Didn’t touch a drink for 1,5 year now. Or actually, in a week, but I don’t want to get too caught up in exact dates as that kind of stuff makes me a bit compulsive. I also felt like writing this today, so why wait? The main aim for this post is to help some of you that might be struggling with addiction or mental health issues.
Let’s talk mental health for a wee minute.
So, I’m not going to lie; I used to enjoy spikes in my emotional state. My theory at the time was that feeling balanced is synonymous to feeling bored. Extensive drinking or abusing other substances can really take you for an emotional rollercoaster ride. Good fun for a while, but quite dangerous to your mental health in the long run. Obviously, I ran into some issues; I’m glad I did, as I would have otherwise continued to live in a similar way. Facing and monitoring my emotional state in a sober way has actually taught be some interesting things that I would like to share. Mental health problems are on the rise. We need to ask ourselves some serious question considering these problems. Former me would have probably already clicked to some cat memes by now, so I admire your perseverance if you are still with me at this stage.
Many people that have trouble with addiction will recognize the act of self-medicating. It is almost as if you can only function when you get your occasional drink, cigarette or whatever is your weapon of choice. This is how I perceived life for quite some years. My opinion at the time was that alcohol would be able to get me through the tough times. In hindsight, I am not sure if it did. I already acknowledged that I was living in quite an unhealthy way for years; I was just afraid to act on it and change. The status quo of my behavior created a comfort zone that I was willing to live with. Self-medicating yourself through life is no way to live though. I understand full well why people do it, but it creates problems in the long-term. Long-term thinking is actually incredibly hard when you are self-medicating.
The thing I have learned from giving up drinking is that I was (and am) flawed in many ways. I was just not willing to see it, as the truth does hurt. Drinking actually kept me from acting on and fixing the most problematic aspects of my persona. Postponing is easy and ignorance really is bliss in many ways.
Now here is the thing. There is nothing wrong with being flawed. We all are. I’m pretty sure it is part of the human condition. How we act towards these flaws is up to us entirely. I have come to believe that we would all benefit if we at least tried to look at ourselves in a honest way. You can bury your head in the sand for many years. The problem is that inaction is also a form of action. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. If you are never willing to accept that you might have flaws, it will catch up with you somewhere down the line. Without accepting that you could be a bit flawed, it is impossible to take action and change. It’s worth looking up the term cognitive dissonance, if you are not familiar with it.
Finding peace of mind
I have found several hacks that help me in staying sober. I want to share some of them and would argue that it is worth trying some of these if you are struggling in staying sober, or having a hard time finding peace of mind in general.
Let’s talk dopamine first. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that regulates many functions and processes in your body, from sleep to metabolism. Dopamine is mostly linked to the reward system; the system that makes us feel good. When you are low on dopamine, you are likely to feel low. When you have a high level of dopamine, you are probably feeling pretty good. Some of us have a more consistent dopamine flow than others. There are many things that influence your dopamine level; I would like to make the distinction between artificial ways and natural ways. Please note that I am not a medical professional nor am I a psychologist – this is just my interpretation on the subject.
Take loads of drugs and alcohol and within no time your dopamine levels will skyrocket. There is a reason why people self-medicate; it works wonders in the short-term. Not everyone is made to play with these artificial ways as there can be a huge downside to them – the next day you will have even less dopamine than before you started drinking. This can be dangerous for people that have low-overall dopamine levels which can consequently lead to anxiety and depression; which is basically what happened to me. It is also worth pointing out that our smart-phones these days are built in such a way that we receive tiny bits of dopamine when we look at the screen. This is why many of us walk around like zombies these days. Who doesn’t want to receive tiny bits of feelgood?
I would argue that these artificial ways of receiving dopamine can be a bit dangerous as they affect our general well-being in a negative way somewhere down the line. I notice that I am more agitated when I look at my phone too much for example. Of course, there are several other factors that influence the way you feel. If there is a day where you feel particularly unhappy, agitated or filled with anxiety, it is worth analyzing all your behaviors that day. Did you sleep enough? Did you look at your phone for several hours (note to self)? Did you drink too much the night before? If your goal is to feel well, I would argue that it is worth taking a strong look in the mirror before you blame external factors for your thoughts and feelings.
Analyzing yourself is tough. It requires you to avoid distractions and fully confront your issues. This is no easy task but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.
I have started constructing a framework that helps me dealing with stress, anxiety and depression. I have the feeling that I can actually tweak my dopamine levels in a positive way by doing loads of sports, heading into nature, paying attention to my sleep and eating pattern and the most hands-on approach that I have found up until now: The Wim Hof Method. Now, this might not work for everybody as I think it is best to construct a framework that works for you. However, I do want to briefly discuss how this method works and why it works for me. You can make up your own mind about it and decide to give it a try or not.
Briefly, this is how it works:
An exercise that pumps more oxygen into your bloodstream than you would receive through normal breathing. After a few cycles you will feel quite light headed and afterwards really quite calm. This breathing technique has been proven to benefit your immune system. It makes me feel rather relaxed and it seems to keep me from getting colds in winter. I would say that you need to try this breathing technique for a longer period of time in order to master it. I am getting a more consistent effect these days as I have tried it quite a few times by now.
I don’t follow Wim’s exact stretching technique here. I just do a yoga routine that I enjoy. You will notice that you are able to stretch a lot better after the breathing techniques so it helps doing those stretches post breathing exercise. Stretching just makes you feel super relaxed which will effectively benefit your mental state.
Cold showers suck but they do have an amazing effect. You don’t have to instantly turn that shower to ice water. Start with your normal shower routine and change it to cold eventually. Cold showers release dopamine. You will feel a little boost in your mood. If you’re ever feeling down, jump in the shower and turn it to cold; see how you feel afterwards. You could call this micro-suffering. It’s a little investment that I make in order to give my day a little boost.
I am a big fan of combining several methods in order to find peace of mind. This method is simply part of a system that I have developed that seems to work well for me. I think it works best when you find things that work for you. The dopamine system goes pretty deep. It turns out that quite a lot of research indicates that dopamine levels are also linked to the pursuit of valuable goals. We humans seem to get an increase in dopamine levels when we are living a life that we consider meaningful (by our own definitions). Now, this can be a bit problematic for society if you are striving to be a dictator. However, most of us will probably find meaning in things that don’t harm others. It could be worth looking for those ‘things’.
To conclude: Talking about mental health and addiction should not be a taboo. Talk to your close friends and family about issues that you might have, it can be the first step to a better life. Take action, don’t sit on it. If you need a chat, hit me up!
“To bear trials with a calm mind robs misfortune of its strength and burden.” —Seneca