Liberated living: from mire to amazing

After averting a potentially catastrophic DXM relapse, I set out to build a brand new life. In Liberated Living, we’ll transform myths to truths, take down the stigmas associated with “addiction” and “mental illness,” and learn powerful tools for permanent, total recovery.

This is part three of an eight part series.

Three days of pure bliss.

After years of contending with creative blockages and destructive urges up the wazoo, I felt renewed.

September 10, 2014. Intimately connected to creative forces, free from negativity and all traces of destructive compulsions.

Those were the three days after scorching that Robitussin packaging to brittle ash. I’d survived my DXM relapse, and basked in abundant resolve for liberated living.

Perfect serenity, no internal tension to speak of.

It totally rocked.

Imagine a fierce storm, seems like it will rage forever. At long last abated.

Blue skies, look like water-color paintings. Rolling, white clouds.

Could almost mount it all on a wall, and smell the fresh breeze when you look at it.

A trio of days, just like that.

Tranquility so provocative, that my first negative thought following those three days stuck out like the sorest thumb in the world, on a hand with a set of the finest fingers ever.

This is what happened:

A romantic interest sent a Facebook message.

But I was doing household chores. Response, delayed.

Ten minutes later, my thought process (inner voice) said something like this:

“I’d better go reply to the message now. Yeah, she’s a needy bitch.”

Wait, wha-?

Well, that was not very gentlemanly.

Was copiously perplexed.

Didn’t have a sense of her being needy, and definitely didn’t think she was a bitch.

Determined to get to the heart of matters, I retrieved an index card and pen.

Wrote down and categorized the malicious self-talk, then noted the context.

Looked like this:

Then, asked myself if a more rational approach to the situation could be ascertained.

A reframe. On the reverse side of the same index card:

Afterwards, there was a deep realization that my internal name-calling was 100% irrational.

Not based on anything real.

Just jabbering in my head, produced by my feeling obligated to engage in more than one activity at once.

That girl had nothing to do with it.

Then, recalled innumerable past instances of similar thought processes.

Countless times, projecting irrational delusions onto women, labeling them needy and smothering.

Completely ill-conceived. And I was wholly oblivious up until now.

Rather humbling.

Refreshingly, my insides went through an immediate renovation following the reframe.

By shifting perspective, that old irrational noise was transformed.

The reframe stuck with me.

No needy bitches, anywhere.

What a relief!

After that, let’s just say I got giddy about note cards.

Reframe: Nice actions, bad attitude

One day, after missing my bus to work, I requested a last-minute ride from my mother.

She agreed, but I construed her tone of voice as a bit persnickety.

Was so annoyed, as I have been for years in similar contexts.

It’s like: “If you can’t have a good attitude about it, just say no! Geez!”

It was index card time:

That right there was an instantaneous solution to a problem established probably twenty years ago.

Reframe: The smoking nurse

Standing outside of college, spotted a nursing student strutting down the block. Smoking a cigarette.

Guess what I did.

Then, the reframe:

Since then, everyone has been free to smoke cigarettes without my mind getting all snarky.

Reframe: Fear of slipping backwards

Occasionally, a gripping fear arose.

Fear that I wasn’t truly out of the woods.

That I’d jumped to conclusions, was overly confident, setting myself up for failure.

Magical note cards to the rescue. Those fears didn’t stand a chance!

(Used to think of my destructive cycles as a pendulum, swinging back and forth on a continuum over which I had no control.)

(Also, after using DXM, I often felt more mindful, compassionate, and appreciative of my life. Came to associate DXM leaving my system with losing my ability to enjoy life.)

Now honestly, it took more than one round to transform that particular worry.

It was substantial, rooted in dozens upon dozens of past occurrences. Swearing off DXM forever, meaning it with all my heart. Then, seemingly unable to stop myself, going back for more.

But since September 2014, every time the fear emerged, I just worked through the process again.

Like a charm, every time.

