What feelings are you trying to escape right now?

Denied access to precious chemical elixirs

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My doctor friend once gave me a warning that sent a corkscrew of chill through the hollows of my spine:

The worst opiate out there is the one you like.

Meaning, whatever substance allows us to escape from our anxieties, whatever chemical creates a barrier that shields us from the sharp edges of reality, legal or illegal, can be a very dangerous thing. At the very least, it can become a very unhealthy habit.

It reminds me of my most loathed television trope. The main character has one of those hell days where everything goes from bad to worse. The entire universe seems to have it in for him, and everyone he works with is an idiot. At which point he grumbles to himself or his quirky neighbor, I need a freaking drink.

Cue the sitcom laughter applause effect.

What a perfect tagline to depict just how nervous and upset this character is. Poor chap can’t handle his anxiety any other way. Smash cut to him slamming a drink, and is back on his feet with his head securely attached and ready to get back to business.

The problem with this chestnut is, it teaches us that the experience of difficult feelings should tranquilized. When life gets a little too overwhelming, we reach for something to create a temporary chemical heaven. Something to help us escape from experiencing our true emotions.

For me, it was always work and food. Why stand in the fire of difficult feelings of loneliness when you can write books for fourteen hours straight and then consume enough sushi to feed a block party?

Pity the fool who denies me access to my precious chemical elixirs.

Onion did a parody news article that summarizes this moment perfectly:

Nothing helps me unwind like moving one step closer to a chemical dependency that gets progressively worse until reaching a destructive climax sometime around middle age.

The challenge, then, is locating the willpower to forsake the solace of tranquilization.

One tool that has been useful for me is asking myself a simple but powerful question.

What feelings are you trying to escape right now?

This checkin invites me to take an inventory of the moment. First, with my body at a sensational level, and then with my heart and mind at an emotional level. Many times, once those feelings are noticed, named and felt, within a few minutes, my compulsive desire to overwork or overeat fades away.

And if it doesn’t, that’s okay too. Because the exercise still helps me gain a new perspective on difficult feelings.

Which is a step in the right direction. Certainly beats keeping my real self a secret behind a veil of tasty chemicals.

What feelings are you trying to escape right now?

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