We all get ‘drunk’ on something…
During a recent visit to my son’s college campus and the local bar, I had a flash of awareness as I watched many people drink over a few hours span of time.
It was Family Weekend, so there were lots of parents there with their kids (actually adult-age kids) enjoying the carefree college life, laughing, drinking, playing games and having fun. What struck me was how, almost universally, people went from clear-headed communicators to making less and less sense as the day progressed.
I noticed their decision making got a little foggier — parent and child alike. The proclaimed intentions to take it easy with drinking for the day faded away and were replaced with challenges to chug and do shots. My thought was “they are going to hurt in the morning.”
But the more compelling thought that occurred to me that day was this: At least they can clearly see what impaired their judgment — the alcohol.
I wondered, “Is there something I do, something I get ‘drunk’ on every day that impairs my judgment and interferes with my ability to make choices that are good for me?”
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It wasn’t as easy to point a finger as you can when you’re drinking alcohol, but I did not have to dig too deep to see some potential culprits.
My curiosity was piqued and I began observing myself and others.
It quickly became clear that we all do things that intoxicate us, causing us to get distracted, lose self-awareness and stop taking care of ourselves, and we do them all the time without even thinking.
Within just a few moments of considering how I do this myself, I quickly identified a few ways in which I reliably “get drunk” and forget myself. Here are the first three that came to mind:
1. Praise and appreciation for helping others (or just the idea of pleasing others).
I may have an intention to do something for myself, like workout or meditate or take a walk, but somehow forget as I focus my attention on pleasing others. I can get distracted by the pleasure of receiving appreciation and praise.
Often I don’t even need the actual praise and appreciation. It is just the idea that I am pleasing others and that they will be happy with me that lure me away from focusing on myself. The allure of having others be happy with me keeps me from doing something purely for myself — which certainly doesn’t elicit praise from others; and, quite often triggers anger as I disappoint others in taking my attention away from them and placing it upon myself.
2. Relationship drama.
This is a great one. Instead of taking care of myself, I get involved in the squabbles of family and friends or might even create one myself.
I get anxious when I experience people fighting around me and have become very attuned to discerning what is causing discord. One of my skills is being able to hold multiple points of view as equally valuable and I like to help others to appreciate each other’s perspectives. I like to swoop in and save the day and help people move back into harmony, which is not a bad thing altogether.
It is a problem when I don’t fulfill my own intentions for myself because I am busy “heroing” them and me.
I am protecting them from discord and myself from the discomfort of being in the presence of it.
On the flip side, I can actually create discord by getting caught up in noticing what others are doing wrong. I want them to change what they are doing to avoid future discord rather than noticing what I need to work on myself — like maybe stop trying to fix other people and fix myself instead
3. Acquiring knowledge and learning techniques.
I find this one to be the most amusing because I actually distract myself with myself.
This is one that I am probably least conscious of and have the hardest time noticing because I can disguise it as pseudo-awareness. I notice something in myself that needs to shift, maybe a belief I have that separates me from others rather than connecting me to them. For example, perhaps, “anger is bad”. I read books, listen to audios, do meditations, participate in workshops, etc. All directed at processing my anger.
I get drunk on information rather than actually DOING the work I need to do.
I KNOW that “anger is bad” is just a story I made up to make sense of the world when I was younger. As I mentioned, I am not comfortable with discord, to me anger was the reason for the discord. I decided anger was bad and that I should avoid it and keep others from getting angry.
Truthfully, the way to drop this belief is to get comfortable with my own anger and allow myself to feel it and practice being present while others express their anger. That’s it! Very simple. However, I often avoid feeling my own anger and instead distract myself with learning about all sorts of techniques for transmuting anger.
Those are my top three, but there are more. We all do it and we all get in our own way.
How do you determine what your source of intoxication is? It’s actually pretty simple. Notice when you had a plan to do something for yourself — be it of a physical, emotional, spiritual, relational, or intellectual nature — and then didn’t do it.
Ask yourself these questions:
- What did I do instead?
- What feeling or experience did I fill myself up with instead of the experience I had planned on having?
- Who or what was the object of attention instead of myself?
- When do I see myself making this choice in the past? Is there a recurring pattern?
These questions can help you to home in on what you use to “get drunk” in order to feel temporary relief, but ultimately impairs your ability to make the best choices, distracting you from doing what you need to do for yourself.
The objective is to notice what you do to forget yourself, NOT to identify things you should never do. There is nothing inherently wrong with the source of distraction. In my case, for example, praise and appreciation are wonderful and a source of connection; relationship drama is an opportunity to learn about each other’s wants and needs; informing oneself is essential to learning new skills and expanding awareness.
The important thing to notice is if you are engaging these activities from a place of awareness and clear intention or unconsciously slipping into a habit, distracting yourself in order to feel comfortable.
Once you have identified the pattern of intoxication, the easiest way to catch yourself in them is by noticing thoughts, feelings, and physical sensation clues.
What I mean by that is the feeling you have after you have gone away from yourself and made choices that weren’t in alignment with what you really wanted. In my case, when I am “drunk” on praise and appreciation for helping others, I notice that there is often an undercurrent of resentment with tension in my shoulders. It is particularly acute if I help someone and they still aren’t happy with me.
Other times it can be a feeling of fear accompanied by a churning stomach and the thought “I can never make them happy.” I also end up feeling sad, worn out and depleted if I am helping from intoxication rather than pure delight. These are clues for me that I am NOT making choices based on what is best for me.
Just be observant and notice what happens after you make a choice that is not in alignment with what you truly want and need.
Be easy on yourself and approach it from the perspective of an observer rather than a judge. It can actually be quite amusing to discover your elaborate unconscious scheme to avoid taking care of yourself. Sharing what you notice with a family member or friend can also lighten the load of your discovery.
Hearing yourself talk about it shines a light on it in and diminishes its power over you; because, once you have noticed it, you have the power to change your behavior. It may take a while, but if you commit to increasing your awareness and shifting the pattern when you notice it, slowly but surely you will intoxicate yourself less and less and make better and better choices.