The phrase gets thrown around a lot. We use it to describe our difficulty with staying clean. We use it when friends of ours die unexpectedly. “They just couldn’t fight those demons.” But what are those demons exactly?
They’re feelings. Feelings are always what got us into this mess in the first place. Most people don’t go from playing two-hand touch in the backyard to sucking on the end of a stem, so generally when we are younger, we turn to alcohol or weed experimentally and discover what we’ve been needing our entire lives — a way to stop feeling.
I know for me, when I first smoked, the thought was, “I don’t give a fuck!”
It was the most emancipating feeling in the world. I don’t fit in with anyone else? I don’t give a fuck. Girls don’t like me? I don’t give a fuck. My dad said something to make me feel worthless? I don’t give a fuck. The world changed for me that day.
The problem, as all of you know by now, is that a little weed will only get us there for a certain amount of time. Then it’s a lot of weed. Then it’s a pill. Then it’s a crushed up pill. Then it’s a bag. Then it’s jails, institutions and death.
So, we take our first crack at putting our lives together and realize that we are in more trouble now than we were when we were teenagers. Not only did we make a complete mess of our lives, but now we have absolutely no coping mechanisms outside of chemicals to be deal with any emotion besides the one called, “everything going our way.”
Unfortunately, that one doesn’t come around as often as we’d like. We are home, sometimes alone, dealing with our emotions for the first time and the temptation to just give in and go get something “just one more time” starts to dance in our heads. This is, I guess, our demons.
I feel very qualified to talk about this stuff because, even though I have over eight years of recovery, I feel emotions in an enormous way. This is most likely what led me to a life in the arts — writing, songwriting, singing — this pain needs to be released in some form every day. And everyday there is at least one thing that someone will say or do that will send me back to those feelings of inferiority or insecurity that led me to want to numb it out at such a young age.
What we need are resources. We need to learn how to feel our feelings without running to get high every single time. But how?
How can people learn to control their emotions? I have a book coming out early next year that will go into detail about the many methods for this, but in the meantime, let’s try this little exercise (and before I start, let me just warn you: you’re most likely going to find my suggestion corny. I understand. It’s a lot easier to address them with substances — I mean, except for the jail part. And the death part. And the rehab part. What I am saying is, yes, this method is a little corny, but if you stop being a grump and just try it, you’ll be surprised how well it works.)
We all know how to change our mood when we need to. Whether we make ourselves some food, turn on the TV and watch something that reminds us of being a kid, or hug our kids — we all have a few things. We may not see them as tools to take us from pain to pleasure, but that’s what they are in their most primitive form.
Make a list of as many as you can think of. Don’t be afraid to write whatever you want (except drugs and alcohol because — come on…) If you want to write “getting laid,” put it down. Blasting good music. Talking to a friend. Watching a funny movie. Calling your sponsor. Try to get about 20 to 25 of these down.
The reason you’ll want to make this list is because, for the most part — and especially in early recovery — good feelings don’t just land in your living room. You have to be ready to make good feelings for yourself every day. I know it sounds silly, but it wasn’t that silly when we did it through powders and pills. Now that we don’t have that in our toolbox, we need to develop other methods.
I mean, shit, do what you want. Call me all kinds of terrible things. Laugh at how ridiculous all of this is. And then when you are done doing all of that, try it.
You’ll thank me some day.