For there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. ~Shakespeare
One of the main reasons I drank, especially when I was alone, was to mask uncomfortable thoughts and feelings.
On countless nights I’d come home after work with any number of options as to what to do: I could have gone to the gym or out for a walk, called a friend to say hello, read a book, or done some writing. But I often felt an unnamed anxiety that prevented me from doing anything worthwhile. Where this anxiety came from I’m not sure.
Was it loneliness? Uncertainty about my future? The restlessness that comes from feeling I should be somewhere else doing something else?
I could never quite put my finger on it. Of course, I usually didn’t give myself much time or space to figure it out because my drinking soon numbed the discomfort and helped the hours pass.
Now that I’ve been sober for about three and a half years, I’m faced with those same uncomfortable thoughts without the option to medicate them away. For the first couple of years of sobriety, I struggled with these feelings, vacillating between reacting to them and pushing them away. Sometimes I’d act out or wallow in negativity while others I’d put on a happy face and pretend I was not affected. Neither of these two extremes felt productive or nurturing in any way. I needed to find a middle ground but didn’t know how.
About a year ago, I began to practice Shamatha meditation, an open-eye practice of sitting and focusing on the breath that encourages gentleness and compassion, first toward yourself and gradually toward all people and things. As I’ve written about before, the practice requires one thing: that you hold your seat even if you are having the worst practice of your life. Developing the ability to stay when feelings of discomfort arise has been immeasurably useful in my day-to-day life.
Along with the practice, and thanks to the encouragement of my meditation instructor, Susan Piver, I’ve recently incorporated study. According to Susan, study is “a catch phrase that refers to what you do to bring your intention, intellect, insight, and curiosity to the practice.”
For me, study has included reading just about every book Pema Chodron has written. Her titles are deceptively simple and inviting: Start Where You Are, The Places that Scare You, and Comfortable with Uncertainty, to name a few.
Comfortable with Uncertainty holds a special place in my heart. Not only is the concept of becoming comfortable with the very thing that drove me to drink one of the most appealing I can imagine, but the chapters are brief enough that I can read several before my morning practice and still have time for coffee and peanut butter and honey on toast (don’t laugh, it’s really good) before work.
This morning I read the following words and felt the need to share:
“What we’re working with in basic meditation practice…is the middle ground between acting out and repressing. We learn to see our thoughts of hatred, lust, poverty, loathing, whatever they might be. We learn to identify the thoughts as ‘thinking,’ let them go, and begin to contact the texture of energy that lies beneath them. We gradually begin to realize how profound it is just to let those thoughts go, not rejecting them, not repressing them…When we don’t act out and we don’t repress, our passion, our aggression, and our ignorance become our wealth…With all the messy stuffy, no matter how messy it is, just start where you are – not tomorrow, not later, not yesterday when you were feeling better – but now. Start now, just as you are.”