“I drink to stop feeling anxious.” “I take pills to dull the pain.” “I snort cocaine to numb everything.”
See a pattern here? So many people struggling with addiction either drink or use drugs to disconnect from their bodies. Over the years, they’ve learned to focus too much on their cognitive thoughts, furthering themselves from having a relationship with the nervous system below their necks.
So how do you go about cultivating a relationship with a body that now seems like a stranger?
Let’s look to Adam and Paul for the answer.
Adam and Paul are brothers. They always got along as boys – they shared a room, were on the same sports teams together, had the same friend group. Paul was the extroverted, joking one in the bunch, while Adam was a bit quieter and very studious in nature.
They bonded even more when their parents got a divorce. When Mom and Dad would be screaming at each other in the next room, Adam and Paul would make a game out of who was better at impersonating each parent.
Last year, the brothers decided to go into the restaurant business together. They thought it’d be a fun new adventure – and who better to embark upon this journey than your brother?
Unfortunately, life didn’t go according to plan. Just a few short months later, Adam and Paul can barely stand to be in the same room. And today, they’ve reached a tipping point.
Adam is helping the head chef prep in the kitchen for their lunchtime rush. Paul storms in and starts laying into his brother.
“Adam, what the hell?” Paul yells.
Adam sighs, accustomed to this kind of response at this point. “What?”
“Why did you approve Maria’s vacation time? We talked about how we can’t have another chef gone next week,” Paul shoots off.
“It’s for her cousin’s wedding for God’s sake. What was I supposed to do?” Adam dismisses, still focusing on chopping the chives on his cutting board.
“Well she should have told us with more than a few day’s notice! That’s not our problem, it’s hers!”
“So what are we going to do for the Johnson’s rehearsal dinner? Hmm?” Paul fires off.
Adam sighs and finally puts down the knife and looks at his brother.
“I don’t know, Paul. Maybe I screwed us over. But what I do know is that if we keep running this company like an army squadron, we won’t have any employees left!”
Adam’s face is growing hotter by the moment. Paul looks like he’s inches away from popping his brother in the jaw. And their poor chef is standing there, an uncomfortable bystander to this tension.
It’s clear that neither Adam or Paul is in his respective body in this moment.
They’re both on the edge of having a meltdown, and neither knows how to respond to this situation in a different, more regulated way.
Paul walks out of the room without another word. Now Adam’s Monkey Mind starts rattling off the reasons he never should have gotten into business with his uncompassionate hothead of a brother. “Does he even care about any of the employees? Can he really not see that he’s going to drive them all away? He’s so clueless.”
Adam walks out of the kitchen and makes a stiff drink at the bar.
Move Out of Your Head
Most of us have been conditioned to think that we can think our way out of our problems. “If only my brother was different.” Or, “If only I had chosen differently.” Whether we’re trying to blame others or ourselves, we’re trying to solve the issue analytically.
Sure, the words sound good, but they’re not doing anything to dispel the anxiety that has already built up in our nervous system. Oftentimes our overthinking just amplifies those anxious feelings.
Anxiety doesn’t require us to think about it – it requires our presence.
When we sit and breathe through the anxiety instead of going to our head, we are grounding ourselves in our bodies and tackling the problem at the root level.
So how does this show up in our own lives? Maybe you have a fight with a friend and avoid them for the next few weeks. You think about calling – and feel like you should – but never do. This builds up tension that never gets addressed.
Now think back to an argument you’ve repeatedly had with a loved one. Maybe it’s with a sibling who thinks fundamentally differently about a subject than you. Or maybe it’s your partner who always has an excuse about why they can’t go grocery shopping.
After the argument, how much did your mind run wild with accusations? After thinking about it all day, did you notice that you actually ended up feeling more anxiety, anger, hurt, etc.?
These kinds of occurrences happen everyday in our lives, and we’re constantly in our heads to try and solve the problem. By doing this, we build up an enormous amount of anxiety in our bodies. This overflow is often too much to handle, and many of us escape this by drinking or using drugs.
To create change, we have to learn specific skills to build the muscle to tolerate anxiety instead of trying to think it away.
One of the best ways we’ve found at our holistic treatment program to build this muscle is to develop a breathwork regiment and stick to it every day. To learn more about the mindful breathwork we teach to our residential clients, check out this video.