15 Rants about Addiction Recovery and Other Stuff (an ADD List Post)

Did you know I am a bit ADD? It's true. This blog is a bit all-over-the-place (and tl;dr) but that's okay. If you're curious and like to read, check out these 15 deep thoughts about addiction recovery and other stuff.

addiction recovery

On Addiction

“Even as a junkie I stayed true [to vegetarianism] - 'I shall have heroin, but I shan't have a hamburger.' What a sexy little paradox.” ― Russell Brand

I have an addictive personality. It started when I was a kid. I would play Nintendo games for hours after school. Super Mario was my favorite. Going outside didn't seem appealing in comparison.

My lack of activity and hunger for fast food caused me to become obese before I finished elementary school. When I turned 18, I discovered Dance Dance Revolution (or Exercise: the Video Game) and proceeded to drop 30 lbs.

I was too young to understand how habit change works, so I gained that weight back in my first year of college. I was faced with the temptation of a buffet-style dining area. They even had an ice cream bar with all kinds of flavors. Rainbow, cookie dough, mint chocolate chip, and more. Let's just say my self-control was lacking.

And then there were cigarettes. I smoked my first one outside of the Fort Henry Mall. It was a clove cigarette called Djarum Black, a.k.a. the gothic cigarette. Relevant detail: I was a mall-rat for a few years in high school.

15 Rants about Addiction Recovery and Other Stuff (an ADD List Post)

It began innocently enough. I would bum a smoke from a friend and leave it at that. Then I started buying my own and smoked one per day. One turned into two, two turned into three, three turned into four... you get the idea.

The ironic part? I got really interested in health and fitness a few years later, but that didn't discourage me from smoking. I deluded myself into believing exercise and healthy eating would "balance things out."

The cognitive dissonance was strong in this one. If someone called me out for my bullshit, I got defensive. I usually dodged the issue by criticizing their decision to drink soda or eat fast-food.

I was in denial for a while. It was easy to excuse myself for smoking a cigarette after dinner. It got harder to hide from the truth when I started to go through a pack of smokes every day. Here are six life lessons that straightened me out.

1. Shame is not a helpful emotion.

“Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.” ―Brené Brown

Guilt and shame are not the same.

Guilt is when you judge a behavior as "right" or "wrong." If you do something that's not in alignment with your values, then you might feel guilty afterwards. This can motivate you to change your behavior for the better.

Shame is when you judge yourself as "good" or "bad." If you beat yourself up for every shortcoming, you could convince yourself that you're hopeless. Intense self-loathing can lead to the belief that you are unworthy of love and happiness.

Thus, addicts can find themselves trapped in a vicious cycle. They partake in their poor habit of choice, feel ashamed of themselves, and experience emotional distress (hint: stress just so happens to be the most common trigger for relapse in addicts).

2. Everyone is addicted to something.

“Every form of addiction is bad, no matter whether the narcotic be alcohol, morphine or idealism.” ― C.G. Jung

Addiction isn't reserved for drinkers, smokers, and drug users. It can manifest in many ways:

Do you eat past the point of discomfort?

Do you binge watch your favorite TV shows?

Do you feel moody without your morning coffee?

Do you check your Facebook feed every five minutes?

Do you put your work before your friends and family?

If you answered YES to any of those questions, congratulations -- you're an addict!

3. You can't simply quit an addictive habit.

“The chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken.” ― Samuel Johnson

Addictive habits are built by a three-part feedback loop that includes cues, routines, and rewards.

Cues are environmental triggers that tell your brain to disconnect and follow a learned procedure. Routines are the steps contained in that procedure. Rewards are the benefit you receive for following those steps.

Let's take a look at a sample feedback loop for a female smoker with a stressful job. She clocks out for her lunch break (cue). She puts on her coat, walks outside, and lights up a cigarette (routine). She feels less agitated due to nicotine's calming effect (reward).

4. You need to replace it with a positive alternative.

"Addiction isn't about substance -- you aren't addicted to the substance, you are addicted to the alteration of mood that the substance brings." -- Susan Cheever
Entrenched habits are hard to shake. Even if our hypothetical smoker decided to quit, her subconscious mind would keep craving cigarettes. I have good news, though. She is probably more interested in the calming effect of nicotine than the cigarettes themselves.

