My Mind Full

Once sober, the urge to drink doesn’t begin with an urge to drink.

It starts from a deeper place. It’s a desire for a secret life, an escape from reality, a pursuit of fantasy. I know this from my own experience. And I’ve seen it in the experience of others.

Some of my worst habits are initiated by a benign suggestion. In a moment of self-pity, I tell myself I deserve some new indulgence. I work hard, don’t I? I co-pay the bills. I show up. I tell myself things like everyone has a vice. I mean, how boring would life be without one?

I need to run my motives by other people. People who either know me or know addiction—preferably both. Left unchecked, I will tell myself that things weren’t that bad, and that it might all work out this time around. As if losing the will to live were like losing a pair of keys, I tell myself I won’t let it happen again.

The better off I am, the further away from misery I journey, the easier it becomes to tell myself that things will be different. I am different now. One of my more insidious and persistent thought patterns in long-term sobriety has been the thought of hallucinogenic drugs. My mind has grown so clear, Imagine the trip I’d have! The problem is that consuming any mood-altering drug incites my other-ism.

My other-ism tells me there are other things out there to do more productive and purposeful than the things I am doing; that there are other people out there who are doing what I should be doing. Unchecked, my other-ism cripples me, dominates my thoughts and actions. Nothing triggers the onset of other-ism like the escape of drugs and alcohol. Substances provide the instant other-ism fix the way boiling water makes instant oatmeal. I am transformed. And what’s more, I am in control of my own transformation. A fact that clearly defies nature. Just ask the caterpillar who tries to bust out of the cocoon before it grows its wings.

Yes. Hallucinogens might feel incredible with the sort of sobriety I have.

No. I would not be able to do them once and move on, calling it a sober experiment. Who knows the sort of urges that would arise in my dormant fiend as a result? And with life as good as it is in its unfiltered state, why change a thing?

 

I’ve found no cure for my other-ism. I continue to foster and develop urges to create new habits that end in self-destruction. What I have found, and what made the fifth coincidence a miracle, is that keeping busy helps.

 

I have found so many days full of anguishing trial. Days when my patience is tested, my nerves are shook, my convictions are rocked at the core. The circumstances are always different on long days like that, but one commonality remains: I never think about a drink or a drug. Not for a second. I’m just too busy to. Activities, endeavors, projects consume me whole, the same way I used to consume my substances. But there is a crucial difference. I am not in control of these outcomes. I can’t predict how they will make me feel. my other-ism never gets triggered. I don’t consider for one second that a drink or a drug is even an option.

There is something miraculous in that. Whatever the outcome of the day—I may fail horribly in what I set out to do—I pass the bigger more important test with flying colors: I overcome an obsession of the mind and an allergy of the body that wants to kill me.

The mindfulness I need to stay sober is most often a fullness of mind.

I keep a quote my stepfather gave me near my desk: “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?” It’s an inspiring thought experiment. If pursuing great things keeps my mind off of drugs and alcohol, then failing to reach them is still a success. What matters is the pursuit, not the outcome.

The object of the pursuit doesn’t need to be the Nobel Peace Prize.

The miracle is in the mundane, after all.

Take my typical morning.


I’m up before the kids at fifteen to five.

I open my laptop and write. I write anything. When I have nothing to write, I write about how it feels to have nothing to write about and eventually I am writing about something again. Occasionally, something is in the way. That’s when the other-ism has paralyzed me. These days I just hold on and wait.

Once 6:30 hits, I get dressed and walk the dog. I cook breakfast for the kids. Pancakes or oatmeal if there’s time. Often I just pour cereal because I took too much time writing. These are days when I don’t want to stop writing because my imagination is rolling and it feels like a sin to stop. Compare that feeling to the feeling of a binge where it is a sin to keep rolling, but you can’t stop.

I get the kids up and get them dressed and feed them and brush their teeth and pack their lunches and load them in the car. This last step involves at least one but up to seventeen emotional interventions involving two children who embody their growing pains and can’t filter their expressions of need.

I’m Switzerland at the UN—making concessions, peacekeeping, accommodating. If I remember to turn off the lights, I am winning. Winning big. Whatever it takes to get them in the car and get to work on time, it takes. I don’t look back. By the time I drop them off to start my work day, I feel exhausted like I’m at the end of one.

But when that bell rings at 8:15, there will be twenty-some teenage boys waiting for me to talk to them about some book they’re reading. And that bell waits for no man.

While my life is exhausting, I can tell you this: drinking is the last thing on my mind.

Not everybody is as crazy as I am. I admit that I have an unnatural tolerance for chaos and activity. I also know that if I’m not immersing myself in it, I will find it somewhere. Anywhere.

