Cured of the cure

I tend to take a good thing too far.

I have plenty of evidence to prove it. Alcohol was one of the first good thing I took too far, so was smoking pot. Substances came into my life as good things, life preservers when I was drowning in anxiety and self-doubt. I just took what cured my anxiety a little too far is all. Actually, I took it way too far.

Once I went to my first college class high, it was over. I had to go to that class high every time. I worried, of course, that if I went sober I wouldn’t understand what the hell the professor was talking about any more. So I better take the exam high and write the paper high while I’m at it, for the sake of consistency. I thought I was going to do great in that class. I had the utmost confidence I would do better in the class I went to high than in the other classes I was going to sober. The grades came. I didn’t do better. I did worse. I jumped to the defense of my habit quickly: not bad for taking the class high.

Much of my modus operandi in recovery remains the same as it did before I got sober.

I got hooked on exercise once—actually, I’ve been hooked on exercise over several different intervals. Eventually, I take it too far. I spend too much time in the gym. If I forget to pack the protein powder in the afternoon, so I come back to the gym late at night with the powder this time. The workout has to be perfect.

And that’s when I know I’ve taken something too far—when my routine must be perfect for me to enjoy it. When that is the case, I am no longer in the cure. I am in the destructive state of mind most commonly referred to as obsession. I write about sober obsessions often, as I am in and out of them like seasonal wardrobes.  

My latest cure was waking up early to write. Discovering the new routine was a eureka! moment. I spend most of my mental energy concerned about writing. Waking up to knock out a thousand words before the sun comes up made everything work for me. For a while.

But, I tend to take a good thing too far.

Why, when I’m up past midnight handling a sleep-refusing toddler, or reading a new book I can’t put down, or watching the NBA playoffs do I feel the duty to get up at 4:30 in the morning still? Why subject myself to sleep deprivation? I did. Weeks went by. I wasn’t getting any sleep and wondering why I was on edge and miserable. Why do I stick with it?

My answer: because it works, damn it. Because I have to. Because I’ve had the most productive month yet!

The truth: my writings been steady. Last month saw no more or less output than the month before it.

The real truth: I get hooked on solutions and routines all the time. I tell myself this is the way out, this is the answer, this is the cure.

Beware of perfection, even in the dawn.

There is no cure for what ails me is me.

I only have a reprieve contingent on my spiritual condition. There is no perfect routine.

In fact, like one of those great paradoxes that come from living a civilized life, the minute I discover what seems to be a perfect solution, I know I have taken a good thing too far.


My friend Damien of Sober Boots helped me through this latest spell when he told me over the phone: “maybe you don’t need to put so much pressure on yourself to write every morning.” Thanks Damien. Readers of this blog will really enjoy Damien’s blog. His last post “Labels” was particularly good, in my opinion.


So what is the cure for what cures you when what cures you becomes a curse?

Vigilance.

If there is something that is not working in your life, you have to let it go. And sure, while there are plenty of things I can’t let go of—responsibilities, work, taxes—something like waking up early to write is a self-imposed necessity, not an actual one.

I wake up early still, often, check in on the #5amWritersClub. I just don’t make it a requirement anymore. And I’m much better off for it.

27 Responses to “Cured of the cure

  • So glad our chat helped. You’re an amazingly talented writer, whether the words come at 5AM or not.

    • Thanks Damien. And thanks for your inspiration and friendship. No longer tired of travelling alone, brother.

  • stepsherpa
    1 month ago

    Obsessive compulsive isn’t just about hygiene or an organized spice rack with the labels out. Even 30 can’s of tuna fish or 50 gallons of Poland Spring in the basement in case of a media revolution. Nope.

    I myself scan for esteem building techniques constantly, boosts of emotional security, as I and those like myself are survivors. It’s what we do. I tend to worship people, others ideas and actions in hopes of a better arrangement of my own. All this isn’t a problem until I lose sight of my self and motives. Like the big picture gets so small that all I can see is myself. In other words, my selfishness. I do what others do alright but then I expect what I think others receive as result of their work. It’s all about me..fix me, make me happy. I think I understand what you think so I do as you do then I make myself pay when my needs are not sufficiently met. Unwilling to take responsibility? In my unaccountability I look for blame. As if I am an innocent victim lured into this act. I have no security, I am insecure.

