Alison's Insights

Making Sense of Addiction Recovery in Midlife One Slow Deep Breath at a Time

Getting Lost in the Forest of Thought

Yesterday I found myself in conversation with a friend about two of the things most who struggle with addiction, at one point or another, has worked to overcome – fear and isolation.

My experience has proven If I don’t ask for help when fear shows up, isolation is where I’ll end up.

When the woman I used to be was in the throes of addiction, I was a fiercely independent, wildly stubborn and outwardly confident.  Yet inside I didn’t believe I was any one of those things.

Throughout my career I stood before hundreds of extremely successful business leaders in boardrooms all over the country.  I spent hours presenting ideas, strategic plans, and creative direction to convince them why the agency I represented was best suited to manage their multi-million dollar ad campaigns.  I welcomed the hard questions.  I loved that heart-racing banter.  In retrospect, for me this “dance” was like chasing a high.  I just couldn’t wait until I had them signing on the dotted line.

Yet like any other high, the aftermath was the always the same; a crashing low.  I’d wind up back at the hotel room in whatever city I had traveled to, sitting alone pouring myself yet another glass of wine.  Within no time I’d launch into the inevitable train of thought which led me from smiling to crying.

In the silence of my mind I’d go from feeling proud of my accomplishments to how I’d messed up answering a few questions, to why I was sure that one business leader disliked me, to my boss is getting a call from that person, to I would be fired the next day.

I’d wind up scared and totally lost, desperately trying to find my way back to feeling positive only to remain in a mental circle.  I tried to follow through on the fleeting thought to call someone but couldn’t.  I’d somehow convince myself by doing so I’d set in motion what I feared the most.

No wonder I kept pouring the wine.  I just wanted to keep those fear-based thoughts from getting any worse or better yet, maybe they’d just go away.

Many years have passed since those long nights alone in a nondescript hotel room.  Many hours have been spent overcoming that which held me hostage in addiction.  However this fear-generating pattern of thinking can still creep in.  After all, I’m human which means I’ll never be perfect.

For example, I love a quiet morning like the one I’m having right now.  As I type, the only sounds I hear are my fingers tapping the keys, birds chirping in the trees outside my window and the distant laughter of kids enjoying their last days of summer vacation.  I feel at peace with my words and my thoughts.

However there have been mornings that didn’t open up this way.  They typically start with feeling hopeful for a good day but without taking that critically collective deep breath, one glance at the clock can launch me from 0-60 in the blink of an eye.  I’ll mentally walk down every dangerous, unmarked path in that dark forest of my mind, contemplating everything I need to get done and how much time I have to do them.


Before my feet can catch up with my head, I’ll have ventured every twist and turn to wind up in the middle of nowhere.  In seconds I’ve convinced myself I’m late, nothing is going to get done on time, and since I’ll disappoint everyone I know, what’s the point of even trying.

What makes all this even worse? Instead of focusing on how to get back to that peaceful place I was mere second previously, I’ll start rekindling old stories I’d written and rewritten in my head about how I’m worthless, unnecessary and unloved.  The messages contained within convince me I dare not ask anyone for help.

I wind up scrambling out of bed feeling completely alone and fearful.  In this mad dash to get going I will not have taken the time to breathe.  I will not have taken the time to feel grateful.  I will not have been nice to the most important person in my life … me.

Thankfully I’ve learned to follow a solution-based way of living versus living in the problem.  These days the time between those racing negative thoughts to rational positive action has become less and less.  By the time I get a few feet from my bed, I will have my phone in hand.   While talking with my husband is always an option, I’ve taught myself the best person to lean into when I feel this lost is someone like-minded.

In cases like the one just described, the best number for me to dial is that of my sponsor. She’s the one person who knows me better than I know myself, always at the ready to provide me the compass I need to get out of whatever dark forest of thinking I’ve been lost in.

As I finish typing this, I think I’ll take some time to breathe in the soft summer breeze flowing through my window.  I’ll give myself time to consider all I’m grateful for.  I’ll give myself time for me.


A Moment to Breathe…

As you contemplate what you just read, reflect on times you’ve started with a simple thought and found yourself feeling totally lost, alone and afraid.  How long did you stay in that mental place?  Did you find yourself revisiting the negative “stories” you’ve written about who you are and the part you play in life?  For today, consider making a commitment with someone you trust that when you find yourself journeying dark, unmarked mental paths you will ask them for the compass to find your way home. 


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2 thoughts on “Getting Lost in the Forest of Thought

  1. Claudia Donohue on said:

    Al, I’m sitting out on my screened porch. Kids, daughter in law & Bill are in bed. Ah, my private time. Cigarettes & iced water near at hand, time to catch up on emails. There were your 2 posts. Amazing how just” tubing” brings you to recovery talk & thankfulness. Then your late summer morning post. Thank you. I relax with a smile & so grateful that you are in my life. Thankful that you help center me with your words. What a gift I’ve been given. Thinking I will sleep well tonight. Hugs.

  2. What a great post, the sounds of 21st century success vs the sounds or success for humanity. So glad to hear your story as it is when we can connect at those deeper levels that we really grow. Finding people that understand you in that deeper place is so important in finding our own way to serenity and peace . The world has so much that it offers each one if us every day and we each have the same to offer back.

    Will be back to read some more posts, right now I hear the rain calling outside for a partner to run with. Be well.

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