The best way to eliminate a poor habit? Replace it with a positive alternative. If a smoker lights up with the intention of calming her nerves, she could replace smoking with a healthy habit that provides the same benefit. She could try things like deep breathing, gentle stretching, or watching a funny video. In time, her subconscious will start to associate the cue that triggers smoking with the new habit instead.

5. Addicts don't necessarily enjoy their habit of choice.

“I have absolutely no pleasure in the stimulants in which I sometimes so madly indulge. It has not been in the pursuit of pleasure that I have periled life and reputation and reason. It has been the desperate attempt to escape from torturing memories, from a sense of insupportable loneliness and a dread of some strange impending doom.” ―Edgar Allen Poe

I didn't get much enjoyment out of smoking. I hated the way cigarettes made my car and clothes smell. I got irritated when I burnt a hole in one of my favorite shirts. I tried to cover-up my breath with mints and mouthwash. I felt like a fraud and a hypocrite. Nothing fun here.

I've never been hooked on hard drugs. Marijuana is the farthest that ever went. It numbed some thoughts and feelings that made me feel bad. Instead of confronting my problems, I crawled into the comforting arms of my addiction. Reality seemed like too much to manage.

Again, I didn't really enjoy the feeling of being high. I just liked the fact that it numbed me. Russell Brand put it brilliantly when he said, "Drugs and alcohol are not my problem, reality is my problem, drugs and alcohol are my solution."

6. Relapse happens, but it's less likely when you're mindful.

“It is impossible to understand addiction without asking what relief the addict finds, or hopes to find, in the drug or the addictive behavior.” ― Gabor Maté

Studies show mindfulness can help addicts prevent relapse. Mindfulness is simply an enhanced awareness of the present moment. Mindful people don't label their thoughts and feelings as "good" or "bad." They experience their thoughts and feelings without judgment. As a result of this mental clarity, addicts can:

  • Recognize cravings
  • Override impulsive behaviors
  • Stay calm in stressful situations (remember: stress is a major trigger!).

Meditation and yoga are my favorite mindfulness techniques. Meditating helped me figure out why I felt so compelled to get high and smoke cigarettes. Yoga served as an emotional outlet that helped me work through some issues. Both of these techniques involve conscious breathing, which promotes relaxation and reduces the effects of stress (see previous parenthesis).

If you've never mediated, you might feel intimidated by the idea. It's not as hard as you think. Here's a fun video that will show you how to meditate in a single moment.

I just read a really good book called Buddha's Brain that contains a bunch of guided meditations. Check that out if you want to take your practice farther.

On Uncertainty

“The only way to find true happiness is to risk being completely cut open.” ― Chuck Palahniuk

I left the banking world and become a personal trainer in 2012. Getting in shape changed my life in so many ways. I gained confidence. I learned to appreciate a body I used to hate. I felt strong for the first time in my life. I wanted to share these gifts with whoever would listen.

Passion doesn't pay the bills, though. I spent away my savings account and ended up so broke that I could barely afford rent and food for a few months. That's an impressive feat, given the fact that I started with over $10,000 in savings and eventually ended up in debt $2,000.

Reality started to resemble a nightmare. Some mornings, I questioned the point of living. I felt so miserable that I would smoke a bowl as soon as I woke up. I wanted to numb myself to these feelings. As Poe said, it was a desperate attempt to escape from torturing memories.

This situation didn't mirror my expectations at all. I pursued self-employment, because I hoped it would lead to a freedom lifestyle. The "experts" made it sound so simple. It was hard to reconcile my desire to travel with the fact that I was struggling to get by.

Money got so tight that I decided to find a day job. I got hired as an office manager at a YMCA, which provided enough income to stop the bleeding. Meanwhile, I spent more time writing... as it turns out, that's what I should have done in the first place.

Here are four life lessons that helped me crawl out of debt and take control of my life.

7. All ideas are not created equally.

“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” ―Winston S. Churchill

If every idea was equal, we would all be millionaires. I couldn't tell the difference between "good" and "bad" ideas for a while. This caused me to cling to some stinkers. I thought I could "think rich" or "visualize my way to success." That's bullshit (here's why). No one cares how passionate you are about your business if it's not marketable. Know when to fold.

