I have found that to keep my mental health in check I need to be dreaming up new goodies for my life. Needing to do this because of the great deal of ambitious energy that naturally seeks to create in my world through me. Neglecting to use this energy brings pain, and a desire to numb out and escape this pain. Though numbing out this pain may temporarily help with the pain, it also has other undesirable consequences.
My Painful History of Numbing out Dreams.
I remember when I was in the heart of being a using addict. There was a paralyzed feeling when it came to attempting anything that may better my life. This came from years of letting myself and others down. For me, to dream was to come face to face with the reality of how hopeless I felt.
This also happened before using chemicals ever came into the picture. Though early on it wasn’t such a paralyzed feeling. There was a level of resistance that grew over time.
When I first began using I thought I found the solution. It felt magical. I found myself not caring as much about being awkward in social situations. And not caring as much about letting others down. Though as the years went on, the using escalated and my hopes and dreams began passing me by, one by one. Using was the best I could do to not go crazy from the stress of not living my ambitions
In the end the amount of using that needed to happen to keep the stress dampened, destroyed my body from the inside out. Numbing out the stress of my unlived ambition didn’t make the stress go away it only gave me more to work on once I stopped.
Ways of Numbing and Escaping Ourselves.
I have been clean and in recovery from addiction for a decade now, but still find myself trying to escape reality on the daily. From what I see, much of society seeks to escape reality compulsively on the daily.
In the last My Life Experiment article we touched on the importance of setting aside time for relaxation. The troublesome thing is that these same methods that may be used for relaxation, can very easily turn into methods for numbing ourselves to current unwanted emotions.
Be it social media, Netflix, day dreaming, thinking, partying, reading, shopping, self righteousness, worry, sex, sarcasm, anger, etc etc.. The list goes on in on. My sponsor in recovery likes to say that a person can become addicted to anything they can do more than once. I tend to agree.
Maybe not all methods of numbing and emotional escapism have as severe consequences as the way I used chemicals, but they all have undesired consequences.
The Balance Between Relaxation and Escapism.
A big consequence is having life thrown off balance. When binge watching the latest series on Netflix I am not doing all sorts of important things I could be taking care of. When staring at my phone too often I am not getting as much time with my relationships. So in turn missing out on new opportunities to grow and experiment with life.
Whenever a tool for relaxation interferes with other healthy desires too often, I know I am likely trying to escape and not just relax.
I get it though, it is important to take ourselves off the grid throughout the day. Whether that be a little day dreaming, checking the phone, or having a good laugh with a friend. I don’t believe we as human beings are supposed to be ultra productive every moment of our lives. That idea makes me cringe a little when I think of it.
So how can we know when we are Escaping rather than relaxing? There are some questions we can ask ourselves.
- Am I spending too much time doing this activity?
- Are there any important decisions I am putting off?
- Is there fear I am experiencing?
- Do I feel like I am avoiding conversations with others?
- Are my nerves on particularly high alert?
If these questions prove to ring true then there is probably some numbing out to escape reality going on. So it would be a helpful idea to take care of the problem area these questions are alluding to.
Seek Feeling Not Numbing.
It seems that some of the numbing we seek is to escape the fear of the future. Others to escape painful feelings of the past.
There are a couple things the past and future have in common. First of all they do not exist, either anymore or not yet. Second, the only time the emotions about them exist is in the present moment.
The present is also the only place we can seek to escape them, as well as the only place that we can feel them. But we cannot feel them when compulsively seeking relief from them.
We need to slow down, let go and be vulnerable. Once we are able to calm our nerves, and feel what we need to feel we can get back to the moment. Then we can get our thoughts and bodies back in healthy relationship with our ambitious energy.
We all have our histories that have grief, trauma and many other painful emotions. Getting in touch them is the only productive thing to do with them. Running away from them is not. They always catch up eventually. Attempts to escape them are fruitless, they don’t have to hunt us down like in the movies. They are right inside of us.
Finding New Ways of Living.
Feeling these emotions is not enough though. Getting in touch with our ambition is not enough either. We need to decide to use this energy in a productive way.
When I entered recovery, I had all sorts of dysfunctional ways of behaving. I would guess that you are likely in a better position than I was. But even I was able to and continue to latch onto healthy new ways of behaving.
This requires letting go of the ways we waste our time and seek too much comfort from our ambition. Then both finding new friendships, hobbies, ideas to study and skills to learn. And most importantly finding better ways to bring value to the relationships we currently have.
There is no shortage of ways to be creative in our own little worlds. So my advice is to spread the energy around to many different areas. I would tell you what you should go have fun with but only you can figure out what brings you both challenge and pleasure for yourself. Have fun my friend!
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Much Love, Travis Hagen