I’ve been feeling down lately. I won’t burden you with the details. And sure, there’s nothing wrong with feeling down. I practice coping skills to move through the rough parts: physical exercise, following a routine, and asking for help. I’m also fortunate to have a handful of folks who bestow help when I ask. Sometimes it’s saying “I’ve felt that way, too” or “How can you change your perspective?” Other times, it’s just listening. This week, a friend sent me a copy of Silly Little Love Songs by Wings.
Quit Brooding – Be Happy
“No one can be down when they’re listening to McCartney. Even you. Quit brooding.”
And driving in the evening sun to my new tune, I had a moment of clarity.
I can reset at any time throughout the day. It’s never too late to start over, it’s never too late to decide to have a good day…
I’m allowed to feel pleasure amid pain.Because feelings aren’t fixed. Funks aren’t permanent. As life fluctuates and changes, I’m allowed to change too. A bad day today doesn’t bring the promise of a bad day tomorrow.
By nature, I tend to err on the side of dark-and-twisty. And as soon as I felt lighter, listening to Paul McCartney and feeling considered by a friend, my first reaction was distrust. I thought, “I’m not supposed to feel happy… I’m going through something right now.” But instead of giving into self-pity, I decided to try something new. I decided to start the day over.
Fitzgerald and Happy Wisdom
Funks arise for any number of reasons… Grief. Relapse. Change. Life is tough. And while we wait for things to balance out, and a positive light to reappear, it falls on us to figure out how to manage. According to F. Scott Fitzgerald, wisdom is the ability to hold two contrary ideas simultaneously, i.e., life is tough so I feel down, and things often work out and that person tripping on the sidewalk is bringing me joy. Again, I’m allowed to feel pleasure amid pain. It’s important to familiarize oneself with this idea. Because it engenders for us a more rational and pragmatic worldview. It helps us handle change or misfortune with greater acceptance and fewer anxieties. As I say to clients, thinking rationally untwists our distortions.
The truth is, when we ignore moments of contentment, humor, playfulness… we cheat ourselves. I draw further negativity by blocking the possibility of good. I attract more gloom with a gloomy demeanor. Because in doing so, I’ve already written the end of the story for myself. I’m not thinking critically about the situation, I’m not behaving proactively. At best, I’m side-stepping. At worst, I’m stepping backwards (and giving myself wrinkles). It may feel like the easiest option in my state of down, but it will make things harder in the long run.
Yes… when we’re down, we often relish our downness. Especially if feeling down is predictable. And familiar.
My McCartney friend describes it as, “Withdrawing into your particular sadness.” Much of the time, our downness gives us an excuse to behave irresponsibly. Dangerous territory for those in recovery.
So, just because I’ve experienced pain or am currently experiencing pain, am I to view the world through a tragic lens all the time? When something makes me smile amid my funk, like a song or a baby or someone tripping on the sidewalk, who says I need to immediately resume my chagrin?
If we’re drowning in pity, fear, emotional unrest… and are offered a life preserver (in the form of a recommendation to a treatment center, an opportunity to build extra accountability, or even a Paul McCartney tune)… why wouldn’t we reach for it?
Bikes, Funks and Substance Use Disorders (SUDs)
Another method of reset is physical movement. The mind-body connection is well established. A significant change to our physiology disrupts problematic thinking patterns. Going for a run can diffuse anger. Meditative stillness may quell anxiety. There is even budding evidence that particular breathing practices quiet nicotine cravings.
In terms of SUD recovery, triggers and cravings are often stronger when we’re stressed. But when we practice healthy alternatives to battling stress spikes (instead of picking up), we reroute brain paths to associate the healthy activity with stress reduction.
I went biking recently. I haven’t biked in years, and wore a characteristically inappropriate outfit for the occasion. Truth be told I was running late to an event, and sans vehicle, a friend offered, “Wanna use my bike?”
By the time I reached my destination, I’d traveled a great distance and pushed my body to a new, unfamiliar limit. My funk lifted as my physiology shifted, and I decided to quit brooding and start over.
I’m learning to take advantage of moments like these, instead of ignoring them. The ability to evaluate and reset a situation is quite a gift. And these moments can serve as a reminder to get out of your head and invite the good. And I’m learning to assess all of my options before settling on the obvious one.
As we navigate early recovery, the ability to reset is incredibly valuable. At Sanford, clients find new ways to weather a funk and explore healthier ways to cope. A structured treatment environment is often the safest place to practice this skill.