    I’m supposed to be buying a new truck. My current one has close to 300k on it. I’ve been looking everywhere. Yesterday I decide to go to Boston to look at one. On the way I’m thinking it’s Memorial Day weekend. I decide I don’t need a new truck. I need a new boat! YEAH! If I buy it today I can be in the water Saturday pulling up on the beach with all our stuff living like I want to live. Then I realize I have a perfectly fine boat already that I was grateful for up until a few minutes ago.. I can’t afford a new one anyway, now I’m bummed….Unless I sell a motorcycle. I have 3 motorcycles. I could sell one? Now I’m happy…I can’t decide which one to sell, now I’m confused.. I decide to forget the whole thing? Now I’m relieved, happy again..I created the whole thing.

    So my dream comes and goes without any action, I’m probably lucky.. I look at the truck and give it a big maybe. I go home to my place where I live. Where nothing needs to be changed. I relax.

    Addictionland.com could use some support.

    • I am browsing through addiction land this morning, Sherpa.

      Have you ever read David FOster Wallace. You might like Infinite Jest. He does a virtuoso job in describing people like you and me, Sherpa. That acute self-consciousness. Reading him, and he writes all about the loud mind, helps quite me. I’m not sure how that all works, but it does.

      That’s cool you motorcycle. That seems like a good hobby. My father in law is a biker. And I always think one day I might just get into it.

  • I completely understand what you do and do it myself all the time. I too have had to learn what I have come to know it as a little lee way or balance. I often found myself beating myself up if I have gotten off track and have to remind myself now that “it’s okay!” in fact it’s great! LOVE reading your blog….

    • Thanks Cat. Thanks for the visit and the reads. It makes all the time I put into this thing worth it. Knowing that it connects me with people who are searching for the same answers I am. Okay is great! Tough but important concept, I think.

  • SoberinKS
    1 month ago

    Thanks for this. I ended up as an alcoholic but I tried everything else first. Each day I ask God to relieve me from the bondage of all of my addictions. I haven’t had a drink in 3 1/2 years but that doesn’t tell the story. I am still so prone to taking any behavior, good or not so good to the extreme. As soon as I begin justifying, bargaining, over or under selling-I’m headed for trouble.
    I’m glad I found your blog. I like the “real ness” of it. Reminds me that I’m not alone on this winding path.

    • Thanks for the visit and welcome to the miracle of the mundane! I try to keep it real at all times. And when I’m not keeping it real, I have great fodder for the next post.

      The bondage of self is a nice summary of all this mess. What ails me is me–the bondage of self. It’s all wrapped up in this crazy package of me and the many issues that we all have. Save the sharing of them for us brave ones…

  • Your so awesome bro, that is my favorite one out of all of yours I have read so far! Of course for the “sake of consistency” one must attend that class high now, was there ever a doubt that is so me. Just like from the ages of about 20-25 I used to drink a case a beer a day but my driving was miraculously enhanced with every beer I believed crazy. Great job I totally relate in every way thank you.

  • Kristin
    1 month ago

    Ah, Mark.
    You’re so good at taking the words I didn’t know I had in my head, and placing them beautifully on the screen in front of me. Each post I read challenges my thinking.
    And this one was no different. It’s funny because I was working so hard at having everything I did in my sobriety perfectly, and recognizing that, I took a break.
    And now I’m in the mindset, subconsciously, that I can’t go back to the way I was, so why go back at all? More of the “if I can’t do it perfectly, then why do it at all?”
    So thank you for bringing a realization to the forefront for me.
    Today, I am going to do lazy and depressed perfectly. Tomorrow? Maybe tomorrow I’ll try something new.
    Perfect procrastination.
    “There is no cure for what ails me…”

    • This is a very kind comment Kristin. I appreciate that you took the time to write it. I’m glad the blog gives you a lot to think about it. I’m a big over-thinker, so I have plenty of content in that arena.

      I wonder if I could do nothing for a day. Just fucking nothing. I imagine it would be incredible. But, I don’t know if I’d ever be up for it. My best ‘nothing’ day is living in acceptance that I want to be doing everything all the time.

  • I totally get what you’re saying. God has given us skills and talents to use, but when the skill and talent becomes greater than God, our life is out of balance!

  • Hi Mark!
    I agree 100 %!!
    I can get very mad at myself if I don’t get to yoga enough.
    I am an all or nothing girl.
    Routines can help me, but I have to allow some flexibility in my life!
    xo
    Wendy

  • When the routines start to stress me out.. that is when I know I took it too far or need to change it up, or at the very least look inward and remind myself of why I started the routine in the first place..

