I check the clock, it’s exactly 4:20 pm. I know that somewhere, probably not far from me, someone is celebrating the occasion.
It’s not hard, in fact, it’s easy and on this particular day I’m feeling stressed, worn out, down in the dumps, needing an escape. These are the moments that I’m most vulnerable and they don’t come every day, but for me, sobriety means the ability to pass a drug test with no advanced warning.
It can be easy to slip, thinking how easy it is to reach an escape, thinking of someone nearby who is doing the same. The thought can possess like a dark pool flooding the recesses of my mind.
When my mind is flooded that completely I know it can be impossible for me to resist, even if I know that I will regret my actions shortly after.
Even if I know that I will suffer my mental clarity the next day. To combat this the first step was to recognize my own emotions, to have a better sense of how I feel and what causes it. Once I got to know myself the struggle to control myself has become so much easier.
The following is a list of things I do on a daily basis in response to my untameable urges. The strategy is to work with the demons instead of repressing them. Here’s how:
Step One – Start the Day Right
Never, I repeat, NEVER should anyone have to wake up “on the wrong side of the bed”.
To do so is simply a matter of pessimistic outlook. Not to be “woo woo” or anything but waking up and greeting the sun alone is something to be grateful for.
In these increasingly turbulent times, every day that we wake up and get the opportunity to continue living our lives unaffected is something to be celebrated.
You can wake up and take advantage of the peace and the freedom or you can carry the grudges of yesterday right with you through the sunrise. It’s your choice.
I’m a morning person, leaving the blinds open to see the day’s first sunlight come to wake me is enough to remind me of this.
Step Two – My 3 to 7 Policy
A while back I started logging my slip ups. What I found was that I was most vulnerable in the late afternoon and early evening.
For me, I start to lose steam around 3 pm. If I continue to have a bad day and 5 pm rolls around I look for a quick and easy way to relax as I go about my evening chores with the latest slips happening as a way to unwind towards the end of the day.
Armed with this new information I had my first tool to defeating my urges and the result was my 3 to 7 Policy. The policy states that from these hours I am allowed to go easy on myself.
I’ll treat myself to an hour spent walking through the park until my mood changes. Logging some new experiences in this time can be great.
For me, hitting the gym for me this late in the day can fairly low intensity but on certain days that kind of workout is just what I need.
A few bucks spent treating myself to some ice cream or some other benign weakness. Anything to get me through until I’m feeling more stable again.
Step Three – Maintaining an Image
I’ve come to realize that the way I dress directly influences not only how I feel about myself but also what I do.
Dressing the part gets you halfway there. Sweatpants have their place, but I’d never want to be seen outside the house in them by someone I respect. That thinking works the other way around too.
Getting all dressed up with nowhere to go sounds silly but in my experience, it gets me out the door and stepping towards the places and activities I like to see myself doing more often.
This kind of practice is immediately rewarding. By upping my appearance and going to the coffee shop I’ve noticed that I get treated better by my baristas and even get a little more eye contact from the opposite sex. The grocery store works the same way.
These are two examples of places I used to have no problem visiting in sweatpants but the change in appearance has been followed by a change in self-image. That’s been huge.
Step Four – The Mood Diary
Full disclosure, this is much harder than it sounds.
The idea is to keep a small journal, or notepad, and simply record your feelings when you feel them and what caused them.
For me it looks like this:
- 3/12 Talked to ex – (confused)
- 3/15 Went to the gym +
- 3/16 Busy at work —
- 3/16 Went for a walk + (felt a little better, still felt bad)
- 3/17 *addendum to yesterday* was stressed
There is a lot of code going on here. The first step is simply to recognize when you feel good and when you feel bad I mark that immediately with a + or a – respectively.
If I can identify a complex emotion I write it down, sometimes it takes a while for me to realize why I feel a certain way as can be seen in my last post. The purpose of this record is to recognize the patterns in my moods.
If I can realize what makes me happy I have an alternative to running to an escape. If I can recognize what makes me sad I can learn to avoid that, or in the moment to take time for a little mental health.
Step Five – Making My Bed
I’m serious. I make sure to make my bed every day. It doesn’t always happen in early in the morning but it does happen.
I can’t explain it but this practice is perhaps the most basic way to be master of your own domain. Having control over where you live is very important.
Entropy is all around us and for me, there is no better example than how my place has a tendency to get messy. It happens by itself. When I’m master of my castle I feel more in control of my life and that is a powerful tool when building a new lifestyle.
You can also think of it as the first accomplished task of the day. The first of many in a great day.