Friday, May 13, 2011

The Dangers of Living in My Head

"When you're in your head, you're behind enemy lines."

This is one of those AA sayings that used to irritate me (long ago when I hated AA because I thought it was too religious and too cult-like). It annoyed me because it seemed to be saying "don't think." Now, I attribute a good many of the world's problems to either greed or stupidity. So this seemed like idiotic advice indeed.

But, of course, this saying isn't about wandering aimlessly through the world without ever using your head. Rather, it's about the dangers of the alcoholic brain. It's about how alcoholics are able to convince themselves of absolute bullshit--be it rationalizations for drinking, reasons to feel paranoid or persecuted, justifications for acting out.

I read an interview last night with Andrew Zimmern--you know, the world's most bizarre foods guy. He was talking about his former life as an alcoholic/addict and said: "Your alcoholic mind tells you that living like that is acceptable. My brain tells me things that aren’t true, even today. If I act on that, I get myself in trouble; back then, it’s all I was listening to."

I chuckled--and if you're an alcoholic, you'll chuckle, too--because I knew exactly what he was talking about. It was a great big "aha" moment for me in rehab as well, almost two years ago: "Oh my god. Sometimes I just make shit up." And then we have an annoying habit of believing that shit is true.

As Andrew notes, even sober, his brain still does it. The difference is that he knows it does, so he knows to not listen. Or, probably more accurately, he knows to slow down, check himself, and check the facts and see how what he thinks lines up with reality. A situation like this happened to me the other day. I'm sober as a church mouse and yet had convinced myself a dear friend was doing something behind my back that she wasn't doing. We talked about it; she wasn't--something else was going on instead--; we've resolved it. I also apologized for being selfish and for not giving her the benefit of the doubt.

When I was drinking, I would've simply blown up in her face and gone on an accusatory rant and yelled horrible things she'd have a hard time forgetting, or I'd have drunk myself into a stupor and then acted out in some way to hurt her.

It's weird to go through life knowing that I can't always trust my own perceptions. I overthink. I can take something small that anyone else would disregard and create an entire world of illusion around it. Actually, anybody can do this. It's just that alcoholics got so used to doing it when we were using that this became our normal way of thinking. So, we have to unlearn the behavior.

So, I remind myself to not live too much in my own head because frankly, there's a mess in there.


Karl Boyken said...

Joyce, great post! This saying sounds a lot like mindfulness practice. To be present in the moment, you have to continually recognize the story running through your head as just a story, and then drop it and check in with what's really going on.

Joyce said...

Yup, there are quite a few AAers who practice Buddhism and meditate to stay present. One of my sober friends has a tattoo on her wrist as a reminder: it says "Be Here Now."