8. Being stubborn won't get you anywhere.

"Many are stubborn in pursuit of the path they have chosen, few in pursuit of the goal." ― Friedrich Nietzsche

Stubbornness is not a strong-suit. It is a glaring weakness that can destroy your business and relationships. If you're not willing to admit when you're wrong, how will you become a better version of yourself?

I fell victim to the sunk cost fallacy. I continued to follow a failed strategy, because I had already invested so much time and money into it. That might sound irrational, but it's a common thing.

9. "Giving up" and "Letting go" are not the same thing.

“Some people believe holding on and hanging in there are signs of great strength. However, there are times when it takes much more strength to know when to let go and then do it.” ―Ann Landers

Quitting isn't always a bad decision. Sometimes it is the only logical thing to do. It all depends on this -- are you giving up or letting go?

Giving up is: Quitting a job that's "too hard." Leaving a relationship that involves "too much work." Accepting mistreatment from others.

Letting go is: Quitting a job that doesn't fulfill you. Leaving a relationship that doesn't serve you. Accepting that you can't control everything.

I stubbornly followed a strategy that put me into debt, because I thought quitting would be a sign of weakness. That was a false belief. It takes strength to let go of your expectations and accept the hand you're dealt. My life got a lot better as soon as I did that.

10. Success might look a lot different than you imagined.

"I wanted a perfect ending. Now I've learned, the hard way, that some poems don't rhyme, and some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.” ― Gilda Radner

I'm pretty good at personal training.

I'm REALLY fucking good at writing.

I used to consider myself a personal trainer who writes on the side.

Now I consider myself a writer who offers an online coaching program on the side.

Don't focus on the thing you are okay at. It's better to focus on the thing you excel at.

Let's face it. I don't have a formal degree in exercise science. I don't have a training certification worth bragging about. I don't have tons of experience. I didn't even get interested in fitness until I was 21 and I've only been coaching for two years now.

I fell in love with the written word ten years ago. I took a creative writing class, joined the school paper, became editor, and things escalated quickly from there. I understand the psychological triggers that cause people to interact with content online. As a result, my articles have been shared over 150,000 times and read by millions of people.

I didn't take my writing career seriously until last year. I'm not sure why. The stereotype of the "starving artist" might have convinced me that it couldn't be a profitable endeavor. How wrong I was.

I have several clients paying me anywhere from 2-5x what I used to make as a banker. That's allowed me to pay off my debt, leave my day job, stockpile a decent amount of savings, and invest in a yoga teacher training program. I don't feel secure enough to travel the world yet, but I'm confident that will change pretty quickly at this rate. Maybe I'll offer workshops about how yoga can help mental health when it does. 🙂

On Self-Care

“Love yourself first, and everything else falls in line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world.” – Lucille Ball

I used to get so consumed in the daily hustle that I forgot to take care of myself. Sometimes I got so caught up in writing that I forgot to eat. Other times I bailed on important commitments that I saw as a distraction from work.

Neglecting my needs didn't do me any favors. My relationships with friends and family suffered. So did my mental health. Isolating myself caused me to sink deeper into addiction (this isn't merely anecdotal -- scientific research backs me up).

All humans need love and connection to thrive. If that need isn't met in a positive way, it's tempting to seek stimulation (or numbness -- blissful indifference) from drugs. If a person continues to use drugs for this reason, then they will eventually become an addict.

I have been exercising and eating healthy for a while now... but I didn't truly understand the healing power of self-care until last year. My workaholic tendency was buried deep, so I decided to combat it with a morning ritual that centered around self-care:

  • Eat breakfast
  • Walk my dog
  • Sunrise salutation
  • Write in my journal
  • Meditate for 5-10 minutes

For about a month, I refused to work and banned the use of technology until I completed those five steps. The funny thing? My productivity skyrocketed. Even though it took almost two hours to complete my ritual, I was more efficient overall.

Noisy thoughts reduced their volume to a whisper. Wasting time on Facebook and Twitter didn't seem as appealing. I was so focused that my blogs and articles seemed to write themselves.

If you've been putting yourself last for a long time, please consider these five life lessons:

11. It isn't selfish to put yourself first.

“Do your thing and don't care if they like it.” ― Tina Fey

Putting yourself first doesn't hinder your ability to care for others. Self-care gives you energy and enthusiasm. This will help you be the best mother, father, or care-giver you can be.

