Nothing seems crazy when you’re used to it.
Whether it’s an abusive relationship, a toxic workplace, a compulsive habit, or some other harmful circumstance, you never realize how bad it was until you walk away and heal from it all. It’s only when you get to the other side and find the happiness you didn’t know you could feel, that you see your past with straight eyes.
But that’s the beauty of human transformation. It affords us contrast, perspective and most of all, gratitude.
Makes me think back to the workaholic period of my life when chronic stomach pain had become my daily companion. My tense, churning gut was the physical manifestation of the accumulated stress and anxiety, and it caused me considerable suffering.
Multiple hospital visits too. Totally sucked.
Thankfully, with the help of doctors, therapists, friends, my wife, and numerous other resources and practices, my body eventually learned to calm the heck down. Only took me ten years, and my stomach pain was a quaint relic of the past.
But as the great comedian once noted, just because you got the monkey off your back, doesn’t mean the circus has left town.
Carlin’s words remind us that relapse is often an unfortunate part of the lifelong recovery process. Even if addiction isn’t part of our lives, everyone slides back. Everyone. There’s always the possibility of the deterioration in our state of physical, mental, emotion and spiritual health after a temporary improvement.
Good news is, that’s actually a positive thing. Because when it happens, we get a pang of a memory of the misery we once used to feel all the time. We show ourselves how far we’ve come and how much we’ve changed along our journey.
For me, this relapse happens a few times a year when there’s an exhilarating and challenging project at work. One that requires me to double down on my effort and focus my entire intellectual and emotional arsenal for several hours straight.
Here’s what happens to me biologically.
Within the first twenty minutes, my pulse starts elevating, by brain starts firing, my jaw starts clenching and my stomach starts boiling. The warning signs are crystal clear to me.
Scott, you just engaged workaholic mode. Be aware, be very aware.
Next, my compassion chimes in. Reminding me not to freeze or panic, but to simply say:
Hello darkness my old friend, how are you? Nice to see you again.
That’s how we need to think about our old habits. Our relationship to them is a minor friendship that strikes up from time to time, and that’s okay.
This very scenario happened to me on a recent afternoon, and the thought that ran through my mind was, wow, this is how you used to feel all the time. For many years.
Isn’t it a blessing to only have to be a tourist in this land, rather than a citizen? What a gift to be firmly set in your new, healthy orbit and way of life. Relapse is indicative of my strength of conviction, perseverance and commitment to change.
Next time you reengage the craziness you thought you healed from, don’t beat yourself up about it. Accept your imperfect humanity, give thanks for the perspective, and greet your darkness like the old friend it is.
LET ME ASK YA THIS…
What relapse might open the door to a better understanding of your compulsions?