A coincidence, the fifth of this series, helped teach me this lesson.


It was eight years ago to the month.

I was living with my cousin. I was uncomfortable in my skin, uncomfortable in my sobriety. But I was staying busy. Looking for work. Reading. Writing. Going to meetings every day. My cousin had poured a pint glass of beer for himself. He went into the other room. I looked at the beer. It’s frothy head.

I can drink beer really fast.

I thought to myself that I could drink the entire pint and load the glass in the dishwasher by the time my cousin gets back in the room. I could taste the beer that he set an arm-length away. When I look up, I see the clock. I was late to a meeting.

So off I went.

Were it not for the coincidence in timing, things could have turned out very differently.

As crazed as it can make me sometimes, I keep moving throughout the day. I stay busy. I stay vigilant.

I do my best to keep my mind full.

 

13 Responses to “My Mind Full

  • Again Mark, I completely relate to your piece. Chaos, juggling all the cool things happening… Too busy keeping those balls in the air to notice that I am so tired my body hurts. Haha – more power to us my friend!

    • Yes! Thanks Andrew. More power to us hustlers!

      I saw that it was the Edge Cafe’s year anniversary. That’s unbelievable! Time truly does fly when you’re keeping this busy.

  • Thank you… lately everyone around me at meetings seem to be talking about how they lost the compulsion to drink once they walked through the doors of the rooms. Well, I’m over 7 years sober,try to practice the program to the best of my ability, go to meetings, sponsor, am sponsored and still get the urge. Lately things have been incredibly testing and the escape seems so tempting. Your post has helped enormously.

    • I’m so glad this post was timely for you.

      I’m not sure if there is a black and white way of conveying it. As in, “it’s gone” or “it’s not.” I find that I don’t think about a drink often anymore. I can’t remember the last time I did. But I do think about things that I know will lead to a drink. I act out in those character defects that have a one-way destination to them.

      Anyway, I see your site is down or in transit? I hope all is well with you. Always good to see you’ve left a word.

  • I think its totally normal to think about these things especially since you got sober while still very young. The thought that you are different now and the idea that the new you could handle a hallucinogen or two. I agree with Saoirsek that these thoughts and urges don’t just dissapear. They may become less frequent but when I was 5 years sober in my 20s these thoughts played on my mind all the time. I should have ‘outgrown’ the problematic use of whatever. I wasn’t working a program so that is a big reason why I went back out. You are very grounded and switched on:) I’m investigating virtual reality as an alternative. Don’t laugh…When I have that feeling of I need to get out of my mind and escape my world or myself I put on a VR headset and transport myself to an alternative universe. All natural, no side effects. xxx

    • Oh wow! That is definitely no joke.

      You know, I’ve never tried those VR sets. I must give them a shot though! It beats flying from reality in the ways we used to, for sure.

      I’m glad I appear grounded. I try to be. And hope I am! I find I need to keep myself in check. I can make things appear true that aren’t easily. I can be pretty manipulative. Anyway, Hoorah. Great to hear from you! Thanks for stopping by.

  • Cathy Davis
    4 weeks ago

    Thank you.

  • I am a busy doer too. I think so often busyness can viewed as a negative, but really it might just be what saves us from ourselves. Looking outside ourselves helps us to keep our head up, the view on our next step. Thanks Mark for sharing. I recently took the grandbaby shopping with me to the fabric store….all went fine, but it was a lot of juggling! I often wonder how I did this with 4 kids in toe everywhere I went and now one little baby feels like all I can manage! lol I’m older and I really feel it on days like that!

    • I have to admit that I’m also wondering how you did it with 4 kids. I can barely manage with 2!

      There is something to it. It is a positive in my life, for sure. I do tend to go overboard though. I can get so obsessed and wrapped up in things that I lose everything else. So I try to keep my obsessions on the positive side of the spectrum, as you said. It’s always great to hear from you Annette. I wish you and yours a Happy Thanksgiving.

      Mark

  • So right on. “The desire for a secret life “…… Oh, that rebel will always be with me. Love this series on coincidence!

  • One line that caught my attention is, “I am different now”. In my own journey with my with addiction with food I see a lot of “before” and “after” pictures showing people and their victories. But as we all know, the huge majority of people who take weight off put it back on, and then some. I have already done that twice. I am really trying to be Mindful that there is no arrival. There is no destination. I am not different now. Even though I have lost almost 35 pounds with 5 to go to my goal weight this journey is not about weight loss but looking deep within. Just when I think I’ve got this, I will surely be back where I started. Or worse.

    • So true….addiction in its many forms, is often a symptom of our heart’s condition. Eliminating the symptom is just the beginning.

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