Once upon a time, I trusted my brain implicitly. Why wouldn’t I? It had kept me alive, after all, and no one had ever told me that this cerebral cortex of mine was unreliable. When my brain told me certain things—say, that I didn’t have feelings for someone anymore, that a friend had wronged me or that my boss deserved to get an earful about how dissatisfied I was—I assumed it was correct and acted on those thoughts. Even when I started to see that these actions often delivered terrible results—that it could mean losing a great love or important friendships and getting fired from jobs—it never occurred to me that the problem was with my thinking. The problem, I was certain, was with the unfairness of the world. The problem was that bad things happened to me.
It took me roughly a decade-and-a-half of sobriety to realize there were times when I couldn’t trust my brain at all. These were times when I felt uncomfortable and instead of trying to tolerate the discomfort, I became determined to figure out what was causing it, without seeing that sometimes feelings are just feelings that don’t have a culprit, but just need to pass through us. Addicts are notorious for not being able to handle feeling uncomfortable for even a millisecond—it’s what we tried to drown out to the point that it nearly killed us. As Carrie Fisher wrote in Postcards from the Edge: "Instant gratification takes too long." And so I would feel uncomfortable and name that boyfriend or friend or boss as the problem.
Yes, it’s taken me this long to learn that if you just sit through discomfort, it will pass and that it’s the precise act of trying to name it and then do something about that which causes suffering.
I’m an extremist—always have been. I decide on things and I go after them. It takes me about a second to decide if I like someone, roughly five seconds at the dealership to pick out a new car and a good 10 seconds determine a career shift. I’ve jumped out of planes and swung from trapezes and rappelled down buildings. I’ve done cryotherapy as well as sweat lodges. I was just as addicted to Ambien as I was to cocaine.
The difference now is that now when I have one of my extreme feelings, I try to look at them the way I would a bad acid trip. (For the record, I never did acid or had any desire to; I was someone who didn’t do drugs that would help me experience myself more; I did ones that helped me experience myself less.) But I can nevertheless imagine what a bad acid trip would feel like and so I pretend that’s what’s happening when I become absolutely convinced I suddenly see something clearly and it happens to be the opposite of how I normally feel about it. I take a beat. We talk in recovery about how we need to pause when agitated. For me, that pause sometimes has to be an hour, a day or even a week. Eventually I come back around and often look at the feelings I was absolutely convinced were deep core beliefs as a trip through temporary insanity.
In other words, to paraphrase another classic Carrie Fisher quote, I now feel very sane about how crazy I am. I hope one day to be very sane about how sane I am, but I’m not holding my breath.
Anna David is the New York Times-bestselling author of six books. She’s been published in The New York Times, The LA Times, Details, Playboy and Women’s Health, among many others, and has appeared repeatedly on The Today Show, Hannity, Attack of the Show, Dr. Drew, Red Eye, The Talk and many other programs on Fox News, NBC, CBS, MTV, VH1 and E. Anna is the Editor of AfterPartyMagazine and a speaker and coach on relationships, addiction and recovery.