Overcoming Toxic Thinking
“There’s way more going on in your head than there is in reality.”
The thought hit me like a ton of bricks and stuck with me. The realization sunk deeper through the midst of recovery from addictions to alcohol and prescription drugs. I began to finally look into and take responsibility for the thoughts that were in my head and the things that I did.
My name is Neil and I’m from Chicago. I’ve worked in sales for over two decades. Today, I experience life as a father and more reconnection with my son than I ever thought could ever happen, which makes me come alive. I get to see how he grows and his little nuances that remind me of myself, and of life. It’s so special. I didn’t think it was possible when I was in the midst of addiction, or during the first years of my recovery.
Dealing with Roots
I grew up in the city. Both my parents struggled with addiction. I hated alcohol and drugs because of what they did to my family. But, in the automobile industry where I worked, people around me drank and used frequently. When I first started myself, I thought my parents must have just been doing it wrong. I found pride and identity in being able to party hard and still pull myself together for work — barely. I got married a little over a decade ago, but I brought my addictive behaviors into the relationship, which proved quite difficult. Getting married brought the issues to light and started my recovery. I went through detox, and doctors prescribed various medications for my challenges, including Xanax. For three years, I didn’t drink, but I was not healthy. I never dealt with the roots.
Various patches of relapses and recovery continued until 2016. Having tried to get sober, I wasn’t sure what to do, because the meetings and structures I tried didn’t work for me. I still wanted to learn why I was so self-destructive with alcohol. And that’s when the realization came that there was more going on in my head than in reality around me. I dove into psychology, consciousness, health and fitness, and even quantum mechanics. I realized I had to unlearn the things I previously knew and start with a brand-new perspective.
A Kindergarten Mentality
Entering recovery this time felt like I was going to kindergarten again. I told myself that I was learning with a kindergarten mentality. Starting from scratch wasn’t easy because my career and life experiences had seemed to firmly shape how I saw the world. But, exhausted from doing life the wrong way for all these years, I took the kindergarten mentality and opened myself up to a whole new world.
It started with learning to meditate. I began to picture my thoughts in a tornado. Each time I chose to meditate and not wrestle with the nonsense in my head, the tornado would get less violent. I began to be able to let go of old feelings, experiences, and thought patterns, and not fixate on them. Through this process, I became clearer in my decision making, and free to feel what I needed to feel so that I could heal.
Let’s say you’re mowing the lawn. If you just mow the weeds, they’ll still come back. The only way the weeds will actually go away is if you pull out the roots. I wanted and needed to find the root of the problem. That’s where meditation came in.
Meditating gave me little wins and breakthroughs that kept me going until I came upon something major. I learned how to feel the emotions I had as a scared little kid, so that I could actually process and deal with them. Through that process, I came to a place where I knew that I had made it to safety; I didn’t have to be afraid of anything anymore. Not that there ever really was something to fear, but there was just too much going on in my head to decipher what was fact and what were fear because of the overthinking.
Breakthrough in Meditation
In that first real breakthrough moment, I found myself crying and laughing almost simultaneously for a couple of hours uncontrollably. I think it was the best I’ve ever felt. I had been looking for this kind of relief for years, but because I had poured alcohol on top of every emotion for so long, I was never able to find it. Finally, I could put down the 10,000 pounds I carried for all those years. After that experience, I felt much more compassion towards myself and others.
Diet and exercise played a big part in my recovery as well. I burned off 65 pounds of old alcoholic and visceral fat, which helped reset the way my body functions and start fresh at age 40.
Today, I feel better than I did when I was 25 years old. I’ve found that I enjoy challenging myself both physically and mentally. Writing frequently helps me to sort things out and to continue to find new ways to be calm and at peace with the events of my life. I don’t count days sober, nor do I focus on the act of not drinking because it takes too much energy away from my ultimate goal of being healthy. I hope everyone can find same type of peace or drive in themselves because to me, that’s the real way to recover. What matters most to me today is being able to connect with my family, and in particular, my son. For a while, this did not seem to be possible. My healing process reopened the door and empowers me to be the father I’ve always wanted to be.
Taking OneStep Forward
You are only one step away from finding help. Take one of these steps towards freedom:
1. Be gracious: Like Nell, you might have experienced people making comments that create shame around your recovery process and addiction. Don’t let these labels stick – choose to be gracious to yourself.
2. Boundaries can be love: There might be someone in your life walking through a healing or recovery process that you want to show compassion to, but might actually wake up because of boundaries you set. It might feel harsh or mean to set boundaries, but sometimes boundaries will encourage them to take ownership of their process.
3. Embrace a different journey: Your story is unique so your recovery journey is likely going to look different than anyone else’s. Be okay with finding a different range of resources that work for you. For Neil, it was through a friend and sponsor, but it may look different for you.
5. Try meditation or other spiritual practices.