by Dara Paprock
Most addicts have to get to a place of hopelessness and despair in order to walk through the doors that offer sobriety and, yes, change. For various reasons there are times alone, when feelings of despair can surface, and one might not be unable to pick up the phone or get to a meeting. Throughout the years in sobriety, I have learned to walk. Walk to the bus, walk to the meeting or walk through the doors. I have learned to walk around the block; sometimes I have had to walk in place. I have also learned to walk from situations that are fruitless, or against my higher better judgment, one step at a time.
One of the most difficult feelings to bare “stone cold sober” is a sense of hopelessness. Being extreme sensation seekers, the idea of being “okay” may sound strange, and for some, impossible. However, by the time most addicts
reach sobriety they are exhausted. “Okay” can be pretty good medicine and it is available RIGHT NOW. Getting good at “okay” can lead to a deeper sense of well-being. Developing and maintaining a sense of well-being takes practice. Personally, I like to do something every day. Ideally, I take (at least) 20 minutes of some sort of exercise and a daily practice of meditation.To begin a practice, one might start with one to three times a week.
I have coached many people in states of despair who have struggled with various issues in sobriety including weight, phobias and stubborn resistance to change or to do the work in front of them. One of the most effective tools I can offer is to “take a walk”. With a cell phone in hand, you do not have to do any of this alone (although it’s a nice thing to walk freely, letting the arms swing). Even opening a door and walking around the exterior of the home or office building can be a refreshing break from the interior of one’s mind in a state of hopeless. It is also an opportunity to unravel a kind of “short circuiting” in the brain and central nervous system.
Walking itself (one foot then the other) not only grounds an individual by applying pressure to the bottom of the foot (where the nerve endings are) and directly affects the sympathetic nervous system, which is at work in the panic and fear mode, raising heart rate, shortening breath, etc. Encouraging the breath to deepen, releasing tension and invoking a relaxations response actually opens a portal in the physical body to feel better. Walking can be a sort of “pressure release valve”.
Although research recommends 20 minutes of walking to increase serotonin and dopamine levels in the brain, even the short distance of a house perimeter, a five minute walk to the corner and back or standing in a bathroom and marching in place for one minute, can have a dramatic effect on a recovering addict’s mind. Remember that an addict’s mind isn’t exactly “normal” to begin with.
Skip the willingness and just do it. The willingness to put one foot in front of the other sometimes is not there. Do it anyway. Begin by crossing and uncrossing your legs. This is like unraveling the nerves, like a bowl of spaghetti. Crossing and uncrossing one’s legs can begin to break up the brain fog and let a little light in. If one can’t walk,use the eyes (I like to get as close as I can to the brain.). For example, hold the head still (if possible, sit up straight) and look with the eyes all the way to the left and then to the right (like one of those Felix the Cat clocks, whose eyes mark the seconds). There are numerous therapeutic methods that have restored neuropath ways of paralyzed individuals, which begin with eye movement.
If mobility is a limitation, alternative self-soothers are available. One is to interlace the fingers clasping the hands and thumbs, then switching which hands to which ones thumb is on top.
The following are sequences of “Brain Gyms” can be found on YouTube.com.
Brain Gym Routine (Alternate to Walking)
- Drink a 6-8 oz. cup of water. Don’t skip this step.
- Brain Buttons: place one hand over the navel. With the other hand, massage
the areas on either side of the sternum below the collar bone-30 seconds;
- Cross Crawl: As if marching, and adding a twist, touch hand to opposite knee
slowly for two minutes. Breathe deeply. Be sure to twist the upper body so
shoulder moves as well as opposite leg (example on left is correct).
- Hook Ups: (Part1) Sit in a chair; cross ankles. Stretch out arms, cross them
and place palms together. Lace fingers and bring hands under and up to rest
under chin. Close eyes, inhale through nose and place tongue on hard palette
behind teeth. Drop tongue as you exhale, slowly. Practice as long as you want.
Hook Ups (Part2): Uncross ankles and arms. Lightly touch fingertips
together with both hands (Hakini Mudra). Hold the hands high, mid-level or low
(whatever feels best for you). Close eyes, inhale through nose and place tongue
on hard palette behind teeth. Drop tongue as you exhale, smoothly and steadily.
Practice as long as you want.
Inhale deeply, exhale. Keep one foot in front of the other and before you know it, you will be dancing.