Last month, when my dating life seemed completely hopeless, I was on the phone with my friend who, among other things, is a psychologist. She coached me through my last major relationship and subsequent break-up, so she was well aware of my hot button issues. I mention this only because, during that recent phone call, as winter was ramping down, she suggested that I stop looking to get in a relationship and just try to find a sexual partner. Her explanation was that from everything she knew about me, she could tell that I used the word “relationship” when what I really meant was “sex.”
I wasn’t entirely convinced. As I continued to think about what she had recommended, I had to try to come to terms with who I really was as a person. I always considered myself emotionally evolved on a profound level and hook-up culture never seemed right for me. I was too sensitive for that kind of thing.
Or was I?
There was quite a bit to unpack there. In one respect, I love living alone and having the freedom of living my own life. The two months I spent over the winter, writing my book in complete solitude, was probably one of the most significant periods of my life. I had the unique opportunity to really get to know who I was, along with the experience of accomplishing one of the greatest achievements I could imagine. This was the sort of thing that never could’ve happened if I cohabitated with a lover.
But something was missing. Was it really as simple as the act of sex? I still wasn’t sure.
A few weeks passed and I received a Facebook message from a friend of a friend who mentioned that she had read quite a few of my recent articles and suggested that since we were both looking for physical release, perhaps we could be useful to each other. Obviously, this lacks the cinematic flair that many of us long for at the beginning of a sexual relationship, but for myself, it fit right into the pragmatic era I seem to be going through.
Before long, I found myself making the hour-long drive to her house. Mind you, I have very little experience with sexual liaisons that involve people I met minutes earlier, but there is a bit of excitement that goes along with that and it had been a long winter — excitement was exactly what I needed.
There was something else about the incident that I found satisfying, as well. Human connection. It had been so long since I had felt my body intermingling with another body that I forgot about the incredible release of brain chemical happiness that takes place as a result of this. It felt beautiful, not cheap — as I was afraid it might initially.
On the drive home, it occurred to me that “cheap” is a word we use to describe the way we feel about ourselves based on societal conventions. When we are brought up to believe that we need to go on three dinner dates with a stranger before it is proper to take our clothes off with them, anything less than that can make us feel strange. In essence though, what do we know about that person that I didn’t know about the person I had just been with? Not much. If anything, there was a little more honesty involved in what I had just experienced.
As time goes on and we joke and laugh with each other between visits, it feels like we are becoming closer friends. The conversations range from what we liked about our last experience and what we didn’t like; where we’ll meet next time and sometimes even about personal lives. It would be short-sighted not to imagine that it could possibly grow into something deeper and closer — however, there is quite a bit of physical distance between us. So, that could be challenging.
What I’ve learned, though, is that we’ve been programmed by societal norms to hope that we’ll meet a person, become friends real quick and watch it blossom into a physical relationship. This felt like something that took place more organically in college. The environment was right for that. Here at middle age, slowly becoming friends with the person you are having sex with feels more authentic. It might just be a question of logistics.
Whatever it is, I can say this for sure: I haven’t been this content for a long time.
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.
The other day I saw a video of a man breaking the news to his son that his mother died of an overdose. Somehow the logic was that if people got to voyeuristically look at how broken up this eight-year-old child was at the reality of losing his mother, they wouldn’t use and put their child through the same thing. This, of course, is not a deterrent really. It has the same effect as driving slow past a fatal car wreck. People love to look but they’re most likely still going to text and drive, still going to weave in and out of traffic — essentially still do the things that cause fatal car accidents.
I don’t think a single person in the history of the planet has ever gotten the compulsion to get high and then said to themselves, “Wait! Stop! I don’t want that to be my son hearing about how I died…maybe I’ll go to a meeting instead.” The decision to get stop getting high is a very personal decision and it happens internally, and it usually doesn’t come from watching a video.
So, what are some ways we can battle the feeling that we want to use after we’ve made the decision to stop? I’ve got a few ideas that from the eight and a half years I’ve put together so far:
1-Keep a Gratitude Journal- There’s an old expression that goes, “Grateful addicts don’t use.” I’d take that a step further and say that, of the many people I’ve seen in meetings that have relapsed and died, it is usually the ones who have no gratitude. Now, having had my own share of shitty things happen in the past two weeks, I know how hard this can be. We need to do it anyway. It’s kind of life or death. I start small, though. I’ll write: number one, I don’t — at this moment — have a pulsing toothache. Number two — I’m not — at this moment — in a prison cell. These are truly things to be grateful for. Even if your girlfriend ditched you yesterday and hooked up with your best friend, you have to still find something to be grateful for. Some days are obviously going to be a little harder than others, but do it everyday anyway.
2-Find someone who needs help and go help them — We live in a world where you don’t have to look too far to find someone who needs a little help. A friend or relative who is struggling is a great place to start. If you have $2 and they have nothing, you’re in a position to be able to help. Besides that, it does the thing we, as addicts, need the most: it gets us out of our own heads for a minute.
3-Structure Your Time — As addicts in early recovery, free time can be poisonous. Make sure you know exactly what you’re doing when the day begins. Will you be going to a meeting, or a church or anywhere where you can spend a little time with a few people who are also trying to stay sober? Will you be exercising, praying, meditating — anything to fill your time and make you a little tired at the end of the day? These are the kinds of things that are going to help you stick around — as annoying as they may sound initially. Staying alive is a process that requires a little effort for addicts and alcoholics, so try to put in the effort.
4-Call a sober person — I know that there are a lot of people who are down on 12-step meetings because if you are one of the very many people who use medication to not get high (suboxone, methadone etc.) you might feel a little too much judgement in the rooms. I get it. You can still get phone numbers of one of the few people who will not judge you and call them when your wheels start spinning. Remember, we’re talking about your life. It’s important.
5-Get off your computer and do something — Sometimes I think Facebook and Instagram are just as bad as hanging out with people who are using. These apps were designed for people to create lives that don’t actually exist for the express purpose of making other people feel bad about their lives. Whether you live in the suburbs, the country or the city, there is someplace you can go to get free of the stagnation and bad thoughts. Put your boots on and get going.
Ummm…make sure it’s the opposite direction as your dealer’s place, for God’s sake.
These are just a few helpful hints. If you have others, feel free to drop them in the comments.