Breaking free from my self imposed mental prison
We moved to Shelton when I was in 7th grade. Middle school was already tough, and now I was the new kid starting in a new place, midway through the year.
I was mortified by the Puma sneakers my mom made me wear, because they weren’t Nike or Reebok, like everyone else had. I thought to myself, no one will like me because I’m not wearing the right sneakers. I didn’t talk to the people at the bus stop and kept to myself at school, because in my mind, they wouldn’t like me – so I beat them to it by not liking them first.
Then in high school, I was obsessed with losing weight because I saw all the pretty, popular kids having a good time. I obsessively created endless checklists to eat less and exercise more. Instead of looking for friends to enjoy lunch with, I sat by myself with a salad, telling myself, I’ll be happy someday. Once I get through this, I’ll have lots of friends.
In my twenties, I was in a rock band playing out in bars around New Haven. We were pretty good, and the other guys were really into it – but my internal dialogue was always focused on the negative: people aren’t paying attention and no one wants to listen to us, and I can’t wait until this is over. (Wasn’t that supposed to be fun?)
The truth is, I was NEVER happy where I was.
Was someone trying to sabotage my life? (Yes, me.)
Apparently, I didn’t want to be anywhere, so drugs became more appealing. I was aiming for happiness, but settled for getting numb. Eventually, I couldn’t function without both cocaine and heroin – every day.
I was in a dark and hopeless place, where my entire existence consisted of working to buy drugs, up until the point where no amount of drugs was enough to drown out the guilt, shame, and remorse I was feeling, caused by that lifestyle. Then … when I could go no further – I hit bottom.
I desperately cried out for help, and something snapped inside. I woke up. I became self-aware like never before.
Suddenly, it was clear that what I had been looking for was not “out there.” There wasn’t some magic job, girl, or bank account that would make me happy. I needed to find peace on the inside.
With the help of some amazing people and the 12 steps, I started to question every thought that popped into my head. I saw the lies – all that crap about me not being good enough, and not being worthy of love and friendship. Says who? I could see how all the stories I had been telling myself, about myself, were blocking me off from everything good.
The most critical moment was when I realized that I was neither my mind or my body, that there was this other thing – an awareness, that could see everything from an outside perspective. That awareness was the real me.
For the first time, I was able to dis-identify with the voice in my head.
The more I was able to step back and observe my thoughts, the more they slowed down, and I began to feel connected to everything around me. I was able to experience moments of presence, of just being right where my feet are, enjoying whatever was going on. You hear that? JOY! This was the happiness thing I had seen all those other people doing.
I could plainly see how that little voice in my head is not always right, and I became free.
Today, 15 years later, I’m still sober and I’ve never lost that essential awareness. But I need to constantly make a decision to NOT engage with every single thought that pops into my head (which can still be very difficult). But, without fail, when I follow one moment to the next, without giving in to that nagging desire to control everything through over-planning and worrying, amazing things happen. Inspired action happens. Luck happens. Synchronicity. God moments. Whatever you want to call it … things are overwhelmingly better for me when I’m present.
It’s like I now have access to power that I didn’t have before. It was always there, I just had to make space for it.
How we experience life comes down to perception, right? We see things happening around us, but we get to assign meaning to it. Is it good or is it bad? For most things, it depends how you look at it.
Thoughts happen. I can’t stop them. But, when I’m awake – aware – I can see them coming, and decide which ones to listen to.
How would your life change if you stepped away from your thoughts once and a while, looked back and said, “nope – that one’s bullshit. I’m gonna ignore that one.”
You’re probably thinking, how can I get to this place of awakening? Is suffering a requirement? For me, it took a crisis to wake me up. But, you may get there with just a little practice. Mindfulness is like a muscle – the more you use it, the more it grows. Here are a few things to try: Pretend you’re the Karate Kid, swatting thoughts away (remember, wax on, wax off … we’ve been watching Cobra Kai on Netflix!) You can say to yourself, “I wonder what my next thought will be?” then wait – see how long you can go. One of my favorites: all throughout your day, especially during conversations, occasionally push your foot firmly down against the floor to remind yourself to stay in the moment, to be where your feet are, and not drift into random thought. By shining a light on your thoughts, they start to slow down. Start by making a little space up there in your head, and more will be revealed.
Header image artwork “Rainbow” by Abigail Liebensohn, courtesy of Zen Mantis
Mindfulness, Music & Marketing. I’m obsessively curious about what makes people tick and what makes us all feel more connected.
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Such a GREAT read! I believe everyone has moments of clarity but the hanging on to them can be s challenge. For me Cancer treatment (chemo) gave me a Zen moment of truly being “right here, right now.”
Once a week a few friends & I gather to chat then listen to Sadgharu’s meditation “I am not the body. I am not even the mind.” Thanks for sharing ❤
Thanks Suzy! That’s awesome that you’ve been meditating with a group. It’s so powerful. I should be doing more of that myself.
Mike, I have to commend you for your brutal honesty and openness. This level of vulnerability is rarely seen in any human today. Applause for your self-reflection and ability and desire to share with us. I am truly encouraged by your candor.
BUT, and it is a big but, I have been patiently waiting and wondering when the best time to say what I have to say. We’ve known each other for a long time and have shared many thoughts, ideas and very deep things about each other. And, I’ve never been bold enough to say something heavy on my heart to you. So, here it goes…….
Please do not publish this if you don’t want to. It will not hurt my feelings in any way. It has been heavy on my heart to encourage you to seek God as the first source of answers. I mean really give yourself over to Him and surrender your self (ego) and use His power instead of your own. I know you feel it and have for some time, but I’m not sure if you have surrendered your ALL to him. There is a big difference between having God as a part of your life and making Him the CENTER of your life.
I don’t know how I could ever handle the many things life has thrown at me without keeping God as the center, the hub, of my life. Everything spokes out from it and all of the wisdom I can gain on my own is minuscule compared to the wisdom He can provide.
Sorry to be so preachy (no pun intended) but I never had the guts to say all of this through the phone. I hope you will ponder these words and not necessarily get back to me, but get right with God and make the decision to allow Him to be the center of your life.
In case you have never been provided the way to accept this gift, I have always remembered it as simply as ABC….
A-Ask Him to come into your life as your personal savior.
B-Believe in the God who sent His son, Jesus Christ to this world and to die for our sins, be crucified and rise again in 3 days and sent the Holy Spirit to be with us every day to help guide us through life.
C-Confess your sins to Him who has already forgiven them as Grace, the ultimate gift, but acknowledging our frailties as humans and unable to do life without Him.
I love you like a brother and want to see you for eternity. Your self introspection is great, but there is another level that is greater. I hope we talk soon.
Hey Scott, it’s strange having this conversation publicly, but … well, these comments self-publish once I approve you for the very first time, so the cat was already out of the bag, so to speak.
I hear what you are saying, and you’re not the first! I know what I write can come off as self-help, as “figuring out how to do it all myself” kind of stuff, but I do believe in a power greater than myself. When I’m able to get my mind out of the way – and I’m awake – I have access to that power. I know it. I’ve felt it.
Maybe you’re right, and there is another level for me to experience … but, when I read your ABC instructions, my mind slammed shut. I work at being open minded each day, and in my own way, I pray for the willingness to believe.
I appreciate that you were able to speak your heart to me. It means a lot, that you care so much that this was stressing you out! =)