  • I was writing recently about tools in recovery, and had the thought: anything, even helpful recovery tools, can be taken too far and abused. We must have this in common. Finding the middle-way, the perfect-balance, seems to work best, but damn it’s a fine line. It’s all about enjoyment, anyways.

  • Colin Chatburn
    1 month ago

    first engrossing,enjoyable read mark.thank you .second,one word serenity.choose the battles worth fighting,walk away from the less fun ones. the most important thing,your work always makes you stop and think.

    • Thanks Colin! That’s high praise. I think that’s what good writing is all about. Thanks for letting me know. For reading. For all the support.

  • Oh my word I can relate to this so much! I get fixated and obsessed with things. The perfectionism is still there and I need to be mindful of that and keep it in check. I made a birthday for my son last week and became totally obsessed on how perfect it needs to be. It feels like I lost 3 days (sounds eerily familiar doesn’t?) The routine you describe might be too rigid and sometimes we need to just let go a bit and redefine out concept of good enough. For myself I know I am trying to compensate for not feeling good enough so I overshoot and when I don’t manage to stick to my ‘spartan’ routine I berate myself for being lazy and useless. Thank you for this post it reminded me that I need to watch the self talk and obsession.

    • Hurrah, we are cut from the same cloth. It shows itself in different scenarios, but I really believe it is the same.

      I’m aware that I have a deep fear of not being good enough. And, I’m pretty sure, no matter how “good” I can become, professionally, or whatever, it will always feel like it’s not enough.

      Thanks for engaging this post with some feedback. It helps bring up thoughts like that, and helps to sort of round out the discussion.

      I bet that birthday party was kick-ass, by the way.

  • The need to write each day may be one that consumes you, but remember your writing is not only something you take into your life, it is something that you pour out of your life. If it become too serious again, consider allowing yourself to write about lighter topics, like knock knock jokes, pick-up lines, or funny sayings on tee-shirts. 🙂 I know this sounds crazy but it might help your emotional attachment to writing feel more like a break from your fixation and less of an obsession. Whatever you write, I am sure it will be wonderful.
    Best wishes for your continued success,
    Melanie

    • I like this! I usually don’t think to ‘lighten the mood’ often in my writing. This is a great suggestion. I’m going to marinate on it and see what comes up. Thanks Melanie.

  • johnny Spence
    4 weeks ago

    mark, I’m not sure if I’ve replied to this or not, bloody 3 day memory! Anyways, I find with a lot of your work, it either hits straight away or as is often, I re-read your posts and only after a couple or sometimes several reads, do I really get the message. Its down to your temporal position in your recovery and where I am. I mean, in time. I see future possible setbacks, things to watch out for, I put a lot of value in your writings of these things. In many ways, as has been stated so much better than I can, I see myself in your descriptions. Relatable value is priceless. I could see the churning in the water, I picked up on a couple of warnings, a little late. And Claymore wouldn’t let me follow up, in case I did more damage than good.
    I hope things are a little easier at the moment. I never understood the hooked on the cure bit, now I DO.
    thank you for all you do Mark, your the real deal pal, johnny

    • Hey John- Always good to hear from you. I knew you were going to be busy for a while and I hope you were able to take care of everything you needed to. Well, it means a lot to me that you’d take that sort of time to think about and reflect on the posts. I take all sorts of time to put them together. The temporal thing–this blog, it feels inevitable now, but it is almost a decade in the making. So, it’s sort of like my greatest hits over all I’ve been through over the last 10 years. I do always worry that I’ll run out of steam, run out of content. But then, life. Life keeps providing new subject matter. And it gives me hope that I can be doing this as long as I live…
      Have a good weekend, bud.

  • Mark,
    I get it. Balance is tricky. Connecting with A higher power first thing in the morning with a cup of coffee helps set the day on a course that will flow.
    I’ve done the my will/God’s will see saw for so long it makes me dizzy.
    I always come back to the same place- God/HP first, do what needs to be done and stop trying to control everything. It works when I work it.
    Good luck and keep writing- it’s a mental enema for addicts.
    Shawn.

    • Appreciate that Shawn! Nice to hop over to your blog as well and see what you’re up to. And I see you’re up to some awesome stuff.

      Starting the morning off right is important. I do find though that nothing, no routine, no trick of recovery, is more important than the simple, “don’t dink, don’t pick up” mentality that has saved my life so often. Just don’t pick up!

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