your mind up for other things.
For me, that is well worth doing. I can journal for 5 minutes per day and the benefit that I get out of that little exercise is worth so much more than that.
Your mileage may vary. If you do not try it you gain nothing though….
Thoughts follow actions so you must start by taking positive action (based on the advice of others)
One of the tricky things in recovery is how to correct your thoughts.
You would think that we could correct our thoughts by simply focusing on changing them mentally. That we would redirect our minds and bend them to meet our will.
This doesn’t actually work all that well.
They have a saying around the tables of AA that I find myself agreeing with: “You can’t think your way into good living, you have to live your way into good thinking.”
I have found that to be true. And I have watched the results of people who believed that they could cheat this idea and get away with it. They thought that they could master their own mind without putting in the footwork. Doesn’t work.
You have to start with good living. The good thinking will follow that. It never works the other way around.
So this is a very hard thing for people to swallow. They don’t want to believe that they are average. They want to believe that they are smarter than the average alcoholic or drug addict, and that they are somehow special, and that the normal rules do not apply to them. So they hope that they can cheat the system, and get away with it, and somehow remain sober.
But it doesn’t work that way. You can basically prove this to yourself if you happen to be a drug addict or an alcoholic: Simply solve your own problem of addiction, without any outside help at all. Can you do it?
That is sort of rhetorical question, because I think we all know what the outcome of that will be. The bottom line is that we need help in order to recover. We can’t do it alone.
And that is where the good living leads us to good thinking. We start by taking direction from other people. Or from a recovery program.
You don’t start out in recovery by declaring “this is how I am going to change my life and sober up.” Anyone making that declaration is about to fall flat on their face. It is inevitable. You can’t wiggle your way out of the problem of addiction that your own brain created. It is like trying to fight fire by pouring gas on it. It ain’t gonna work.
No, in order to conquer addiction you have to step around the problem completely. And the only way to do that, the only way to really cheat your brain and one-up it, is to step clear around the problem by listening to other people instead. So you may go to rehab and start taking advice and direction from others. By doing this you get out of your own way. You take your brain out of the equation, because it was only screwing things up anyway. This is how good living eventually leads to good thinking. First you have to remove the ego, get your stubborn brain and it’s crazy ideas out of the way, and listen instead to some sound advice. The shortcut to this is to check into rehab. Another shortcut is to go get a good sponsor in AA and start doing what they tell you to do. This is otherwise known as “doing the work.” You don’t necessarily have to think a whole lot in order to do this hard work. But you do have to show up, get humble, and take direction.
After you do this for a while and you are consistent with it, something will happen. You will look back one day and be amazed when you realize that you have done the impossible–you have transformed your mind by first transforming your life. Your good living actually led your brain to change itself. And so you found personal transformation in the most boring way possible–by simply doing what other people told you to do!
Nobody wants to do this. It’s not much fun. It sounds like a terrible time. To get humble, to ask for help, to take advice and direction. It’s a tough sell because it is not very seductive. We would rather just go and have fun, listen to our ego, take the easy way out. But that isn’t where the growth is. And that isn’t how you remain sober either.
Pushing yourself to the next level of personal growth by becoming willing to get ever more honest with yourself and listening to the inner voice even more deeply
So you make it through rehab, you are living sober one day at a time, and you seem to have the basics down. Maybe you have a few months sober or a year or two in. You feel pretty good, pretty stable in your sobriety.
At this point I would say that you go deeper. There is always another layer that you can peel back and learn more about yourself. There is always a way to get more honest with yourself about what is really going on inside.
Every person has fears and anxiety to some degree. If you want personal growth then you need to get honest with yourself about what those are and then do some serious work around them. This is how you stay on the path of inner growth. You look inside. What is going on in there? What do you fear? Where is the anger coming from? Why are you hurting? And so on.
Digging around with self honesty is not easy. And doing the work that can result from this is not easy either. But the level of reward and the personal transformation that comes from it can be really amazing.
I have a long way to go yet. I am not a guru. I just understand the process, and I have done a bit of the work, and yet more remains.
I am afraid to face my fears. I am afraid to do the work.
But I don’t think that we have a choice if we are true alcoholics. We have to do the work because if we stop this journey for too long then eventually we will hit a bump in the road and we will relapse.
So what about you? Are you still on a path of transformation? What is your inner journey all about? Can you share it with us in any way, perhaps help someone else who may be struggling? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!