If you want to raise fit and healthy kids, you have to lead by example. Don't tell them to be more active. Show them how fun exercise can be.

12. Few things are as urgent as they seem.

"Beware the barrenness of a busy life." ― Socrates

Our modern society prides itself on being busy. Most of this busyness is empty of meaning:

Do you answer texts when you're out with friends?

How many emails really require an immediate response?

Why should you make yourself available at every hour of the day?

As Dr. Wayne Dyer said, "I'm a human being, not a human doing." We have forgotten how to be still and appreciate the present moment.

Some parents ingrain the "busy" habit in their children before they're old enough to resist. They go straight from school to soccer practice, choke down some dinner, and spend the rest of the night buried in homework. There is no downtime to unwind and be a kid.

Do you think you'll regret the fact that you didn't do enough work on your death-bed? Somehow I doubt it. Life isn't about the hustle. It's about love and connection. In fact, "I wish I hadn't worked so hard," is one of the most common regrets of the dying. Slow the fuck down.

13. Exercise isn't merely about weight-loss.

"Training gives us an outlet for suppressed energies created by stress and thus tones the spirit just as exercise conditions the body." ― Arnold Schwarzenegger

It's sad that most fitness marketing is absorbed in vain goals like losing belly fat. It's totally okay to want to feel attractive, but there's a lot more to exercise than that.

Studies show exercise can help you reduce fatigue, prevent sickness, treat depression, and overcome addiction. It can even add years to your life. Isn't that more important than having a six-pack?

Exercise can empower you in other aspects of your life. If you stay committed to a training routine for a significant amount of time, you will become a more persistent person. That means you'll be less likely to give up on your goals.

I shared more surprising benefits of exercise here and here if you're curious.

14. The best diet is the one that fits your lifestyle.

"Diets, like clothes, should be tailored to you." ― Joan Rivers

Be careful about who you trust when it comes to nutrition advice.

Monsanto isn't evil. GMO's won't kill you. Food Babe is a fear-monger. The Paleo diet is built on bad science.

Your best bet? Stop looking for answers from "gurus" and diet book authors. If you listen intently, your body will tell you what it needs.

Marc David, founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, often refers to a helpful guide called “the inner nutritionist.” Your inner nutritionist tells you all kinds of things:

  • When you’re hungry
  • When you’re full
  • How different foods impact your mood, energy, and body

Most people aren't mindful of internal sensations like these. Instead, they let external cues guide their eating decisions. This leads to mindless eating. External cues include things like:

  • How stressful your day was
  • Who you're hanging out with
  • The amount of food available

Your inner nutritionist doesn’t care about any of that stuff. She just wants you to nourish your body with the foods that make you feel energetic, happy and fulfilled. Keeping a food diary can help you improve your relationship with food.

15. Positive change cannot come from a place of self-hate.

“You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” ― Buddha

Needing to lose weight doesn't make you a bad person.

Making a poor eating decision doesn't make you a bad person.

Failing to stick with your training routine doesn't make you a bad person.

Yes, you do have to be consistent if you want to achieve your goals. But that doesn't mean you have to be perfect.

Beating yourself up is counterproductive. If you call yourself a "failure,"  you might convince yourself that you are a lost cause.

Don't be ashamed of your shortcomings. This will only cause you to make more mistakes, which will lead to more shame, which will lead to more mistakes. Do you see where I'm going with this? It isn't a pretty picture.

Accept your shortcomings. If one of them is limiting you in a big way, try to change your schedule or social environment to make it a non-issue. Here's a personal example. I used to eat lunch in my car to avoid the break-room (donuts were always available!).

Learn from your mistakes. They are learning opportunities in disguise. As long as you improve yourself in some way, there is no need for regret. Winston S. Churchill put it nicely when he said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

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If you'd like to read something less ADD, check out my new Amazon Kindle book: Do Yoga Every Damn Day. Yoga helped me figure out what compelled me to pursue poor habits for so long. Click here for more information.


One Response to “15 Rants about Addiction Recovery and Other Stuff (an ADD List Post)”

  1. 5 Small Habits That Lead to Big Success (#5 Will Surprise You) | The Wallen Way Says:

    […] did several things to address my addiction. First, I began to silence my phone while I write. It’s much easier to focus without that […]

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