Drunk Brain, Sober Brain, and Emotional Sobriety

Yesterday I was in it. IN IT!

“IT” being in my hell-hole of self-flagellation via negative thinking. I was sitting across from my therapist, who for the first time asked me if I wanted to be there. She could feel my absence as I blew off everything she said. I am tempted to say that nothing she said got through, but if I did, I would be lying.

As I sat there, consciously choosing to shut-down, she did say something that made my gears stop grinding (if only for a second). “It’s like you’re drunk”.

That’s exactly how it is for me when I go back to my old ways of thinking. I tend to go back to my old ways of thinking when I am really stressed. My brain goes into survival mode and, like an alcoholic, I go back to that which I am really familiar with and that which gives me comfort. My drug of choice is my old way of thinking, which leads to an emotional relapse.

In my old way of thinking, everything is black and white. I am wrong and everyone else is right. I am a failure and have a long list of evidence to prove my case. I become angry, resentful, fearful, and hopeless. I don’t trust myself and surely, do not trust others or life itself. I feel and believe myself to be worthless. I believe this to be as true as the air I breathe. I am, in fact, intoxicated.

Just like you can’t sober up a drunk with reason, you can’t talk me out of my old way of thinking once I’m in it. Anything unlike what I am believing at that time seems like a lie. Right now, the only thing I can do is “sleep it off” by just giving in and being in it. A small part of me knows that it will pass,  even though I have no clue as to how long it will take.

When the intoxication has worn off, sober me is like “well, that was interesting”.

Sober me:

  • understands that what I believed as the truth is actually a learned lie.
  • can see how I learned this lie from my family language.
  • knows that compassion for myself is the key to breaking out of that pattern.
  • knows that I am not my feelings and that I can choose my beliefs and actions.
  • believes in the ACA promises.

I talked with a friend about this today, and she reminded me of the Tonglen breathing meditation.Pema Chodron states: “In tonglen practice, when we see or feel suffering, we breathe in with the notion of completely feeling it, accepting it, and owning it. Then we breathe out, radiating compassion, lovingkindness, freshness; anything that encourages relaxation and openness.”

She describes formal practice as four stages:

1) First,rest your mind briefly in a state of openness or stillness.

2) Second, work with texture. Breathe in a feeling of hot, dark, and heavy, and breathe out a feeling of cool, bright, and light. Breathe in and radiate completely, through all the pores of your body, until it feels synchronized with your in-and out-breathe.

3) Third, work with any painful personal situation that is real to you. Traditionally, you begin by doing tonglen for someone you care about. However, if your stuck, do the practice for your pain and simultaneously for all those just like you who feel that kind of suffering.

4) Finally, make the taking in and the sending out larger. Whether you’re doing tonglen for someone you love or for someone you see on television, do it for all the others in the same boat. You could even do tonglen for people you consider your enemies–those who have hurt you or others. Do tonglen for them, thinking of them as having the same confusion and stuckness as your find or yourself.

For me, I think just doing stages 1 and 2 are a good practice in Emotional Sobriety. I truly believe that all emotions want to be acknowledged, so being able to identify and fully feel my anger/fear/self-depreciation and then meet it with acceptance, love and compassion makes sense to me. Of course I will most likely meet this practice with great resistance while in a moment of anger. I’ve been told that this is to be expected and that I only need to be open to trying and being patient with the process. I can go as far as I can, which is further than not trying at all.

NOTE: I am not saying that an addictive pattern of negative thinking is the same as addiction to substances. What I am saying is that  the patterns and cycles of addiction are similar.


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