After a couple weeks, the concern dissolved completely and has not significantly returned since.

From mire to amazing

The profundity of this self-work cannot be overstated.

It’s like deep-plumbing for neural pathways.

Washing out old, stagnant, limiting thoughts and building them into new, empowering ways of thinking.

During my diagnosis of bi-polar II, I showed the note cards to a psychiatrist.

He told me it is similar to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) methods.

CBT, as it so happens, is an effective behavioral component in treating bi-polar.

He told me to keep doing what I was doing, and I did.

I never leave the house without a stack of note cards.

But enough about me. How YOU doin’?

Every single day, the amazing thinking-machine in your cranium produces up to 50,000 cognitions.

What percentage of those thoughts empower you to be a bold, effective, dream-realizing you?

And how many are cumbersome speed bumps, been busting up your groove for as long as you can remember?

You might identify so closely with those thoughts that you haven’t, until now, considered your life without them.

You are hereby nominated for the distinguished role of Thought-watcher.

If you choose to accept this role, your mission is simple but challenging.

Just watch your thoughts.

Observe them, listen to them, let them do their thing.

The challenge is, you’ll probably be prone to participating in your thoughts rather than merely observing.

That’s OK. That’s what we do, almost always. We participate in our thinking.

It is how we speak, create, solve problems, and relate to others.

With certainty, nothing wrong with any of that.

If you find yourself participating with your thoughts during a thought-watching expedition, just crack a knowing grin.

Gently return to observing.

You can do this anywhere, anytime, but it may be most convenient to start in a quiet, comfortable place.

Set aside some time. Even just five minutes. Or one. Thirty seconds. Anything.

Just observe.

If you observe anything interesting or surprising, you may want to write it down.

On an index card, if you prefer.

(I am not being paid by the index card industry, but should be.)

When you’re through observing, then you can inquire.

Choose one thought you observed, to focus on.

Whichever thought pattern you analyze, just know you’ve probably engaged in that same pattern or one remarkably similar to it hundreds of thousands of times in your life.

Maybe even since childhood.

It has guided your words, directed your behaviors, and shaped your view of the world.

Maybe in miniscule ways, maybe in massive.

So then, the question becomes:

Do you want that particular thought guiding your words, directing your behavior, and shaping your view of the world?

Is the thought aligned with what you want for your life?

If so, awesome. It’s a keeper.

But if it holds you back, bogs you down, gets in the way of living the way you want, or otherwise impacts your life detrimentally, it may be time to reframe.

To reframe is not to destroy old thought patterns. If you can help it, do not detest your thoughts.

It is not a battle.

Doesn’t have to be, anyway.

And if it is, there can never be a victor.

You made the thoughts. They are yours.

Hating anything you’ve produced is counter-productive to pretty much everything that matters.

To reframe is to transform.

Reframing is taking thoughts that already exist, and adding new dimensions of pragmatic efficiency and effectiveness.

Taking what doesn’t work so well, and molding it into what works wonders.

This process will come easily for some, and be more challenging for others.

Depends on how accustomed you are to paying attention to your thoughts.

If being still and watching your thoughts does not come easily, don’t worry. You’re not alone.

It isn’t easy for me, either, but it does get easier all the time. With practice and patience. Gentleness with myself.

After experiencing the profound benefits of reframing my self-limiting thoughts, I knew the possibilities in my life had expanded immeasurably.

And they can for you too, good Thought-watcher.

If you engage in thought-watching and don’t mind sharing, I would love to hear of your discoveries and insights.

Should you reframe a detrimental thought pattern and see for yourself how powerful reframing is, please share it with everyone you know.

Show them how. Send them here.

If you would like some help reframing your thoughts, feel free to contact me at any time.

I cannot do the work for you, but can give advice and ask useful, probing questions.

Once you know what kinds of questions to ask, you’ll be able to do it yourself.

It’ll be amazing.

Like your face.

Also published on Medium.