Real recovery is often likened to waking up, choosing to face reality without compulsively smoothing edges and running from what is uncomfortable, inconvenient, and frightening. Whether one is getting sober, confronting sex addiction, or quitting chewing gum at all hours of the day, stopping addictive behaviors, both highly destructive ones and the relatively benign, forces the eyes open to what is actually happening. This is also the goal of meditation – not so much to calm down and relax, but to see our thinking and behavioral patterns and what exists when we stop identifying so strongly with these patterns.
But it can be a big pain in the ass. Choosing to live awake, no matter how rewarding and enriching, (and for many, how life-saving) can sometimes get exhausting. All that shedding light – can we draw the shades please? Can we go back to the way it all once was, when our addictions worked? Tragically, (thankfully!) we cannot.
I used to drive way too fast and like a total asshole. Weaving in and out of lanes, tailgating those going the speed limit, daring to make it through yellow lights. I don’t do that anymore today and haven’t for a few years, and it’s not because I’m such a law-abiding citizen. I just find it stressful and tiring. Cruising along at a moderate pace is far more peaceful. It makes driving enjoyable rather than some fight or flight, anger-fueled video game. Problem is, many people in Los Angeles do not cooperate with my nonchalant style. People tailgate me constantly while I drive 38 in a 35, cut me off, weave in front of me at deadly paces. It’s pretty frustrating. Why is everyone in such a rush? Where are they going? Then again, maybe this is my karma for my years of being a jerk on the road. And we all know that drivers in this city are pushed to max with the round the clock congestion, traffic, and construction. People are probably doing the best they can. Maybe they feel the need to rush home to see their families or get to work or whatever important destination awaits. (It is known, however, that speeding will maybe get you there a minute or two earlier.) Thing is, sometimes this situation occasionally makes me wish I could go back to sleep. Start driving like a dick again. Talk on the phone and smoke. Blast the music to deafening levels. Take drugs. I used to do that, and it worked – I was never calm enough (or I was under the influence) to notice how stressful fellow drivers were – I was one of them!
But we can’t go back to sleep once we’ve awakened, even just a little. It’s like how they say, all cheeky, that once you enter AA your drinking is ruined forever. It’s a joke, but there’s truth to it. Ignorance sometimes is bliss. Once we start to see ourselves with open eyes, it is very hard to pull the wool over again. But would I choose to start drinking again, or bingeing and purging, or being really really mean to myself, thinking it would block out the sometimes difficult task of facing reality? Of course not. I could start lying to people, cheating, sleeping around, walking the earth without any regard for how I am affecting others, but again, why would I want to? It’s too late. It’s become far more painful now to make any attempt to block reality. I woke up, and I must face the consequences of that… hardy har har.
I think what is essential is practicing gentleness throughout this process of awakening, both with ourselves and others, because it is not always easy. Waking up is about surrendering and letting go, loosening our grip on knowing and controlling, but that also means we stop having so many defenses. It invites vulnerability, the likelihood that we will get hurt and feel pain. There is the reality of living in the world, and the world is filled with all sorts of endless complexities and dynamics, including people who are still asleep and very insensitive. But it doesn’t mean we walk the earth without skin, affected by every little dysfunction. We still take care of ourselves and armor ourselves as needed. Awareness is better when it isn’t razor sharp, but coupled with benevolent acceptance, curiosity, and humility. Choosing to wake up doesn’t mean we no longer experience very real human frustration and pain; in fact, we probably experience it more (i.e. when driving), but because we are conscious to it, no longer blocking it with destructive addictions, we see it for what it is and are less likely to take it personally. Which is easier said that done, because it can feel very personal when someone drives like a madman in your rear view mirror.