My Five Most Unexpected Discoveries Since Breaking Free of Addiction

The topic at one glance

  • We can improve our life by opening up to suffering rather than trying to escape it.

  • Whatever we are feeling is what we are feeling and pretending otherwise just increases our suffering.

  • Those who get under our skin can be our greatest teachers.

Paul Garrigan, Mindfulness Program Manager at Hope RehabThe way I view the world today is significantly different to how I saw things in early recovery. It’s almost like I’m living in a different reality. Here are five of the most unexpected discoveries I have made since breaking free of addiction:

1. It is Always Easier to Lean into the Pain

I had hoped giving up alcohol would eliminate all of my problems, and it would then just be a case of living happily ever after, but life isn’t like that – not for me and not for anyone else. The secret to real serenity is not about eliminating all of the ‘bad stuff’ but about developing the ability to deal with these challenges. It’s the difference between expecting the world to be covered in leather and buying a pair of shoes  (obviously the latter approach is more reasonable).

The most amazing discovery is that when I open up to my suffering, it automatically improves the quality of my life. It turns out that being with pain isn’t so bad after all, and all of the improvements in my mental well-being have been a consequence of not running away from it. I also discovered that most of my difficulties in life were due to my habitual habit of trying to avoid discomfort, and so, be leaning into the pain, I reduce the amount of pain I need to deal with.

2. There is Joy in Being the Least Important Person in the Room in addiction recovery

I used to approach every social encounter like a salesman trying to sell a product. I needed people to like me, so my conversation would be like an ‘elevator pitch’ where I only had a limited time to convince the other person what a great guy I was. When the other person did manage to get a word in, I would view this as something to be endured.

To my surprise, these valiant efforts at self-promotion tended to have the opposite effect of what I was trying to achieve. I began to become very self-conscious of the fact that I was annoying people, but I felt unable to quell the verbal diarrhea. I walked away from so many conversations feeling like an idiot that I began to feel uncomfortable around other people. I had developed social anxiety.

It was a painful process, but here are some of the important lessons I picked up while trying to improve my social skills in addiction recovery:

  • Other people are just as obsessed with their life as I am with mine.

  • I learn nothing from talking, but I can learn a lot from listening.

  • Other people are incredibly interesting when I take the time to listen to them.

  • People tend to like me for the interest I show in their life and not for my displays of narcissism

  • I don’t suffer from social anxiety when I’m focused on the other person.

3. I Don’t Know What is Good for Me

I had lots of plans when I left rehab nine years ago, and I feel incredibly grateful that none of them worked out. My life today is so much better than I could have anticipated back then and none of the really good stuff I have now is as a result of my planning. The lesson is that I don’t know what is good for me and when I let go of my ideas about what the future should be like, the universe takes me on an amazing ride.

4.There is No Right Way to Feel

Whatever I am feeling is what I am feeling – it is what it is. The idea that I shouldn’t be feeling this way is about as reasonable as saying the moon should be on a stick. It doesn’t matter if the reason I’m feeling a certain way feels silly, selfish, or childish – the feelings are there, and they need to be faced in addiction recovery.

5. The People Who Irritate Me Are My Best Teachers

The real question to ask when other people ‘press my buttons’ is not how I should get back at them but how they managed to do it. I have many character flaws too subtle for me to notice because they are hidden in the ‘shadow side’ of my consciousness. The people who annoy me are usually triggering something that exists as part of my shadow, the stuff I don’t want to deal with, so I can feel grateful to them for being such helpful teachers.

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