Your journey is probably going to be messy.
We don’t really like thinking about the potential messiness of our journeys. We want to think that, once we decide to push the “reset” button and improve our lives, get sober, or get into recovery from trauma, the journey is going to be a path of ever-improving days and weeks and months.
We like to imagine that as long as we’re on the upswing, each day is going to be better than the last.
If only that were true.
It’s true that once we make the decision to get into recovery, we’re going to end up having way more good days than bad, at least in the big picture. That’s the basic point, the reason to get into recovery in the first place.
But it’s simply not the case that we’re going to like every day, or that we’re going to like ourselves, our reactions, and our behavior every day.
Even in the midst of dramatic upswings in our quality of life, we’re going to have days that feel lousy.
We’re going to have times when we feel embarrassed and awkward.
We’re going to have days when we wonder if all, or any, of our efforts are even working.
No matter how much better we’re getting, no matter how many good decisions we’re making, no matter how many bad influences we’re avoiding, we’re simply going to have days when the journey is just messy.
So why bother getting into recovery at all?
Because messy days do not equate to a messy life.
What does equate to a messy life is a life in which we are not making any attempt to control our process or outcome; a life in which we have simply surrendered to the things that have happened to us in the past; a life in which we have decided we have no hope to achieve or goals or live our values.
Messy days are an acceptable price to pay for the larger benefit of being able to live a life on our terms, not the terms of a substance or a past abuser or dysregulated brain chemistry.
The trick is to remember that there is a difference between the big picture and our day to day experience.
An example of this phenomenon is physical exercise and diet.
Day to day, it’s easier and more pleasurable to eat an uncontrolled amount of whatever we feel like eating at the moment. Restricting what we eat, when we eat, and how we eat is a pain the neck. It can lead to inconvenience, irritation, and even awkwardness (such as when we attempt to reconcile a healthy eating pattern with our social obligations).
Similarly, day to day, making yourself do more physical exercise than is necessary in the course of a day, getting out of breath, getting sweaty, paying to join a gym, taking the time to go to a gym…it’s all a pain.
The day to day experience of living a healthy lifestyle can be a hassle. It can be a bummer. Messy.
In the big picture, though, NOT monitoring one’s diet and REFUSING to get the kind of physical exercise we need can lead to much bigger and more pervasive problems than the messiness of day to day experience.
Physical exercise and mindfulness of dietary habits can help protect our health, our mood, our ability to live and perform. In the big picture, physical exercise and mindfulness of diet is obviously the more adaptive and self-nurturing way to live…even if it causes messiness in ur day to day experience.
Making that distinction— between the big picture and the day to day— is crucial.
The good news is, handling it when we have a messy day to day experience is easier than we might think.
Again, taking the example of physical exercise and diet, learning to cope with the fact that we don’t get to eat whatever we want, whenever we want to, is just a matter of learning to control our focus. No more, no less.
Learning to tolerate the discomfort that comes with a physical workout is a matter of controlling our focus. No more, no less.
Controlling our focus is a learnable skill.
And our motivation to learn and practice it comes from radically accepting that some days are just gong to be messy…and putting up with the messy day to day is absolutely worth it in the big picture.
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One thought on “A messy day doesn’t equal a messy life.”
What invaluable advice. Thanks Doc.